The Frontiersmen’s Lorry

Indian Army Ox Carts. Source: Imperial War Museum

Indian Army Ox Carts. Source: Imperial War Museum

Topic October/November 2016. A tale of the First War in East Africa and the frustrations of bureaucracy.

By the time the 25th battalion Royal Fusiliers (Legion of Frontiersmen) arrived in East Africa in 1915, the actions of the Indian Army Staff officers given charge of the campaign against the Germans probably left a lot to be desired. The war in Europe needed all the troops Britain could find, so what was considered a sideshow in Africa was delegated to the Indian Army. As far as the officers whose command was of desks in the War Office in London this had advantages. Their own departmental budgets have always been more important to bureaucracy than overall costs, so this delegation was good as far as both the War Office and the Foreign Office were concerned. According to the blinkered racism of the time, the Indian troops had brown skins and would be quite at home in the African climate. Little thought was given to their dietary requirements. Their first task on landing was to capture Tanga. This proved one of the most embarrassing debâcles of the early war years and one which shocked the establishment in Britain and East Africa. The story of that failure is covered in many books, most notably Edward Paice’s Tip and Run.¹ The War Office took over the running of the war in that part of the world, immediately receiving requests for British troops to be sent out. The best Indian Army units and most of the British Army battalions based in India had been sent to the Western Front. The Indian Troops who went to East Africa where the war was considered to be a side-show were not all of the best. Only one British battalion, the 2nd battalion of the Loyal North Lancs was sent to Africa. Before they left England as the one British unit the War Office would send, the Frontiersmen were aware of Tanga. In his account of the Frontiersmen’s exploits in East Africa serialised in the Frontiersman magazines in the early 1920s, ‘Adjutant’ made his own sharp comments:

The Indian Expeditionary Force had landed at Tanga without first bombarding it and wiping it out. Gossip said that the officials of the new Government-that-was-to-be had not the heart to destroy such comfortable quarters as they could see through their telescopes…

Soon after that an Indian garrison at Jasin, on the British East African border, had to surrender, and were taken away into captivity – to degradation, forced labour, starvation, disease and death.²

Map East Africa, 1915.  Source: Ordnance Survey

Map East Africa, 1915. Source: Ordnance Survey

There is strong evidence that ‘Adjutant’ was in fact Captain (later Major) George Douglas Hazzledine, who wrote under a nom-de-plume so that he could criticise the attitude and behaviour to the Frontiersmen of the Staff officers. Francis Brett Young, a medical officer with the Rhodesians who wrote an account of the capture of Tanga later in the war, Marching on Tanga, was so frustrated because he was not allowed to tell the whole truth that he later wrote a fiction book Jim Redlake, in which he put into the mouths of the characters his disgust at the behaviour of the Indian Army Staff back at Nairobi.

Our own mistakes were small things in our eyes compared with the mistakes we thought those in authority over us made over us. We took some of the world’s most famous big-game hunters in our battalion, but they were not used as scouts…We had Colonial engineers and experts of all kinds among our officers, but they were not used, except unwillingly, as when they pointed out that it was impracticable to cut a road with picks and shovels along the face of a rock slope at Turiani.³

Motor Lorries Bringing up Troops. Source: “Times History of the War”.

Motor Lorries Bringing up Troops, “Times History of the War”.

There were many other examples quoted. There was a need for men who could speak Swahili, not a common skill in the Indian Army although there are some similarities between Swahili and Hindi. The Frontiersmen had a number of men who were fluent in the local language, but they were seldom used, and then only in a very subordinate position with native carriers. The Staff would not listen to Driscoll and only called on him to save the day when things became desperate. Many times Driscoll and his Frontiersmen saved matters in an action.

One example of Staff pigheadedness may sound amusing to us a hundred years on, but at the time it was frustrating and infuriating. That is the story of the Frontiersmen’s lorry. One of the officers Driscoll insisted on taking with him in the first draft was W. Northrup Macmillan. Driscoll had to bend the rules somewhat to get him accepted by the War Office. For a start he was sixty-four inches around the waist, which was an enormous size in those days when men were generally far smaller than today. The other problem was that, although he had lived for years in East Africa, he was by birth an American. His advantage was that, being immensely rich, he was keen to give much financial support to the British cause. That advantage outweighed any problems as far as the War Office was concerned. In their early days in East Africa the Frontiersmen were based at Kajiado and also served an area between there and the Besil River (see map). Some of the men called the camp on the Besil River “Bissel” and it had other translations, being nowadays known as Ilbisil. Transport was a great problem. The Indian Army had shipped over …

hundreds and hundreds of single-shafted two wheel carts with which India fondly hoped to follow up and supply her army of conquest…but what earthly use were they in the strains and stress and hurry and bustle of war in the Tropics?…If one of the two oxen fell sick or died or would not pull, the other was also put out of action and could only go round and round on one wheel, if at all. With the ox-whallah sitting, barelegged, at the roots of the shaft, the carts were no doubt excellent for a slow walk from the rice fields along the sunlit road in Ceylon; but for war – Hapana. (hapana is Swahili for an emphatic NO.) The designers of our little invasion out there had little imagination and less knowledge of countries other than their own..⁴

For the Frontiersmen, possible help was forthcoming. Knowing the country well, Macmillan considered that it was an area for lorries, not oxen. Much to their delight he gave them a three-ton lorry, calling it a loan. This single lorry increased their mobility beyond measure.

Once at Kajiado, there was great excitement because of news coming in from the Bissel [sic] Road that some native drivers had mutinied and were looting the convoy and playing merry Harry generally. Orders were issued that the Royal Fusiliers would proceed to the spot about five miles away, with one officer and twenty rifles and so many rounds per man and do any necessary destroying.

Motor Lorries. Source: Imperial War Museum Powell Collection Q15632

Motor Lorries. Source: Imperial War Museum Powell Collection Q15632

On receipt of the order a platoon of the duty company climbed into the lorry and ran out to the place instructed. There they found the natives had also looted some alcohol and were all drunk. The Frontiersmen bundled them into the lorry and delivered them to their HQ “for medical and other necessary attention”. The Frontiersmen were back in camp for their meal, probably before headquarters had time to blot off the five copies of the orders and distribute them as required. That one example should have shown HQ Staff the value of lorries in the campaign, but it was not until Smuts took command that lorries in any number were used.

The Frontiersmen were to lose their prized lorry long before that happened.

First we had a long wrangle with H.Q., where those who were responsible for our equipment and the conduct of the campaign for a long time failed to understand a mere battalion having a lorry. They almost gave the impression that its possession was irregular and might be a military offence under some code they had in the office.

“A battery, yes; a G.H.Q. mess, yes; but a battalion of Sepoys, no; of course we know you are white men, but you are not regulars, you know, and after all you are only a battalion. Where? In what book, red or buff or pink, can you point out a lorry on the establishment of a battalion? Shall we cable Simla about it? Will they be able to give us the reference to your order?”

The casual racism was common for the time, but the insults to the Frontiersmen were unacceptable behaviour. As in so many occasions in the history of the Frontiersmen, that has been the attitude in varying degrees – until they have been needed to dig someone or some official body out of a hole.

At last the General said he didn’t think there would be any objection, and he would take the risk of allowing us to have the lorry with us, unofficially, of course, and without giving us any right to indent for a renewal. So, when the great day of the advance came, we took it with us; and lost it. We lost it because at Bissel [sic], twenty-four miles out, the Supplies discovered that our special authorisation of the lorry said nothing about petrol, and, there being no Army petrol to spare in wartime for private cars, Colonel Driscoll shrugged his shoulders and sent it back to Nairobi with thanks.⁵

Anybody with military experience will be able to quote stories of official rule-book bureaucracy. According to the opinions of the many Frontiersmen who told their stories in the pages of The Frontiersman magazine, the way the Frontiersmen were treated by the Staff officers, many of whose only experience had been in military India and never of the wildernesses of the world and especially Africa, exceeded the bounds of simple stupidity. Even the gentlemanly F.C. Selous in a private letter to W. Northrup McMillan commented that “Many officers detest our Colonel and our Battalion…”⁶ The sacrifices made over the years by Frontiersmen were often discounted, and evidence can be produced that they can sometimes still be discounted today. It is our task to remember those sacrifices and make sure they are not forgotten by studying their first-hand stories.

Finally, the following quote is from Will Shandro’s “Timeline” on our history website and further illustrates the issue of military intolerance, directed in this case at the New Zealand Frontiersmen:

1918 – Compliments to Legion’s character vs military chauvinism. “A doctor recently returned from the Front after much service, expressed this opinion of the Legionnaires: “They are the finest, cleanest, straightest crowd of men I ever met. They never had half the credit they deserved for the work they did.” This was quoted by way of contrast to the opinion of a drawing-room military officer who prior to the war declared the Legion was a crowd of drunken swashbucklers. That officer, by the way, has not yet reach[ed] the Front!” AUCKLAND WEEKLY NEWS, page 51, 14 FEBRUARY 1918.

¹ Edward Paice Tip and Run (Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2007)
² “The Frontiersman” magazine August 1922
³ “The Frontiersman” magazine August 1923
⁴ “The Frontiersman” magazine March 1923. The author of this wrote under the nom-de-plume of O.C.A. and made numerous other contributions to the magazine in subsequent years. There can be no definite identification of who was this O.C.A. We have consulted Steve Eeles, whose website: is dedicated entirely to the 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa, and whose website we heartily recommend. He suggests that the letter could most probably have been written by Oscar Lindley, who “was the battalion’s Orderly Room Sergeant, later C.Q.M.S., and who would have been ideally placed to know all the workings of the battalion…” The evidence is circumstantial, but there is no other likely candidate. We are very grateful to Steve Eeles for his help and advice. Please do visit his website.
⁵ “The Frontiersman” magazine March 1923
⁶ W.N. McMillan scrapbooks at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth & African Studies at Rhodes House.

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

Posted in East Africa Frontiersmen, Frontiersmen, History, Latest Topic, Legion of Frontiersmen, New Zealand, World War I | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Supporting the Authorities

2 Komagata Maru 1914 Library and Archives Canada PA 034014 LAC

Komagata Maru 1914 Library and Archives Canada PA 034014 LAC

Topic August/September 2016.  Supporting the Legal Authorities (even when their cause may be doubtful).  Although in most countries the Frontiersmen have not received official recognition, their services have regularly been sought. Sometimes the tasks they have been given may have been in the grey area of what is legal. To explain this, we have to look at countries such as New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Many areas of these countries were sparsely populated and so policing services were stretched. A body of disciplined men with experience of working under pressure and in danger, and in particular whose services were provided at no cost to the taxpayer, was an attractive bonus to the system.

