Over the years there have been many who have stepped up to the plate and served for King (or Queen) and Country in the armed forces; as soldiers in the combat zone, or as auxiliary support just behind the front line. But there have also been those who, although non-combatants, have faced the dangers of being at the front line, and we have to thank Bob Jordan from the Hednesford Branch of the Staffordshire Regimental Association for advising us of the recent publication of a new book entitled ‘Non-Combatants’ by former Desert Rat Alex Franks.
Alex is a Black Country mon, born and bred in Halesowen, who has been recalling his wartime experiences for many years, but never imagined his memories would finally come to fruition in a book. And Bob, who frequently corresponds with the Bugle, has been telling us how he came to find out about Alex in the first place: "It was about four or five years ago when the Hednesford Branch was at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas.
Alex, who lives at Wheaton Aston, was pointed out to me by my colleagues, a proud old soldier you could see, always well turned out in his distinctive KD shirt and trousers and beret with two cap badges.
“I had been told about his experiences in North Africa with the Desert Rats (8th Army), and on the face of it he seemed to be a thoroughly nice bloke. About a year later I bumped into a couple of women in Stafford and after finding out they lived at Wheaton Aston, I asked if they knew of Alex. ‘Oh, you mean Mr Franks?’ they said. Minutes later I had his address and was soon writing to him, inviting him to become an honorary member of the S.R.A. (His own regiment was the RASC, now the Logistics Corps). He replied, accepted, and was delighted he had been asked.
“The Branch members then discovered he had written a book about his wartime experiences, but at the time it was nowhere near getting published. In our midst we have a wonderful benefactor called Trevor Beattie who will do literally anything to help WWII veterans, so we thought we'd be cheeky and ask Trevor to help Alex. He duly obliged, took the project on, and despite running into a road jam of problems, he has finally succeeded and Alex Franks’ book, ‘Non-Combatant’ is now available for purchase.
“Because it's not yet available in the shops, Bugle readers can contact me for more information if they are interested in buying this fabulous book. My contact number is 01543 425800. From the very start Alex insisted that any profits accrued by the book should go to the Red Cross, the organisation that saved him from starvation during a long stretch he had in a Stalag prisoner-ofwar camp."
Trevor Beattie has kindly written a brief synopsis of Alex's story: “These are war memoirs with a difference, from a man with an unusual angle on a global conflict. Alex Franks joined the army in 1939 at the age of 20 and spent the next six years witnessing at first hand the horrific impact of total war on everyone around him, without ever firing a shot back in anger.
“He was an ambulance driver serving with the legendary 7th Armoured Division, The Desert Rats, and experienced and survived every major battle of the famed North African Campaign from the front seat of his redoubtable, indestructible, Morris Commercial ‘Blood Tub’, via the visions of horror that were his mutilated and often fatally wounded passengers.
“The place names and characters which litter Alex's tale are high profile, such as the Africa Corps, Rommel and Montgomery, yet the tale itself is a uniquely personal one. From daringdo on countless battlefields and the high seas, through a series of remarkable scrapes and escapes, to capture and confinement in the concentration camps of Italy and Germany, before liberation and the return home. Alex Franks is a rare breed of hero and a born survivor, and his account is a living testimony of the most tumultuous period of conflict the world has ever witnessed, and is a story Alex has always wanted to see in print and made available for everyone to read.
“The memoirs in the book were dictated by Alex to his once comrade- in-arms, Tom Swallow, and throughout they are supported by a wealth of documentation and picture references, which together help to bring this remarkable story to life."