(Service number )

Aliases Francis, known as Frank
First Rank Lieutenant (temporary) Last Rank Major


Date 25 November 1873 Place of Birth New Zealand

Enlistment Information

Date Age
Address at Enlistment
Occupation Mining engineer
Previous Military Experience
Marital Status Married
Next of Kin Mrs Frank HOLMES (wife), C/o W. H. PENDLEBURY, Broadlands, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Medical Information

Military Service

Served with UK Armed Forces Served in Royal Navy
Military District

Embarkation Information

Body on Embarkation Royal Naval Division Field Force
Unit, Squadron, or Ship Army Service Corps, Divisional Train
Date *September 1914
Embarked From Destination
Other Units Served With
Last Unit Served With Royal Marines

Military Awards

Campaigns Balkans (Gallipoli); Western European (Somme)
Service Medals 1914-1915 Star; British War Medal; Victory Medal
Military Awards Mentioned in Despatches. Appointed Cavalier of the Order of the Crown of Italy

Award Circumstances and Date

Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) - 22 September 1915 (London Gazette, 5 November 1915); Cavalier - for distinguished services (London Gazette, 17 January 1919)

Prisoner of War Information

Date of Capture
Where Captured and by Whom
Actions Prior to Capture
PoW Serial Number
PoW Camps
Days Interned
Liberation Date


Date 22 February 1918 Reason Moved to civil employment.

Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses

23 February 1917 - admitted to Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank, London, for two weeks - appendicitis

Post-war Occupations

Oil exploration


Date 18 January 1947 Age 73 years
Place of Death Chelmsford Hospital, Essex, England
Notices The Times, London, 22 January 1947
Memorial or Cemetery Golders Green Crematorium, London; ashes interred Sandon Churchyard, Essex
Memorial Reference
New Zealand Memorials

Biographical Notes

Francis Holmes, known as Frank, was the second son of James Holmes and Mary Ann (née Smith). The original spelling appears to be Holme, which spelling James died under. Francis was born on 25 November 1873 [source - 1939 Register for Chelmsford, Essex], at a remote work camp or farm in New Zealand, it is said. Some of his early schooling was at Arrowtown School, where he lived with an uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs Morrisby, Mrs Isabel Morrisby being his mother’s sister. Mr Morrisby was a clever mine manager in South Africa, who may well have influenced Frank’s chosen profession as a mining engineer. It was at Arrowtown in 1885 that he received 4th prize for Class VI – “Byron’s Poetical Works”. From there he went to Mornington School in Dunedin, for two years. There Frank and his siblings were in the guardianship of others – most with Mrs Frances Raphael, another sister of his mother - perhaps because their parents were in a remote area. Four sisters and a half-sister of Mrs Mary Ann Holmes lived and died in New Zealand, and for a time a half- brother lived here. So Frank had cousins who served in World War I with both the New Zealand Forces and the Australian Forces, one being killed in action in 1917. Going on to high school, Frank attended Otago Boys’ High School in 1888-89. He went on to study and become qualified at the Otago University. About 1889, Mr James Holmes bought “a valuable little farm” at Otara, Southland, and “built a very neat cottage on an eminence commanding a good view of the sea and surrounding country.” It was in 1890 that some younger siblings of Frank started at Otara School. As a youth Frank was employed in Gore Cheese Factory, and he was a member of the Gore Football Club, remembered for his “hefty forward play”. He and his brother Percy also studied engineering as correspondence students in their youth, both achieving prominence in their respective fields. Frank’s specialty was geology, particularly oil geology.