Our country of New Zealand is about the same size as the British Isles in area, but our present day population [1984] is not yet 3¼ millions, so compared with Britain we are not densely populated. Just imagine what it was like sixty or more years ago with a population of around 1½ millions. We really had ‘great open spaces’ in a big way and the concept of the Legion of Frontiersmen had full scope. Our ties with Police, Transport Dept., and other Civic bodies was constant and close, even to the extent where we, the Legion, were mobilised in this Bay of Plenty area, and with police officers we spent more than a week under arms in a search for an armed murderer. As it happened he had meantime shot himself so there was no gruesome finale to our efforts. This was not a happy episode, but it does show how close we were to the forces of law and order. ¹

This shows the confidence that the police had in the Frontiersmen to use them as armed auxiliaries. The first claim of their use by the authorities comes from South Africa in 1906 at the Zulu uprising in Natal. This was claimed as a revolt, but started as protests at a hut tax, or poll tax. Poll tax protests are well known in England in living memory. Roger Pocock wrote of this in his second autobiography:

Our nearest man rode with the news, but his horse fell dead in the outskirts of Maritzberg, so he ran on afoot to the nearest telegraph office, and cabled to me “Zulus rising instruct.” This message reached me twenty-four hours before news was received by Government or Press. I mobilized our two thousand men in the Johannesburg Command, then offered them armed and mounted to the Government of Natal.²

1 Hollamby1912

Hollamby 1912

The problem of this story is that, while Pocock’s accounts of his own adventures were basically truthful, although with a personal slant, he was far too inclined to believe stories told him by Frontiersmen to be factual. The tale of the early cable is no doubt correct, but the “two thousand men” is a gross exaggeration. No official account of the uprising mentions the Frontiersmen. No doubt many did volunteer, serving with the Umvoti Field Force, but not as Frontiersmen. The man in question, Capt P. Gordon Huntley, is listed in 1907 as the Legion’s sub-commissioner for Natal, but ceased to appear in Legion records in subsequent years.

The next record of the Frontiersmen aiding authorities comes from China in 1912. It is a story, all too common over the years, that although Government departments, such as the Foreign Office in London, had rather a poor view of the Legion, their services were often welcomed locally. The best-known adventure of the China Frontiersmen was the Shensi Relief Column. This a story fully covered elsewhere ³ and too complicated to be explained here. China was a somewhat lawless place and most British working there were men who chose adventure above security. In some towns every male British citizen had joined the Frontiersmen, although that often numbered less than ten men. Another point against them was that they seem to have ignored HQ orders regarding ranks. In 1912 the “Far East Command” comprised seventy-three members, of whom fifty were officers. The twenty-three other ranks included two Quartermaster-sergeants and three sergeants. Nevertheless, the assistance of the Frontiersmen was greatly appreciated by the British navy:

…Capt. Hollamby, in his launch, was specially useful in delivering the message from the Consul at Wuhu, to the Chinese Admiral, and so enables me to maintain a strict neutrality, which otherwise might have been questioned had my boats and officers been observed communicating with the latter.

He also rendered services in other ways, particularly as regards communicating with the British Hulks moored up river; while his launches have always been at my disposal during the siege, many of the services have been performed at considerable personal risk from rifle and shell fire, and I therefore have much pleasure in bringing them to your notice.

This letter was signed by Capt Marcus Hill of H.M.S. Hampshire and written to the C-in-C of the China Station, Vice-Admiral Jerram, who also added his own congratulations:

I have also much pleasure in stating that I myself am equally indebted to Capt. Hollamby for his ready assistance whilst I was at Nanking.³

3 B.C. Frontiersmen auxiliaries

B.C Frontiersmen Auxiliaries

If the British Foreign Office, as recorded in their files at the British National Archives, had a poor opinion of the value of the Frontiersmen in China, it seems that the British navy found at least Capt. Hollamby of service, carrying out a task which would have been difficult or diplomatically impossible for the British Navy.

Moving on to 1914 and British Columbia, Canada, we come to a story that has embarrassed Canadians for one hundred years. This is the story of the ship, the Komagata Maru, that arrived off Vancouver with 376 Punjabis who were would-be immigrants. At that time there was a widely-held view that Canada was a white man’s country and, to enforce national immigration policy, the Punjabis were refused entrance to the country and surprisingly even food and water. There followed a long and heated stand-off, which was reported in newspapers around the world. The local authorities did not wish to inflame the matter by involving the navy, so a plan, thankfully not needed, was considered in June to use the local members of the Legion of Frontiersmen to do what could be described as their “dirty work”:

A conference with the officers of the warship will be held and, if this procedure offers no solution, present plans are to call into service the Legion of Frontiersmen, a semi-official military organization of Canada, to go aboard the Komagata Maru, subdue the hostile passengers and give the vessel armed guard until she is outside the three mile limit, and there turn her over to the Japanese cruisers for escort across the Pacific. This step, if taken, will be made late Saturday night and Sunday morning.⁴

The full story is a complicated one but covered fully on the internet. It was not until 2014 that the Canadian Government made an official apology. There is no doubt that racism was common around the world at that time and, although we may find it unacceptable today, that sort of opinion was not considered unusual at that time.

In 1922 the Frontiersmen were used in the Johannesburg miners’ strike. This was another country enforcing a racist colour bar. As a result of a pay reduction enforced by the mine owners, the white mineworkers went on strike. A number of occupations were protected by the colour bar, but the mine owners decided to abolish the agreement. Jan Smuts dismissed the idea of compulsory arbitration and the strikers held the view that Prime Minister Smuts and the capitalist mine owners were hand-in-glove. The strike turned into a revolt and murder and mayhem followed. The police, fifty of whom were killed, and the troops struggled to cope and the Frontiersmen came to Smuts’ aid. What had threatened to turn into a full-blooded revolution was ruthlessly crushed in a few days.⁵ Smuts had been a hero to the Frontiersmen when they fought under him in the First War as the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers. Smuts had always respected them and treated them far better than did the many Indian Army Staff officers. Below are some extracts from communications received at Legion Headquarters regarding the “services rendered by Frontiersmen in the recent Rand Rebellion”:

I am pleased to say that all members who were on active service came through safely. Trust the old dogs for the hard road. The snipers were the worst to contend with. One never knew whether you were speaking to friend or enemy. On Tuesday morning, March 14, as the town clock struck 11 our balloon went up and we started closing in on Fordsburg. The revolutionaries had a trench across Commissioner Street coupled with the Market Place. That was the Fordsburg stronghold in the centre of the town. They used the big buildings as a way of communication, holes being made through the walls. The majority of the revolutionaries were Greeks, Portuguese, Italians, Germans, Russians, very few British and Dutch…

The following was received from the G.O.C. Witwatersrand:

The General Officer Commanding desires me to convey to you his regrets that the distribution of the Forces in conformity with military exigencies has precluded any opportunity of his viewing and addressing your unit on parade.

He instructs me to state that despite the manner in which your men have been distributed over various defensive posts, he has had opportunities of observing the efficient and soldier-like manner in which various detachments have carried out their duties…⁵

4 Crystal Beach Frontiersmen

Crystal Beach Frontiersmen

This was signed by G.H. Jeppe, Captain and Adjutant, 5th Mounted Rifles R.L.I..
Were the Frontiersmen brave fighters against a communist rebellion, or merely strike-breakers? As with anything to do with history there is usually more than one opinion.

In 1926 the London Frontiersmen formed the Mounted Reserve of the City of London Police and were praised for their work during the General Strike. In spite of the British upper classes’ fear of the kind of red revolution experienced in Russia ten years earlier, this was very much a British type of strike, which in no way looked like leading to revolution. Once again the question can be asked as to whether the Frontiersmen were strike-breakers or patriots serving their country’s best interest.

The official duties the UK Frontiersmen performed in the 1930s and in WW2 have already been fully covered on our website both on The Frontiersmen Historian: Gas! and on Definitely Not a Dad’s Army

Strong links were formed in other countries. The Frontiersmen were regularly called on for support by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, culminating in a rather too short-lived official affiliation in the late 1930s. Various cities’ police departments also sought the support of the Frontiersmen. As one example, Edmonton Police Chief A.G. Shute can be seen in photographs lining up with the Frontiersmen. On his retirement in 1942 he immediately joined the Legion. The Frontiersmen in Canada were issued with official Police shields as auxiliaries. In British Columbia Frontiersmen were sworn in as Special Constables and carried out duties in first aid, air raid precautions and many others. The vast and lightly populated west coast of Canada was vulnerable to Japanese invasion; for this reason woodsmen and associated citizenry were recruited and outfitted to become Pacific Coast Militia Rangers patrolling ‘’eyes and ears’’ for the Canadian military. One role of the Legion of Frontiersmen, made up of often older Great War veterans, was to support the PCMR, who were the fore-runner of today’s Canadian Rangers. The story of the Legion’s association with, and duties with, the police and R.C.M.P. in Canada is far too long and complicated to be covered here. It is expected to become a subject for post-graduate university research.

The final story we will cover is that of the notorious Crystal Beach race riots of 1956. Crystal Beach, Ontario was a popular amusement park located across the USA border from Buffalo, New York. Although social norms of 1956 did not encourage comfortable racial intermingling, this Canadian park was not ‘’segregated’’. It was a popular summer destination for both black and white U.S. citizens via a 45 minute excursion on the Buffalo, N.Y.‘s vessel, the ‘Canadiana’. Racial tensions strained by civil immaturity and escalating intolerance erupted into violence at Crystal Beach and continued on the Buffalo ferry homeward bound. “The Argus” (Melbourne, Australia) newspaper report stated that “Canadian and Buffalo police are forbidden, under international agreement, to board the excursion craft. Two special police aboard the Canadiana were helpless.” It seems virtually certain that the “two special police” on board were actually Legion of Frontiersmen volunteers, uniformed “citizens” rather than sworn policemen representing any province, state or country. If this was the case, as is evidenced by the rather faded newspaper cutting shown here, authorities on the spot must have hoped that these citizen-volunteers would have provided some sense of authority in lieu of sworn police officers. This “bluff” at policing 1700 agitated ferry passengers obviously failed, as two persons were not a deterrent to youths, both black and white, intent upon intimidation and racial conflict:


BUFFALO, NEW YORK, Thursday: A day-long race riot between white and negro teenagers reached a violent climax last night when knife bearing gangs seized control of a crowded excursion boat on Lake Erie. Six persons were admitted to hospitals with minor injuries, and Buffalo and Canadian police arrested several youths. The riot began yesterday morning as the excursion boat Canadiana was taking a mixed group to the opening of the Crystal Beach Amusement Park, across Lake Erie. It continued throughout most of the day and was not broken up by police until the boat returned to Buffalo late at night. Police who met the boat took 30 hysterical white girls to headquarters. The boat carried about 1,700 passengers, of whom 1,300 were negroes. “Gangs just took over the boat and roamed at will,” one witness said. Forty white boys and girls barricaded themselves in a dining-room for protection from the gangs.

