RAR Regiments first commanding officer 1940-1943


Francis John Wane was born October 1880 in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, the son of a prosperous merchant who owned and operated the Red Barn Grain and Feed Merchants in the town. His mother was a music teacher. The UK census of 1890 show that his grandparents managed ‘Red Barn’ farm which was owned by his grandmothers father who owned a number of farms in the County. Apparently Francis father moved into town to set up his Grain and Feed merchants to sell produce from the farms and cut out the ‘middle man’ in such business transactions. That his family was doing quite well in business is witnessed by the same census which indicates that as well as himself and his parents and one sister living at their home in High Wycombe there was also a housekeeper resident at the property, something only the relatively affluent could afford in those days. As was common with many in the upper and middle classes of society Francis joined the Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars Yeomanry, what was then a militia (Territorial) Regiment. These militia units were for home defence only and could not be sent overseas. Shortly after the outbreak of the Boer War and a number of British defeats, the British government realized they were going to need more troops than just the regular army, and a Royal Warrant was issued on 24 December 1899, creating the Imperial Yeomanry. The Royal Warrant asked standing Yeomanry regiments to provide service companies of approximately 115 men each for overseas service, these were all volunteer units. Francis Wane was such a volunteer and as a private soldier joined the 38th (High Wycombe) Company, which was raised from volunteers from the Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry and was made part of the 10th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry. These volunteers enlisted for one year’s service in South Africa.

The 10th Battalion IY arrived in Cape Town in February, 1900. Wane was obviously quickly promoted to Corporal and later commissioned. Newspapers of the time shows that Wane served in the Battalion as orderly to the Commanding Officer, Colonel Lawson. The Bucks Herald dated 18th January 1902 notes: “Earl Roberts has given a commission to Corpl. Francis John Wane of High Wycombe, who served with the Company of Imperial Yeomanry, and was orderly to Colonel W.A.W. Lawson.” Medal Rolls show Wane being awarded the 1902 clasp to the Queens South Africa Medal, so one can gather he had volunteered to extend his service in South Africa and was still there when he was commissioned. The medal roll also shows that in 1902 he was serving with the 32nd Battalion IY. Having tracked the campaigns of the 10th IY it is apparent that Wane was entitled to wear five bars on his Queens South Africa Medal, as depicted here. Lieutenant Wane was mentioned in The London Gazette, March 13, 1903, as being transferred to the Reserve of Officers, the entry reads: ‘Honorary Lieutenant Francis John Wane, late of the 32nd Battalion Imperial Yeomanry posted to the Reserve as Lieutenant’. I then found Wane listed as a passenger on the steamship SS Johannesburg bound from London to Cape Town departing 11th March 1903. Obviously young Wane took some time to travel to Salisbury where on 12 January, 1904, he attested into the BSAP, Regimental Number 593. He left the BSAP on the 6th October, 1905, on transfer to the Native Affairs Department where the Rhodesia Civil Rolls show him to have been appointed as a Clerk in the Charter District.

Wane returned to the colours in 1916 and was appointed a Captain (later Major) serving under Lt. Col. Tomlinson in the 1st Rhodesia Native Regiment. Wane obviously distinguished himself whilst serving with the RNR as the Supplement to the London Gazette, 31 August, 1917, lists Captain Francis John Wane, Rhodesia Native Regiment, as having been awarded the Italian Medaglia d’Argento al Valore Militare (Silver Medal of Military Valour) which is the Italian equivalent of the British Military Cross. Captain Wane was later wounded in action on the 12th November 1917, at Songea in German East Africa. The following is a brief summary of the action: “On 11th November von Falkenstein’s troops approached Songea whilst one of his patrols successfully ambushed a British re-supply column on the Wiedhaven track. The porters dropped the fourdays’ supply of rations that they were carrying and ran into Songea. Perhaps due to misinformation from local villagers von Falkenstein had come to believe that the British garrison was weak and ill-trained. But he was also an impatient man and he did not wait for von Grawert but attacked at first light on 12th November with his 180 men and one machine gun. The German attack came in from the south-east just as the Rhodesia Native Regiment “stood to” in an alert position in their trenches. The German machine gun jammed after firing a few bursts and from then on both sides depended upon the weight and accuracy of their rifle fire.

Whilst engaging the withdrawing enemy machine gunners Captain Wane was shot in the shoulder, whilst a drummer in the regimental band, Private Rupea, was shot dead when defending the eastern section of the perimeter. A number of villagers and porters added confusion to the battlefield by getting shot as they ran to jump into the Rhodesian trenches. Around noon von German reinforcements arrived on the scene and with a machine gun firing effectively in support more than 200 men attacked from the north and east. But the Germans could not suppress the Rhodesian rifle fire or the rifle grenades that the defenders fired.

Francis Wane finished the war as a Major in the RNR and in the Supplement to the London Gazette, 7 March, 1918. He was Mentioned in Dispatches by General Northey for exemplary conduct in German East Africa. He would therefore have been entitled to wear an oak leaf on the ribbon of the 1914-18 Victory Medal. Following the end of the war Major Wane returned to the Native Affairs Department until he was once again summonsed to the colours in 1940, and with a cadre of officers from the BSAP and Native Affairs Department and a cadre of men from the BSAP Askari Platoon he was tasked with raising the 1st Battalion of the Rhodesian African Rifles. In the Kings Birthday Honours list of 1941, whilst commanding the regiment Lt. Colonel Wane was made a Companion of the Imperial Service Order. The entry reads: Francis John Wane. For services as a Native Commissioner in Southern Rhodesia. (Now Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel, Rhodesian African Rifles.)’

Lt. Col. Wane successfully raised and trained the battalion which was eventually sent to East Africa in 1943 and then on to Ceylon and Burma. By the time the battalion deployed for active service Wane was 63 years old and it was decided, quite correctly, that this was not an age that a man should be commanding an infantry battalion on active service, so he handed over command to Lt Col J F MacDonald. On relinquishing command Wane was appointed as Honorary Colonel of the Regiment, a position he held until his death. Francis Wane always took a keen interest in the daily life of the Rhodesian African Rifles and appears in a number of photographs of the era when significant events took place involving the RAR

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