Before James Bond Was Invented…

2 Cushny wedding 1927Topic April/May 2018.  Before James Bond was invented the Legion of Frontiersmen had at least one of its own adventurers, womanisers and Intelligence gatherers – that is if you believe the writings of Tom Cushny. Fortunately his accounts of his life written for Frontiersmen magazines were far less colourful than that which he wrote in his autobiography. This was first published in 1967 and appeared under two titles “Legionnaire No. 31022” and “Escape from the Legion” – no, not the Frontiersmen but the French Foreign Legion. By the second page of the book he had already seduced a novice nun: “…once you get a nun out of her dark habit and boots – she is just like any other woman” and continued much in the same vein. We will draw a polite veil over the stories he told of the many other young women with whom he had involvement.

His autobiographical notes for Frontiersmen magazines were much more staid:

“I was born during the Boer War, amid the roll of guns and the thunder of pom-poms, of Scottish parents, during the fall of Johannesburg. At an early age, shifted to British East Africa and went through the Nandi Rebellion. At the age of 12, while shooting meat for my father’s labourers, was charged by a rhino… At the age of 14, when proceeding to England to one of her famous public schools, the train I was in was blown up by a German raiding party…”

He then claimed he was training for a commission in the army when the war ended and as he was no longer needed he looked for a job with the prospects of going to China. He thought this was too tame so decided to enlist in the French Foreign Legion. This disagrees with his account in his autobiography where he said he had been selected age 21 as a pilot in the Royal Air Force but failed the medical due to his colour vision so, disappointed, decided to join the Foreign Legion. British records show him as a seaman in the Merchant Navy in the final year of the war. According to the announcement of his marriage in a 1927 “Frontiersman” magazine he had been “four years in an Officers’ Training Corps followed by two years and eight months in the London Scottish…” Something odd there?

Cushny’s wife, 1927

If you wish to learn of his travails in the Foreign Legion you will have to read his autobiography, but his description of life in the Foreign Legion is much the same as other written accounts, except that he did not seem to have too much trouble attracting female companionship at regular intervals. Cushny was one of the small number of men who managed to escape the clutches of the French Foreign Legion, in his case thanks to the assistance of his father who rescued him. On returning to London he found a job in what was then the Federated Malay States (now Malaysia) carrying out field work for a company specialising in non-ferrous metallurgy and smelting. It was when he moved there in 1923 that he was recruited into the Legion of Frontiersmen. He had been working there for a year or two when he:

became aware of the danger to the new Naval Base then under construction in the Straits of Johore being out-flanked by the simple manoeuvre of establishing an enemy base in Coconut Bay, 150 miles due south. Here lay a vast anchorage in a commanding position, cutting the sea route to Australia and sealing off Singapore.

This was from his brief autobiographical sketch in a Frontiersmen magazine. In his published autobiography p.117-118 he was far more detailed:

A feature that struck me as unusual was the presence of some half dozen German engineers, in good jobs, with the Banka Tinwinning. They all spoke excellent English and were all rattling fine types of men, so it was natural that I should become friendly with them.

They appeared to despise the Dutch and hold themselves rather aloof from them. I learned that they had all served with the German cruiser ‘Emden’ or her feeder ships in World War 1 as engineer officers.

They had operated from the neutral territory of the Dutch East Indies by sheltering in the numerous islands of the Rhio Archipelago, where her feeder ships ran the gauntlet of the allied blockade and kept her supplied with everything from a pin to torpedoes.

It was with great skill and superb intelligence that they not only evaded the drag-net of an Allied Naval Force, but inflicted heavy losses on allied shipping along this vital trade route to Australia, the Far East and Europe.

I made a point of piecing every aspect of these operations together…

At this time Britain was already putting down test holes for what was to become the great Naval Base of Singapore, against which, they fondly believed, the might of Japanese Naval Power would one day dissipate itself.

In the light of the information that I had collected, I came to the conclusion that by skilful utilization of the Dutch East Indies the Japanese, too, could partially neutralise the value of the Base at Singapore.

He passed this information to Legion Headquarters in London who contacted the War Office. Very strangely they referred the Legion to Naval Intelligence rather than M.I.6, to which this should have been passed. In the letter the Legion Adjutant wrote he stated:

I am in receipt of information from one of our members who is travelling in the East relating to a Coding Station in Sumatra, and I have been advised by Captain H. Simpson, Private Secretary to the Adjutant-General to bring it to your notice.

No record of a reply or any subsequent meeting is in Legion archives. There could be a number of reasons for this, not least that the authorities were always unsure of any information coming from the Legion of Frontiersmen, although there are other factors to be considered. As to codebreaking, from April 1922 this was taken over by the Foreign Office. Even before the Germans introduced the Enigma machine, Britain had very little success in breaking German codes. In spite of the fact that they were allies, Britain regularly decrypted American and French codes.* What British Intelligence was most interested in was Russia. As we know from other items on our websites, the main fear in Britain was of Bolshevism and revolution and unrest spreading from Russia. Perhaps, had the British shown a bit more interest in Intelligence gathering in The Federated Malay States and the Dutch East Indies rather than concentrating their limited resources on Europe, they would have been more prepared at the start of W.W. 2? In 1927 Cushny gave up sewing his wild oats and married the very attractive Madeline Horley, with whom he had two daughters and a son.

