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Heritage, Francis Bede (1877–1934)

by C. H. Finlay

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Francis Bede Heritage (1877-1934), soldier, was born on 21 September 1877 at River Don, Tasmania, eldest of the seven sons and two daughters of George Thomas Henry Heritage, teacher and later inspector of schools, and his wife Eleanor Boyce, née Hadfield. He was educated at Longford State School and Launceston Church Grammar School.

Heritage was commissioned lieutenant in the Tasmanian Infantry Regiment (militia) on 26 January 1897 and promoted captain in June 1899. During the South African War he served as a lieutenant with the 1st Tasmanian (Mounted Infantry) Contingent from October 1899 to December 1900. After discharge he joined the Administrative and Instructional Staff (permanent forces) of the Australian Army and was gazetted captain in 1901. His service in Tasmania in 1901-07 was marked by keen specialization in musketry and small-arms training and in 1907-08 he was sent to England for advanced instruction at the School of Musketry, Hythe.

In November 1908, after returning home, he was transferred to New South Wales and was promoted major in July 1909. In September 1911 he was appointed commandant and chief instructor of the school of musketry at Randwick, where his work contributed greatly to the army's high standard of training in small arms. When World War I began he was appointed brigade major of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force which embarked from Sydney in August 1914 to seize German colonies in the Pacific. After the occupation of German New Guinea he commanded the expeditions which occupied New Ireland and the Admiralty and Western Islands, and from October 1914 to March 1915 was deputy administrator of German New Guinea. He returned to Australia in mid-1915 and on 16 October, at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, married Rita Austen Hill; they had no children.

Promoted lieutenant-colonel next December, Heritage served throughout 1916 as director of military training at Army Headquarters, Melbourne. He was appointed to the Australian Imperial Force in the same rank in December and saw active service in France as a general staff officer with the 2nd Division at Bullecourt and the 4th Division at Messines. From September 1917 he commanded the Anzac and the Australian Corps Schools but in February 1918 was evacuated with rheumatic fever; he was invalided home and demobilized in August. For distinguished service in France he was awarded the Croix de Guerre. Three of his brothers served in the A.I.F. (Captain Keith Heritage, M.C., who was killed in action at Pozières, Lieutenant Austin Heritage, M.C., and Private Robert Heritage) and a fourth (Corporal Stanley Heritage) with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

On resuming duty with the Australian Military Forces in August 1918 Heritage served as director of personnel at Army Headquarters; in 1919 he was commandant in Western Australia and in January 1920 was promoted colonel. Next month he was reappointed commandant of the school of musketry, Randwick, and, after service on the staff of the Prince of Wales during his visit, was appointed M.V.O. In August 1922 he became commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Australian Federal Territory. This posting coincided with a period of stress in the defence services because of drastic economies and post-war revulsion against military training. By his tact, administrative expertise and strong personal qualities Heritage was able to prevent disbandment of the college and he maintained its prestige over a difficult period until 1929 when he was transferred to Sydney to command the 2nd Military District; his outstanding service to the college had been recognized by the appointment of C.B.E. in 1924.

When, in 1931, the Royal Military College, in reduced form, was moved to Sydney and placed under his command Heritage, then a brigadier, again maintained its quality under most unfavourable conditions. In January 1933 he was posted to Army Headquarters as quartermaster general and third member of the Military Board. He was operated on for acute appendicitis and on 9 July 1934 died of peritonitis in a Melbourne private hospital. He was buried with military honours in Melbourne general cemetery after a service at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Carlton. His wife survived him. Heritage's main contributions to the Australian Army were the standard of rifle and small-arms training he achieved before and during World War I and his sensitive leadership as commandant of the Royal Military College in 1922-29. When he died his promotion was imminent and he was expected on the retirement of Major General Sir Julius Bruche to be appointed chief of the General Staff.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray, ed (Melb, 1911)
  • S. S. Mackenzie, The Australians at Rabaul (Syd, 1927)
  • J. E. Lee, Duntroon (Canb, 1952)
  • London Gazette, 20 Sept 1919
  • Reveille (Sydney), Jan 1933
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Jan 1917, 26 Feb 1919, 20 Aug 1920, 8, 10 July 1922, 3 June 1924, 20 Nov 1929, 26 Nov 1931, 13 Dec 1932, 10, 11, 14 July 1934
  • Mercury (Hobart), 9 Oct 1931
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 July 1934
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 12 July 1934
  • records (Archives Office of Tasmania, and Church Grammar School, Launceston, Tasmania, and Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

C. H. Finlay, 'Heritage, Francis Bede (1877–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/heritage-francis-bede-6648/text11455, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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