Nightmare of knives

Margaret Wynn, a reporter for the “Buffalo Courier,” who was on the boat, said it was a “nightmare of flashing knives and sobbing, frightened teenagers. “Gangs of negro girls roamed the boat “attacking and molesting white girls.” Canadian and Buffalo police are forbidden, under international agreement, to board the excursion craft. Two special police aboard the Canadiana were helpless.⁶

The news photo shown here mis-identifies the Frontiersman as “provincial police.” There are other references to be found of “provincial police”, “park police” and that the vessel had on board its own “privately contracted special police.” Analyses of the riot were made years later when the Frontiersmen were not so much in evidence, so the mis-description of their then little-known uniform is unsurprising. Victoria Wolcott’s “Recreation and Race in the Postwar City” is an informative analysis. ⁷

Here we have one final example of the Frontiersmen being asked to do the “dirty work” for the authorities. There are many more we could have quoted. Frontiersmen have always tried to do their duty for the legal authorities, at times receiving credit for this, but usually being treated by those at the very highest level as something of an embarrassment. Frontiersmen were, whatever the reaction, happy to do their duty by society.

¹ Letter from Claude Bathe, New Zealand Adjutant, 10th December 1984, in Legion archives
² Roger Pocock, Chorus to Adventurers, (Bodley Head, 1931) p.53
³ The Frontiersman magazine, December 1913, p.251
Morning Oregonian,
The Frontiersman,June 1922, p.31. See also F.S. Crafford, Jan Smuts, a biography, (Doubleday Doran & Co 1944) 190-198
⁷ Wolcott, Victoria W., Recreation and Race in the Postwar City: Buffalo’s 1956 Crystal Beach Riot, The Journal of American History; June 2006; 93; 1; ProQuest Central, p.63.

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

Illustrations can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Posted in Canada, City of London Police Reserve, Frontiersmen, History, Latest Topic, Legion of Frontiersmen, New Zealand, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Tasting Adventure and Revolution

H B C Pollard with car

H B C Pollard with car

Topic June/July 2016. For the first thirty and more years of the history of the Legion of Frontiersmen, its leaders tried hard to dissuade members from taking part in revolutions around the world. They could not prevent the many adventurers among the Frontiersmen from taking jobs in countries, of which there were many, where revolution and regime change was virtually part of the culture. When a spoof advertisement for Bandits Limited appeared in a 1920’s issue of The Frontiersman magazine beginning:

The Bandits Association Limited, beg to announce to the nobility and gentry that they have made arrangements to supply spies, scouts, pirates, blockade runners, assassins, press gangs, tax extorters, rebels and agitators of all descriptions on reasonable terms and at the shortest notice…

There was some element of historical truth in the advert as there had been few revolutions and local wars from the very early days where one or more Frontiersmen had either been involved or at least an interested spectator. We will be centring this topic on one of the most puzzling of Frontiersmen adventurers who, in later life became steadily more secretive and reticent than when he was a young adventurer. This desire to escape publicity followed his most famous (or infamous) adventure and one that brought much criticism on his head, although he always maintained that what he did was for the right reasons.

Pollard book on Pistols

Pollard book on Pistols

If you do a web search on Major Hugh Pollard, you will find quite a bit of information about him, much of it incorrect, some of which would have amused him, and some of it politically opinionated, which would have infuriated him. Here we will tell more about this Frontiersman adventurer, one of a distinguished list of such men, and will tell the unbiased truth, such as we can discover it. In a letter written just before he died, Macdonald Hastings, father of Sir Max Hastings, wrote about his good friend Hugh Pollard:


He was a fascinating person, who probably had a greater impact on events than he cared anybody should know. If you can unravel him you need to know all the tricks of Mr. Smiley and James Bond. I confess that all I know about him is mischief. He was a remarkable man.¹

In spite of that warning we have discovered much – although far from all – about a remarkable Frontiersman. Because of his importance to history as well as the Legion of Frontiersmen, this particular Topic will of necessity be longer than most.

Hugh Pollard was a soldier and author who was also a criminologist, a microscopist, a photographer, an authority of firearms, and a scientist with a useful knowledge of anatomy and chemistry.²

Kaid Belton Morocco

Kaid Belton Morocco

He was born in January 1888, the son of an eminent physician, Joseph Pollard. At the age of nine he was sent to Westminster School in London, but seems to have lived most of his free time on his grandfather’s farm and estate in Hertfordshire. There he learned to shoot and soon became an expert shot with a great interest in firearms of all types and in country sports and pursuits. This interest and skill was to stay with him for the rest of his life.

As a day boy at Westminster… it was his practise to arrange his journeys to and from school to include as many gunmakers’ shops as possible.³

One of his favourite shops was Churchill’s. After the First War he became friends with Robert Churchill who had taken over the business from his uncle. At the age of fifteen he left Westminster and went to work with major engineering company Armstrong Whitworth, and then until 1908 he attended the Crystal Palace School of Practical Engineering. In that year his taste for travel and adventure encouraged him to join the Redmond-Hardwick exploration syndicate on an allegedly prospecting venture in Morocco. A photograph exists of a William Redman serving as a Lieutenant under Belton, so, knowing how commonly surnames were mis-spelt especially in newspapers and magazines, there has to be the likelihood that this was the same man and prospecting was only part of the adventure. Alfred Arkell Hardwick was a Frontiersman and adventurer in many lands. He was killed in an aeroplane accident in 1912 while working as General Manager for Handley Page. Morocco was in a state of revolution, which was so complicated it has never been fully described. The ruler was Abd El Aziz (various Europeanised spellings can be found). He was supported by the French. The British wished to keep away from it but did not want the Germans to gain a foothold. The most recorded Britisher was the “Kaid” or General Maclean whose name regularly appears in accounts of events. There has to be doubt that Maclean was quite the gallant figure he has since been made out to be.

[Abd El Aziz] did surround himself with Europeans, at whose heart was the comic opera figure of Caid Maclean with his tartan bernous and his English hunting boots…no question…[he was] feathering his own nest handsomely.⁴

5 Pollard with pistol

Pollard with pistol

The Pretender was Mulay Hafid, who did not have the benefit of any European military advice until another Frontiersman adventurer, Andrew Belton, came onto the scene. Belton had left home at 17 to follow his brothers into the Imperial Yeomanry and serve in the South African War. He remained in South Africa and in 1906 was the officer in command of the Capetown Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen. Belton offered his services to Mulay Hafid and demonstrated his abilities by organising and drilling Mulay Hafid’s men. He was then appointed as Mulay Hafid’s Kaid and for the rest of his life (even on his WW1 officer file) was known as “Kaid” Belton. Events were as complicated as could be expected, but at a totally confused pitched decisive battle it became evident that Mulay Hafid’s army had won. It was suggested that was because Abd El Aziz’s army was able to run away faster than Mulay Hafid’s. The result did not please the French or, indeed, the British, who were concerned that the Germans might take advantage of the situation. We know that the War Office was less than enthusiastic about the Legion of Frontiersmen. A similar opinion would have been held by the Foreign Office. Not only was Belton training the army for what they considered to be the wrong side, but also Pollard and Arkell Hardwick plus Alan Osler and Charles Beadle, all Frontiersmen were there. Pollard said nothing about any involvement in the conflict but both sides employed Europeans to train and instruct their military. Pollard, being already a crack shot and a skilled horseman, would have been in demand. How Pollard at such a young age was accepted into the Legion has never been explained, although the Legion has always treated its rules and regulations as somewhat elastic in interpretation. Pollard wrote to Roger Pocock asking for enrolment forms as he reckoned he could enlist several Vice-Consuls. Strangely, the best account of the battle is to be found in a fiction book City of Shadows by Charles Beadle. This adventure story moves at a cracking pace and might be considered a bit “steamy” for the time it was written. The hero was based to some extent on Belton, who was not known for his sense of humour and disapproved of the book. In the heat of battle the hero rescues a Sergeant Burnett who was serving as an instructor with the other side. During the rescue both sides were shooting at them with ancient muzzle-loaders but firing high and taking a long time to re-load. The nominal Arab commanding general of the hero’s side was armed with a modern Mauser rifle, but he had already jammed his gun and taken refuge in a village corn bin. Sergeant Burnett’s comment was:

Yes, but ‘strewth, it got too hot for me with all our own men shooting at me. Lord, you never saw anything like it! Our men killed more of each other than your’s did! ⁵

France was happy still to sponsor the new regime and the British who had assisted earned the reward of some prospecting concessions. Pollard asked Pocock for a silver Legion badge to present to the new ruler as an honorary member and thought the new ruler in return might have some useful rewards and jobs for Legion members. Needless to say, the Foreign Office was aghast when they heard of this. Things soon went wrong when Mulay Hafid failed to keep his promise not to exact violent revenge. Belton was disgusted to see public executions, crucifixions and the severing of hands of some of the enemies, being solemnly told that this was their tradition. He received much coverage of his Moroccan adventures in The Sketch.

Post Morocco and back in England in 1909, Hugh Pollard took a Royal Geographical Society course. He was listed as the official organiser of the famous Boy Scouts Rally at Crystal Palace in September 1909. Many other Frontiersmen were also much involved in the organisation. He was listed in The Times as “Captain Hugh B.C. Pollard”. ⁶ It is a puzzle as to how he acquired that rank. Lt-Col Driscoll would surely not have permitted a youngster who had not held a military commission in the British army or another acceptable service to hold officer rank in the Legion of Frontiersmen. There remains the possibility that he served in Morocco under Belton and was granted the equivalent rank as an instructor in the army of Mulay Hafid. Pollard’s next adventure was to be sent as a surveyor to Mexico, which was a somewhat lawless country subject to revolution. Pollard wrote an account of his adventures in A Busy Time in Mexico published in 1913. When he arrived, the local office manager was not best pleased. He was short-staffed and had been expecting a qualified and certified surveyor, book-keeper, salesman and fluent Spanish speaker. Pollard had himself been led to believe the tiny salary for a year’s contract was a step to a well-paid position. After a day or two the manager found a job for him. He was to visit a ranch some distance away and collect a substantial sum of money owed. The owner of the hotel where Pollard lodged cheerfully told him that the last three men who went on that task had been shot. Towards the end of an adventurous trip of several days a local Indian took a pot-shot at Pollard with an ancient muzzle-loader. One gets the impression that Pollard’s Moroccan experiences had stood him in good stead so, covering the Indian with his carbine, he persuaded the man to lead him to his destination. The rancher eventually handed over the money and demanded a receipt, which Pollard said he had no authority to issue, knowing that he would have been murdered on the return journey and the money made its way back to the rancher. He insisted the rancher return with him to hand over the money, so Pollard’s guile brought the adventure to a satisfactory conclusion. In Mexico according to Pollard,

…the people in the next village , or over the next mountain, or in the next state, are inevitably evildoers, murderers, and bandits.