In 1929 Cushny was transferred to Kenya, where he again served the Legion this time under Lt.Col. Driscoll. In 1934 he moved to Zanzibar which was ruled by the Sultan under Britain as the protecting power. This was not a Protectorate as the Sultan ruled, but he had the British Resident as Adviser. In February 1936 there was a riot mainly due to the Mange Arabs of whom there were some 18,000 living in and around Zanzibar, so the majority of Europeans were armed and equipped as Special Constables. The Port Captain delegated Cushny to take a Customs cutter with 25 men and intercept an Arab dhow from Muscat which was in the harbour and believed to be loaded with arms for the rioters. On boarding the dhow, Cushny discovered 170 Arabs with a cargo of some hundreds of weapons. The dhow was taken in tow and unloaded in the harbour, then allowed to anchor in a position where it was covered by the Shore Battery. After several more alarms and patrols in the city the tension died down. An enquiry determined that the riots were an attempt to take over the government by force and massacre all Europeans. Cushy received official Commendations from the government and from the Sultan of Zanzibar. The Legion also awarded him their Meritorious Service Medal. The L.M.S.M. was introduced in 1931 to be the one Legion award and given only for some truly noteworthy action. Consequently in those early days few were awarded. Aware that war with German was inevitable, Cushy and his family returned to England and settled in Cornwall. Considered too old for a commission, he joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry as a private, rising quickly to Colour Sergeant before being commissioned and drafted to France. He was one of those who fought their way back. Dunkirk was over so he was one of a number who were rescued by the Royal Navy from the Bay of Biscay.

It was back in London that his major comment in error has always shown the Frontiersmen during the war in a bad light. He claimed that he found the London office of the Legion closed for the war and this claim appears in
www.samilitaryhistory.org/vol042tc.html
and has often been repeated since. We know that this was one of the inaccuracies he wrote as we have considerable archives of letters and activities by Headquarters during the war and, to quote from www.frontiersmenhistorian.info:

To put the record straight, in the case of IHQ London, Cushny’s account runs contrary to the clearly recorded facts in the archives. Although they had other official duties to perform, both Cdt-Gen Morton and Chief of Staff Dunn continued to work for the Legion. The Legion did suffer a major problem in August 1942 when the highly influential Legion President, Lord Loch, died. The office was busy and dealt with considerable correspondence, particularly from Eastern Canada. The Staff officer in charge of the office was Legion Major H.W. Erswell, a time-served soldier and probably one of the very few Frontiersmen to have achieved the unusual military rank of Conductor. Erswell never allowed the bombing of London to stop him attending the Legion office daily. On 15th May 1941, Erswell wrote to the O.C. British Columbia Frontiersmen in Canada:

“You will be glad to hear that although the front portion of the building in which Imperial Headquarters is situated was blown out by blast, this office is so far intact and we are able to carry on. We are however sometimes prevented from entering the street or building by the presence of time bombs so that office work is sometimes interrupted for a few days at a time. As Jerry usually pays his visit at week ends one always wonders what the situation will be on Monday morning. On Monday 12th inst.. The only way to get to business from Aldgate Street to Charing X was to make for Liverpool Street via Middlesex St. and walk through all the back passages and alleyways imaginable. I heard some wag describing it as the Great Trek to the West. Still, there’s a lot of London left and will be even when this show is over.”

There can be no question as to his bravery, not only from his early exploits, but from WW2, where after returning to England he served in Ireland, India, Persia, Palestine and the Western Desert, rising to the rank of Major. After the war he worked until 1948 for U.N.R.R.A. (U.N. Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) in France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Trieste and for that service was awarded an official Diploma of Merit. He then moved to live in South Africa where he died in 1977.

Some day it would be good to know more about this archetypal old Frontiersman other than what are mainly his own accounts and possibly, as with other Frontiersmen’s accounts, was slightly embroidered. Wiry and fit rather than a big man he was, like many of his generation of Frontiersmen, attractive to the ladies. On his return from the Foreign Legion he recounted on page 94 of his autobiography his first romantic encounter back in England:

“…gasps of approving wonder seemed to be coming from her as she watched me peel off various items of clothing.
‘My! You are strong,’ she said.
It hadn’t occurred to me before, but after service in the [French Foreign] Legion I was immensely fit and every muscle rippled with strength…”

Follow that, James Bond!

* See: Christopher Andrew “Secret Service” (1985) p.260-1 and Keith Jeffery “MI6: The history of the Secret Intelligence Service” (2010) p.172 and Chapter 8

Photograph of Cushny’s wedding at best resolution possible from “Malayan Saturday Post” 30 April 1927, p.28. Copyright: Newspaper SG, Singapore Government.


© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.

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The Skipper

Tobin with Roger Pocock c1934. Photograph reproduced by kind permission of the Tobin family.

