by George K. Newark


(The Coat of Arms of Sir Francis while he was married to his first wife, Violet Houldsworth)

Sir Francis' involvement in the administration of the Territorial Army began in 1908 when he became a Military Member of the Territorial Army Association for the County of Essex. He served as its Chairman from 1929 to 1936, its President from 1936, and was a member of the Territorial Army Advisory Committee to the War Office 1935-37. When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Colonel Whitmore assumed the presidency of the National Service Committee in Essex, formed to co-ordinate the county's war effort. He became Honorary Colonel of 104 (Essex Yeomanry) Regiment, RHA in 1936; 147 (Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment RA in 1940; 17th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA in 1941 and Honorary Commander of the Essex Home Guard in 1940. When the Territorial Army was re-formed after the war in 1947, he became Honorary Colonel of 304 (Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment RA (TA) and 517 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA (TA). In 1949 Sir Francis Whitmore, representing King George VI, presented a new guidon to the Essex Yeomanry in place of the one destroyed during an air raid on their headquarters in Chelmsford. Sir Francis reminded the assembled soldiers and Old Comrades that he had commanded the colour party which received their original guidon from King Edward VII in 1909.

Francis Whitmore was just as diligent in the civil administration of the county, he was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1899, a Deputy Lieutenant in 1907, served on the Essex County Council from 1918 to 1926, and was High Sheriff of Essex from 1922 to 1923. He was appointed His Majesty's Lord Lieutenant for the County of Essex in 1936 and served in that office until he retired in 1958, at the age of 86. He was made a Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB) in 1935, a Knight of the Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1937 (KStJ), raised to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1941, and created a baronet in 1954. He was a benevolent lord of the manors of Orsett, Little Thurrock, Stifford, Corringham and North Benfleet, where his memory is cherished by the older inhabitants. During his lifetime he involved himself in a great many activities in the county, either as president, chairman or benefactor of innumerable organisations and societies.

Sir Francis married twice; in 1900 he wed Violet Frances Elizabeth, youngest daughter of Sir William Henry Houldsworth of Coodham, Ayrshire. She died in 1927. In 1931 he married Ellis Christense Johnsen (DStJ 1960) eldest daughter of Knud Johnsen of Bergen, Norway, who outlived him. Lady Whitmore, at a sprightly 95, now lives quietly in Chelmsford. A daughter, Anne Catherine, was born in 1934 and a son and heir, John Henry Douglas, in 1937

Sir Francis Whitmore, KCB, CMG, DSO, TD, JP died on June 12th 1962 at Orsett and was buried with full military honours at Orsett parish church. His coffin was draped with the Union Flag upon which were laid his orders and decorations and his Lord Lieutenant's cocked hat. It was borne to St. Giles and All Saints on a gun carriage and carried into the church on the shoulders of six Essex Yeomen attended by the Regimental Sergeant Major. Members of the regiment and Old Comrades lined the processional route while family, friends, military colleagues and county dignitaries paid tribute to this Grand Old Man of Essex. Sir John Whitmore, the 2nd Baronet, lived a very different life to his father, and became a prominent racing driver with the Ford Motor company, although he did serve for a time in 304 (Essex Yeomanry) Field Regiment, RA (TA). He decided, initially, to carry on with the estate-farming tradition of his father, but, although successful, his heart was not in agriculture and he sold the Orsett Estate in 1968.

Sir John Whitmore now lives in Kent with his son Jason. Sir Francis' daughter, Anne Catherine, married Daniel Jose Emilio O'Connell in 1966 and lives in Argentina with their three daughters.

The writer had the privilege of meeting Sir Francis Whitmore at Orsett Hall shortly before he died. After the interview, he gave a sharp tug on a tapestry cord and a chauffeur appeared, who drove us to Orsett parish church, where Sir Francis pointed out with obvious pride two flags hanging limply in the nave. They were the Regimental Flags of the two regiments he had commanded during The Great War. Both were red; one bore the gold badge of The Essex Yeomanry and the linked horseshoes emblem of the 8th Cavalry Brigade, while the other displayed the badge of the 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales's Own) and the crest of the 6th Cavalry Brigade. Paraphased words of Sir Edward Hamley sprang to mind:

"Two moth-eaten rags on worm-eaten poles, Do not look likely to stir a man's soul,
'Tis the deeds that were done under the moth-eaten rags, When the poles were staffs and the rags were flags.

On returning to Orsett Hall, Sir Francis presented to the writer his unbound proof copy of the book he had written in 1920 entitled The 10th (P. W. O.) Royal Hussars and The Essex Yeomanry during the European War, 1914 - 1918. The book is embellished with his hand-written corrections, annotations and directions to the printer. It is the writer's only tangible link with a man who will remain a legend within the Essex Yeomanry Association.

(The Local History Web Site Committee was pleased to received an email from Anne Catherine O'Connell, nee Whitmore, pointing out that the coat of arms  displayed here were those of Sir Francis and his first wife.  Also the regimental colours that used to hang in Orsett church did not have moth holes - they were bullet holes. Sir Francis Whitmore's second wife, Lady Ellis was not allowed to patch them except with thin net so that they should remain as a visible memorial. June 2011.

On 10th September, 2015, a Thurrock Heritage plaque was unveiled at Orsett Hall commemorating Sir Francis and the Officers and Men of the Essex Yeomanry and 10th Royal Hussars who served with Sir Francis in the Great War.)

The Great War and before previous page