Obituary for Rev Maj MD Franks MBE

Rev Maj MD (Martin) Franks MBE died on 9 June 2006, aged 70. A Memorial Service was held in the Regimental Chapel at Warley on 3 October which was attended by many of his friends from both the Essex Regiment and the Royal Anglian Regiment.

Martin Franks fulfilled his boyhood dream of joining the Army when he joined at Warley as a band boy in 1946 aged 16. One of his duties was to go to the Essex Regiment Chapel and turn a page of the Book of Remembrance.

It was not long before Martin went off to Kneller Hall to read the theory of music and learn to play the clarinet and the tenor sax. He returned to Colchester where he joined the Band of the Essex Regiment. The Band left Colchester for Minden and it was there, during a parade for the Secretary of State for War that aged 20 he had to deputise for the Drum Major. After the parade he was summoned by the Commanding Officer to be told that he had been appointed Drum Major on a permanent basis, thus becoming the youngest Drum Major in the Army – Drummie Franks had arrived on the scene.

The Battalion moved to Lunenberg and whilst there the Band and Corps of Drums returned to the UK for a KAPE tour. Whilst at home the smooth new Drum Major attended the Aris Ball on 13 June 1952, met Tina and married her six months later, a marriage that was to last 53 years.

Drummie Franks became a legendary figure. He was tall, smart and unflappable. He saw his mace as an instrument of power and a source entertainment. He and a Drum Major Hicks were the only Drum Majors ever to throw the mace over the entrance gate to Warley Barracks and successfully catch it on the other side.

After 8 years as Drum Major Martin was promoted and became CSM HQ Company and then, on amalgamation of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment with the Essex Regiment he was posted to Epping as a Permanent Staff Instructor and then to the Infantry Junior Leaders’ Battalion.

He joined 1/3 East Anglian Regiment in Ballykinler as CSM A Company. It was during this tour that he famously moved his Company across London by the Underground. On marching to the appropriate platform he ordered the Company to face their front and said the immortal words, “In a few moments a train of the London Underground will arrive at this station. I will order you to left or right close march for a given number of paces. You will be facing a door. The door will open. Civvies will try to get off. They won’t make it. You will be getting on’.

A posting to 2 East Anglian in Osnabrook as RQMS was followed by promotion to become RSM. He moved with the Battalion to Felixstowe and it was during this tour that he was appointed to be RSM for the Royal Tournament.

In 1967 he was commissioned and joined the 3rd Battalion; Franko had arrived on the scene. He served in Aden, Tidworth and Paderborn in a number of appointments before moving to Bassingbourn in 1975 when he became a Company Commander at the Queen’s Division Depot. His enthusiasm, infectious sense of humour and vast experience made him an ideal choice and at the end of his tour his contribution was recognized by the award of the MBE. It was at this stage that Martin and Tina decided that they needed to put down some permanent roots and after 31 years in the Army Martin called it a day.

However, after only 18 months as a civilian Martin came back to the military fold becoming Housing Commandant at Colchester where, at the time, two battalions from the Regiment were based. Sadly, it was while he was at Colchester that he was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis. He became extremely ill and spent 7 months in the Royal Free Hospital. He was never to fully recover and had to retire in 1986.

Martin’s faith played a major part during the whole of his life and in 1988 he started training to become a Deacon in the Catholic Church, which culminated in him being ordained in Norwich Cathedral in 1991.

However, his connection with the Regiment was not yet over. In 1998 he succeeded Tom Hiney as the Honorary Chaplain to the Regiment. As such he conducted the Drumhead Service at the annual Regimental Day and he was always proud of the fact that his calls on his little white phone were always answered, thus guaranteeing good weather. He also, together with Rev Jim Symonds, conducted the moving Service of Remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum in 2004 when the Regiment remembered those who lost their lives in Northern Ireland.

In addition to his duties as Chaplain to the Regiment he also attended the annual pilgrimage of the Essex Regiment to Bayeux. Despite ill health he was determined to make the trip this year and it was on the way back that he died.

Martin’s loves in life were his family, the Army, his faith and his beloved Arsenal. He was a friend who one could always go to for help or advice, a man who had a most wonderful sense of humour and someone who always believed in putting others before himself.

We extend our deepest sympathy to his wife, Tina and daughters Antoinette, Bernadette and Helen.

Soldiers who have served