Surprising Snippets 7: Known to his children, who were all devoted to him, as “The Skipper”, Vahd William Tobin was known always as Bill. According to his son Peter (who himself became very well-known in southern Africa as a broadcaster and actor), Bill “always seemed the biggest, strongest and most capable among the Frontiersmen and either the leader or innovator in just about everything.”

In the Founder’s later years, Roger Pocock and Bill Tobin became very good friends:

I remember the great Roger Pocock very clearly in his Frontiersmen uniform and with his grey/white beard. He was a kindly quiet-spoken man for whom the Skipper had a tremendous regard…I treasure the memory of Bill Tobin, splendid in his uniform, a big, strong, big-hearted man, every inch the soldier, astride an enormous horse.

(letter Peter Tobin to his sister Daphne, 30/03/1984 in response to an enquiry from us).

Bill Tobin appears in our page on the Frontiersmen Remounts: http://www.frontiersmenhistorian.info/remount.htm

and in his account of F.C. Selous in the previous “snippet“.

His early military career has not been verified but he is believed to have served in South Africa in the Imperial Yeomanry and then in the Transvaal Mounted Rifles (where he was wounded) also in the 1906 Zulu Rebellion. After this, until July 1914 he was working in Rio de Janeiro where he married his Brazilian/Irish wife. Like Lt.-Col. Driscoll, Tobin originated from a land-owning Irish family and with their common links it seems likely that Driscoll would have wanted to take Tobin to East Africa as one of his officers, but his complement was quickly filled. Tobin was commissioned into Winston Churchill’s old regiment, the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars until he was discharged in May 1917 with serious shrapnel wounds to his neck and face. After he had recovered sufficiently he served as a Captain commanding a company of the officer cadet unit of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry. Following the war he returned to Brazil for some years. On returning to England in the late 1920s he became O.C. of the Erith, Kent, Squadron of the Legion. He worked for the Atlas Preservative Company, owned by the Thatcher family, which was made very successful due to the skills of the young Denis Thatcher. Denis became a well-known name when he married politician and later Prime Minister, Margaret. According to Bill’s daughter, the actress June Tobin, Denis was not much liked by the firm’s staff.

In W.W.2, Bill Tobin was called back to the army and given the rank of Major (acting Lt.-Col.) and given command of the 56th Kent Battalion Home Guard. Although we have found more Frontiersmen serving in the A.R.P., here was a Frontiersman holding a senior position in the Home Guard in one of the most badly bombed areas of the Blitz. Charles Graves’ 1943 “The Home Guard of Britain” tells us the story of just one night in the life of the C.O. of 56th Kent Battalion Home Guard:

Fighting had been going on one September afternoon, and from his house the C.O. 56th Kent Battalion Home Guard watched formation after formation of Hun ‘planes broken up by our fighters. There was an incessant crash of fire from our ant-aircraft guns, light and heavy. Prudent people were either in their own dug-outs or in air-raid shelters. There seemed to be no pause between the enemy daylight attack and the even heavier raids which began when darkness set in. It was only when night fell that the full effects of fires could be seen.

That night he had to go on duty as Umpire at an Exercise, but he left home at five o’clock because of a number of Home Guard duties he had to perform. So he went straight from his Headquarters to Dartford Heath, where the exercise was laid on, and which was to begin at 9 p.m.. Elements of the Battalion were opposed to a detachment of the Guards.

By 9 p.m. the blitz was at its height. Fires were burning across the Essex side of the river. There was an enormous blaze at some oil depot on the Thames. Woolwich Arsenal seemed alight, judging by the enormous glow in the sky. Searchlights were probing the skies in all directions, and the A.A. guns on and around the heath cracked out continuously in almost deafening uproar. In this ideal setting the exercise commenced.

Shortly after 10 p.m. the O.C. was nearly run down by a Regular D[espatch] R[ider] on a road skirting the heath. He stopped and asked for the Major in charge of the Scots Guards Detachment. The O.C. found this officer for the D.R. and stood by him while he read the message the D.R. had delivered him. Then, turning to the O.C. he said: “Exercise off. I suggest you make your own way back to your Battalion area. Orders are for my Battalion to prepare to move within the hour.”

The O.C. thought: ‘ Well, here it is, the invasion has come.’ His men were ordered back to their respective Company areas and he returned to Headquarters and waited for orders. A little later he left and returned home on being informed that he could remain in the vicinity and be contacted by ‘phone if the necessity arose.

On arriving home the O.C. found the family up, but his wife away. She had gone to Woolwich. The glow over there was brighter than ever, and as he had some posts to visit out in that direction, near Plumstead, he stepped into his old car and set off. On the outskirts of Plumstead he was stopped by a Home Guard picket, whose orders were to allow no cars to pas through, as the road further on was impassable. In the middle of the argument as to whether or not he should proceed any further on his way, a Hun ‘plane above dropped a cluster of incendiaries. Some of these fell upon some houses close by, and off dashed the picket to help put out the fires. Plumstead was only a little way ahead, so the C.O. went along in his car and soon found that the road was indeed impassable.

