Private William James Francey


William James Francey was born on 29 April 1895 in Clonavon Road, Ballymena, County Antrim, the last of four children of labourer (formerly van driver) John Francey and his wife Elizabeth (née Brogan). By the time of the 1911 Census he was living in Princes Street, Ballymena, with his parents and his only surviving sibling, and working as a shoemaker's apprentice.

Francey enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Antrim on 19 October 1915 (No.1750). He gave his occupation as hotel waiter. (Later, however, he would record his occupation as farm labourer, and his last employer as Mr John Woodburn, a farmer at Cromkill.) On 10 January 1916, while in training at the regiment's Antrim reserve camp, he was admonished for being 'drunk and committing a nuisance in the hut'.

On 18 May 1916 Francey embarked for France, where he was posted to A Squadron, part of the newly-formed 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, which at the time was serving as corps cavalry to VII Corps. On 1 October that year he was awarded 10 days' Field Punishment No.1 for being absent and drunk. The following month, on 20 November, he faced a Field General Court Martial at Pommera for 'conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline' and for drunkenness. Found guilty, he was awarded 90 days' Field Punishment No.1 (reduced by six days for time spent in confinement awaiting trial).

In August-September 1917 the 2nd NIH Regiment was disbanded and its men, together with some surplus to the needs of the 1st NIH Regiment, were transferred to the Royal Irish Fusiliers, an infantry regiment. Most, including Francey, were transferred on 20 September and posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion – renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion – joining it in the field at Ruyaulcourt five days later. Francey was issued regimental number 41415.

He probably saw action with the battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917.

On 15 December 1917 Francey fell-ill with trench fever. He was treated at No.5 General Hospital at Rouen before being evacuated to the UK, where on 24 December he was admitted to the Springburn Woodside Central Hospital in Glasgow. He remained there until discharged on 15 February 1918.

Francey returned to France on 2 April, rejoining his battalion in the field six days later. He probably saw action during the fighting near Kemmel Hill on the Ypres front later that month.

On 22 July the 9th (NIH) Battalion conducted a raid on the German line at Shoddy Farm near Meulehouck. According to the Battalion diary:

12.45am. B Company under Captain Murphy DCM MC and 2nd Lieutenants Reynolds, Leahy, Radcliffe and McFarlane and No.15 Platoon of D Company raided Shoddy Farm. One prisoner was captured and thirty others were estimated to be killed. Our casualties: Two Officers and five Other Ranks missing with eleven slightly wounded. The enemy put down a machine-gun barrage followed by artillery support while the party was in No Man's Land. We also captured two light machine-guns, one of which was lost through the carrier becoming a casualty.

Francey was one of the men wounded, in the thigh. The wound was not severe, and on 10 August he was able to rejoin the battalion. Eight days later, however, he was hospitalised suffering from 'disordered action of the heart' (which he later partly attributed to having been buried in the action on 22 July).

On 16 September 1918 Francey was transferred to the Royal Fusiliers (No. G/84279) and posted to the 43rd Garrison Battalion, No.34 Garrison Company. On 29 October at Havre he was fined 7 days' pay for being dirty on guard mounting parade.

Francey returned to the UK on 27 January 1919 and a month later was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve. He later served in the Royal Army Medical Corps (No.208163).

On 28 August 1919 his father was killed at Crumkill in an accident when the horse pulling his cart bolted, overturning it and throwing him to the ground.