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The World is a poorer place without him: Roy Francis, founder of the Wells and Walsingham Railway, dies aged 92

PUBLISHED: 09:28 28 January 2015 | UPDATED: 13:00 28 January 2015

Commander Roy Francis pictured in 2013, when he was awarded the Arctic Star Medal. Picture: Ian Burt

Commander Roy Francis pictured in 2013, when he was awarded the Arctic Star Medal. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2013

Norfolk Arctic Convoy veteran and railway enthusiast Roy Francis has passed away.

Norfolk Arctic Convoy veteran and railway enthusiast Roy Francis has passed away aged 92.

Lieut Cmdr Francis, founder of the Wells and Walsingham Railway, passed away in his sleep yesterday, at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

A tribute on the Wells and Walsingham Railway website said: “It is with great sadness that we report the passing today of our founder, Commander Roy Francis.

“Founder of the Wells Beach Harbour Railway, founder of the Wells Walsingham Light Railway in 1982, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend to many.

“The world is a poorer place without him and we will ensure his beloved railway continues to bring pleasure to thousands every year. Rest in Peace.”

Lieut Cmdr Francis, from Forncett St Mary, near Norwich, built the Wells and Walsingham Railway in 1982.

Since then, the four-mile narrow gauge line has carried more than 500,000 people, operating as a public railway between March and November.

He also built the miniature railway which runs along the flood bank from Wells Harbour to Pinewoods.

During the Second World War, he served on HMS Edinburgh, which on its final voyage in 1942 was loaded with more than four tonnes of gold bullion as payment from Russia to the UK and the USA for the weapons, tanks and aircraft needed to help fight off Nazi attacks.

It was sunk on May 2 1942, after repeated attacks from German ships and U-boats, with the loss of 58 crew. The gold was not recovered until the 1980s.

Like many veterans, he faced a lengthy battle with bureaucracy to collect his Ushakov medal, offered by the Russian Government to British seamen who served on Arctic convoys between 1941 and 1945.

Lieut Cmdr Francis also served on board the HMS Manchester and took part in special operations after the war, including mine clearance and the search for a lost American nuclear trigger off Orford Ness.

In 1958, he left the Navy and launched a boat building company on the Broads called Rowancraft. In the 1960s and 70s he took miniature steam trains to fetes and fairs for people to ride on.

After building the Wells Harbour Railway at the request of Norfolk County Council, to see if it would solve congestion problems in the town, he began work on the Wells and Walsingham railway in 1979.

The work included digging out a cutting to build his 10ins gauge line along a former LNER trackbed.

Lieut Cmdr Francis leaves a wife, Marie; son, Rowan; daughter, Susie, three grand-children and two great grand-children.

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