Lieutenant General Sir Francis Tuker KCIE CB DSO OBE

General Tuker was an innovative, energetic and highly successful leader and trainer who commanded the 1st Battalion on operations in Waziristan, 4th Indian Division (which included the 1st Battalion) during the campaigns in North Africa and Italy, and Eastern Command in India during the turbulent period before Partition and Indian independence.

Francis Tuker as a Lieutenant General (National Portrait Gallery)

Francis Tuker, known to his friends as ‘Gertie’, was born on 24 July 1894, the son of WJ Sanger Tuker of Butts Green Hall, Sandon, Essex.  He was educated at Brighton College and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

He was gazetted to the Indian Army and, as was then the custom, first joined a British unit in India, the 1st Battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment, on 8 March 1914.  He transferred to the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Goorkhas (1/2GR) in Dehra Dun on 10 October that year.  Initially attached to No.1 Double Company (DC) in Lucknow, in February 1916 he went with the Battalion to Mesopotamia as Officer Commanding No.3 DC, sailing on the SS Thongwa from Karachi and disembarking at Magil on the River Tigris on 19 February.  The War Diary shows that he again became a company officer in No.1 DC and was Acting Adjutant in March 1916.  On 12 April he was sent with No.3 DC to reinforce the 36th Sikhs but on 13 April he was wounded by a sniper at Beit Aiessa and evacuated to India.

There is no record of what he did from then until 23 February 1918, but on that date he was appointed Assistant Commandant of the 4th Battalion Assam Rifles at Imphal, with whom he took parti in the Kuki punitive expedition on the North East Frontier from 10 March 1918 to 26 June 1919.  He later claimed that the many shortcomings in the conduct of this campaign were the genesis of his ideas for improvements in tactics and training.

He rejoined 1/2GR at Enzeli, North West Persia, in April 1920 and the following month, by which time the Battalion had moved to Resht, he was appointed Adjutant.  He was based in Kazvin and Rustamabad before returning with the Battalion to Dehra Dun in June 1921.  On 6 February 1922 he took the Truncheon Party to Delhi for the Prince of Wales’s State Entry into the city.  He completed his tour as Adjutant in 1923 and in 1925-6 was a student at the Staff College Camberley.  It was not an experience he enjoyed and his critical comments on the quality and content of the teaching did not go down well.  He rejoined 1/2GR after leave in March 1927.  A year later he became Staff Captain of the Peshawar Brigade and, from April 1929, Brigade Major of the Delhi Independent Brigade, remaining in that role until January 1932.

He then rejoined 1/2GR, serving with it on the Khajuri Plain on the North West Frontier and in the Khyber.  From 1934 to 1936 he was General Staff Officer Grade 2 (GSO2) Rawalpindi District.  Earmarked to return to 1/2GR as Second in Command, he instead became its officiating Commandant from 1 October 1936 and was confirmed in the appointment on 1 February 1937.  During his time in command the Battalion was on active service in Waziristan.  His innovative and highly successful tactics against the tribesmen, based on his determination to seize and hold the initiative, were widely applauded and he was mentioned in despatches and made OBE.

The announcement in the Times, 22nd December 1937, of Tuker’s OBE for services in Waziristan that year.  (Courtesy Lieutenant Colonel RM Venning).

It was during his time in command that Tuker established his strong reputation as an imaginative, innovative and forceful commander and trainer.  In the 1/2GR Digest of Service he left a detailed description of the Battalion’s operations, weapons and dress together with his views on the tactics and training required for success.  In March 1938 his notes on ‘The Sirmoor System’, a modern, forward-looking concept of values and ethos based on his experiences up to that point, were published in Battalion Standing Orders.

Although he did not officially relinquish command of 1/2GR until 30 September 1939, he had already left on 19 February that year to officiate as Deputy Director of Staff Duties at Army HQ India.  A few months later he was appointed General Staff Officer Grade 1 (GSO1) Military Training 2 in the same HQ.  On 15 July 1940 he became Deputy Director of Military Training at General HQ India, taking over the appointment of Director (as a Brigadier) on 18 September, a post he held until 30 September 1941.

On 1 October, as an Acting Major General, Tuker was appointed to raise and command the 34th Indian Division at Jhansi.  In December he was switched to command 4th Indian Division in North Africa, and secured the transfer of 1/2GR to his new command in August 1942.  He led the Division in the battles of Benghazi and El Alamein in 1942, and at Mareth, Wadi Akarit, Garci and Medj-el-Bab in 1943, securing its reputation as a fine fighting formation.  In Tunisia he accepted the surrender of General von Arnim, the German Commander in North Africa.