After many more adventures, vividly described in the book, Pollard returned to London,where in May 1912 he was commissioned as a T.A. officer. He also began his journalistic career as assistant editor of The Cinema, editor of The Territorial Monthly and technical editor of The Autocycle as well as a correspondent for the Daily Express.

At the start of the World War 1, Pollard was mobilised as officer i/c despatch riders, London. In November he was seconded to the Intelligence Corps as a staff lieutenant. He served through both the first and second battles of Ypres until he was blown off his motor-cycle into a crater, wounded at Ypres and invalided home. He was granted five month’s leave to recuperate and worked during that period for his new father-in-law James Gibbons at his engineering works in Wolverhampton managing grenade production. During this time he also wrote a short book The Story of Ypres, a well-written account of the battles. It was:

..a blazing indictment of the Germans’ systematic bombardment and complete destruction of the ancient, gracious city when their attacks failed. It was an extremely moving document, written at white-heat yet with controlled passion and pathos ⁷

Probably Hugh Pollard’s most notorious story was the one he, along with Alan Osler, invented of the “Phantom Russian Army”, that an army of Russians had travelled by train from the north of Scotland and was embarking to support the British Expeditionary Force. ⁸ It was Pollard’s own invention of the charwoman who “knew it was them Roosians” as she had swept the snow off their boots from the carriages. The story caught on so well that it even gained a leading feature in the New York Times. Pollard’s second propaganda invention was of the particularly horrible one about German “corpse factories” – that the Germans were melting down corpses to make margarine.⁹ Pollard’s inventiveness got him recruited into M.I.7 (b) working with another Frontiersman Captain A.J. Dawson and, for a brief spell, Roger Pocock. The first of Pollard’s many practical books on firearms The Book of the Pistol and Revolver was published in 1917.

After the War, Pollard was appointed to Dublin Castle in Ireland as an Intelligence officer, where his varied skills were called into use. References to Pollard’s many cloak and dagger operations in Ireland are seldom clear. In an uncompleted manuscript dating from about 1921 Pollard wrote that:

In a period of lawlessness and unrest such as succeeds a great war, the pistol becomes a weapon even more important than rifle or machine gun…In fighting, nothing ever happens as it does on the range. You are in a hurry, you are excited, short of breath…In range shooting, the target is static; in fighting shooting, it may be incredibly mobile. It may not be front ways on…I once missed twice at about ten yards by shooting through the median line of a windblown raincoat! The slender rogue was on the windward side [of the raincoat] but I have never forgotten how puzzled I was momentarily at his apparent invulnerability.¹º

Pollard concluded this by writing, somewhat chillingly, “Then I corrected”. Pollard had struck up a friendship with Robert Churchill the gunmaker and the two men were regularly called on as expert witnesses in famous murder trials. It was Pollard’s observations that led to the invention of the comparison microscope, which proved by the markings that a bullet could only have been fired by one particular gun. When Pollard was serving as an Intelligence Officer in Ireland,

…he had connived with Churchill to ship a consignment of naval pompoms and Hotchkiss machine-guns to the Sinn Feiners. By arrangement, the guns were intercepted and confiscated. The object of the exercise was to drain off some of the funds which American sympathisers were providing to finance the rebels.¹¹

Pollard was not only a special correspondent to the Daily Express, but also editor of Discovery. He was the author of many books on firearms and country pursuits and even, unknown to his family, wrote fiction books under the name of “Oliver Bland”. His most well-known book A History of Firearms remains a standard work today. In 1922 he was transferred to the Regular Army Reserve and notified by letter that he had been gazetted Major. Seeing the Army List of 1924 showing him as Captain, he wrote to the War Office. After standard slow investigations the War Office wrote to him saying that his Majority had been a “clerical error”, which rankled with him, as can be seen from some of his notes, such as “The River Wool in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich is so narrow that even a Brigadier could jump it before lunch”. No wonder he had an affinity with the Frontiersmen. In spite of his many achievements, there is one adventure in Pollard’s eventful life for which he has been remembered and sadly misjudged. In 1936 Pollard was busy writing, enjoying hunting in the season, and visiting London on business and also to visit his long-term mistress. Pollard was one of the many early Frontiersmen who were popular with the ladies. He was also working with his favourite projects, guns of all types. He had the habit of letting off revolvers in some of the places he visited:

When I asked him once if he had ever killed anybody he replied “never accidentally” ¹²

The Spanish Civil War has been covered by a multitude of books, although a substantial number are from a fixed political viewpoint. Sufficient to say that many dreadful atrocities were carried out by both sides. The most noted player in that scene was General Franco. In a London-based plan to “rescue” General Franco from the Canaries and return him to Spain, Hugh Pollard’s thirst for adventure caused him to be involved in

…the most controversial, most misunderstood and misreported incident of his career. ¹³

Pollard has often been treated as the central character in the plot, whereas he was in fact only a part player. The most recent book on the escapade Franco’s Friends by Peter Day, features Pollard strongly, even referring to his involvement on the dust cover. How much the sticky fingers of British Intelligence were involved in the matter is something that will never be fully known. Luis Bolin, the London correspondent of a Madrid newspaper who had an English grandfather had lived in Britain for twenty-five years. Bolin was directed by his employer, the Marquis de Luca de Tena to act as an agent and charter a plane to fly to Casablanca and then on to the Canaries to “rescue” Franco from virtual exile. Bolin went to see one of his greatest friends in London, Douglas Jerrold, a publisher, devout Catholic and High Tory with strong anti-bolshevik views, which were shared by Jerrold’s good friend Hugh Pollard, another devout Catholic and pillar of his local Conservative association. Bolin wanted a respectable man with two girls to act as a party of wealthy tourists as a diversion. Jerrold immediately thought of Pollard and phoned him up,

Can you fly to Africa tomorrow with two girls? Pollard immediately agreed and invited the men to tea that afternoon. …whatever Pollard guessed, he was not told the purpose of the flight at first. He was captivated by the mystery and hint of intrigue; and besides, his friend Jerrold had vouched for Bolin. Pollard had a weakness for all things Spanish…since his early days in Mexico and in the Atlas Mountains in Spanish Morocco.¹⁴

When Pollard guessed or was told something of the plan, he was more than pleased. He was now a fluent Spanish speaker, had involved himself in revolutions from his earliest exploits in Morocco and approved of Franco’s strong support for the Catholic Church. Pollard was anti-Fascist and definitely anti-Bolshevik, but the delights of an adventure would have been enough to make him enthusiastic to take part. He was accompanied by his daughter Diana and a young friend. Following an eventful journey the plane was delivered and Franco and his staff took their places on the plane, while Pollard and the two girls came home by sea. The tale of the adventure is, as with most of Pollard’s adventures, too long to be recounted on these pages. The story can be read, although not necessarily with full accuracy, in many works including those quoted and listed below. Well over thirty years ago, the main author of this Topic had correspondence with and telephone conversations with Pollard’s daughter Diana, who expanded the story and showed that her father has over the years often been unjustly treated by those who have written about these events.

Pollard’s service as a Reserve officer ended officially in 1938, but in 1940 he wangled his way back into the army and began working in Intelligence again, this time for S.O.E.. His file in the National Archives at Kew again poses as many questions as it answers. We know he also went to Estoril in 1940 and was involved in smuggling about three hundred Vickers machine guns that the defeated Republicans in Spain had moved into France across to England.

“I am rather a good pirate in the best English tradition”, he wrote [in some unpublished notes].¹⁵

These had been designed for the Russian service cartridge and had never been unpacked. They were quickly modified to use .303 cartridges. He worked for a while with Dr. Roche Lynch of the Department of Chemical Pathology. He had worked with Dr. Lynch, the official government pathologist, on criminal cases for some years. What could have been the reason for this co-operation between a ballistics expert and a leading pathologist? Could it have been something to do with chemical warfare? We do not know the reason, but Pollard was suddenly dismissed from S.O.E. and spent the rest of the War at the Inspectorate of Armaments at Woolwich Arsenal. All we know from his file is that a letter from Col. Jeffries, the Commandant of the Intelligence Corps, said;

“Certain jobs Pollard apparently could do well, but he was definitely unreliable where money and drink was concerned.”

After D-Day he was sent with Patton’s forces into Thuringia in technical intelligence on small arms.

Here, he did another semi-practical sort of job…and took out a great many arms and designs before the Russians moved in. Later, he was o.c. Intelligence, Technical, in Vienna where, he wrote, he had to deal with anything from atoms to looters. The latter were troublesome. “But” says Pollard, “in three weeks I stopped all the nonsense…with sawn-off shotguns.”¹⁶

One item in his file has excited those who considered Pollard to have Fascist tendencies, but it is a case of rushing to conclusions on false evidence. There is a letter in Pollard’s S.O.E. file from a Capt. Grassby of Tonbridge Wells (evidently an MI5 operative) to Mrs. Archer who had some senior office position in MI5. Grassby claimed that Pollard was an ardent fascist who flew Franco in from the Canaries. He also said that Pollard and his daughter Diana’s names were in a book which also included Mrs. Dacre Fox. Mrs. Archer wrote to Col. Vivian that Mrs Dacre Fox was an active and industrious member of the British Union of Fascists and was at present interned. Mrs Archer told her officer at Tunbridge Wells to “lay off” Pollard. She was obviously happy with him. She was satisfied that Pollard had helped Franco because Pollard was an ardent Catholic and wished to help the Church against the communists.¹⁷ There is a simple explanation as to why Pollard’s name appeared alongside Mrs Dacre Fox (a.k.a. Mrs. Dudley Elam or Mrs. Norah Elam) The Elams were members of the same local Conservative Association as Pollard until they resigned in 1934 to join the British Union of Fascists under Oswald Mosley. Dudley Elam had been a very active member of the Conservative Association. There is no way Pollard would have supported the Fascists or even been friendly with the Elams. Pollard would have hated the Fascists’ anti-semitism due to his friendship and his family relationship on his mother’s side with the orthodox Jewish banking family, the Montagus. In addition, Norah Elam was a long-term member of the Anti-Vivisection Society and fervent opponent of hunting, which was one of Pollard’s favourite country pursuits. How easily some modern writers come to false conclusions without proper investigations!

