Francis Festing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sir Francis Wogan Festing
Sir Francis Festing in 1958.jpg
Nickname(s)"Frontline Frankie"
Born(1902-08-28)28 August 1902
Dublin, Ireland
Died3 August 1976(1976-08-03) (aged 73)
Hexham, Northumberland, England
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1921–1961
RankField Marshal
UnitRifle Brigade (The Prince Consort's Own)
Commands heldChief of the Imperial General Staff (1958–61)
Far East Land Forces (1956–58)
Eastern Command (1954–56)
British Troops in Egypt (1952–54)
Regular Commissions Board (1950–51)
British Forces in Hong Kong (1945–46, 1949)
36th Infantry Division (1942–45)
29th Infantry Brigade (1941)
2nd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment (1940–41)
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order
Mentioned in Despatches
Commander of the Legion of Merit (United States)
Order of the Cloud and Banner (China)

Field Marshal Sir Francis Wogan Festing, GCB, KBE, DSO, DL (Mandarin: 菲士挺, fēi shì tǐng; 28 August 1902 – 3 August 1976) was a senior British Army officer. His most important posts were as Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong (1945–46 and 1949), General Officer Commanding (GOC) British Troops in Egypt (1952), GOC Eastern Command (1954), Commander-in-Chief Far East Land Forces (1956), and Chief of the Imperial General Staff (1958–61). He saw active service in the Second World War, taking a prominent role in Operation Ironclad (the Battle of Madagascar) and the Arakan offensive of the Burma Campaign, and later advised the British government on ending conscription and reducing the size of the army by fifteen battalions.

Early life and military career[edit]

Festing was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of Brigadier General Francis Leycester Festing and Charlotte Katherine Grindall Festing (née Festing).[1] He was educated at Winchester College[2] and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst,[3] Festing was commissioned into 3rd Battalion the Rifle Brigade on 23 December 1921.[4] He was promoted to lieutenant on 23 December 1923[5] and became aide-de-camp to General Sir John Burnett-Stuart in 1926.[4] He went on to be Air Liaison Officer for Eastern Command on 1 February 1936[6] and, after attending the Staff College, Camberley from 1933 to 1934, and having been promoted to captain on 1 September 1936,[7] joined the staff at the War Office on 15 February 1938[8] before being promoted to major on 23 December 1938.[9]

Second World War[edit]

In the Second World War Festing was air liaison officer for the expedition to Norway of 1940, then, having been promoted to acting lieutenant colonel in April 1940,[7] as a staff officer in the Operations Directorate at the War Office from May 1940.[7] In September 1940 he became Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment and then in April 1942 he became Commander of 29th Independent Infantry Brigade Group which was the landing force of Force 121 for Operation Ironclad, the seizure of Vichy French ports and airfields in the Indian Ocean, notably Diego Suárez,[10] Majunga and Tamatave[11] in Madagascar.[7] He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his services in this campaign.[7]

Major General Festing and Major General Collin Jardine in North Burma, December 1944
Major General Francis Festing, Commander of the 36th Infantry Division, with Brigadier Aslett and men of the 9th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment during a break in the advance to Mandalay, January 1945

In November 1942 Festing took command of the 36th Indian Division and at the beginning of 1944 led it in the final stages of the Arakan offensive of the Burma Campaign. In mid-1944 the division moved to Northern Burma as part of the US led Northern Combat Area Command[12] before rejoining 14th Army. Festing had a reputation as a front line soldier as illustrated by one quote of an event on 29 October 1944:[13]

Myitkyina – To the growing Festing legend was added another dramatic chapter this week-end when Major General Francis Wogan Festing personally led the advance platoon of the 36th British Division into Mawlu. The leader of the platoon was killed, leaving the unit in charge of a sergeant. Festing, who is generally at the front, took over, and, probably the highest ranking officer ever to command a platoon, led it into Mawlu.

Festing was mentioned in despatches on 5 April 1945,[14] appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire on 5 July,[15] and appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath on 6 June 1946;[16] all in recognition of his services in Burma. He was also awarded the Legion of Merit in the Degree of Commander by the President of the United States for his conduct throughout the war on 8 November 1945.[17]

Postwar career[edit]

Festing was appointed Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong from August 1945 and, then having been promoted to major general on 17 August 1946,[18] he returned to the UK to be Director of Weapons and Development at the War Office in February 1947 where he remained until 26 June 1949[19] and then returned to Hong Kong.[20] After recovering from a blood clot on the brain,[20] he was appointed President of the Regular Commissions Board on 1 October 1950[21] and became Assistant Chief of Staff (Organisation and Training) at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe on 1 April 1951.[22] He took part in the funeral procession on 11 February 1952 following the death of King George VI[23] and was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours 1952.[3]

Promoted to lieutenant general on 6 February 1952,[24] Festing became General Officer Commanding British Troops in Egypt in April 1952 and then General Officer Commanding Eastern Command on 1 July 1954[25] and, having been advanced to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in the New Year Honours 1956,[3] he became Commander-in-Chief Far East Land Forces in August 1956.[20] Promoted to general on 29 November 1956,[20] advanced to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in the Queen's Birthday Honours 1957[26] and, having been appointed aide-de-camp general to the Queen on 26 June 1958,[27] he became Chief of the Imperial General Staff on 29 September 1958.[28] In this capacity he advised the British Government on ending conscription and reducing the size of the army by fifteen battalions.[20] Having been promoted to field marshal on 1 September 1960,[20] he retired on 1 November 1961.[29]