Tuker’s North Africa campaign ID card (from his papers in the Imperial War Museum, London)

Tuker continued to lead 4th Indian Division as it re-trained in Palestine, Syria and Lebanon before it engaged in operations in southern Italy from December 1943.  He was a strong advocate for the bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino with huge blockbuster bombs, having read an 1879 book about its very sturdy construction that he had found in a bookshop in Naples.  It eventually took place on a more limited scale on 15 February 1944, but prior to the follow-up assault – which was unsuccessful – he was incapacitated by fever and the Division was commanded by the Commander Royal Artillery, Brigadier Harry Dimoline.

Sketch by the war artist Anthony Gross of Tuker and his senior commanders in 4th Indian Division. Left to right: Brigadier ‘Os’ Lovett (also a former 2nd Goorkha, Commander 7th Indian Infantry Brigade); Tuker; Brigadier Donald Bateman, (late 10th Baluch Regiment, Commander 5th Indian Infantry Brigade); Brigadier KH Dimoline (Commander Royal Artillery).  Original Source:

He received many awards for his service in command of the Division.  He was twice mentioned in despatches and awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his achievements in North Africa in 1942 and early 1943, and was made a Companion of the Bath for what he achieved with the Division in Tunisia.

There are at least two accounts of 4th Indian Division’s wartime history.  Fourth Indian Division by Lieutenant Colonel GR Stevens was published in Toronto, Canada, in 1948 and Red Eagles was a pamphlet published by GS Borker in Bombay in 1945.

From March to October 1944 Tuker was on medical leave in England.  He then returned to India as Chairman of the Frontier Commission before becoming General Officer Commanding (GOC) Ceylon in 1945.  From June to September that year he commanded 4th Indian Corps in Burma.  The Corps was at that stage mostly involved in mopping-up operations, but his time in command included the Battle of the Sittang Bend, the last major land battle against the Japanese in Burma when the remnants of their forces tried to breakout from where they were trapped on the Pegu Yoma range.  He was thanked for his service in Burma by the Commander South East Asia Command (Admiral Mountbatten) and again mentioned in despatches.

On 1 November 1945 he became GOC Lucknow District and on 21 January 1946 was appointed GOC-in-Chief Eastern Command India as a Lieutenant General, a post he held until November 1947.   He later wrote an account of this very turbulent and difficult period of Indian partition and independence in his book ‘While Memory Serves’.

Tuker as GOC-in-C Eastern Command, India (from a newspaper cutting among his papers in the Imperial War Museum, London)

After leave in the UK he retired from active soldiering in April 1948 but continued to be Colonel of the 2nd Goorkhas, a role to which he had been appointed on 20 March 1946, until 20 March 1956.

During his service Tuker contributed numerous articles to military and civilian journals under the pen-names ‘Auspex’ and ‘John Helland’ as well as under his own name.  He published a number of books and was an artist whose drawings and etchings were published in The Illustrated News of India.  He was also an innovative designer: Colonel Denis Wood remembers that when he joined the 1st Battalion in 1946 the mess was still furnished with a sofa and arm chairs designed by Tuker and built to be broken down quickly into mule loads for transportation.  In 1958 he was awarded the Sir Percy Sykes medal by the Royal Central Asian Society.  On 16 January 1967 Tuker Lines in Brunei were named after him, shortly after the 1st Battalion became the resident battalion there.

In retirement Gertie Tuker ran a fruit and flower farm at his home, Bosilliac, near Falmouth in Cornwall, but because of his ill health his activities were gradually curtailed until he was compelled to manage the business from his wheel chair.  He was a keen and supportive member of the Regimental Association, later renamed the Sirmoor Club, and was its President from 1948 until he ceased to be Colonel of the Regiment in 1956.

After a prolonged illness, he died in October 1967.  A memorial service was held in the Chapel of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, on 30 November 1967.  Obituaries were published in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Regimental Journal, the Sirmoor Club half-yearly newsletter and The Kukri.  A biography of him written after his death by Brigadier the Right Honourable Sir John Smyth was never published although a copy of the typescript is held in the Gurkha Museum, Winchester.  There is a memorial tablet to him in the Chapel of Brighton College, below which hangs his sword.  At its dedication the Regimental Band played music and Sounded Retreat on the College’s playing field.  His papers are in the Imperial War Museum.