After the war Pollard lived a quiet life enjoying his country pursuits, disgusted, like many country gentlemen Conservatives of his generation, that Britain had a Labour government. He moved to Clover Cottage in the sleepy town of Midhurst, where none of his neighbours had the slightest idea of the adventurous life he had lived. In 1966, one of the great Frontiersmen adventurers died peacefully. No doubt if he could have foreseen the future, he would have considered all those who have maligned his intentions to have been a ‘bunch of Bolsheviks’, but he would have chuckled at how today’s Frontiersmen have found it so difficult to piece together the tales of his adventures. He would have enjoyed being a “man of mystery”.

¹ Letter from Macdonald Hastings in H&A files, 21st September 1982

² Macdonald Hastings, The Other Mr. Churchill (Harrap 1963) p.97

³ Hastings, The Other Mr. Churchill p.98

⁴ Walter Harris, Morocco That Was (Blackwood 1921) p.57

⁵ Charles Beadle, The City of Shadows (Everett 1911) p. 211. Pages 202 to 215 tell probably the best account of the final battle that it is likely to find although, as a novel, most of the names are changed.

The Times 6th September 1909, p. 10

⁷ John Brewer, A Memoir of Hugh Pollard (Blackwoods Magazine August 1973) p. 447

⁸ Roger Pocock, A Short History of the Legion of Frontiersmen, written especially for the Canadian Division 2nd June 1941 written for the Canadian Division magazine and reprinted in History of the Legion of Frontiersmen Canadian Division n.d. (c.1980) p. 148

⁹ Ivor Montagu, The Youngest Son (Lawrence and Wishart 1970) p.31

¹º Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.449

¹¹ Hastings The Other Mr. Churchill p.98

¹² Douglas Jerrold, Georgian Adventure (The Right Book Club 1938) p.95

¹³ Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.459

¹⁴ Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.460

¹⁵ Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.462

¹⁶ Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.463

¹⁷ The National Archives, HS9/1200/5

© 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 Mystery of the Union Flag

Union Flag

Union Flag

Followers of this website will know that the Legion of Frontiersmen has by its nature attracted many strange tales and not a few myths. We have tried to resolve the mysteries and stories in a constant search for the truth. That task has not been made easy as Frontiersmen over their 110 year history have been men of action and few of them have been keen to ensure stories are recorded accurately for the future.

A story that has been passed by word of mouth over the years is about the Union Flag shown here. This is a large flag some 9 feet 7 inches by 5 feet that has been carefully stored and folded with other Legion property for many years. It is very soiled and worn. The rumour has always been that it is the flag that covered the coffin of the Unknown Warrior. This has to be a myth as the flag used on that coffin was the one previously used on the coffins of Nurse Edith Cavell and Capt. Fryatt, both national heroes in their time. The story of the flag that covered the coffin on its journey from France was explained in the magazine Best of British in November 2010 by Douglas Rowden, whose father George was involved in the movement of the coffin from France to England in 1920. A flag in a new condition neatly folded had been found and was used. The flag now displayed in Westminster Abbey is 6 feet by 3 feet.

Frontiersmen Southend

Frontiersmen Southend

A better possible answer to the mystery has been uncovered from the Essex Chronicle of August 26th 1938 in an account of Southend Carnival over the weekend of Friday 19th to Sunday 21st August. As is suggested by the photo here of one Frontiersmen unit, the Legion had a considerable presence throughout the weekend. They put on a number of demonstrations to entertain the crowds. On Sunday 21st a drumhead service was held in Chalkwell Park with several thousands taking part; these included the Mayor and Mayoress and the local Member of Parliament. Other distinguished guests were Brigadier Morton, C.B.E., the Cdt-General of the Legion, and Capt.Roger Pocock, Founder of the Legion, and also the Commandant of Shoebury Garrison, Col. Curtis. “The Colours, including an Ensign which was formerly on the Whitehall Cenotaph, were received and placed on the drums by Archdeacon Gowing”. Here we have a possible explanation: the Union Flag featured as a Standard on the Cenotaph would have been subject to exposure to the weather and would have been replaced when its condition became unacceptable. The Union Flag put in a later appearance in 1972 when, according to Legion Orders:

Laying up of the old Colours Sunday May 14th
… The Ceremonial Officer, Capt McLeod, has issued detail to those engaged in the actual ceremony, including Colour Parties for the Old and New Colours, also for the Union Jack to be laid up, this being one of the two Cenotaph originals, having been presented in succession by King George V as an honour to one who later presented it to the Rev. Peter Royston Ball of Christ Church, the Colour Squadron Chaplain, who has now presented it to the Squadron…

The problem remains that we do not know who was originally given the flag. A Union Flag of such significance would have been in the gift of the Sovereign to dictate to whom it would pass.

Cenotaph unveiling

Cenotaph unveiling

Another word of mouth story has been that the Legion originally led the parade at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Day. This has always been discounted as a total fallacy but, as often with Legion myths, there is a grain of truth in the story. Once again we have to look at provincial newspapers to discover that truth. The Dundee Courier prided itself that it had a London correspondent, although they may well have shared him with other journals. In the issue of Monday 12th November 1923 he wrote a long emotional and moving account of the Remembrance Day parade on Sunday 11th at the Cenotaph in London with the Royal family present. This was only five years after the War had ended and almost every family in the land had suffered losses. The country was still grieving for a lost generation. After a description of the tributes of Royalty and the armed forces he continued:

Now begins the pilgrimage of the people. In unbroken procession they parade past the Cenotaph. First the ex-servicemen, their breasts ablaze with hard-earned medals and decorations. Then the Legion of Frontiersmen. Then the brave band of black-robed women, proudly wearing the medals of their departed menfolk, bringing tributes to their memory. Then a party of bruised and battered men in hospital blue – a terrible reminder. Five years since guns ceased fire; and still in hospital blue! Nurses, WAACS, disabled men, the British Legion, Boy Scouts – all bringing tokens of grateful remembrance to old comrades. Here and there a sturdy figure in kilt and tartan remind English eyes of Scotland’s part…

British Legion Festival of Remembrance Nov 36

British Legion Festival of Remembrance Nov 36

What was probably the arrangement was that the Legion was to lead the civilian section of the parade. Although uniformed and wearing ranks, the Legion is indeed a civilian organisation. For many years we have become used to the British Legion taking the lead part, but they were not formed until 1921 and were a new organisation, whereas when the above was written the Legion of Frontiersmen had existed for nearly twenty years. They had a named unit in the First War and many Frontiersmen had fought and died in countless armed forces all round the world, so therefore enjoyed considerable public respect and approval. The Boy Scouts were three years junior to the Legion and had indeed taken on board some of the Legion ideas. Hence the Legion of Frontiersmen could be considered as the senior civilian organisation on parade and could be relied upon to lead the parade with smartness and great dignity. Over the following years, the Frontiersmen co-operated with the British Legion. They were also held in high regard and used on many official occasions. As just one example, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin gave a major Empire Day speech on May 24th 1929 in front of a crowd of many thousands. The speech was broadcast to many of the Dominion countries. The Daily Express of the following day in a caption to a photograph of the event said that “The Legion of Frontiersmen, bearing the flags of the Dominions, were prominent in this demonstration”. There is a brief British Pathe film showing the crowds in Hyde Park with the Frontiersmen clearly visible at the back bearing the Standards. This can be viewed at:

We have proved that they also worked closely with St. John’s Ambulance in the 1930s on training for anti-gas warfare. The Frontiersmen’s co-operation with the British Legion carried on for many years, as can be seen from the photograph showing the Frontiersmen bearing Standards lining the front of the stage at the British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall in 1936.

This is the evidence as it stands. At the moment these explanations can be taken as highly probable, rather than completely proven beyond doubt. When further information comes to light, then the story will be fully featured on this website.

The article above was originally published on in February 2015 and has since been revised and updated.

© 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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Definitely not a “Dads’ Army”

Source: War Illustrated June 12 1942

Source: War Illustrated June 12 1942

Topic April/May 2016. In the previous Topic page we looked at the Frontiersmen leading up to WW1. We must now look more closely at what they did up to and including the early years of WW2. They may not have been given a named unit, but they certainly gave important service and carried out vital duties in many different ways. Our first explanation as to why they were not granted a named unit has been covered on the history website at

On the history website at we see that Thomas Cushny, in a far too often quoted and highly inaccurate article in the South African Military History Society Journal Vol. 4 No. 2 (, wrote that “at general mobilisation in 1939 IHQ received a single letter addressed to this Legion Captain instructing him to report for air raid duties. He locked the door and departed and the office was unoccupied for six years.” Nothing could be further from the truth! The office was constantly manned and many Frontiersmen still turned up at Frontiersmen parades, while on different occasions wearing their other uniforms as A.R.P. Wardens, A.F.S. Firemen, or Home Guard. A Legion officer wrote to a senior officer in Canada that he was delighted that so many Canadian Frontiersmen, now serving with the armed forces, had taken the time to visit Legion HQ and introduce themselves.

Frontiersmen ARP badge

Frontiersmen ARP Badge worn on Legion uniform

The much-loved BBC series “Dads Army” has one major flaw in that it promotes the Home Guard, whilst playing down the work of the A.R.P. Wardens, making Chief Warden Hodges a figure of fun. In fact the Home Guard trained for an invasion which never came and which Hitler was very reluctant to carry out, but the A.R.P. Wardens were constantly at the heart of danger, usually being the first on the scene after a bombing. They were the first responders, a duty for which today’s Frontiersmen train, ready to hand over to the specialists when they arrive. In the meantime, the Wardens put their own lives at risk attempting to rescue anyone from dangerous bombed buildings. It was not just a task of going round the neighbourhood shouting out the instruction to “Put that light out!” Many more active older Frontiersmen served with A.R.P. than in the Home Guard. In September 1935 British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin caused a circular to be produced and sent to all local authorities inviting them to make plans for protecting their people in the event of a war. This circular was titled “”Air Raid Precautions”. Not all local authorities were prepared to take action and in April 1937 the government created an Air Wardens’ Service. As we have mentioned elsewhere, the horrors of the gas warfare of the First War were still vivid in the minds of the population. The fear of gas attacks from the air steadily grew stronger right up to the first years of the Second War. That fear in the early years of the war can be compared with, and was probably much greater than, the fear in Britain in the 1960s of nuclear attack. Certainly the Germans did have gas bombs, as the Allied troops discovered when they moved into Germany late in the war and were shown stockpiles by the defeated Germans, which had to be destroyed safely.

