Hen party! Holocaust survivor turned British army heroine finally receives war medals on 100th birthday

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Hen party! Holocaust survivor turned British army heroine finally receives war medals on 100th birthday

Grandmother of three Henny Franks, who escaped Nazi persecution as a teenager on the Kindertransport, receives medals to mark her wartime service to Britain

Henny Franks with AJEX Chair Dan Fox
Pic: James Manning/PA Wire/PA Images
Henny Franks with AJEX Chair Dan Fox Pic: James Manning/PA Wire/PA Images

A Holocaust survivor turned Second World War British army stalwart has received medals for her wartime service to Britain to mark her 100th birthday.

Henny Franks was handed the Defence Medal and HM Armed Forces Veteran Badge on Wednesday at a party held for her 100th birthday at Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivor Centre.

Henny escaped Nazi persecution as a teenager, leaving Cologne for Britain on the Kindertransport. A member of the women’s branch of the British Army, volunteering for the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) for many years, she had no idea she was entitled to receive medals for her galant service to her adopted country.

She told Jewish News: “I love England very much. I felt so proud to be in the army. I did my bit. I was one of the lucky ones. I want people to know that Jewish people did their bit to fight back.”

Henny Franks. pic: James Manning/PA Media

Henny’s family story is tragic. Her father was arrested and deported to Sobibor where he was murdered by the Nazis but her mother survived the Holocaust. Her cousin in England, who had four children of their own, took her into their home.

By the time Henny was 16 she had learned to speak English and at 19 she was recruited by the British Army to the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She went to Nottingham for training and then worked as a driver transporting ammunition in Westcliff-on-Sea.

Henny rebuilt her life in the UK after the war with her late husband and said that her two children and three grandchildren are a constant source of support to her. Until recently she visited schools in Cologne to teach pupils about her experiences.

On awarding Henny her medals, Dan Fox of AJEX said: “It was an honour to surprise Henny. As the greatest generation become fewer, lasting recognition of their service and commitment is more important than ever. The restoration and reclamation of medals is a striking way of ensuring this. They are artefacts or personal history, but also meaningful to families, communities and the nation as a whole. They help us remember what veterans went through and to take pride in what they did.”

Daniel Carmel-Brown of Jewish Care said: “We are so pleased to wish Henny a happy 100th birthday and to celebrate together with her at Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre.

“Henny is a much-loved member of the centre and tells us that she considers it to be her second home.  It is an amazing gift and the source of much pride for Henny, as a Holocaust survivor and veteran, to be recognised for her service and receive her war medals through AJEX today.”

The Jewish Military Association (AJEX) recently launched a ‘Family Medals’ campaign so Jewish families who do not have their own or family members’ medals from war and other service can be reunited with them.

Whether you have lost family medals or never claimed your own or your family’s, AJEX will help you to identify and find them.

Henny Franks in the British Auxilliary Services. Pic: Jewish Care

While the number of Second World War and National Service veterans declines, their families and direct descendants continue to thrive and are active with AJEX.

The organisation hopes many more first-time Parade-goers will proudly march wearing their medals at the annual Remembrance Parade & Ceremony on 19 November.

The Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-45 together with her HM Armed Forces Veteran Badge

Fox added: “Medals are some of the most personal artefacts of military service. For individuals and their families, they are markers of commitment and bravery.

“As a community, they are collective badges of honour and of pride in the Jewish contribution to our nation. I hope many spouses, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who have served will join us in bringing these decorations home.”

Replicas are available in mini or original size, mounted or not, and AJEX has negotiated discounts with medal minters.

Henny-Franks-in-the-British-Auxilliary-Services. Pic: Jewish Care

As part of her centenary, Jewish Care organised for Franks to twin her birthday with three young women in their 30s. Nicole Gilbert, Debra Binder and Rachel Miller, who added their upcoming birthdays together (30+35+35) to make 100.

Together, the four women enjoyed a chauffeur-driven trip around London, with Henny describing it as “one of the best days of my life”, adding: “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it. People are so nice, and I always say that if you’re nice that’s how people will be to you.”

Visit www.ajex.org.uk/medals for details and instructions

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