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Captain J W A France MBE BEM
Late Scots Guards
by Colonel J M Clavering OBE MC
formerly Scots Guards

John France died in December 2020 after a long and bravely fought battle with cancer. He was a man of considerable stature both physically and in character and a loyal Scots Guardsman.

John was called up for National Service in July 1954 enlisting into the Scots Guards. On completion of his initial training he was posted to the 1st Battalion stationed in Wellington Barracks. Later he transferred to be a Regular and served in Lydd, Windsor, and Düsseldorf until 1960 when he went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst as an instructor in the rank of Sergeant. In 1963 he was posted to the 2nd Battalion in Kenya, returning with the Battalion to Caterham followed by Münster. From 1967 to 1970 he was a CSM at Mons Officer Cadet School when he was awarded the British Empire Medal, later returning to the 2nd Battalion at Windsor.

It was at Windsor in 1970 following cuts in the strength of the Army that the 2nd Battalion was reduced to one independent company. The surplus of all ranks were sent as formed companies of Scots Guardsmen to other Foot Guards battalions, one of which, S Company was to be attached to 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards after undertaking an operational tour in British Honduras. John was the Company Sergeant Major and the company commander was Major M B Scott which proved to be a very special and effective relationship based on mutual respect and experience. As a result the company was highly motivated, very fit, and well trained particularly in jungle warfare. Mike always said that John was an outstanding CSM.

In 1972 the 2nd Battalion was reformed at Redford Barracks, Edinburgh and I was given command of Right Flank with John France as my CSM. Forming a new company virtually from scratch with a large percentage of young guardsmen  straight from the depot and newly commissioned platoon commanders was something of a challenge. I was very lucky to have John France, his firm but light hand coupled with a touch of humour, great common sense and wise advice was invaluable. That the company was to prove itself on a difficult and testing operational tour in Northern Ireland was to a large extent due to him. In July of that year, at relatively short notice and with limited pre-tour training the Battalion was deployed to Londonderry for Operation MOTORMAN to remove the Republican ‘no go’ areas. This proved to be something of an anti-climax as the IRA melted away over the Border and Force levels were then severely reduced. However the Battalion was retained in the City to be responsible for the hard-Republican areas of the Bogside and Brandywell with Right Flank responsible for the latter. The IRA returned, there was no worthwhile intelligence and the Company, in a period of ten days, suffered a number of casualties, including three dead from snipers. There was little opportunity to hit back, morale was severely tested and it was in these circumstances that John proved what an exceptional man he was. Unflappable, always at my elbow, watching my back and ready with sound advice when needed.. When we were taking casualties and there was a degree of despondency and a wish for revenge he was a calming influence both directly to the guardsmen and through the platoon sergeants. Henry Llewellyn one of the platoon commanders at the time said this of him ‘When I arrived in Londonderry in July 1972 only eighteen years old to take over a platoon of 35 men of whom I was the youngest I needed a lot of help and support, and I got it particularly from John France. He would quietly say to me - rather too often- promise me you will do better Sir. He knew the men in my platoon, their strengths and weaknesses and he made sure I knew them too. Soft spoken, steady as a rock, ready with a laugh that is how I remember him’.

His next posting was back to RMAS where the Commandant was General Sir Jack Harman. I served on his staff when he was Commander of 1st British Corps in Germany and the first time I met him he asked me if I knew John. He went on to say that John was one of the most outstanding Warrant Officers he had known in his Army career. In 1975 he was posted to the RAC Training Regiment at Catterick as Drill Sergeant. While there he was seconded to the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards to assist them with their Tercentenary Parade in Edinburgh. and is well remembered for the part he played in ensuring that the drill was up to standard and the parade went smoothly. This was followed in 1977 by a tour as Regimental Sergeant Major of the All Arms Drill Wing at Pirbright. General Murray Naylor who knew John well said this of him: ‘He could hold his own diplomatically but firmly with people more senior than himself with complete confidence, disciplined frankness and good humour. I think successive ERE tours at RMAS, Mons, with the RAC and at the AADW gave him that confidence and stature. He was a prime example of what we have always taken for granted in the best of our Household Division Warrant Officers’. 

John was commissioned in September 1979 and went to the Guards Depot as a platoon commander and then in 1981 he was posted to the Infantry Junior Leaders Battalion at Oswestry as a company second in command.. His final posting as a Regular Officer was to the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Volunteers, formerly a battalion of the Green Howards, and in 1984 he left the Regular Army to take up an appointment as Permanent Staff Administrative Officer with D Company of that Battalion. John had not worked with the Territorial Army before but in true France style he set about the task with characteristic enthusiasm and dedication drawing on his considerable experience. His role was that of an administrator but he soon became involved in training and deploying on Battalion exercises, all well beyond what his appointment required of him. This upset some of his fellow PSAOs who were concerned they might be ordered to do the same! For exceptional commitment over and above his remit he was appointed an MBE. John very much enjoyed his time with the Green Howards TA, making many friends and earning a great deal of respect and appreciation. This was confirmed by the large number from the TA who attended his funeral.

He finally retired from the Army in 1998 but continued to lead an active life, going to the gym, and running three times a week. He was the first President of the Durham and Yorkshire Branch of the Scots Guards Association, the Head Steward at the local church and was very involved with the Green Howards Association. He made an excellent name for himself in the Scarborough area and was universally liked and respected. He fought a long battle with cancer with great resilience and fortitude. He was utterly devoted to his wife Vivienne and his son Justin to whom we send our deepest sympathy. It was a great privilege to have served with John at close quarters in difficult times and to count him as a good friend for many years. He was in every respect an impressive and special person.  

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