He spent the night visiting posts in the Battalion area and returned home at six in the morning. Five minutes afterwards his wife walked in, having spent a nerve-racking night in Woolwich. She had gone there to have her hair dressed, in the middle of which the blitz struck the town. The hairdresser, however, was a plucky girl, for she stood up to the ordeal and finished the job. A kindly police officer conducted the C.O.’s wife to a public air-raid shelter, where she spent the night; and a companion in the shelter, who turned out to be a bus driver, took charge of her at daybreak and managed to find a bus on the outskirts of the town to take her home to Erith.

Life for many Frontiersmen was a succession of adventures. We continue to attempt to relay any of their stories that we manage to discover.


© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.

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German Spies are Everywhere

William Le Queux

Topic February/March 2018.  The early Legion of Frontiersmen attracted a number of men whose characters varied from the slightly to the very eccentric. One of the most eccentric of all was the novelist, journalist and writer William Le Queux. Le Queux was the leading scaremonger of a number of other writers, usually members of the Legion, who warned that nests of German spies were to be found all over the British Isles. Even though many of Le Queux’s claims of spies were ridiculous, his evidence was listened to by the sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence (The National Archives file CAB 16/8). ‘The evidence which was produced left no doubt in the minds of the sub-committee that an extensive system of German espionage exists in this country, and that we have no organisation for keeping in touch with that espionage and for accurately determining its extent or objectives.’

‘That naive conclusion, which owed as much to the imaginary spies of Willam Le Queux as to the real machinations of German Intelligence led directly to the foundation of the British Secret Service.’ (“Secret Service” by Christopher Andrew p.58).

In his book Professor Andrew is quite scathing about Le Queux and his stories of spies, but, even if virtually all the stories were complete fiction, the above statement by Britain’s most noted historian of Intelligence means that Le Queux was historically important. The problem was that Le Queux, being a good storyteller, latched on grains of truth, on suspicions, on imaginations, embroidered them out of all proportion – and then believed the whole lot himself.

‘At least part of Le Queux’s secret lay in his immense clubability. He moved effortlessly around clubland and society dinners, establishing a reputation as a wit and raconteur.’ (“Secret Service” p.45).

Much of newspaper and writing circles centred around the Savage Club, whose members included many of the ‘German spy menace’ writers. Roger Pocock, the Founder of the Legion of Frontiersmen wrote in his diary how he was asked by Edgar Wallace to propose Wallace for membership of the Savage Club. Roger Pocock, himself a romantic, eagerly followed the words of the master story-spinner William Le Queux. Legion members were convinced of the German menace. The stories they told in the early Legion days of German spies – and of revolution in some far-off countries – may have owed more to fantasy than fact, but the German spy scares were believed by a considerable percentage of the British population. Le Queux’s highly successful “The Invasion of 1910” first appeared as a serial beginning in March 1906 in the “Daily Mail”. Assisted by a naval expert, H.W. Wilson and advised by the elderly Lord Roberts, Le Queux had reconnoitred much of England to discover what he thought would be likely invasion routes for the Germans. When it was presented to Lord Northcliffe he instructed that some of the routes be changed to cover areas where he considered sales of his newspaper could be boosted. Northcliffe then advertised in other newspapers the districts the Germans would be attacking the next day. On the first day of publication the “Daily Mail” sandwichboard men paraded through London streets in blue uniforms with spiked helmets. The Prime Minister was furious, telling Parliament that Le Queux was a ‘pernicious scaremonger’ and that the story was calculated to inflame and alarm. Northcliffe was more than happy as it boosted the sales of his newspapers. When it came out in book form “The Invasion of 1910” sold more than a million copies in twenty-seven languages, including German, although the Germans changed the ending to show a German victory.

The Frontiersmen featured heroically in the book ‘…that splendid corps, the Legion of Frontiersmen…’ (p.289), ‘…the daring actions of the”Frontiersmen”…’ (p.335), ‘This place was held strongly by British Infantry, many members of the Legion of Frontiersmen, – distinguished only by the little bronze badge in their buttonholes -‘ (p.359), among other mentions.

The War Office found some of the German spy stories passed to them most irritating, although Vernon Kell, who in 1909 became the head of the newly-founded Secret Service Bureau, in 1910 found the activities of the Frontiersmen of interest.

‘I saw L at the officers on his return home from the East Coast where he had been trying to get in touch with some of the Legion of Frontiersmen…I will enter them among my likely agents.’ (T.N.A. KV14).

The east coast was the home of the very active Maritime Division of the Legion and included Erskine Childers whose “Riddle of the Sands” had made such an impact, and also the influential E.G. Pretyman, M.P. who had served as a Navy Minister in the earlier Conservative government. The Maritime Section also included Linton Hope who was a highly successful yacht designer and J. St. A. Jewell who had a high reputation as a writer on sea and yachting matters. Vernon Kell also commented that:

‘The first commandant of the London Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen was almost certainly in the secret service of Germany and therefore had to be got rid of.’

De Hora

His report had an additional marginal note by some unknown officer “Who is this?”. “This” was Manoel de Hora, who was even more of a fantasist than Le Queux and has been the subject of a biography by Bruce G. Fuller.**

There is no doubt that most Frontiersmen in Britain were convinced by the stories of German spies. In his 1931 “Chorus to Adventurers” Roger Pocock tells many stories based on the Le Queux scare stories and others that were circulating, most of which sound ridiculous to modern ears but did not do so then when the threat of German military aggression was generally believed.