Frank left New Zealand when he was a very young man, going to South Africa where he became the representative of a very rich mining firm. His older brother, James Allan Holmes (Allan), and a younger brother, Robert Murray Holmes, had also gone to South Africa. There both Allan and Frank enlisted for the South African War, Allan, of Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts, being mortally wounded in October 1901. In 1896 Frank had returned from Johannesburg, South Africa and taken up special gold mining claims at Waipapa and Waikawa in the Bay of Islands. The South African syndicate was prepared to spend £100,000 to test the New Zealand beach ground. The next news of Francis came in a notice in Otago and Southland newspapers in November 1897 – “On the 14th October, at Holy Trinity Church, Maldon, Victoria, by the Rev. R. H. Potter, M.A., Francis, second son of James Holmes, Otara, Fortrose, New Zealand, to Nina Isobel (Nancy), eldest daughter of James Howard Eccles, L.R.C.S.I., Newstead, Victoria.” Their son, James Francis Eccles Holmes, was born on 20 August 1898 at Northam, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. In 1911 James was a boarder at Brockhurst School, Church Stretton, Shropshire, England. Sadly, Australian-born Nina Isabel Holmes had died on 17 April 1910 at Chihuahua, Mexico, aged 39 years. Frank’s mother, Mary Ann Holmes, died on 10 May 1899 at her sister’s residence in Dunedin and was buried in the Southern Cemetery there.

Mr Frank Holme, C.E. and M.E. (son of Mr James Holme, of Otara) (Holme being a spelling sometimes used especially in connection with James), and his wife arrived at Bluff from Melbourne in March 1906, and visited Wyndham. The Wyndham Herald and Lake County Press spoke very highly of his success in his chosen career. “It is always pleasing to note the success of district young men in the battle of life. . . . Mr Holme’s success should be an incentive to young New Zealanders to have worthy ambitions.” Having just spent three years engaged in tin mining on the Malay Peninsula, he was about to go to London. It was April when Frank left, arriving in London in August by the s.s. Sophocles. He had broken his journey at Durban, to visit his brother, Robert Murray Holmes in Johannesburg, staying for a month. After doing business in London, he visited friends in Ireland and in the North of England for a month before returning to the East to resume his duties superintending mining interests. Almost immediately after Frank’s visit, Mr James Holmes put up for sale by auction his farm at Otara, which included a 7-roomed house. A clearing sale followed – horses, cattle, ewes (in lamb), implements (including carpenters’ tools and household furniture), and a very satisfactory sale it was. James retired from farming and moved to Timaru. A social and dance had been held at the Otara school on 3 August to bid farewell to Mr Holmes.

“The ‘Times’ of 24 April 1914 announced the engagement of Mr Frank Holmes, eldest surviving son of Mr James Holmes, of Timaru, Canterbury and Miss Dorothy Pendlebury, elder daughter of Mr and Mrs Pendlebury, Broadlands, Shrewsbury.” [Star, 2 June 1914]. Francis Holmes married Marie Elizabeth Dorothy Pendlebury on 28 April 1914 at St Chad’s, Shrewsbury. Before long war was declared, and Frank was away to the front. He named his wife as next-of-kin – Mrs Frank Holmes, C/o W. H. Pendlebury, Broadlands, Shrewsbury, Shropshire. He was practising as an engineer in England before the war, and had been on the London Stock Exchange for some years. He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in September 1914 and was granted the temporary rank of lieutenant. The appointment to the rank of Major followed on 1 October 1914. He was a transport officer with the 2nd Brigade. By November he and two other New Zealanders were serving with the Royal Naval Division Field Force (Mr Winston Churchill’s division sent by the Admiralty) in France. “Captain Frank Holmes (formerly of Timaru) had charge of an Army Service Corps detachment, and has just returned from the front, bringing the motor transport vehicles which were employed in Belgium.” [Evening Post, 15 December 1914]. Beneath the heading “On Service – The New Zealand Roll in Army and Navy”, the Press (20 February 1915) recorded from the London correspondent on 5 January – “That New Zealanders abroad have not been slow to tender their services in defence of the Empire will be evident from the following list of those who are at present on service with the British Army and Navy and Auxiliary Forces. I have compiled it from sources available here, and have brought it right up to date with the latest Gazettes, though possibly there are omissions of officers and men who are serving in outlying parts of the Empire.” In that list is HOLMES Frank (Timaru), Captain R.N.V.R Antwerp Expedition. In March-April 1915, Captain Frank Holmes (A.S.C. section) was one of three New Zealand officers who left with the Royal Naval Division for the East – “Turkey, it is understood”. He obtained a commission and was, in fact, one of the original members of the Royal Naval Division, landing in France in September 1914 and serving in the Antwerp Expedition, all through the Gallipoli campaign, going to the Dardanelles at the time of the first landing, and for more than two years in France, from May 1916. He was appointed Officer Commanding the Divisional Train on 12 April 1916. Having been with the Royal Naval Division for more than a year in charge of the transport, Mr Frank Holmes, of Timaru, became a major in early 1916. From Gallipoli he went to the Somme. On 23 February 1917 Major Holmes, Royal Marines (Timaru), spent two weeks in the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital, Millbank, London, suffering from appendicitis. He recovered well and returned to duty, rejoining No 1 Company Divisional Train on 7 April.