Festing was also Honorary Colonel of the 50th (Northumberland) Machine Gun Battalion of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers from 1 February 1948,[30] Colonel Commandant of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers from 12 March 1953,[31] Colonel Commandant of the 3rd Green Jackets, The Rifle Brigade from 7 November 1958[32] and Colonel Commandant of the 3rd Battalion The Royal Green Jackets from 15 June 1968.[33]

In retirement Festing became a Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland.[34] His interests included early firearms and Japanese swords. He was a practising Roman Catholic.[35] He died at his home at Tarset near Hexham in Northumberland on 3 August 1976.[35]


In 1937 Festing married Mary Cecilia, née Riddell (elder daughter of Cuthbert David Giffard Riddell, of Swinburne Castle, Northumberland),[36] from an old recusant family.[7] The couple had four sons: Fra' Matthew Festing (former Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta),[37] John Festing (former High Sheriff of Northumberland),[38] Major Michael Festing and Andrew Festing (former President of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters).[39]


  1. ^ Note: Charlotte Katherine Grindall Festing was a second cousin of Francis Leycester Festing
  2. ^ "Festing, Sir Francis Wogan (1902–1976), army officer". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29986.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ a b c "Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing". British Military History Biographies. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  4. ^ a b Heathcote, p. 118
  5. ^ "No. 32892". The London Gazette. 28 December 1923. p. 9109.
  6. ^ "No. 34256". The London Gazette. 18 February 1936. p. 1058.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Heathcote, p. 119
  8. ^ "No. 34489". The London Gazette. 4 March 1938. p. 1424.
  9. ^ "No. 34582". The London Gazette. 23 December 1938. p. 8179.
  10. ^ "No. 38225". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 March 1948. p. 1593.
  11. ^ "No. 37655". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 July 1946. p. 3717.
  12. ^ "No. 39195". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 April 1951. p. 1887.
  13. ^ Foster, Geoffrey, 36th Division – North Burma – 1944–45
  14. ^ "No. 37015". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 April 1945. p. 1810.
  15. ^ "No. 37161". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 July 1945. p. 3491.
  16. ^ "No. 37595". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1946. p. 2729.
  17. ^ "No. 37340". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 November 1945. p. 5460.
  18. ^ "No. 37701". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 August 1946. p. 4295.
  19. ^ "No. 38674". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 July 1949. p. 3639.
  20. ^ a b c d e f Heathcote, p. 120
  21. ^ "No. 39031". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 October 1950. p. 4907.
  22. ^ "No. 39206". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 April 1951. p. 2239.
  23. ^ "No. 39575". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 June 1952. p. 3350.
  24. ^ "No. 39614". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 August 1952. p. 4179.
  25. ^ "No. 40223". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 July 1954. p. 3949.
  26. ^ "No. 41089". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 June 1957. p. 3369.
  27. ^ "No. 41426". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 June 1958. p. 3991.
  28. ^ "No. 41508". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 September 1958. p. 5954.
  29. ^ "No. 42503". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 October 1961. p. 7925.
  30. ^ "No. 38278". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 April 1948. p. 2747.
  31. ^ "No. 39797". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 March 1953. p. 1430.
  32. ^ "No. 41541". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 November 1958. p. 6786.
  33. ^ "No. 44633". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1968. p. 7850.
  34. ^ "No. 42692". The London Gazette. 29 May 1962. p. 4374.
  35. ^ a b Heathcote, p. 121
  36. ^ "Field Marshal Sir Francis Wogan Festing". Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  37. ^ "Fra' Matthew Festing". Order of Malta. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  38. ^ "No. 53857". The London Gazette. 23 November 1994. p. 16376.
  39. ^ "Honorary degrees for brothers". University of Northumbria. Archived from the original on 29 March 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Foster, Geoffrey (1946). 36th Division – North Burma – 1944–45. privately published.
  • Heathcote, Tony (1999). The British Field Marshals 1736–1997. Barnsley (UK): Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-696-5.
  • Wilkes, Lyall (1991). Festing – Field Marshal: A study of "Front Line Frankie", G.C.B., K.B.E., D.S.O. Book Guild Ltd. ISBN 0-86332-532-7.
  • Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: a biographical guide to the key British generals of World War II. Stroud (UK): Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.
  • Smart, Nick (2005). Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War. Barnesley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1844150496.
Military offices
Preceded by
Christopher Maltby
Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong
Succeeded by
Sir George Erskine
Preceded by
Francis Matthews
Commander of British Forces in Hong Kong
June – September 1949
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Mansergh
Preceded by
Sir George Erskine
GOC British Troops in Egypt
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Hull
Preceded by
Sir Geoffrey Bourne
GOC-in-C Eastern Command
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Coleman
Preceded by
Sir Charles Loewen
C-in-C Far East Land Forces
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Hull
Preceded by
Sir Gerald Templer
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
Preceded by
Harold de Riemer Morgan
Colonel of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
Succeeded by
Roger St John