Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Heane (1874–1954)

by J. G. Williams

This article was published:

James Heane (1874-1954), soldier and orchardist, was born on 29 December 1874 in Sydney, son of James Heane, grazier and commission agent, and his wife Emily Sarah Parsons, née Tuting, both English-born. He was educated at Dubbo Superior Public School and Sydney Boys' High School, becoming a certificated auditor and then a farmer in the Dubbo district. After serving for five years in the Cadet Forces he was commissioned second lieutenant in the 3rd Australian Infantry Regiment (militia) in February 1899. In 1903 he transferred to the 2nd Light Horse Regiment (which later became the 9th) as a lieutenant and in 1910, on the introduction of compulsory military training, he was appointed area officer at Dubbo.

When war came in 1914 Heane joined the Australian Imperial Force on 3 September as a captain in the 4th Battalion. It was as a major commanding 'D' Company at the Gallipoli landing that he earned his nickname 'Cast Iron Jimmy' for he showed no fear as he moved among his men under heavy fire. For gallantry on 1 May, when he led a company 'to support a small, isolated force in a trench without means of retreat' he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order; he also received the first two of seven mentions in dispatches for his work at Gallipoli. While there he was wounded three times: first, in the thumb on 2 July, later in the mouth, and in the charge at Lone Pine on 6 August was so badly wounded that he was evacuated and hospitalized. He rejoined his unit at Tel-el-Kebir, Egypt, in January 1916; shortly afterwards he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and transferred to command the 1st Battalion which moved to the Western Front.

On 30 June 1916 Heane's battalion conducted a very successful raid on the German trenches at Sailly and he was later appointed C.M.G. for distinguished service at Pozières. Twice in 1916 he held temporary command of the 1st Brigade and on 3 December was promoted colonel and appointed to command the 2nd Brigade. Four days later he was again wounded, this time in the head, and was evacuated to England. He rejoined his brigade at Buire in January 1917 and took part that year in the battles of the Hindenburg line, Menin Road, Broodseinde Ridge and Passchendaele. His brigade performed particularly well in August-September 1918 during the attacks on Lihons, Herleville and St Martin's Wood. At the height of these battles it was not uncommon for Heane to take short cuts across open ground raked by fire. He remained in command until the Armistice. For his command of the 2nd Brigade he was appointed C.B. and in 1917-19 was mentioned in dispatches five more times; in 1918 he received the Belgian Croix de Guerre.

After the Armistice Heane was one of the first Australians to visit Alsace-Lorraine and the occupied territory along the Rhine. He transferred to England in March 1919 and commanded the 1st Division Demobilization Group at Tidworth for the next three months. After leaving the A.I.F. on 7 January 1920 he commanded the 11th Brigade, Australian Military Forces, from July 1920 until April 1921, then the 5th Brigade until June 1926. On 4 April 1923 at St John's Anglican Church, Beecroft, Sydney, he married Edna Dulcie Martyn, of Narrabri. He was honorary colonel of the 4th Battalion from 1926 until he transferred to the retired list as an honorary brigadier in 1935. In 1931, and possibly from the movement's foundation, he held overall command of the Sydney-based Old Guard.

Strict, serious, energetic, Heane was popular with his men. He was an archetype of the higher level Australian commander of World War I and 'one of the great field successes of the war'. He became an orchardist soon after returning to Australia and settled on a large citrus orchard at West Pennant Hills. He was president of the Fruitgrowers' Federation of New South Wales in 1922-41. He remained actively associated with the army and in World War II commanded the State Volunteer Defence Corps until 1942.

Survived by his wife and two daughters, 'Cast Iron Jimmy' died of cerebral thrombosis at Collaroy on 20 August 1954 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was sworn for probate at £31,138. A portrait of Heane by James Quinn is in the Australian War Memorial.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • K. Amos, The New Guard Movement 1931-1935 (Melb, 1976)
  • London Gazette, 1 June, 3 Aug 1915, 29 Dec 1916, 2 Jan, 1 June, 25, 28 Dec 1917, 28 May, 12 July, 31 Dec 1918, 11 July 1919
  • Reveille (Sydney), Mar 1937
  • Town and Country Journal, 30 Jan 1907, 14 May 1919
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 1915, 1 Jan 1917, 1, 15 Jan 1918, 28 Mar, 25 Oct 1919, 1 May 1926, 21 Aug 1954
  • Bulletin, 1 Sept 1954
  • war diary, 1st, and 4th Battalion, and 1st, and 2nd Brigade AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • J. Heane file, (war records section, Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

J. G. Williams, 'Heane, James (1874–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 December, 1874
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


20 August, 1954 (aged 79)
Collaroy, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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