THE 65-year-old motorist, who died after his car was in collision with a train at a level crossing in Athelney, was due to retire this week.

Keen countryman Dennis William France, of Curload, Stoke St Gregory, worked on the front desk at Debenhams’ Bedford House offices in Taunton for 20 years.

Today (March 28) would have been his last day and friends and colleagues said they had plans to celebrate his retirement.

Good friend Tim Duxbury said: “It’s a cruel irony that Den was due to retire from work today and had many grand plans mapped out for both his garden and the rest of his life.

“Those plans will sadly remain unfulfilled as will his desire to see his beloved Manchester United lift the Premiership trophy again.”

He said Dennis was always smiling and joking, adding: “He was kind, generous, thoughtful and sensitive with an incorrigible sense of humour only just kept in check.”

Colleagues told the County Gazette Dennis was extremely popular. Chloe Pick, who herself was involved in a dramatic crash this week (see here), described him as “cheeky”.

She said: “He was absolutely lovely and everyone was devastated to find out what happened to him especially as he was retiring.

“We’d all written five pages worth of cards.”

Chairman of Stoke St Gregory Parish Council Heather Venn spoke of the village’s shock.

She said: “It’s affected people in Curload and I know he was close to his neighbours here. It has also affected the community in witness terms.”

Dennis moved to the area several years ago to fulfil his dream of rural life and those close to him say he loved the quiet location and his garden and chickens were his pride and joy.

The incident happened shortly before 6.30am last Thursday on the line between Taunton and Castle Cary, less than a mile from Dennis’s home.

Live updates on the crash were reported on

It is believed the half barrier was already closing when he drove on to the tracks.

British Transport Police say the accident is not being treated as suspicious.

An inquest was opened and adjourned by West Somerset Coroner Michael Rose on Monday. The cause of death was given as traumatic injuries.

The funeral is at Taunton Deane Crematorium at 2.30pm on April 10 – inquiries to Nigel K. Ford on 01823-338369. Dennis is survived by his brother, Colin.