His service with the Royal Marines terminated on 22 February 1918 when he moved to civil employment. Major Frank Holmes, Royal Marines, relinquished his commission in April 1918, and retired with the honorary rank of major “in order to take up work of national importance in a neutral State”, for which he was to leave England. He had seen a great deal of active service – three years and two months, all of it with the Royal Naval Division. Following his distinguished service in World War I, he was granted the title of honorary Major (22 February 1918) and thereafter was known as Major Frank Holmes in civilian life. The London correspondent of “The Press” writing on November 1 [1918], stated that Major Frank Holmes and Mrs Holmes were then in London. Major Holmes had just returned from a special mission to Abyssinia on behalf of the Foreign Office, to organise trade between Britain and Abyssinia. He gave the correspondent an interesting talk about the journey, and the country and people of Abyssinia, but said little about trade, except that there is much timber, and that beeswax is an important export. See “Evening Post” of 3 January 1919 for a detailed account by Major Frank Holmes of his trip to Abyssinia and of all aspects of the country. On 9 November 1918 Major Frank Holmes and Mrs Holmes were among the New Zealanders at the Lord Mayor’s banquet and sat at the table of Alderman Sir Lulham Pound, Bart. Major and Mrs Holmes would soon return to Abyssinia for one or two years more.

“Major Frank Holmes, R.M., son of Mr James Holmes, of Timaru, has been informed by the Admiralty he has been appointed a Cavalier of the Order of the Crown of Italy (says a London correspondent). The insignia of the Order consists of a gold and white enamel cross decorated with the Crown of Italy and the White Cross of Savoy. . . . . He was mentioned in despatches.” [Timaru Herald, 18 March 1919]. The decoration was one of those conferred by the Allied Powers on Officers and Men of the British Naval Forces for distinguished services rendered during the War, and his award was notified in the London Gazette of 17 January 1919. Frank had been Mentioned in Despatches on 22 September 1915, as notified in the London Gazette of 5 November 1915. The 1914 Star was issued to all soldiers of the British and Indian forces, who served in France or Belgium with a British unit between the outbreak of war and midnight of November 22-23, 1914. It appeared that at least 70 New Zealanders who were in Europe at the time qualified for the decoration. One Timaru name was mentioned in the list of recipients – Major Frank Holmes, of the Royal Naval Division. [Timaru Herald, 18 February 1918]. Late in 1919 his Majesty the King approved the issue of a clasp to officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, and men who have been awarded the “1914 Star” and who actually served under the fire of the enemy in France and Belgium between 5 August 1914 and midnight 22-23 November 1914. The clasp, fashioned in bronze, was inscribed “5 August-22 November 1914”. Quite a number of New Zealanders were entitled to wear the clasp, including Major Frank Holmes, R.N.D. (Timaru). For his war service he was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Frank did not forget his New Zealand roots. In 1915 he wrote a comforting letter to Mrs Scoular of Edendale, touching on the bravery of her son Jack who was killed at Gaba Tepe on 26 April. Frank had known Jack’s father, and the Royal Naval Division with which he was serving, co-operated with the New Zealand and Australian troops. “The feat the New Zealand and Australian troops performed at the time Jack met his death was one enjoining the greatest courage, and called forth nothing but praise for their bravery. Their losses were very heavy, owing to their having to land in the face of the enemy, which was a great disadvantage.

