Ex Hastings Observer journalist Francis Cornwall whose lifelong career spanned 60 years, including active duty in WW11, has celebrated his 100th birthday.
Herbert Francis Benyon Cornwall, was born in Hastings on April 27, 1915. He began his career in journalism in 1929 at the tender age of 14 when he commenced a five-year apprenticeship with the Evening Argus based at the paper’s Castle Hill offices, Hastings.
Daughter Jacqueline Cook says her dad, who went by his second name Francis and was also known as Bert, had a wealth of fascinating stories to tell. She said: “When dad started in journalism he was paid five shillings (around 25p) a week.
“He had to wear a trilby hat at all times. His transport was a bicycle and on this he had to cover Hastings, Battle, Hurst Green, Rye and all surrounding towns; all those hills!”
Francis married Louie in 1934 at the Church in the Wood, Hollington. They were married for 58 years, until Louie passed away at the age of 78. Along with Jacqueline, they had daughter Katherine and subsequently grandchildren Lucy, Sarah and Elisabeth.
Francis had to put a temporary halt to chasing stories in 1066 country for a while when he was called up for duty during the Second World War.
Serving in the Royal Field Artillery in Burma, Iran, Iraq and South Africa, Francis rose through the ranks to be promoted to Staff Sergeant Farrier but still put pen to paper. Jacqueline said: “During his war service he still didn’t put his pen down and became a war correspondent!”
Francis was awarded the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal, the Silver War Badge and the additional accolade from the War Office of being Mentioned in Dispatches – when a soldier’s name appears in a superior officer’s official report, sent to High Command, which details the soldiers gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy.
After the war he returned to reporting locally at the Hastings and St Leonards Observer, along with work at Fleet Street and Southern TV – where he would send in items for the lunchtime news called ‘Lunchbox’. Jacqueline said: “When he reported on sports items he was known as Veritas, meaning fair and true.
“A lot of people know him by this name – these items were circulated nationally.”
His long journalistic career saw Francis reporting on a vast range of stories and events, often in unusual circumstances. In an article in the Evening Argus in 1980, which celebrated Francis reporting for the paper for 50 years, he recalled some of his career experiences. He said reporting on inquests had always been one of the more melancholy duties. “In the old days, the coroner held the inquest nearest to the place where the body was found.
“On one occasion, a man had been killed by a train and the tiny waiting room on Winchelsea Station was filled with jurors, witnesses and solicitors. I sat on the toilet seat, lid down of course, with the door open faithfully recording the tragedy.”
Francis said one of his most embarrassing moments was when he was attempting to take photographs of a Salvation Army funeral. “I was up a ladder leaning against a tree with a big crowd round the graveside. A Salvationist was preaching ‘If you wish to be saved come and kneel down before the Lord’ he thundered. At that moment the ladder slipped and I hit the deck behind the mourners.”
Francis retired in 1987 and said: “I’ve had a good working life and I’m jolly glad I survived being a reporter.”
He now lives happily in Cumberland Court Care Home where Jacqueline says he is “really spoilt and loved”. She added: “I am very proud of him. He has thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing. It’s so great to see that he is still so full of life and having a good time.”
Francis’ centenary celebrations included a party at Cumberland Court and a family lunch party at his favourite restaurant, the Brickwall Hotel, Sedlescombe.