1939 Major General Majendie, Liverpool inspection.

1939 Major General Majendie, Liverpool inspection.

In May 1935 the British Home Secretary announced in the House of Commons that the Legion of Frontiersmen working with St. John Ambulance was officially “assisting in measures to be organised…in alleviation of the consequences of air attacks.”¹ He had informed the Legion that “…assistance of this nature would be work of national importance.”² An officially recognised task for the Legion at last! In association with St. John Ambulance the Legion set up an Air Defence and Chemical Warfare School of Instruction at the Duke of York’s Headquarters in London. By September1935 the Air Command, which had been formed about four years earlier became known as the Air Communications Group. Individual Flights became known as “Air Defence Units”. The idea was to provide men to assist A.R.P. and T.A. with men who were no longer able to meet the physical and training standards of the Auxiliary Air Force. They were able to provide two hundred self-supporting and self-financing Air Frontiersmen backed up by around five hundred regular Frontiersmen in Yorkshire alone. Elsewhere on the website can be seen how the Air Command, whose members owned about nine small planes, put on demonstrations of defence against air attack, particularly from gas.³ In his address at the Legion’s annual conference in May 1938, the Cdt-General, Brigadier E. Morton encouraged all Frontiersmen to become involved with A.R.P.

I believe that too much attention cannot be given to this matter, which is of national importance and one in which the Legion should take a prominent part. We have a most efficient Gas School in London with a full and capable staff…I consider that every officer should undergo at least a preliminary course in A.R.P. and obtain a certificate of proficiency.4

By August 1938, the Derby Telegraph was able to report that almost all Derby Frontiersmen were also working as A.R.P. Wardens and M. Mothersill the Troop Secretary was additionally Head Warden for two areas. Lt. H. Smith, the Troop o.c. was Secretary of the Head Wardens’ Committee for Derby.

Coleshill House Memorial Tree

Coleshill House Memorial Tree

At the start of the war, the A.R.P. Wardens were considered an irritation as their task was to patrol the streets to make sure that everyone’s blackout was secure and no chink of light showed. They carried a police whistle, a torch and a first-aid kit. When the bombing began in earnest the job became highly dangerous as they had to look out for incendiary bombs landing and starting fires while people were in the air raid shelters. They also dealt with unexploded and time bombs that had landed, making sure that the streets were clear of people and then to wait for the Army bomb disposal team. They were often first on the scene at any bombed house as first responders to attend to the injured and the dead. All back doors of houses had to be left unlocked at night so the rescue services could get in to deal with casualties. The Wardens also acted as Special Constables and dealt with looters. Although there were no gas attacks, the many Frontiersmen who served as A.R.P. Wardens in general had more dangerous tasks than many in the Home Guard.

 When the war came the Sheffield Squadron of the Legion of Frontiersmen was ready. The War Office at once sent out an appeal to the Legion squadrons for senior ncos from the 1914-18 war to take up their old rank in the Army and accompany new battalions to France and Sheffield sent its quota.

With very little training they were able to resume their old ranks of sergeant-majors and sergeants and went out to France, where there are now eight of the Sheffield Squadron on active service.

Five of the members were Naval reservists and went back into the Navy, others joined the Army again in the ranks, four went into the Balloon Barrage section of the R.A.F., one was with the Police Reserve, and those who, like their o.c., a veteran of the Boer War, were too old for the uniformed service joined the A.R.P.5

In June 1939 Major-General Vivian Majendie, C.B., D.S.O.⁶ opened a new Legion H.Q. in Liverpool.

Recently the Legion received official recognition from the War Office, and the Liverpool Squadron has a waiting list and is almost up to full strength. Major-General Majendie congratulated the men on their parade and smart turnout…Major-General Majendie said the Legion of Frontiersmen bore a great responsibility. They could set a fine example to others and he did not believe any government could afford to waste the services of such a body.⁷

Here was the G.O.C. 55th (West Lancashire) Infantry Division accepting the Legion as an officially recognised body! But this was not the view of all senior officers or of some at the War Office. One is led to wonder what was “official recognition”? At how senior a level did this recognition have to be announced? One of the younger Frontiersmen, Ernest Meacock wrote:

When the Territorial Army was doubled overnight, we were asked whether we could supply n.c.o.s and officers to help with the training and there was an immediate response naturally. I vividly remember a T.A. Sgt. Major whispering in my ear, ‘Sir, when you call the Parade to attention, you must not address them as Frontiersmen, the order is Squad.’ ⁸

It was admitted that many Territorial Army units were superior to some of the regular ones.

In fact the Territorial units often managed to recruit officers of a higher calibre than those who joined the Regular Army. Many Territorial officers were well used to leadership and management in their professional careers.⁹

This could well be applied to the Frontiersmen who offered a multitude of skills. No wonder they were sought out by many units.

What about the Home Guard and Frontiersmen service with them? There may well have been fewer Frontiersmen in the Home Guard than serving as A.R.P. Wardens, but in some areas they formed an important part. One Government file goes almost as far as crediting the Legion activities as the trigger to inspire the founding of the L.D.V. In a March 1945 report Lord Cobham said:

In the present war the first move in the formation of the above bodies [LDV] was made at the end of November 1939 when Col. Sir Francis Whitmore, Lord Lieutenant of Essex, came to see me, who then occupied the position of Under-Secretary of State for War at the War Office, on a matter that was causing him concern. It appeared that an odd formation known as the Legion of Frontiersmen was carrying out rapid recruiting from men in Essex who were not liable to be called up for the Services. Sir Francis wanted the War Office to know all about this quite unofficial undertaking particularly as he was not satisfied that the man at the head of it was the best person to run it. The following morning I had a talk with the Adjutant-General Sir R. Gordon Finlayson about this, and he agreed that if encouragement were given to the creation of a voluntary force of this nature, it was likely to meet with a very ready response all over the U.K.¹º

The suggestion that the Legion was the trigger that caused the formation the L.D.V., later the Home Guard, is an odd one, especially as the Essex unit numbered no more than 75. Not unusually, the Frontiersmen were yet again in advance of official thought:

The majority were mobilised on August 25 1939 and did duty on bleak airfields and elsewhere during the trying winters of 1939-40 and 1940-41…The average age of the men was 50 to 55.¹¹

In Salford in the north-west of England Legion Captain Bob Moyse M.C., D.C.M. received a phone call from the police. According to his family he disappeared for a few days and when he returned the L.D.V. was up and running in his area. After the war Bob Moyse was awarded the B.E.M. for his services to the Home Guard. The question this poses is whether he was just working with the Home Guard, or whether he was involved in the highly secret Auxiliary Units – Auxunits as they became known. These were set up mainly with Home Guard members with specialist skills augmented by some regular soldiers posted to them. In the event of a German invasion these men, and a few women, were to go underground (often literally) for a couple of weeks and then disrupt the Germans lines of supply and communication. Although it was thought that the main area of attack for the Germans would be south-east England, there were Auxunits all round the country including a complex communications network of Auxunit Signals. The training of the men for Auxunits was remarkably similar to some of that shown forty years earlier in the Frontiersman’s Pocket Book, and the instructions for use of explosives and demolitions in that handbook would have been of considerable value. Did Frontiersmen serve with the Auxiliary Units? We cannot say for certain as not until some fifty years after the war only a very few of the survivors of those units even began to talk about their experiences. We have no record of any Frontiersman admitting to serving in the Auxunits. As we have always said, Frontiersmen were men of action rather than words. When the Auxunits were stood down in 1944 they were all told that their service must stay secret. In those uncertain times there always remained fears that an invasion of Britain might occur in the future. Even if those who had trained in that war became too old, a younger generation would be needed to follow, so all the plans and arrangements had to stay on the secret list. There have always been internal suggestions that some Frontiersmen did serve, and what is intriguing is the memorial tree to the Frontiersmen who served with them, whose plaque is shown here. This was planted at the headquarters of the Auxunits, Coleshill House.

In Canada there was little threat of invasion and bombing. Older Frontiersmen put a lot of effort into recruiting for the armed forces. There were concerns of possible terrorist acts by dissidents and spies. The Frontiersmen served as auxiliaries to the Police, with A.R.P., and in providing volunteer ambulances. At times the Frontiersmen were asked to take part in exercises using their skills to attempt infiltration into guarded areas. In this they proved as successful as British Frontiersmen had been since before the First War. In June 1942 the Canadian Reserve Militia asked a local Frontiersmen Squadron in Guelph Ontario to act as German spies and cross the Speed River by any of the four bridges. Twelve Frontiersmen were used and their descriptions given to Militia Headquarters. Ten of the twelve – even with weird assumed names – succeeded easily, although it is surprising that Legion Captain Corke in women’s clothes as “Leni Belchenburp” was not picked up as “she” was smoking a pipe while crossing a bridge. Only two of the twelve were captured and one of those, who had been recognised as a local taxi driver, seized the rifle from his careless guard and held up the whole Militia Headquarters Staff officers.¹²

Throughout its history the Legion of Frontiersmen in Canada gave great service to the Canadian authorities, particularly police forces. A major dispute and split in Canada in the late 1930s caused great problems and, due to the Canadian Division Charter, Eastern Command, had to be re-named by official request as the Corps of Imperial Frontiersmen, although the C.I.F. still held allegiance to Frontiersmen Headquarters in London. The story of the Frontiersmen in Canada working as auxiliaries to the Police and other authorities is something to be covered on these pages in the future. Be prepared for yet more surprises about the Legion’s importance to history.

¹ Sunderland Echo 23 May 1935, see also the same newspaper 9 September 1935.

² Sunderland Echo 23 May 1935. A number of other provincial newspapers also carried this story.


⁴ Legion of Frontiersmen Annual General Meeting minutes, 14 May 1938, report and address by Cdt-General E. Morton, Bruce Peel Special Collections and Archives, University of Alberta.

The Star, Sheffield 15 December 1939.

⁶ Major General Vivian Majendie, CB, DSO, later became G.O.C. Northern Ireland and President of the War Office Regular Commissions Board until he retired in 1946.

Liverpool Daily Post, 19 June 1939, report and photograph.

⁸ Personal letter from the late Ernest F. Meacock held in Legion archives.

⁹ Arthur Ward, Churchill’s Secret Defence Army, (Pen & Sword 2013) p.151. This is a highly informative book about the Auxiliary Units that is well worth reading.

¹⁰ The National Archives CAB106/1188.
¹¹ Letter from Troop Sergeant Pilgrim, Essex Chronicle, August 30 1946

¹² History of the Legion of Frontiersmen, with particular reference to the Canadian Division, private publication, Regina, Sask, n.d. c1980 p.156-7.

