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Born on 20th June 1899, in Bermondsey, Francis was the 2nd of Frank and Elizabeth Sumnerís six children. He attended Quernmore School before entering Tonbridge School in May 1914. He left at Easter 1916 and, until he was old enough to serve, he worked at the Russian Commission in Kingsway.
Following his 18th birthday, on June 25th he became a Royal Naval Air Service cadet at the Crystal Palace. He obtained his commission on July 1st 1917, as a Temporary Flight Officer R.N.A.S. and, after three months at the Crystal Palace, continued his training for another three months at Vendome, and then was appointed a Temporary Flight Sub-Lieutenant on December 19th, 1917. With the formation of the Royal Air Force he became Lieutenant, R.A.F., April 1st, 1918, and during most of that year he was with the 97th Squadron at Stonehenge, Netheravon and Andover. He had been for several months instructing on Handley Page machines when, on November 9th, just before the Armistice, he was at last sent out to the 214th Squadron in France. For the next eight months he was engaged for the most part in conveying mails, till July, 1919, when the Squadron suddenly received orders to proceed at once to Egypt, in consequence of the trouble that had arisen there.
His machine was one of the three in the flight that started first, and all went well till they reached Istres, some four miles from Marseilles. There they had to spend several days overhauling the machines, and on the 8th, shortly after they started for Pisa, he had to return to the aerodrome owing to engine trouble. The other two machines continued their flight according to instructions, and their Pilots, though delayed at Pisa for a day, did not learn of the disaster till the 13th, when the second flight brought the news to them at Taranto. On the morning of July 9th Lieut. Sumner had left Istres once more; but serious engine trouble had evidently recurred almost at once and compelled him to attempt a hasty landing in the neighbourhood of Pourrieres, near Aix, though the country was so mountainous and difficult as to render a safe landing impossible. The machine, a Handley Page, was totally wrecked and burst into flames; but it is believed that all four occupants, Lieut. Sumner and his brother pilot, and the two mechanics, must have been instantaneously killed in the crash itself.
Thank you to Tonbridge School for their assistance.
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