I should much like to hear if you receive this letter — address it either to c/o of my father, Mr James Holmes, Avenue Road, Timaru, or c/o Mrs Frank Holmes, Broadland, Shrewsbury, England. I regret very much the cause of my letter, and hope you will take solace from the fact of Jack’s wonderful bravery and courage. — I remain, yours sincerely, Frank Holmes, Captain, Royal Marines, Royal Naval Division, Dardanelles.”

In 1939, when prospecting for oil was carried out on an up-to-date scale in Taranaki, mention was made of Major Frank Holmes, whose efforts were influential in the development of oilfields in Bahrain. Bahrain was a naval base, the Royal Navy moving its Middle Eastern command there in 1935. Mr Holmes had made a deal with the ruler of Arabia, with regard to drilling for water in return for a concession to drill for oil (1925). Within two months, Holmes had two wells of sweet water and a contract to drill twenty more – and the oil concession. He sought the support of British oil barons. When that failed, he went to an American oil company and, when political complications arose, back to England, before again having to turn to an American company. They hit oil in June 1932, England missing out on a very big financial return. Major Frank Holmes first learned about oil seepages in the desert surrounding the Persian Gulf while serving as a quartermaster in the British Army in Ethiopia during the First World War.

Francis (Frank) Holmes died on 18 January 1947 at Chelmsford Hospital, aged 73 years. He was the dearly loved and devoted husband of Dorothy Holmes, Millhill, Sandon, near Chelmsford, and eldest son of the late James Holmes, formerly of Timaru, New Zealand. Frank was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, London, and his ashes interred at Sandon Churchyard, St Andrews, Essex. Probate was granted to Marie Elizabeth Dorothy Holmes, widow, and a chartered accountant, his estate valued at £21775.10s.7d. Frank and Dorothy were living at Mill Hill, Chelmsford, in 1939, he a retired civil engineer and farmer. He was credited with being “uniquely responsible for discovering Arabia’s vast petroleum resources.” The discovery and exploitation of the oil of Arabia was of immense value to the Allies during World War II. The writer of an obituary of Major Frank Holmes in The Times (London), 5 February 1947, wrote: “Of powerful physique, blunt speech, and great strength of character, Holmes had also those qualities of generosity, friendliness, and frankness which Arabia most admires.” As of 1947 his geologist brother Percy was manager of a large mining concern in Bolivia. Percy married in the USA and died in Bolivia in 1968. It had been hoped by his nephew in Gisborne that Frank would visit again but his health didn’t allow it.

Francis (Frank) Holmes was inducted into the New Zealand Hall of Fame in 2003. He had been once dubbed “the father of oil”. An Otago Daily Times business article of 22 July 2010, reported that a Hastings company was playing a crucial role in sorting out a long-running border row in the Middle East. “The New Zealand work will clean up a mess inadvertently triggered by another New Zealander, Major Frank Holmes, a mining engineer who was a quartermaster in the British Army at Basra – in what is now Iraq – at the time that Britain split Kuwait from the Ottoman Empire into a separate sheikhdom. After hearing of the region’s first successful oil well in neighbouring Persia – now Iran – Maj Holmes set up his own Eastern and General Syndicate, and ended the 1920s to trying to win concessions from impoverished Arab sheikhs. . . . . Development of his oil concessions – particularly the 1938 oil discovery . . . . – intensified years of debate over the border, . . . .” (Otago Daily Times, 2 July 2010). A competitor had once described him as “a man of considerable charm, with a bluff, breezy, blustering, buccaneering way about him.” Holmes was “robust and sturdy in stature, and assertive and headstrong in manner.” (Modern History, Chapter 15). Before the war, he had “followed the itinerant life of a mining engineer all around the world – from Australia and Malaya to Mexico, Uruguay, Russia, and Nigeria.” As a quartermaster in World War I he travelled through the middle East to source food and supplies for the British Army in Mesopotamia (now Iraq).

