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Francis was born in Lawrenny, south Wales, in October 1920, the son of a jockey and stable manager. He left school at 15 without any qualifications, with the intention of becoming a jockey and became a trainer in 1938. During World War II, he served in the Royal Air Force, piloting fighter and bomber aircraft, including the Spitfire and Hurricane. In 1945, he met his future wife, Mary Margaret Brenchley, whom he married in 1947; they had two sons. Francis wife died on 30 September 2000.