b. 21/09/1918 Letwell, Yorkshire. d. 03/12/1952 Ipswich Hospital, Suffolk.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 12/1940 Manchester Ship Canal.
Francis Haffey Brooke-Smith (1918-1952) was born on 21st September 1918 in Letwell, Yorkshire, the 5th son of Captain Louis Alfred Brooke-Smith RNR and Margaret Frances Stillingfleet (nee Bean). Francis’ middle name of Haffey came from one of Margaret’s brothers. In all, Louis and Margaret had eight children. Francis was educated at Downside Prep School and then King Alfred’s School in Wantage, Oxfordshire. Here he excelled in most sports including boxing, rugby and cricket.
After school, Francis followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Royal Naval Reserve and trained on HMS Conway, where his eldest brother John was Chief Executive with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Francis became an apprentice with the Blue Funnel Line in 1936. By 1939 he was on HMS Derbyshire of the 10th Cruiser Squadron as a Midshipman. On his promotion to Sub Lieutenant, he volunteered for Mine Disposal work. He became based at the Dorchester Hotel in London, and was chauffeured to wherever he was needed in a special car.
In December 1940, an unexploded bomb fell on the Fire-Float Firefly on the Manchester Ship Canal, Brooke-Smith found the bomb was firmly wedged, but by using a rope he was able to pull it slightly clear of the engine room casing; then, lying head downwards on the sloping casing, he managed to place a safety gag in the bomb-fuse. The clock then started to tick, but he stayed where he was and finally managed to stop it before the explosion occurred. This was the first time he had dealt with a bomb using a gag on the bomb-fuse and he had to do so in the most difficult circumstances, using a torch and unable to see the bomb-fuse itself.
Francis was awarded the George Cross on 27th June 1941, and received his medal from King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 25th November 1941. In all he had defused 20 mines in total, before he was transferred to HMS Broadwater, and old ex-USS destroyer which was in turn torpedoed off the Irish coast on 18th October 1941.
By transferring to various different ships he was present at most of the North Mediterranean landings finally being posted as navigator of a tank-landing flotilla which sailed to the Far East. He was present at the Japanese surrender to Admiral Mountbatten. After the war, he passed his Master’s exams and joined the “Queen of Bermuda” part of the Furness Withy’s fleet of ships.
It was on a voyage from New York to Bermuda that he met his future wife Jane Ann Watt. They married in New York on 20th August 1951. Sadly, their married life would be tragically cut short.
On 3rd December 1952, whilst he and his wife were visiting family in Woodbridge, Suffolk, he was killed while riding his motorcycle, which was involved in a collision with a car. He was taken to Ipswich General Hospital where he died. He was buried in Hasketon Churchyard, near Woodbridge, Suffolk. His medal group including GC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star, Burma Star, Italy Star, War Medal 1939-45 and Royal Naval Reserve Decoration (GVIR) are on permanent loan to the Imperial War Museum, London, and displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST ANDREW'S CHURCHYARD, HASKETON, SUFFOLK.
Picture - Kevin Brazier
Francis Brooke-Smith's medals including GC at Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London