‘There was to be a German feint upon Essex, made in the hope of containing our Southern Command on Epping Forest for the defence of London. On the details of this operation Lord Roberts gave three month’s instruction to a member of the Legion, Mr. William le Queux, and the result was a forecast novel in the “Daily Mail”. (Chorus to Adventurers, p.63).

Forecast novel it may have been, but Le Queux steadily began to believe that his own predictions were based on facts.

Even the great Baden-Powell was convinced that the Germans were planning to invade:

‘When the German invasion scare was at its height in Britain between 1906 and 1910, Baden-Powell was sold a bogus invasion plan by an enterprising group of German-American forgers who had set up a ‘spy-bureau’ in Belgium. They contrived to sell similar material to Major-General J.S. Ewart, the Director of Military Operations, and to William Le Queux, the espionage writer.’ (Baden-Powell, by Tim Jeal, p.153).

1 19060730 Invasion advert

Convinced by the bogus invasion plans he had purchased, Baden-Powell gave a series of very successful lantern lectures to fellow officers on how 90,000 German troops would land in Yorkshire once the Straits of Dover were blocked by mines and submarines. Reports about his talks inevitably found their way into the newspapers. Members of the Legion other than Le Queux were also reporting on German spies. Believing both the stories of Le Queux and the highly-respected Baden-Powell they began adding their own accounts:

‘Each district upon the eastern slope of Britain was allotted to one German officers, who spent his furlough there…He knew…every detail of military interest. German officers were not welcomed at country houses, or popular at inns. They had a club on the east side of Regent Street, and large numbers frequented an hotel at Ventnor [Isle of Wight]. Along our coasts an astonishing number of respectable “Swiss” residents had houses overlooking the sea…(Chorus to Adventurers, p.64).

In November 1908 a question was raised in the House of Commons if a ‘party of officers from the Royal Naval College in the course of reconnaissance in the Isle of Wight recently found German officers engaged in selecting suitable places for the landing of troops.’

On 2nd February 1909 the “Sheffield Daily Telegraph” reported that: ‘a party of foreigners including three Germans made a systemic photographic survey of the coast between the Tyne and the Tees.’

In his 1909 diary, Roger Pocock wrote about suspicious activities that had come to his own notice:

‘4 m[iles] inland from either Stranraer or Port Patrick private firm have meadows, this is a blind. German expert Depot, 2 Zeppelin ships – being tested in suitable place hilly. For 3 years a wooden airship has been building and testing in a factory at Friern Barnet nr. London. Germans opp[osite] an Institute called the Freehold.’ ***

After Roger Pocock had all official position in the Legion withdrawn from him in 1909 even the London Commandant (later Chief Executive Officer) Lt. Col. D.P. Driscoll made a highly extravagant claim about the number of German spies in Britain. From 1910 onwards the Legion concentrated on preparing for the war with Germany that they were convinced would come.

We may find many of these spy scares bordering on the ridiculous, but the Edwardian reader of the populist newspapers such as the “Daily Mail” and the “Daily Express” (edited by another Frontiersman, R.D. Blumenfeld) was genuinely scared of a German invasion. William Le Queux had touched a raw nerve and picked up and played on the mood of the British public. We may wonder how much of his writing ever came to be believed, but those were different days and we have to return to Christopher Andrew’s comment that William Le Queux was a catalyst – even a major cause – of the setting up of M.I.5.

And you thought that “Fake News” was a recent invention!


** Since the death of Bruce Fuller, the handling of his biography of de Hora has passed to his research associate Susan Hora.  Please contact us if you require contact details.

*** Quotation by kind permission of the Roger Pocock archive at the Bruce Peel Library and Archives, University of Alberta.

More on the Frontiersmen and Intelligence and German spies can be seen in Professor John Ellis’ account of Owen Vaughan, General Gordon’s “magic ring” and the Legion motto in: http://www.frontiersmenhistorian.info/motto.htm


© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.

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The Inspirational F.C.Selous.

Official inspection of Frontiersmen London 1914

Surprising Snippets 6: Let us face it, biographies can be boring. Especially when the biographer relies on his academic reputation and merely distils the work of previous biographers. The subject needs to be fully understood and the writer needs to dig deep to find what forgotten friends of that person thought and knew. Frederick Selous’ life as an officer of 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) is a case in point. In the “Bulawayo Chronicle” in 1937 Vahd W. (Bill) Tobin told us more about Selous in a few paragraphs than any recent biographer has achieved. Bill Tobin has already featured in the story of Swaythling Remounts: http://www.frontiersmenhistorian.info/remount.htm

Here is his view of F.C. Selous as an officer and very much a gentleman:

The G.O.C. London Division passed slowly down the ranks of a great body of men drawn up on the Horse Guards Whitehall. It must have been a novel inspection for one even of his long military experience; for here, he knew, were men forgathered from almost every part of the globe, men whose ages ranged from 25 to 50, and more; yet all, irrespective of their age, destined for active service overseas.

