Don has a zest for life’

Celebrating his 90th birthday recently was a well-known Exmouth personality, Don Francis, who spent his working life in the aviation industry.

Celebrating his 90th birthday recently was a well-known Exmouth personality, Don Francis, who spent his working life in the aviation industry.

Son of a Metropolitan police officer, on leaving school, Don started his career with the nearby Handley Page aircraft company. Joining the staff of its technical office, he was soon working on calculations for the Harrow, Hampden and Halifax bombers.

In 1937, with Hendon airfield nearby, Don enlisted in the R Aux AF, joining No 604 County of Middlesex Squadron as an aero-engine fitter. In 1938, his squadron was mobilised and later Don decided to leave the Auxiliary to join the main stream RAF. For the first two years of the war, he served in his ground trade but when, in 1942, a shortage of aircrew gave him a chance to fly, he volunteered and was accepted for training as a navigator.

Successfully completing his training in Canada, Don returned to the UK, where he joined No 23 Squadron, based in Norfolk. It was equipped with the highly versatile Mosquito. At this stage, the squadron's main tasks were 'intruder missions', which involved flying deep into Germany, and attacking enemy airfields and transport targets. Don described their role as "shooting at anything we fancied and making ourselves a bloody nuisance!"

Successfully completing his first tour of thirty-five 'ops', Don became an instructor on 'night fighter techniques' and, now a warrant officer, was offered a commission as the war ended. However, he decided to return to Handley Page and resume his career in aeronautics. This progressed rapidly, moving first to de Havilland and then to English Electric, where he rose to become their chief draughtsman. It was now the era of guided missiles and another opportunity opened for Don, when he rejoined de Havilland as their chief draughtsman for the 'Blue Streak' project. He is still registered as a Chartered Engineer and a Member of the Royal Aeronautical Society..

Finally retiring from British Aerospace in 1981, Don decided to settle in Exmouth. Keeping many of his service links, in 1991 he founded the Exmouth (later East Devon) Branch of the Air Crew Association and has watched it grow into one of the country's most successful branches. He remains active as vice-president and is a keen supporter of the RAFA Club.

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For Don, a widower for many years, approaching his 'four score years and ten' has seen no lessening of his zest for life, particularly travel, which, in recent months, has included visits to the Far East, the USA and Canada, as well as European destinations.

Even the computer age has not daunted him and, within the last month, he has purchased his first computer and is happy to tell his friends how he has broadband and is mastering 'the web'! Don's many friends, joined by his three sons, wish him good health and the ability to continue his enjoyment of life for many years to co