François Joseph Vrancken was a Belgian soldier evacuated to England after being wounded by an exploding shell in September 1914. After leaving hospital in May 1915 he worked in the drawing office of the Hoffmann’s bearings factory in Chelmsford, utilising his peacetime skills as an engineer. He became engaged to a former pupil of the County High School for Girls, but in November 1918 she died from pneumonia following influenza and he died in the same day three days later. Both were later buried at the Chelmsford Borough Cemetery in Writtle Road.

François was born in Belgium on 16th October 1889.

François joined the Belgian army's 2nd Chasseurs a Pied on 4th August 1914 and afterwards obtained a commission as Lieutenant.

François was wounded by an exploding shell at Semps on 12th September 1914 while engaged in blowing up a bridge, in connection with which he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He was evacuated to England in the following month, arriving on 12th October 1914.

Upon his discharge from hospital in May 1915 obtained an appointment in the drawing office at the Hoffmann Manufacturing Company's extension works in Chelmsford, in charge of which extension he was subsequently placed as a civil engineer.


Lieutenant, 2nd Chasseurs a Pied

While in Chelmsford François became engaged to marry Ethel Louisa Jessie Vansanten. She was born in Brockley, Kent in 1895, the only daughter of William Adrien Vansanten (1865-1925), who had been born in the Netherlands, and Harriet Emily Vansanten (nee Wright) (1862-1952). Ethel was a former pupil of the County High School for Girls at Chelmsford and lived with her parents and François at 35 Mildmay Road, Chelmsford. By November 1918 François and Ethel hoped to marry and settle in Chelmsford.

His home was in Brussels, where his mother and a brother remained during the German occupation. He had heard that his widowed mother was still living, and had arranged to go home at Christmas 1918.

François, who was described as 'a civil engineer of great skill', made many friends in Chelmsford, 'was a capital shot and fond of angling'.

Ethel died on 21st November 1918 from pneumonia following influenza. She was aged 23. Two days later 29 year-old François, who had been suffering from influenza, developed pneumonia, and he succumbed on 24th November 1918.

On 26th November 1918 the couple were buried at Chelmsford Borough Cemetery in Writtle Road. Ethel's interment took place first, with Rev. W. J. Pressey of St. John's Church, Moulsham, conducting the Church of England service; and afterwards François was buried in the same grave (no. 424) by Rev. Monseigneur Watson with the rites of the Catholic Church.

Today the grave is marked by a Belgian military headstone.