Some of these men attired in civilian clothes, noticeably of Colonial cut and style; the rest, however, in parade kit of a picturesque, not to say strikingly unorthodox pattern, comprising broad Stetson hat, brown silk neckerchief, blue shirt-tunic emblazoned with shoulder chains, cord breeches, belted and holstered, and spurred riding boots.

Campaign medals glittered on the breasts of a lot of these men, before many of whom the General passed with either a nod of recognition of their decorations, or to exchange a few words with the wearers of them.

Slowly he passed along; until at the whispered suggestion of the unit Commander, he stopped squarely opposite an unassuming looking, well set-up, middle-aged man in civilian rig. Introduced, the General instantly shook his hand and stayed to chat with him for several minutes, with the Staff gathered round to listen.

And that was way back in February, 1915. The parade referred to was a muster of several hundred members of the Legion of Frontiersmen. The middle-aged man with whom the G.O.C. shook hands and chatted was Frontiersman F.C.Selous.

It was Legion Commandant. Colonel “Jerry” Driscoll (Driscoll o’ the fighting scouts) who, shortly afterwards, introduce me to Selous, thereby achieving for me a long hoped-for ambition. By then Selous had been promoted Lieutenant, a rank he accepted with characteristic reluctance, averring that there were many in the Legion better qualified than he for commissioned status. He would have been content to remain a simple private, just so long as he once more was in his country’s service.

For up till a week before the parade I mention, he had offered his services to the War Office over and over again, only to be rejected each time as too old for military duties in the field. In vain, it appears, had he begged the officials to consider his usefulness, no matter in what capacity, on any of the fighting fronts of Africa. But all in vain. To the official mind (at that time) the full scale of his unrivalled knowledge and experience of Africa, East, West, Central and South, was inexorably counter-weighed by his age.

Selous, however, had been a member of the Legion of Frontiersmen almost from its inception. So when, in that month of February, the remnant of the Legion was accepted for service, after hundreds of the organisation, tired of waiting for official recognition, had drifted into the new armies – Selous automatically enrolled with it, age objection no longer held, for the unit had been accepted en bloc, subject only to its members passing medical examination. And Selous, as all knew him anticipated, passed as one of the fittest men. He was then 63.

To any student of human nature, to anyone who has knocked about the world, and learned thereby to judge men, Selous, at very first glance, stood revealed for what he was, a man. His serene grey eyes mirrored a nature at once gentle, kindly, lovable. One took to him instantly, and felt the urge to know him, to go on knowing him, and, perhaps, become in time esteemed by him. One just felt the better for knowing him, for being with him if only for a little while. That was how I felt about him as, I know, did others who claimed his acquaintance.

There was little opportunity to talk with Selous after my introduction to him in Legion headquarters, in Adam Street, Strand. For he was surrounded by old friends, to whose talk he was listening quietly, this unassuming man with the pleasant, kindly smile. He left after a while on some military errand and the room seemed empty without him. Not that he had dominated it. One was just subtly, pleasantly aware of his presence. That was the magnetism of him; of Selous the man – of his very name in fact.

It was the last I ever saw of him.

If this is the impression Selous made on Tobin, it is understandable how in East Africa “…the word that their great hero had been killed soon spread round the Frontiersmen and they were so maddened that they managed to take the strong German positions and drive the enemy back”. (One Hundred Years of the Legion of Frontiersmen, p.92). It is quite likely that this resulted in the Royal Fusiliers being awarded the Battle Honour “Behobeho”. Driscoll already had his full complement of officers so could not find a place for Tobin who was commissioned into Winston Churchill’s old regiment, the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars. We hope to tell you more about Bill Tobin in the future.


© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.

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Not All Uniforms and Parades

Babs Stoneham camp c.1931

Surprising Snippets 5: Snippets found in Frontiersmen magazines. 

Charles Stoneham had served as a sergeant in the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa and was the author of a number of books on life in Kenya. This is from the November 1931 Frontiersmen magazine:

Life in a quiet little Kentish town is too dangerous and too strenuous for Mrs. C.T. Stoneham, the wife of a big-game hunter. Dodging motor cars in rural byways has got on her nerves. She cannot sleep because of the incessant honk of their horns. So she is quitting it all for a tent in the East African jungle, where man-eating beasts will be her neighbours and their roaring her nightly serenade. Mrs. Stoneham has lived a life that many a woman of spirit must envy. She once had for a pet a man-eating lion that killed 360 people. She met unarmed a lion face to face at a 10ft. range, and has been charged by angry buffaloes and truculent rhinoceroses…

Quite an awesome lady to have as your wife on the frontiers of civilisation! The photograph of Mrs “Babs” Stoneham is from C.T. Stoneham’s 1932 book “Wanderings in Wild Africa.” In this book, and in several of his others, there are interesting chapters about his experiences with the Frontiersmen in East Africa during the First War.

J. Anderson Neary, who for many years was the lynch-pin of the Frontiersmen in Egypt and who regularly contributed tales to the magazines, wrote this, which was published in May 1929:

Two real old men have recently been discovered in Egypt. One is 120 and the other 155. The latter remembers Napoleon when in Egypt, has a son aged 70, has had two wives, eats two pounds of meat or a whole chicken at one meal and is fond of smoking.

