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My great grandfather Sir Frank Fox

By Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes

YOUR STORY

It was thus that my great

grandfather, Sir Frank Fox,

described his experiences in the

quagmire of the Battle of the

Somme, in 1916.

It has yet to be explained what a

42-year-old Australian-born captain

was doing at the very apex of the

front line. Whilst he remained a man

of strikingly handsome appearance,

so described in his The Times

obituary, the afflictions that he ended

the Great War with (a withered left

arm, a stump of a right foot and

almost total deafness) limited even

this remarkable man’s activities and

enthusiasms. I knew him well, as I

was 15 when he died. He was my

childhood hero.

Frank James Fox was born in

Adelaide in 1874. His father had been

banished to Australia after being

converted to Catholicism by Cardinal

Newman, now a saint, when he was

up at Oxford. It was only when I

obtained his Birth Certificate that I

discovered that my great grandfather

had been christened Francis Ignatius,

a name which he subsequently de-

Romanised. It is believed that he was

offered a place at Oxford during his

time at Christ College, Hobart, but

couldn’t afford to take it up. He thus

moved into journalism, becoming

Editor of The Australian Workman

at the remarkably young age of 18,

and subsequently moving to edit The

National Advocate, promoting the

cause of Australian Federation.

Thereafter he served as the Acting

Editor of The Bulletin magazine

in Sydney, where he worked with

Norman Lindsay as Illustrator and

“Banjo” Paterson as Poet and Author.

He subsequently founded and edited

The Lone Hand magazine, recruiting

his former Bulletin colleagues as

contributors.

His first book, ‘Bushman and

Buccaneer: Harry Morant, his

’Ventures and Verses’, was written

at this time under the pseudonym

Frank Renar. It was the seminal work

for the acclaimed British film ‘Breaker

Morant’, and probably resulted from

“Banjo” Paterson’s friendship

with Morant.

Through The Bulletin he became

close friends with Norman Lindsay,

and they were constant companions.

They shared a love of riding, and

Lindsay described Fox as an ‘equine

exhibitionist’. Most unusually, Lindsay

painted a picture of Fox on a horse.

It has been a somewhat obsessive,

life-long project of mine to locate

that portrait. My initial enquiries

in Australia were met with distinct

skepticism as to whether Norman

Linsday would have painted such a

subject, as it is so different from his

well known images. However, when

en route to a jackerooing post in

Queensland in 1967, I telephoned

Lindsay. Whilst he was too frail to

come to the telephone, his somewhat

dismissive private secretary was

persuaded to put the question to the

distinguished old man, who promptly

confirmed the provenance. I have a

photograph of the painting, with a

clearly visible signature, which had

been sent to my late grandmother in

England when the effects of the late

George Holman, an art dealer, were

sold in Adelaide in the late 1960s.

Unfortunately she could not afford

to bid, but through the Director of

the Art Gallery of New South Wales

I later obtained a watercolour sketch

of the portrait. A series of newspaper

advertisements have failed to

produce a definitive lead for the

work, but I live in hope of locating it.

Lindsay and Fox had what my

grandmother described as ‘a

terrible quarrel’, the cause of

which is obscure. However, Lindsay

subsequently wrote to my great

grandfather in England to apologise,

and I have the letter. I suspect that

the row may have been due to

Fox’s refusal to reproduce some of

Lindsay’s more risqué images in The

Lone Hand.

Fox travelled to England in 1909

to warn of the dangers of a war

in Europe. His proximity came to

the attention of The Morning Post

and he was invited initially to join

the staff, then became their War

Correspondent in the Balkan Wars.

He served in a similar capacity with

the Belgian Army in World War One,

and thus reported on the German

invasion in 1914.

‘The Agony of Belgium’ was the

first contemporary account of the

conflict, written in 1914 before it

became bogged down in trench

warfare. Fox, during hazardous

journeys by bicycle, reported

atrocities committed against the

civilian population, such as the use

of human shields, the first use of

Zeppelins and the sacking of historic

buildings and churches. He witnessed

the heroism of the Belgian Army

as it prevented the taking of the

“I was blown up by a salvo shells in front of Le Sars.

I refused to die on the battlefield.

The gallant stretcher-bearers got me in.

I spent the next year in hospital.”

Channel Ports at the Battle of the

Yser in a bloody and little-recognised

engagement.

He was so horrified by what he had

seen that he longed to become a

combatant. Having been decorated

for his services by King Albert, he

was commissioned into the Royal

Field Artillery in the British Army; he

probably lied about his age. Having

sustained the aforementioned serious

injuries, he went to work for MI7 in

London, then, impatient at being

out of the action, he pulled strings

to be returned to France to serve

at General Haig’s headquarters in

Montreuil-sur-Mer. He must have

cut a remarkable sight, leaning on a

crutch with his arm in a sling. He was

awarded the O.B.E. Military, and was

Mentioned in Despatches.

His book,‘GHQ – Montreuil-sur-

Mer’ written under a pseudonym

GSO gives a unique insight into the

thinking behind the setting up of

the GHQ in Montreuil in 1916 and

what life was like there for the Staff

in the planning of the final defeat of

the Germany Army. Unlike other of

his colleagues who were described

as “Desk Officers”, he could write

from two different aspects, having

served for 1½ years at the Front

before his severe injuries. He was

a relatively elderly officer and his

description of life in the trenches

gives a surprisingly different view to

those put forward by the so called

“War Poets”. He describes prolonged

tedium interrupted by periods of

intense excitement.

In peacetime he was a prolific author

of some 35 books and applied

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his devotion to the British Empire

through organising the Fellowship

of the British Empire Exhibition,

for which he was Knighted, and

subsequently the British Empire

Cancer Campaign and the Empire

Rheumatism Council.

In 1922, he invited to accompany

King George V on his pilgrimage to

the war graves in Belgium and France

and wrote the official account of

this and the opening of the Military

Cemeteries in Belgium and in France

following the first State Visit to

Belgium. It is planned to re-publish

‘The King’s Pilgrimage’ shortly.

He had married Helena Clint, of a

distinguished artistic family. She was

the Granddaughter of Alfred Clint,

an English landscape painter, and the

Great Granddaughter of George Clint,

the celebrated theatrical painter.

After the death of his wife, he lived

with his daughter, my Grandmother,

near Chichester Harbour, where

he was a familiar figure walking

indominately with his distinctive gait,

until shortly before his death in 1950.

The author of this article, Dr Charles

Goodson-Wickes, served as a

Surgeon Lieutenant Colonel in The

Life Guards in BAOR, Northern

Ireland and Cyprus, as well as with

the 7th Armoured Brigade in the

First Gulf War.

‘GHQ – Montreuil-sur-Mer’ has an

appendix of previously unpublished

Military Statistics of casualties,

ammunition and supplies, which

adds to the appreciation of Haig’s

achievement. ‘The Agony of Belgium’

and ‘GHQ’ are available to purchase

via

www.sirfrankfox.com