Lieutenant James Francis Eccles Holmes, 33rd Punjabis, the only son of Major Frank Holmes, was a regular officer in the Indian Army. He was attached to the 33rd Punjabis on 17 July 1916. In 1917-1918, he served for twenty months with his regiment in the German East Africa campaign. As of 29 June 1917, Second Lieutenant James Francis Eccles-Holmes was to be Lieutenant. In early 1918 he was invalided back to India for three months’ rest, to recover from the effects of prolonged malaria, which was very prevalent in East Africa. Captain J. F. Eccles Holmes, Indian Army, married Mary Hadley Runnacles in 1938 in London. The following year he died – on 12 November 1939 in London, aged 41 years, his funeral being held at Sandon Church, Essex.


Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database [13 January 2020]; Lake County Press, 28 May 1885, 30 April 1896 [x 2], 5 April 1906, Southland Times, 26 July 1892, 27 April 1896, 29 May 1906, 30 June 1906, 12 & 20 July 1906, 25 August 1906, 27 September 1906, 3 June 1914, 21 July 1915, Otago Witness, 30 April 1896, 11 November 1897, 18 May 1899, 19 & 24 April 1901, 30 October 1901, 10 May 1916, Otago Daily Times, 11 November 1897, 12 May 1899, 19 April 1901, 22 March 1906, 27 September 1906, 29 October 1914, 24 February 1915, 10 April 1915, 22 December 1919, 7 February 1947, Mataura Ensign, 13 November 1897, 13 May 1899, Evening Star, 10 May 1899, 6 February 1947, New Zealand Times, 10 October 1906, Star, 2 June 1914, 17 November 1914, , Sun, 8 June 1914, New Zealand Herald, 20 October 1914, Press, 22 October 1914, 20 February 1915, 17 March 1919, Evening Post, 15 December 1914, 1 May 1917, 17 May 1918, 1 January 1919, Timaru Herald, 22 April 1916, 18 February 1918, 11 January 1919, 18 March 1919, Stratford Evening Post, 1 August 1919, Patea & Waverley Press, 2 June 1939, Gisborne Herald, 6 & 8 February 1947, Ashburton Guardian, 6 February 1947 (Papers Past) [13, 15, 16, 17, 23 & 24 January 2020]; School Admission records (Southland & Dunedin branches NZSG) [13 & 15 January 2020]; The London Gazette, 5 November 1915 [31 January 2020], The London Gazette, 8 December 1916, The London Gazette, 25 January 1918, The London Gazette, 17 January 1919 [31 January 2020]; The Times, London, 22 January 1947 (The Times Digital Archive) [13 January 2020], The Times, London, 5 February 1947 (The Times Digital Archive) [30 January 2020]; England Probate Index ( [13 January 2020]; Essex Church of England burial record ( [16 January 2020]; 1939 England Register ( [20 January 2020]; The National Archives (Discovery, reference ADM 196/100/22) [January 2020] ; The National Archives (Discovery, reference ADM 196/99/170) [January 2020] ; Naval History ( [23 January 2020]; Otago Daily Times, 22 July 2020 - NZ company to help sort out Middle East border row ( [24 January 2020]; Modern History, Chapter 15 – The Arabian Concessions: The World That Frank Holmes Made ( [24 January 2020]; The British Empire - Bahrain Protectorate ( [23 January 2020]

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