An appreciation of him by ‘an officer who knew him’ was published in the Regimental Journal on his retirement as Colonel of the Regiment in 1956, and a summary of his military life and qualities, including his time as GOC-in-C Easter Command, was published by his then ADC, Captain (later Colonel) John Sellars, in the Regimental Journal in 1993.  In 2022 Tuker was one of ten World War 2 commanders profiled by the amateur historian and media celebrity Al Murray in his book ‘Command’.  Based solely on a selective reading of two of Tuker’s books, Approach to Battle and The Pattern of War, it gave an unbalanced picture, overstating his contribution to the strategy and tactics in the North African war and putting too much emphasis on Tuker’s willingness to argue his point with senior officers as a key characteristic of his nature.

When Lady Tuker died in 1990 she bequeathed £1000 for a use to be decided by the Sirmoor Club Committee.  The money was invested in the Sirmoor Rifles Association Trust Fund and the income used to provide The Tuker Award to the best subaltern or acting Captain in the Regiment each year, and this was carried forward to the Royal Gurkha Rifles when the 2nd Goorkhas merged with the other British Army Gurkha Infantry Regiments in 1994.

Francis Tuker married Catherine Isabella Bucknall in 1923, the sister of Captain R D-H Bucknall who served in the 2nd Goorkhas 1915-23 and again from 1941-42, when he was killed in Malaya.  They had three daughters.  She died in 1946 and he married, secondly, Mrs Cynthia Helen Fawcett, the widow of Lieutenant Colonel RB Fawcett MC of the 9th Gurkha Rifles.  They had no children.

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In his book Approach to Battle (1963), General Tuker commented: “I have tried my hand at many other things in my life – farming, commercial horticulture, authorship, training horses, painting, etching and engraving, and none have I found so testing and so difficult as the planning and conduct of a successful land battle against a worthy foe, whether against the guerrilla or the enemy who is fully equipped for war.”

He passed the self-imposed test with flying colours and was undoubtedly the pre-eminent Sirmoor officer of the mid-20th century.  His distinguished service prior to the Second World War and his thoughtful and imaginative approach to tactics and operations made him stand out from his contemporaries.  His period in command of the 1st Battalion in 1937-9 was particularly noteworthy for his determination to get the upper hand over tribes on the North West Fronter through a combination of innovative tactics and a modernised and inspiring relationship between officers and men – the ‘Sirmoor System’.  Recognition of his ability as a trainer led to senior appointments in India where his successful ideas could be shared more widely.

His admirable leadership qualities led to his quickly being given command of a division in the Second World War.  He honed 4th Indian Division into a fine fighting formation and it was unfortunate that he had relatively few opportunities to demonstrate its worth by commanding it in battle.  He took over in December 1941, but in the unsuccessful Gazala battles in May/June 1942 two of the Division’s brigades were in the Eighth Army reserve and Tuker was merely an observer.  The Division’s brigades remained dispersed to other formations until October 1942, when they came together to hold the Ruweisat Ridge as a diversionary tactic in the Second Battle of El Alamein, rather than being involved in the main action.  In December that year the Division was again dispersed until March 1943, when under his leadership it did well in Tunisia.

Tuker did not therefore have opportunities to demonstrate innovative tactics of a scope and scale that would have won him renown, and he remains one of the less well-known British generals of the Second World War.  He was also highly critical of British equipment and tactics, a characteristic of his that had first been noted when he attended Staff College in 1925-6.  He was not alone in this as there was much to criticise but his strong opinions, energetically expressed, did not always win him friends among the upper echelons of the British Army.  Nevertheless, his underlying abilities were recognised and appreciated, leading to his final appointment as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Eastern Command in India and well-deserved promotion to Lieutenant General.

He was also held back by illness.  He had recurring bouts of tropical fever, which eventually led to his having to relinquish command of 4th Indian Division prior to the assault on Monte Cassino in February 1944.  In addition he suffered badly from rheumatoid arthritis, particularly in later life.  Both may have held him back from achieving further promotion and higher command.

His extensive writings give good insights into his thinking, albeit exclusively from his own perspective.  He comes across as a thoughtful, imaginative and energetic man.  However, in the absence of any authoritative, objective appraisal it is difficult to get a balanced picture of his achievements (the short chapter in Al Murray’s book and the biography that Brigadier Jackie Smyth was unable to get published have to be discounted in this respect).  Whatever the historical nuances, it can be said with certainty that he was an exceptionally capable and remarkable man who made significant contributions to the success and reputation of both his Regiment and the British Army.  As such he was without doubt the most distinguished Sirmoori of his generation.


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