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Listen to the band

Annual Parade Trafalgar Square London Nov 1935

Annual Parade Trafalgar Square London Nov 1935

It may come as surprise to many to hear that the Legion of Frontiersmen had a strong musical tradition with a succession of acclaimed Legion bands over the years.  However, we may never again see what is shown in the main picture, the Legion band marching around Piccadilly in London in November 1935 followed by a succession of Squadrons of Frontiersmen stretching into the distance up Regent Street.  The Northern Command Band gave many public concerts playing a diverse and attractive selection of music, as did the Headquarters Band that often played in Kensington Gardens and had many engagements, which included seaside towns.

From the very early days, no Legion unit of any reasonable size was without its band.  Right up until the start of World War 2, many men learned to play a musical instrument.  This was a time before television entertainment and until the late 1930s not everyone had access to a radio, although it may additionally surprise readers to learn that various Legion bands featured in broadcast concerts on the radio, usually on the regional programmes.  In the 1930s during the heyday of the British Dance Band and even during WW2 the Frontiersmen Dance Orchestra based in Portsmouth performed regularly at dances in the south of Hampshire.

1912 Lieut Insens LOF Band

1912 Lieut Insens LOF Ban

February 1st 1911 saw what the Frontiersmen magazine called a “red-letter day” for the Legion.  This was the day of the launch into Bow Creek on the Thames in front of 2000 guests of one of the Dreadnought battleships, HMS Thunderer,  “Thunderer” was the largest warship ever built on the Thames.  The Guard of Honour was not provided for this occasion by an army or navy unit, but by 150 Frontiersmen.  The launching ceremony was performed by the wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the music of the Legion of Frontiersmen London band, who also accompanied a local choir singing hymns.  Unfortunately we only have a very grainy photograph of the occasion, which is not suitable for use here. In 1910 the Legion had provided the band for the Whitsun Carnival at the cathedral city of Salisbury in Wiltshire.  The best known touring band was Lieut. Insen’s Frontiersmen band.  Lieut. Insen had been the Bandmaster of the 5th Bn. Durham Light Infantry and supposedly when 22 was the youngest Bandmaster in the British Army.  Around 1912 the Legion Band shown in the Insen photograph travelled much of the British Isles giving concerts, which were usually sold out.  There were a number of Legion bands around Britain, most notably in London, but Insen’s band was the band of the Yorkshire (Cleveland) Command.  His theme was “Music in the Forest”, which can be seen from the stage setting shown in the group photograph.

What seems likely is that these were army band musicians who had served their time and this was a way to make a living after leaving the services.  Civilian bands would not have been as attractive to the paying public as a Frontiersman band with their distinctive uniform.  They mixed popular music with humour and also had some good soloists and singers.  One can be a little puzzled at the attraction of Frontiersmen Dunn and Dixey who, when in Dundee in January 1912, in addition to some “fine music” gave a demonstration of paper tearing, showing how a sheet of paper can be transformed into a “tablecloth of artistic design”.  An exhibition of lasso rope throwing was an additional and typically Frontiersmen attraction.  This was demonstrated by Frontiersmen Shields and Rogers.

Headquarters Band 1932 IMMI Journal March 2012

Headquarters Band 1932 IMMI Journal March 2012

In April of the same year the band appeared in front of a full house at Exeter Hippodrome. The Devon & Exeter Gazette wrote that they were a well-balanced association of 22 performers: “…flute, six clarionets, oboe, bassoon, French horns, three cornets, three trombones, euphonium, two bombardons, and the usual instruments of percussion.” The audience was highly impressed by Insen’s arrangement of Haydn’s “Farewell” symphony, which he entitled “The Strike”. The players all left one at a time, leaving only the bassoonist playing. The only way they agreed to return was if they could play what they wanted. This resulted in a clever blend of “Monte Carlo” and “Home Sweet Home.”

One of the great military music composers and adjudicator at contests, James Ord Hume, served as a Lieutenant in the Frontiersmen. He died in 1933. His military rank was Lieut.Colonel, but, as were many other officers, he was happy to serve in the Legion with a lower Legion rank. His Legion of Frontiersmen band before WW1 was based in Edinburgh and gave concerts mainly in Scotland.

LOF band instrument

LOF band instrument

In the early 1930s the London Headquarters band under their Director Lieut. Louis Julien gave many summer concerts in London in such venues as Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Alexandra Palace followed by summer bookings at the seaside at Worthing, Folkestone, and Kent. This appears to have been a band with dual duties as it also served as the British Legion band for the Bethnal Green branch.¹

Over the years there have been probably nine marches written especially for the Legion. We have traced five of them, but there are still the others to be re-discovered. The first Legion march, known as the Legion Hymn, was composed by Stanley Hawley. Although he was the conductor of just a theatre orchestra, he attracted top musicians, and composer Eric Coates and Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Beecham played in his orchestra.2 Unfortunately the words to this, written by the Legion Founder Roger Pocock, are too Edwardian and tend towards the jingoistic so cannot be sung today. The most recent of the compositions, “Far Frontiers” specially written for the Legion by Sir Patrick Moore, is very tuneful and worthy of being played much more often.

It is also not well known that the 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) took its own band with it to East Africa. Not only did they play as the Frontiersmen marched through London to Waterloo in April 1915, they also played on the ship Neuralia as it entered and left Malta harbour and they entertained the residents as the Frontiersmen marched through Nairobi on June 12th 1915. They played a Royal Salute to Governor Bellfield. He inspected the Guard of Honour “whose movements had been executed with commendable smartness.” ³

In Canada there were several mentions of early bands, for example in 1912 at Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where the sub-unit held its annual meeting in December 1912 at its HQ, Boulton’s Garage, 2nd Avenue North. “Captain Boulton in his opening speech spoke of the splendid advance the Saskatoon Sub-unit had made in the past twelve months, and also how the Unit increased, considering that in January of 1912, there were only six in the Troop. There were now one Captain, one Lieutenant, one Sergeant-Major, one Sergeant, one Corporal, and 54 Troopers, beside the band. There are also two honorary members who have made up their minds to join the Legion” … Reviewing the recent past parade for, and inspection by, the visiting Duke of Connaught; Captain Boulton and all Frontiersmen had been complimented. The Duke of Connaught said: “Captain Boulton, you have one of the finest bodies of men I have met in my travels through Canada”.

The Edmonton Battalion Reserve Militia of 1917 was the politically correct format for the time allowing the already well-organized Legion of Frontiersmen to integrate into the wartime Canadian Militia (army). The Reserve Militia adopted the basic battalion structure with four Companies within the city proper, and three mounted rifle squadrons primarily outside of the city. Auxiliary groups like the bands, the LOF ambulance section that offered the first mens home nursing course in Edmonton and surrounding area, and the signals section were taken into the overall Edmonton Battalion Reserve Militia. Furthering both the social and military aspects, the Edmonton Battalion Reserve Militia also incorporated bands into the unit’s overall structure. A regimental band initially of twenty-two members was reported, under the direction of Bandmaster H.H. Collins with H.H. Sellars assisting as secretary. Sergeant Marston was in charge of the bugle band. The pipe band under Piper Sutherland was accused of scaring recruits as well as hardened South African War veterans with the skirl of the Scottish tunes. 4

Certainly this shows that there were Legion bands in Canada and the tradition continued right through until at least the 1960s, but we have so far not been able to confirm any in Australia and New Zealand. One Legion march was discovered in New Zealand, although it was written in China. AGM minutes from the early 1960s show that there was still a post-war Legion Headquarters band in London. The uniforms were to be centrally held and issued when required, although that would have required all bandsmen to be of a size to fit the available uniforms. The latest band of which we have a photograph is the “Maple Leaf Band” of Canadian Division U.K. in 1952 based in Croydon, England.

What has happened to all those band instruments from over the years? Just one solitary clearly-marked instrument (shown here) remains with the Legion assets.

Will there ever be another Legion band? We can only hope so.

1 Information kindly supplied by Philip Mather in the International Military Music Society UK journals March 2012 and June 2012
2 Lena Ashwell Myself a Player [Michael Joseph: 1936] p.149/50
3 East African Standard, June 28 1915.
4 Research by Will Shandro, who specialises in the history of the Legion in Canada pre-1919. Taken with permission from his paper “Timeline” © Barry W Shandro, M.Ed 2000-2011

The article above was originally published on in August 2011 and has since been revised and updated.

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

Posted in Archive Topics, Canada, Frontiersmen, History, Legion of Frontiersmen, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ahead of their Time? (Topic Feb/Mar 16)

1B Statue Col Stirling Hill Row Scotland

Statue of Col Stirling, Hill Row Scotland (source:

It is probable that every reader of these articles knows the name of the “slightly mad” Colonel David Stirling of S.A.S. fame. Apparently Stirling knew nothing of the Legion of Frontiersmen until the final weeks of his life when he was dying of cancer in the London Clinic towards the end of 1990. One of Stirling’s friends was Captain Charles Dudley (the grandson of Major-General Sir Sam Steele) who at that time owned Roger Pocock’s albums and archive.

I lent Roger Pocock’s scrapbook to David Stirling, just before he died. I was very glad I did as it gave him great pleasure in the last weeks of his life. He went rapidly downhill just after I took it in to the London Clinic, and died some 2/3 weeks later, but telephoned to discuss it. We had many long and interesting talks, which I always enjoyed. He had a most original approach to any subject whatever.

The background story is that like Roger he set out to ride from Canada to Mexico, climbing mountains en route. But war broke out while he was in Idaho, so he cut short his journey to come home and join the Scots Guards.¹

This is an expansion of what is usually written about what Stirling had been doing, as it is always stated that in 1939 he was preparing to climb Mount Everest. Verbally, Charles Dudley added how excited Stirling had been about Roger Pocock’s ideas and the similarity of some of the aims and principles of the Legion of Frontiersmen to those of the S.A.S. For the first ten years the aims and ideas of the Frontiersmen were too different – or advanced – for the British War Office. From a promising start during 1905 the Frontiersmen began to wane and it was not until early 1906 when a reply was received from the War Office in response to the Legion’s request for official recognition that the Legion began to expand rapidly. Many of the Frontiersmen had served in South Africa and believed in the need for training in scouting and guerilla warfare. This did not fit in with the ideas of the army, but the War Office thought it unwise completely to slap down an organisation which had acquired so many influential backers, so it sent Legion Headquarters what it thought was a carefully-worded reply, expressing its “sympathy with the aims and objects of the Legion” and saying that the Secretary of State “recognised it as a purely private organisation, in no way connected with any Department of State, but one which, should a suitable occasion arise” he might be able to utilise. The War Office was for ever to regret using the word “recognised”, which the Legion pounced on with delight and used constantly in communications and press releases to show its authenticity. By this it gained the support of Militia, Volunteers, Reserves and, from 1908, the newly-formed Territorial Forces. The War Office back-pedalled furiously by changing their view to saying that they “took cognisance of” the Legion, although no expert in the English language has been able to explain to us any clear difference between “recognise” and “take cognisance of”.

c.1907 recruitment show

c.1907 Recruitment Show

Richard Burdon Haldane at the War Office had taken on the task of modernising the army in the light of the problems that had arisen in the Boer War.

