Sunday, 30 September 2012

Doesn’t everyone have an Uncle Jack?

Not quite like mine though…
… mine wasn’t really Jack - he was Mervyn Collier FRANCIS (1918-2008), and he wasn’t my ‘uncle’ - he was my Grennie’s little brother, so he was really my great uncle – and he was a great uncle!
Off to Melbourne High
Growing up in the age of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’, as kids, my brothers and I fondly called him our bionic uncle because of his artificial hips and knee. He was very tall, 6’7”, had played cricket and been in the RAAF. My brothers and their sons have inherited their height from this side of the family, luckily I did not!

Uncle Jack told me he didn’t know that his name was Mervyn until an aunt paid for him to go to Melbourne High School. He said he was sitting waiting to see the principal and they called out for Mervyn Francis and he didn’t respond.

My father’s father died in 1944, and Uncle Jack played a special role in the life of Dad and his younger brother.
Dad remembers Uncle Jack as being involved in the early days of setting up radar at Laverton in Victoria and then going to the USA to studying this new important part of the war effort. His WWII discharge papers state his ‘Posting at Discharge: RAAF HQ Washington’.
One of my Dad’s greatest memories was of him returning home with ‘funny-shaped bottles of a special dark fizzy drink’ – Uncle Jack introduced Dad and his brother to Coca Cola!
Uncle Jack with my Dad

I spent some time with Uncle Jack in his later years and although I didn’t take a recorder, I wrote a lot down and had photos and my family tree with me to prompt him. He had a fun sense of humour and was very easy to spend a day with. Sitting there with him and Auntie Lesley, Lesley Flora WEBSTER (1923-2008), I heard of many family and events all told in a way that made me want to keep listening.
He told me stories of his father, my great grandfather, William Collier FRANCIS (1864-1946) who went to the Boer War with the Victorian Mounted Rifles, from Gippsland. That will have to wait for another blog post.
He also told me stories of my grandfather Keith Leo GRENFELL (1911-1944) who married his sister - he was grateful to the ‘much older’ boy who took him camping, and he spoke fondly of a gentle friendly man who died too young. He told me things that Trove and the military records couldn’t, and made me sad my grandfather wasn’t around for his own children, or grandchildren – lucky for us all, we had Uncle Jack.

It would have been my Uncle Jack’s 94th birthday this week.

Uncle Jack (on the right) with his brothers in law.
My grandfather, Keith Grenfell is in the centre.
(I’m even more glad I wrote this post because it prompted my Dad to bring out photos of Uncle Jack that I don’t think even his daughters had seen before.)

Uncle Jack up 'painting the stink pipe'
Uncle Jack on the right with three of his nephews

Uncle Jack in his much later years


  1. Wonderful. Very well written. Very enjoyable.

    I love the lamp on the bookshelf too. I have one like it that was a wedding present to my Great Grandparents.