James ‘Jim’ Francom was born in April 1895 in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, the third son of eight children of James and Emma Francom. He was 5 foot 3 inches in height and had a good physique. The family home was at 92 Tweed Street, West Derby, Liverpool. His father James Francom senior, who was a bookbinder, owned the property, which was quite uncommon for the latter years of the 19th century. The other children in order of age were Florence, Gladys, Arthur, Emma, twins William and Ada, and John.
Having trained as a baker, James Francom junior engaged as Extra Second Baker in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12 April 1915 and reported for duty at 7am five days later, in time for the liner’s fateful last voyage out of the River Mersey and across the Atlantic Ocean to New York. In his capacity as Extra Second Baker, he was paid a monthly rate of pay of £6-0s-0d. It was not the first time that he had served on the
Having arrived safely in the United States, he was on board in the same capacity in the ship’s bakery on the afternoon of 1 May, when the steamer left the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York City and set out for what would be her last voyage.
Six days later, on the afternoon of 7 May, the Cunarder was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, within sight of the Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland and only 14 hours at the most from the safety of her home port.
James Francom survived the sinking and having been rescued from the sea he was landed at Queenstown and travelled back to his West Derby home. Family lore records that on his return home his arms were still rubbed raw and scuffed as he had only survived by floating with one of the ship’s circular cork and canvas life belts around him.
Once home he went to the Cunard main office in Water Street, Liverpool, where he was officially discharged from the
Lusitania’s last voyage and paid the wages owing to him. This amounted to £5-16s-4d (£5.82) and covered his service from 17 April until 8 May 1915, 24 hours after the liner had foundered.
Following this he decided to join the British Army, perhaps as a result of his experiences on board the
Lusitania. On 9 September 1915, he joined a company of The West Lancashire Army Service Corps - part of the Territorial Force in the 57th (West Lancashire) Division.
Following 17 months home service he served overseas, including on the Western Front, from 19 February 1917 until the end of August 1918 as T4/253524 Driver J Francom of the 480th Company of the Army Service Corps, (Horse Transport). His job was to look after and drive horses and mules. Once, on a return home on leave with mud still caked on his uniform, he had to be scrubbed from head to toe in a zinc bath with carbolic soap to remove the lice with which he had become infested!
Upon his discharge from the Colours on 25 February 1919, it was stated that he was a "very good horseman and groom".
After the war he married Annie Brierley in late 1919 and they had one son, whom they named Harold, who was born in 1925. James Francom had by then became a confectioner, living at 36 Alford Street, Edge Lane, Liverpool but after this, the family crossed the River Mersey to Wallasey in Cheshire, where James re-commenced his career as a baker, living at 92 Liscard Road. In 1940 he was working at local shipbuilders Cammel, Laird and Company Limited at its Birkenhead shipyard, as an engineer. At that stage, he lived at 134 Gorsey Lane, Wallasey.
He died at 42 Brimstage Road, Bebington, Cheshire on 2 March 1963, aged 66 years. His home address at that time was 3 Oakbank Street, Wallasey, Cheshire. He was survived by his wife Annie, to whom administration of his will was granted on 13 March. James Francom left an estate of £784-15s-0d (£784.75).
His younger brother Arthur followed his example by enlisting in the British Army during the First World War, but unfortunately on 10 April 1918 he was killed in action in northern France whilst serving as 37627 Private A Francom with the 1st/7th Battalion of The King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment).
Cunard records erroneously show James Francom’s name to be James Francon, but this was probably a transcribing error made at the time he engaged.
Register of Births, marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Bob Francom, PRO BT 100/345, Probate Records.