…with an Expeditionary Force at home which may have to leave the country, a second line is obviously required for expansion as well as for home defence. This requirement was the genesis of the Territorial or Second Line Army… The Volunteers, although some of them had been brigaded, had neither a transport nor a medical side. The Militia were neither organised nor equipped. They were really only useful as a body from which drafts might be drawn for Regular troops. As Lord Lansdowne had said of them, it was the custom to plunder them on one side and to pillage them on the other. The Yeomanry were an excellent peace organisation of a separate kind, still largely run by the country gentlemen.²

One would have thought that there might have been a useful slot for the Frontiersmen, but their determined independence of thought and peculiar democracy and discipline were an insurmountable barrier. The Frontiersmen were nevertheless involved by invitation in many military exercises and summer camps and displays held by the Militia and the Volunteers and also, after their formation in 1908, The Territorial Force.

We had gorgeous fun when we played at war with the Army or the Territorials. When for example ‘A Pretender to the Throne had landed at Blyth, and was advancing on London,’ the Army made military dispositions for his apprehension; but [Horace Shafto] Orde’s Command observed that Pretenders are notoriously thirsty, and searched the pubs until they made their capture. A horse had fallen and squashed me during the operations, so I was in the ambulance and the unfortunate Pretender became my guest. On another occasion Charlie Brown led the Leeds Command, numbering twenty-three men, against a force of about four hundred, captured the enemy’s artillery, turned the guns on enemy Headquarters, and rode off with the enemy Staff as prisoners of war.³

Northern Command Northumberland

Northern Command Northumberland

There is no doubt that Pocock could be somewhat artistic in his descriptions of such events, but he did refer to the affair of the “Pretender” and the horse rolling on him in his entry in his pocket diary for 8th June 1907. On 28th September he wrote that the Yorkshire Command were “out on manoeuvres”. On the following day, a Sunday, that “The boys turned up triumphant at noon.”⁴

On 13th July 1907 an arrangement was made for thirty officers and men of K Company 3rd Volunteer Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers to carry out an attack from the cliffs on the Frontiersmen’s camp at Monkseaton near Whitley Bay in Northumberland. Although the Fusiliers tried in their report to put some gloss on the event, it appears to have been something of a shambles as the mist came in from the sea and the Fusiliers were unable to attack across cornfields in order not to suffer the wrath of the farmers and be landed with a claim for compensation. The Frontiersmen were able to withdraw to their lines quite comfortably while the Fusiliers blundered around in the mist. The refereeing Colonel diplomatically declared a draw and the Fusiliers set up their tents for the night.

After putting up three tents to sleep in for the remainder of the night, and receiving blankets and coffee and other comforts from our late enemies and good friends we turned in for a few hours’ rest or sat around the cookhouse fires and swapped lies until breakfast. Having done justice to this meal and taken sunbaths and disported ourselves generally, we returned to Newcastle, feeling much gratitude to the gallant gentlemen of the pistol and lasso for the very sporting night and morning we had enjoyed in their society.⁵

Teston Bridge

Teston Bridge (source:

One is left to wonder what benefit was obtained by the Northumberland Fusiliers Volunteers from the exercise. Probably had the roles been reversed, the Frontiersmen with their scouting and similar skills acquired in South Africa and elsewhere would have had no difficulty entering the camp under the cover of mist. There were other occasions when the Frontiersmen were able to prove this. At the end of June 1909 Orde’s Command were again involved with what became known as the “Battle of Newcastle”. Although official opinion disregarded Erskine Childers’ fictional “Riddle of the Sands”, which suggested that Germany was quite prepared to attack Britain, an exercise was arranged at the end of June 1909. In spite of the fact that the official view was Britain had total mastery of the sea, this was to test the readiness of the Territorial Force in case of a coastal attack. In the “Battle of Newcastle” hundreds of soldiers were set out to defend Newcastle which was being attacked by an invading force landing on the coast north of the little town of Cramlington. The attack was made by the Naval Volunteers with the Legion of Frontiersmen who:

made a clever and well sustained attack upon the left of the Red position and they succeeded in preventing the withdrawal of any troops for the purposes of strengthening the main defences.⁶

The army headquarters was at Killingworth and Lieutenant-General Baden-Powell was the senior officer present observing the exercise. He:

…expressed himself as very well satisfied with the way in which the attack had been conducted from its beginning at Beacon Hill Farm Cramlington and made particular mention of the Naval Volunteers and the Frontiersmen.⁷

NZ exercise, Waimata Valley 1914

NZ exercise, Waimata Valley 1914

It was not only in the north that the Frontiersmen showed their special skills and ability to outwit official forces. Provincial newspapers in England and Scotland reported each summer on Frontiersmen camps and their links with Volunteer and Territorial Forces. We have only touched on a few of the reports. At Easter 1908 the Frontiersmen camped at Teston near Maidstone, Kent, probably in the area that is now a public park. As part of their Easter exercises the London Metropolitan Territorial Corps undertook an exercise with the Kent Frontiersmen. “The Frontiersmen’s camp was attacked on Saturday night in strong force by the Territorial Cyclists, but the latter lost a number of prisoners and the verdict was given to their opponents. “⁸ It seems that yet again the Frontiersmen’s experience was too great for the Territorials. Roger Pocock and some of the London Command added to the numbers in the camp. The tough Frontiersmen under canvas must have been less hindered by the weather than the Territorials as Pocock reported a “big snowstorm” on the Monday and also that the Territorials attack had continued throughout the weekend. The following year the Kent Frontiersmen with members of London Command were again at Easter camp at Teston. On Saturday 10th April 1909 a unit of the Kent Army Service Corps Territorials escorted by the Frontiersmen attempted to cross the River Medway between Maidstone and Yalding and were opposed by the 4th Royal West Kents with No. 4 Company Kent Cyclists and Maidstone School Cadets. By various feints they succeeded in crossing by Teston Bridge and achieved their target of the railway between Maidstone and Wrotham. On Monday the roles were reversed and the Frontiersmen and the Territorial A.S.C. defended their camp. It seems from the reports that close quarter battles became too lively in nature and a ceasefire was hurriedly called and a draw declared to avoid any serious injuries.⁹

What is surprising and has often been overlooked is that the early Frontiersmen relied heavily on cyclists, although of course not as much as on horsemen. Many Commands had dedicated cyclist units with the rank being Cyclist instead of Trooper. The cyclists often performed as well on exercises as the mounted men. A small number of motorcycles were used, but these were not popular due to the noise and also the unreliability of the early motorcycles. The Legion continued to be unpopular with the War Office and in June 1910 a new paragraph, 449A, was inserted into King’s Regulations. Anyone on active service was forbidden to take cognisance of any private organisation of a military character and all Commands were informed by letter that this paragraph was aimed at the Legion of Frontiersmen in particular. This seems to have been ignored by most Territorial Forces who continued to carry out joint exercises and take part in military tournaments with the Frontiersmen. For example in February 1914 Lt.Col. Driscoll officially opened a new Legion Headquarters for the Hull unit at the Walton Street Barracks, which apparently they happily shared with the Territorials.

In the light of the very static war in Europe that was to come, how valuable these joint exercises were to the Territorials has to be a matter of debate. As to the Frontiersmen, Driscoll always considered that there was a need for a highly mobile force of men who could act independently in small groups raiding behind enemy lines. In the early days of the European War, and before it became an affair of trench warfare, Driscoll thought that his Frontiersmen could perform a valuable service by raiding the highly stretched German lines of supply. He also considered there could be a role for the Frontiersmen by utilising their special skills and training in the East African campaign if not in Europe. His ideas were many years ahead of his time and no British General would consider them. Until the First War began to break down some social barriers there was a strong class structure in Britain, if not in countries such as Canada and New Zealand. The problem for the War Office was that the Frontiersmen had no time for any officer who by accident of birth just had lands and a title. They would prefer that their Troop was led by a footloose adventurer with a dubious past, but who had won the Distinguished Conduct Medal in South Africa. Any officer or leader had to earn the respect of his Frontiersmen. It was not until WW2 and David Stirling and the S.A.S. that the scheme of small independent raiding parties was fully utilised. When war began in 1914, Driscoll bombarded the Colonial Office and the War Office with requests to allow the Frontiersmen their own named unit and to utilise those particular skills somewhere in the conflict. Time and again he was rejected until suddenly in early 1915 he was instructed to form the 25th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) for service in East Africa, although not in the way Driscoll envisaged. When Driscoll was asked to parade his men in September 1914 in London in front of General Bethune, the General reported back to the War Office that the Frontiersmen were “typical toughs” who might do good work as irregulars.

In 1919 one of the Frontiersmen officers who had been with Driscoll throughout the campaign told the story to Manchester newspapers of the police searching for a criminal in early 1915. It was suggested that he might have enlisted in the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) to escape justice. A plain-clothes policeman was despatched to inspect Driscoll’s men in London preparing for embarkation to see if he could identify the criminal. He returned to say that he could not find the man “but I recognised all the others!” One can begin to understand why the War Office were uncertain about the Frontiersmen – but they proved to be good men in a fight and terrified the Germans.

¹ Letter from Charles Dudley in Frontiersmen archives, 10th December 1990.
² Richard Burdon Haldane, Richard Burdon Haldane, an autobiography, (Hodder & Stoughton, 1929) p192.
³ Roger Pocock Chorus to Adventurers,(The Bodley Head, 1931) p44-5.
⁴ Quotations from Roger Pocock’s pocket diaries throughout this article are by kind permission of the Peel Special Collections and Archives, University of Alberta.
⁵ From the 3rd V.B.N.F. magazine re-printed in the Northern Command Frontiersman magazine, September/October 1907. Courtesy Newcastle City Libraries archives.
Berwick Advertiser July 2nd 1909 (A substantial number of troops were camped at Berwick.)
Berwick Advertiser July 2nd 1909
London Daily News 21st April 1908
⁹ For full reports of the weekend see Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser 16th April 1909

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

Posted in Frontiersmen, History, Latest Topic, Legion of Frontiersmen, Roger Pocock | Leave a comment