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Frank Coombes: accountant who wrote book about the war for his grandchildren

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Frank Coombes with his late wife Ivy on his 89th birthday in 2007
Frank Coombes with his late wife Ivy on his 89th birthday in 2007

A GRANDFATHER with distinguished wartime service and aviation career who spent much of his retirement actively involved in local organisations has died just a month before his 101st birthday.

Frank Reginald Coombes and Ivy, the childhood sweetheart who was to be his wife of nearly 68 years, moved to Highcliffe on his retirement from British Airways in 1978 and became involved in many aspects of the local community, including the church. He was also to write a book about his war years.

Ivy and Frank joined Highcliffe Bowling Club where they made many friends and where Frank served as treasurer and club president. They also joined the Highcliffe Community Association and were deeply involved in the fundraising to restore Greystones House where they both spent time volunteering in different roles, Frank again serving as treasurer.

They had a son, Michael, born in 1945, and daughter, Gillian, born in 1949, and four grandsons - Andrew, Simon, Elliot and Toby.

When Andrew, Simon and Elliot all reached the stage in school when they were learning about the Second World War, one by one they went to Frank and asked him “What did you do in the war Grandpa?”

After the third time he was told that he really ought to write a book about his war years. He did this in 1998 on an old Spectrum computer. In 2014 a family member kindly undertook to type up his book which Gillian and husband John put together with all his photographs from the war and had it published.

It was titled What Did You Do in the War, Grandpa? - Naval Memories by Frank Coombes. Gillian said: “He was very proud of his book and we were all incredibly proud of him, not only for writing it, but for giving us a wonderful insight into his war years and into him as a person.”

Unfortunately in 2009 both his son Michael and his wife Ivy both passed away within a month of each other. “This was a double blow and a very sad time for him and the rest of his family,” said Gillian.

Frank was born in Devonport, Plymouth on 13th June 1918, when his father was serving in the Royal Navy, and grew up in Greenwich - where his father was appointed company officer at the Royal Hospital School - before attending a commercial college in Croydon and joining Imperial Airways as a junior clerk.

Frank was to spend his working life in the air industry and he qualified as a certified accountant in order to further his career when he was working for British Airways.

Gillian said: “He was very proud of the fact that in 1963 when he was the chief pay officer for British Airways he transferred their payrolls on to computer for the first time.”

Frank’s family were regular churchgoers and his father was a churchwarden at the Church of Ascension in Mitcham where Frank met and fell in love with Ivy Constance Henson and he described their years together as full of fun and enjoyment until Hitler intervened.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 Frank joined the Royal Navy and Ivy continued to live with her family in Mitcham until in 1941 when Frank obtained a short leave and he and Ivy were married before he went back to sea for four years “and left Ivy to face the doodle bugs!”

Frank was very proud of his war record, his medals and the fact that he was mentioned in despatches in 1944 for his courage and endurance while serving in the Aegean Sea against enemy ships and under fierce air attacks.

One of the highlights of his war service was when General Montgomery boarded his ship for transportation to the D-Day beaches. In 2013 Frank received his Arctic Star medal for his participation in the Arctic Convoys.

After Ivy died Frank moved to a flat in the centre of Lymington where he could be nearer to his daughter and son-in-law. He spent a few happy years there but in 2015 became ill and spent 10 weeks in hospital.

Gillian said: “It became evident that he would not be able to return to his flat and live independently again so he moved into St George’s Nursing Home in Milford-on-Sea.

"He liked living there and was very well looked after and became a firm favourite with many of the carers.

“In April this year Frank had a chest infection which he just couldn’t seem to shake off. This combined with the dementia that had affected his life for the last few years was just too much for him and he sadly passed away peacefully on 7th May.”

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