H.J. (Jack) Francis

by Phil (Frantic) Francis

Herbert John “Jack” Francis was one of the Vines’ longest serving and loyal members, a fine sportsman and dedicated Club servant.

He first played on the Vine in 1927 for Sevenoaks School where his father was cricket coach and after joining the Vine Cricket Club in 1930 was a regular player there until 1967 playing in all the first and second XI’s with distinction. After 1967 until the early 70’s he could be found playing in the A, Extra A and B XI’s when a desperate call to fill a team at the last moment was received. Happily this meant that I had the pleasure of playing several games as a youngster with my father before an old knee injury finally meant he had pack his kit away for good.

A hard hitting middle order batsman, always keen to use his feet, he played many valuable innings for the 1st XI (and other sides) including an outstanding one of 139 against Lincolnshire Gentlemen during the 1949 Cricket Week. Others recall him striking a delivery over an oak tree at the bottom of the ground. As an off spin bowler he was perhaps underrated by both friend and foe alike but numerous wickets fell to his beautifully flighted slower delivery right up to the time he retired.

It is not only as a player that Jack should be remembered but also for his splendid record of service to the Club off the field. Apart from managing the junior section for many years where he would often act as taxi for players & kit and then umpire the match, in 1951 he became one of the most capable and conscientious honorary secretaries the Club has had in its long and colourful history.

His non-playing membership continued to the end of his life and in 1975 he was made an Honorary Life Member of the Club which meant so much to him, a rare honour. By the time he passed away in 1986 his connection with the Club spanned a memorable 60 years, missing only several years playing time when in his pomp, during the 2nd World War.

He also contributed much to sport in the county as his love of sport extended to beyond the Club and represented both the Sevenoaks Rugby and Hockey Clubs at 1st team standard. In 1971 he became secretary of the local Sports Council, a position he held until 1976 having been heavily involved in the Sports for All campaign. His efficient, cheerful helpfulness and immense knowledge and experience of sport in the Sevenoaks proved invaluable. He was also a committee member of the Kent Festival of Sport after he stood down from the Sports Council.

Always chivalrous to his opponents, Jack played with relish and cheerfulness. The ball was to be hit for runs when batting and when bowling he strived to outwit the batsman.

His ashes were scattered on the Vine in 1986 and now only a very few survive in the club to remember the deeds on and off the field of a true sportsman and gentleman.