For many homes minds are focused on ‘back to school’ and this gives us the perfect opportunity to publish a recent donation from a family whose father attended The Royal Naval Dockyard School.
This article and images are published with thanks to Thomas Francis-Pope’s family.
6th July 1913 – 6th March 2006
Thomas Francis-Pope (known at Tommy) was born on 6th July 1913 in Rochester, Kent to Thomas and Mable Pope (nee Strike).
Tommy entered The Royal Naval Dockyard School in 1927 where he qualified as a draughtsman and was awarded full membership of the Institute of Marine Engineers.
During the Second World War Tommy was in the Admiralty stationed in Whitehall in London but spent some time on board warships at Scapa Flow. As part of his duties within the Admiralty he worked on board aircraft carriers for assisted take-offs for the Fairey Swordfish torpedo planes. He also served for a short time on submarines and when on board he held the rank of Commander.
After Dunkirk in 1940 Tommy was moved to the Admiralty in Bath. Whilst in Bath Tommy served in the Home Guard Commando which was not a ‘Dad’s Army’ but a Top Secret ‘Home Guard Auxiliary Unit’. These local men were a specially trained highly secret task force formed for when an invasion occurred; this task force would go-to-ground in hidden locations and only start operating behind German lines disrupting the enemy, carrying out attacks and disrupting supply lines. They were trained locally and also trained with the parachute regiment and were well equipped with 303 standard issue rifles, Sten guns, revolvers, grenades and explosives. The concept was based on Churchill’s ‘Secret Army’ in Europe which is well documented.
During the ‘Bath Blitz’ in 1942 Tommy assisted the fire service and described the experience later as “the worst time of my life“. Towards the end of the war he met and married Helena Joan Spear in 1946 and later had two children Robert and Joanna.
During Tommy’s career in the Admiralty he also had a second career as a Tenor. Tommy was blessed with a beautiful voice and sang at various venues from amateur dramatics to semi-professional broadcasts with the BBC and had leading roles in Gilbert and Sullivan productions and performed with the Bournemouth Philharmonic Orchestra. One of the BBC’s broadcasts was a weekly show called ‘Melody for Late Evening’ on a Sunday night.
Tommy also sang live on broadcasts on the BBC World Service as well as the BBC Light Programme. After one of the BBC World Service broadcasts he received a fan letter from overseas which was addressed simply to “Thomas Pope, Tenor, England” which the Royal Mail successfully delivered.
Through Tommy’s voice he brought untold pleasure to tens of thousands of people and was offered the opportunity to become a professional tenor and move to Milan in Italy to train but he chose the more secure life as a Civil Servant where he completed over 40 years’ service.
Apart from Tommy’s exquisite voice he was a great sportsman and played tennis, football and continued to play Bridge into his late years.