The late 1920s and the early 1930s were hard times, and the Legion of Frontiersmen did its best to find jobs for the many unemployed Frontiersmen. Although not applicable to those currently seeking work, out of interest the March 1929 magazine published an extract from an un-named farmers’ magazine of Victorian times:

Wanted, for a sober family, a man of light weight, who fears the Lord and can drive a pair of horses. He must occasionally wait at table, join household prayers, look after the horses, read a chapter of the Bible. He must, God willing, rise at seven in the morning, and obey his master and mistress in all lawful commands. If he can dress hair, sing Psalms, and play at cribbage, the more agreeable. N.B. – He must not be familiar with the maid servants, lest the flesh should rebel against the spirit, and he should be induced to walk in the thorny paths of the wicked. Wages, fifteen guineas a year.

Even in the fifty or so years between this advertisement being placed and the depression years around 1929, requirements for staff had changed remarkably.


© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.

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An Extraordinary Occasion

Camp Fire by Koekkoek

Topic December 2017 / January 2018.  To perform a major event in one of London’s Royal parks would be an achievement for any organisation; for an organisation that was less than two years old to find the numbers to produce a whole evening’s show in aid of Legion funds and to find this reported in newspapers all round Britain has to be absolutely extraordinary. The size and variety of the display put on by volunteers of the infant Legion of Frontiersmen on Empire Day 1907 at what was then the Royal Botanic Gardens in Regent’s Park was an achievement that, other than an occasional photograph, has never been properly celebrated. Here we are able to tell the story and to reproduce pictures from the occasion that have not been seen for many years. This was not the first fète the Legion hosted at Regent’s Park in aid of funds. In July 1906 a smaller show was produced with a small bivouac display and a concert organised by Lena Ashwell. This featured scenes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plus a conjurer, Charles Bertram, also well-known stars such as Constance Collier and Albert Chevalier. Constance Collier’s claim to modern fame is that she was the Hollywood drama coach to Marilyn Monroe. The success of this fète encouraged the Frontiersmen to produce something more ambitious for 1907.

Frontiersmen as Musketeers The Sphere

Fortunately the weather was also kind for the Empire Day 1907 event. After a wet morning the weather improved dramatically to produce a perfect May afternoon and evening. The gardens were illuminated by electric lights and Chinese lanterns. The band of the Coldstream Guards played on one of the lawns. There were many of the old style “fun of the fair” side-shows such as coconut shies, a “sorceress” telling fortunes, shooting galleries plus a display of the skills of jiu-jitsu by the London School of that art. Roger Pocock’s sister, the well-known actress Lena Ashwell, had organised a concert and dramatic entertainment in the conservatory pavilion featuring many well-known names from the London Stage. No wonder the event was a complete sell-out. The one side-show which brought favourable comments from every newspaper and was a sensation with the audience was a series of staged fights showing duelling from all ages from Roman times onwards. This was organised by two Legion officers, Captain Alfred Hutton and Captain Graham Hope. Hutton’s books on the sword and swordsmanship are still in print today. As can be seen from the illustrations, the duellists all wore the costume of the particular age. They began with Roman gladiators and continued with fights at quarterstaff “the favourite weapon of the English peasantry from early times”.¹ Captain Graham Hope and Legion founder-member Robert A. Smith fought a duel with two-handed swords dressed in suits of armour reputed to weight over 70 lb. each. A bout with 15th century sword and buckler and a fight with the smallsword of the seventeenth century followed. In addition a splendidly-costumed Smith together with three others re-enacted the fight between the Musketeers and Richelieu’s Cardinal’s Guard as described in Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers”.

The stage was a lawn partly surrounded by trees and bushes, through which the duellists made artistically natural entrances. The stage management was excellent, and the whole effect was most ably and skilfully carried out. The difficulty of disposing of the dead men was overcome by the employment of carriers garbed as Brethren of the Misericordia, who bore away the corpses. ²

Hutton and Smith in armour Penny Illustrated

The final battle was between a modern Edwardian infantryman with bayonet on his rifle fighting an accurately-costumed Pathan with his weapon and shield.

The entertainment was opened by the then Commandant-General, Sir Henry Seton-Karr, C.M.G.. Frontiersmen travelled to take part from Liverpool, Cambridge, York, Portsmouth and Bristol. It is often thought that all Frontiersmen from the early days were horse-mounted, but in fact almost every Frontiersmen Squadron had a Troop of cyclists as they believed that sometimes the bicycle held advantages over the horse. Two Troopers from Portsmouth, Reynolds and Gibson, cycled from Portsmouth to London carrying a despatch for Lord Lonsdale, returning after the conclusion of the event: a ride of 180 miles in twenty-four hours. This was some achievement considering the roads, bicycles and tyres of the time.

