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Francis, Sir Josiah (1890–1964)

by Jacqueline Rees

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Josiah Francis (1890-1964), by unknown photographer, 1940s

Josiah Francis (1890-1964), by unknown photographer, 1940s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23617735

Sir Josiah Francis (1890-1964), politician and army officer, was born on 28 March 1890 at Ipswich, Queensland, second child of native-born parents Henry Alfred Francis, draper, and his wife Ada Florence, née Hooper. Educated at Christian Brothers' College, Ipswich, Jos held a commission in the senior cadets. In February 1908 he joined the Queensland Department of Justice as a clerk.

On 1 April 1916 Francis was appointed second lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force. He sailed for England in October and served with the 15th Battalion on the Western Front from April 1917. Wounded in the shoulder in March 1918, he was hospitalized in England before rejoining his unit in September. In the following month he was promoted temporary captain (substantive in November). His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia on 16 September 1919.

Involving himself with issues affecting former servicemen, Francis presided over the Ipswich sub-branch (1920-21) and the Moreton district (1920) of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia; in the early 1920s he was a member of the organization's State managing council. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1922 as the Nationalist candidate for Moreton and was to hold the seat until 1955. At the Central Congregational Church, Ipswich, on 26 April 1927 he married Edna Clarke Cribb; they were to remain childless.

Dubbed a 'plodder' for much of his political life, Francis was a member of various parliamentary committees and of the royal commission on national insurance (1923-27). In J. A. Lyons's United Australia Party government he was assistant-minister for defence and minister in charge of war-service homes in 1932-34, and minister without portfolio—in charge of war-service homes and assisting the minister for repatriation—in 1934. He promoted the concerns of returned service personnel, not only because of his commitment to their welfare, but also because he understood their politics. Unashamedly following R.S.& S.I.L.A. policy, in the late 1920s he had supported the establishment of pension appeals tribunals for ex-servicemen; in 1933 he secured a reduction in the interest rate on loans for war-service homes from 4.5 to 4 per cent.

In March 1943 Francis moved an amendment to the Australian soldiers' repatriation bill allowing for a full pension to be paid to veterans suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, whether or not their condition could be attributed to war service. The change complied with the policy of the Australian Labor Party (then in power), but it fell to Francis to bring the matter before the House. Not one voice was raised against the amendment which ended twenty-five years of bitter argument over the plight of ex-servicemen with tuberculosis and ushered in a far-reaching precedent.

With the return to government of the Liberal and Country parties in 1949 under (Sir) Robert Menzies, Francis was minister for the army (1949-55) and the navy (1949-51 and 1954-55). He ensured that his departments received significant budgetary allocations and was respected by the military chiefs. In 1951 he supported the Naval Board's recommendation that the government accede to a British request for the aircraft-carrier, H.M.A.S. Sydney, to be sent to Korean waters. That year he spent Christmas with Australian troops in Korea.

At a diplomatic reception in Tokyo immediately afterwards, Francis was alleged to have confiscated the film of a press photographer who captured him 'clinking champagne glasses with the Russian Ambassador (General Kislenko)'. Francis warned Australian soldiers against marrying Japanese women, arguing that the brides faced immigration restrictions and social rejection if they were allowed into Australia; he added the rather spurious observation that French wives of World War I soldiers had generally been unable to settle down in their new country. While normally not pretentious, he liked to wear a top hat, thereby attracting derisive comments from Labor members in the House.

Appointed Australian consul-general in New York in 1956, Francis built up useful contacts for his country, particularly in American banking and industrial circles. He was knighted in 1957 and retired to Brisbane four years later. Sir Josiah retained an interest in sporting activities and was patron of the Point Danger branch of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia from 1924 until his death; in 1926 he had saved a boy from drowning at the St Kilda baths, Melbourne. Survived by his wife, Francis died on 22 February 1964 at Toowong and was cremated with Methodist forms. Menzies paid tribute to his 'humanity and understanding'.

Select Bibliography

  • G. L. Kristianson, The Politics of Patriotism (Canb, 1966)
  • R. O'Neill, Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, vols 1 and 2 (Canb, 1981, 1985)
  • C. Lloyd and J. Rees, The Last Shilling (Melb, 1994)
  • Brisbane Courier, 1 Jan 1932
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 2 Jan 1952
  • Herald (Melbourne), 21 Oct, 3 Dec 1960
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 23 Feb 1964
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 Feb 1964.

Citation details

Jacqueline Rees, 'Francis, Sir Josiah (1890–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/francis-sir-josiah-10235/text18095, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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