Selkirk’s Ex-Soldiers’ Association appointed Captain Donald Francis, formerly of the Royal Horse Artillery, as their 2015 Standard Bearer on Sunday.
The 41-year-old chiropractor, who lives at Whitmuir farm near the Rigg with his farmer wife Katie and three children, was born in Zimbabwe.
He moved to the UK with his family aged 15, and set off early on the road to a military career, starting at Welbeck Sixth Form College, and then officer training at Sandhurst.
“I’m really delighted,” he told The Wee Paper: “We left Zimbabwe 26 years ago, and because I was a soldier, I’ve been a gypsy all that time.
“I’ve lived in four countries, and Selkirk’s Common Riding is one of the biggest, and most attended, and most loved, of all community festivals.
“I’ve been welcomed with open arms. After years of wandering, I feel home.”
Donald’s path to Standard Bearer has not been a straight one. After Sandhurst, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and spent the next two years in Germany and in Cyprus on the ‘Green line’: the United Nations controlled no-man’s land, or buffer-zone, between Turkish North Cyprus and Greek South Cyprus. He then returned to education, studying for a postgraduate degree in Information Systems Management at the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham, Oxfordshire.
It was here, as the captain of the university rugby team, that he met his fellow sports captain wife Katie, “a Selkirk girl” raised at her family farm at Whitmuir, who was also studying in the south of England. “Seventeen years later,” he said, “I’m living in Scotland.
“I left Shrivenham as a Captain, which seemed a miracle,” he joked, before then spending six “fascinating” months in the Falkland Islands. He later joined the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, touring Kosovo and multiple exercises in Canada, Germany and Cyprus.
In 2004, he spent five months in Iraq: “It was an interesting period of time,” he told us: “The Army is like turning up week after week on the benches, without playing. Iraq was playing.”
After his first son was born, Donald left the Army in 2005: “I’d been fishing with the idea of being a chiropractor for some time,” he explained.
Following four years of study at the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa, Donald returned to the UK “the poorest person in Christendom.”
He opened his first clinic in Galashiels in November 2009, and then a second in Hawick in 2011, and since then, he said: “We’ve been going at full tilt.”
Donald also spends half the week helping his wife at Whitmuir farm. All of their children have kept up their parents’ sporting prowess: both of their sons, 10-year-old Jamie and five-year-old Charlie, play rugby in Selkirk, while their daughter, Hannah, 9, also plays hockey in the town. Katie, his Lady Busser, will turn 40 on Common Riding day.
“I think it must be a rush to stand in front of thousands of people who have watched the Casting every year,” he mused: “You’d better do it well, and do it right.”
But Donald’s emotional day will also be tinged with sadness, as he leads the town in remembering Selkirk’s fallen. “My father was killed in [Zimbabwe’s] Civil War of 1979: he was the last casualty on the Rhodesian side. I was six,” he told us. “I’ve served with great people, and lost great friends, and to cast the Flag on their behalf is a great honour.”