At ten o’clock the climax of the evening was a uniformed display by one hundred and fifty members of the London Command under Lt.Col. D.P. Driscoll. The arena showed the Frontiersmen in bivouac cooking supper round a camp fire with their horses picketed behind the trees. During the meal a number of songs were called for and performed for the visitors and guests who formed a large semi-circle. At the sound of distant firing, the Frontiersmen sprang to their horses and rode off to return again shortly, apparently victorious. The whole evening was agreed to have been a tremendous success and magnificent publicity for the Legion.

It has seldom been discussed how many men in Edwardian Britain, and particularly living in the London area, had spent time working, or had maybe fought, on the frontiers of what was considered the civilised world. Not only had their adventures in distant places made a deep impression on them, but they had obviously enjoyed them. The Legion of Frontiersmen gave them an opportunity to join up with other men who had experienced life and action in the wilder parts of what was then an exciting and often unknown world, so they flocked to enlist in the Legion. These men were also very patriotic and agreed with the principles of the Legion that they should be willing to give of their many and varied skills to their country and, if necessary, fight for it.

H.W. Koekkoek was a highly talented artist and the expressions he captured on the faces of the men who took part in the “Bivouac” at Regent’s Park show that this young and growing organisation had filled a gap in their lives, which it also did to the social and military history of the English-speaking world.

¹ “Daily Telegraph” May 21 1907.
² “Army and Navy Gazette” June 1 1907.


© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.

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The Origins of the Idea

Prince of Wales inspectsSurprising Snippets 4.  In several topic pages we have pointed out how often between the wars the Frontiersmen were called upon as either Guards of Honour or escorts to members of the British Royal family:

We have suggested that this dated back to around 1923 when Major-General Lord Loch agreed to become President of the Legion. A recently discovered newspaper cutting suggests that the idea of using the Legion to support royalty might go back to 1919. The Bolshevik Revolution and the assassination of the Russian royal family – all related to British royalty – sent out shock waves. The upper and middle classes were terrified that Red Revolution might spread to Britain. Strikes became widespread and the British Labour Party supported the servicemen, whose unrest at times turned into mutiny, and the badly-underpaid Metropolitan Police who went on strike in 1918 and in 1919. It is not possible to discuss fully here the discontent of the working classes in the period after the First War, but this is covered in many books. It was mainly the landed gentry and the upper classes who were so frightened by the thought of Bolshevism and revolution occurring in Britain, overturning the status quo and doing away with British Royalty. An interview with Lt. Col. Driscoll in an evening paper “The Globe” must certainly have caught their attention.

T.A.Macdonald was later to interview Driscoll about the bad way his battalion had been treated in East Africa, but first of all Macdonald was despatched by his editor, who had heard that Driscoll was “resuscitating” the Legion of Frontiersmen. Driscoll’s response, reported on page 2 of the 23rd April issue was a furious one:

All that has happened is that its members have been scattered and although most of us have managed all through the war to keep in touch with each other to some extent, it is only now that the struggle is over that we can really get together again and, resuming our activities as a body, can prepare for future eventualities…The same as they have been all through the ages – the forces of evil against which all honest and loyal men must fight if the world is to be kept clean and the Empire safe…

The League of Nations will no more obviate the necessity for going in for extensive military training than Christian Science will do away with the surgeon’s need of a knife. The sentimental trash which is being talked about disarming threatens to ruin the virility of this country and to destroy its power as a champion of justice. I assure you that Pacifism and Leagueism lead to no utopia. To get to Utopia you must travel in a tank.

But it is not only the possibility of trouble from without that the Legion is preparing for…There is the more dangerous possibility of trouble within. In these days when Bolshevism and advanced Socialism are eating away at the very roots of our national life there is a great need for clean-minded men to rally together…

The Legion of Frontiersmen will stand against Bolshevism to a man. We are for the Throne and the flag with no side issues. And I can tell you that there is not one of our members, from Lord Cardross, Lord Calthorpe, and Lord Powerscourt down to the last-joined recruit who is not heart and soul in sympathy with these ideals… [emphasis added]

As I withdrew I saw the other callers. There were two Canadians, three New Zealanders, one Australian, and two demobilised Imperials, each wearing the badge of the Legion. Every one of them was a soldierly, strong-built, and clear-eyed Briton. If these are fair samples of the 10,000 members, I thought, I should hardly care to be a Bolshevik when the Legion gets busy.

his interview was the closest Driscoll and the Legion ever came to being political, but he only spoke the thoughts of many deeply alarmed men of his type and generation. We can only produce a mass of circumstantial evidence, as any feelings that here was a trained body of men who publicly supported King and Empire and would rally to support the King in the event of any revolutionary actions against him would not have been put in writing. Driscoll’s views and his Frontiersmen would have been discussed in the London Clubs over brandy and cigars by men of influence. Sadly, the papers of Major-General Lord Loch lodged in the Scottish Record Office and his Army service papers at the Imperial War Museum exclude his Frontiersmen papers. The family suffered tragedies,during which his son wrote to us that there were files of Frontiersmen papers somewhere in his garage. These appear to have been discarded at some stage, his son and both grandsons are dead, and the Peerage is now extinct, so what was likely the main source of written evidence is lost. The above interview is just one more pointer to perhaps why the Frontiersmen were often around when Royalty appeared in public.

© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.

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