A Brave soldier and Unusual Frontiersman

H.H.R. White as a young officer, 1899 (reproduced by courtesy of his grandson, Mr Ron White)

Surprising Snippets 9

Major H.H.R. White, D.S.O., O.B.E.

Henry Herbert Ronald White was born in February 1879 into a wealthy military family. He was a man of great bravery and a highly efficient soldier, who could probably have risen to be a General like his father, had he concentrated his considerable energies solely on a military career. He was highly respected and admired by the men of the 25th Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) but he was from a different mould than the toughs of the 25th. He was their first adjutant, and for much of the time their 2 i/c. The contrast in type is best illustrated in a quotation from “Kenya Chronicles” by Lord Cranworth:

The battalion was essentially a tough one and not altogether easy to handle, excepting always in action. I remember the Adjutant at this time occasionally found this trait somewhat trying. He was an admirable, conscientious and painstaking soldier but not of quite such rough fibre as most of his command. Some of his problems he brought to me. One of them was, what was the most appropriate action to take with an officer to whom he had issued an order, and who responded by telling him to go to hell and commit a peculiar and indecent offence with spiders! ‘As if I could,’ he pathetically added. I only trust that I advised him aright.

White was commissioned into the 60th Rifles in 1898 and served in South Africa 1901-2. On 10th January 1904 he was seriously wounded by a bullet through the right chest at Jidball, Somaliland. In April of that year he was promoted Capt, an unusually fast rise. He became adjutant of 5th Btn , 60th Rifles from 1906-8. He was due to be posted to Bermuda that year, but he decided to resign his commission as his father had died suddenly, and to run the family estate at Lough Eske Castle, Co. Donegal, Ireland. He modernised the castle and proved to be a wise employer. He employed a dozen workers and made sure that half were Republicans and half Unionists. When he returned after the First War, he found both political factions coming to him asking for the advice of an experienced soldier. His advice was always the same: “War is the worst of events, and killing a waste which does no person any good whatsoever.” Eventually, the Irish Troubles forced him to sell the estate.

He was a keen and skilled polo player, winning many trophies, and a dedicated fly fisherman, often spending summers after the War in Norway. Many influential men were guests at Lough Eske Castle and in 1914 many discussions were held there. We cannot be certain how this model soldier came to join the most irregular 25th Fusiliers. Driscoll was also Irish so there could be a link there, but Major White’s grandson has suggested that they may have been brought together by Col. Kitchener, the brother of the more famous Kitchener, who was sent to East Africa on a fact-finding mission. Driscoll had no vacancies for a Major, but White was happy to be listed and paid as a Captain. He still retained his Major’s insignia on his uniform and was always referred to by the Frontiersmen as “The Major”.

According to his son Henry (who died aged 99 more than fifteen years ago) “Father was a great story-teller – entertaining – and told of a prank they played on the German Commander (Von Lettow-Vorbeck, perhaps). Having at that time the higher ground, he told his gunner to put a couple of shells left and right of the commander’s tent – but not to hurt him. This done on a hot afternoon, out comes the commander in his underpants. Siesta interrupted. Father used to say that wars were a little more friendly in those days, in their peculiar ways.” We have no confirmation of this tale, but it tells us that the Major was not always the stiff and straight regimental officer. Major White’s actions on June 24th 1916 at Kwa Direma on the Lukigura were probably instrumental in his being recommended for the D.S.O. According to Charles Miller in his “Battle for the Bundu”, the Fusiliers stormed the German positions “in one of the wildest bayonet charges yet seen in the campaign.” Before the action, the men had been marching twenty-four and a half hours, fully laden and without proper food. Angus Buchanan in his “Three Years of War in East Africa” said, “ I have never seen men more utterly tired and woebegone.” There is a superb account of the action in C.T. Stoneham’s “From Hobo to Hunter.” It is a pity that Charles Stoneham never wrote a full account of his time with the 25th Fusiliers, but merely chapters and paragraphs throughout his many books. The Frontiersmen’s tiredness was soon forgotten as they got involved in the action. Stoneham wrote, “The Colonel said in his loud hearty voice, ‘All right, go forward then, and as soon as you see them get into them with the bayonet and drive them off this hill.’. My heart took a dive into my boots. The Major answered ‘Very good, sir,’ and came striding past us…..We got up and followed the Major.” Finally the enemy fled and the Major superintended the operation to sort out the wounded, a big pistol in one hand and a sandwich in the other. After an incident of this kind, Stoneham wrote, everyone felt the need for a lunch break. The natives had been told by the Germans to stay in their huts. Suddenly an old woman, apparently driven demented by her experiences, rushed forward and seized the Major’s sandwich which she proceeded to devour at his feet. “Well I’m damned”, said the Major.

The citation for Major White’s D.S.O. of February 13th, 1917 said “He displayed great courage and initiative in handling two companies under heavy fire. He has performed consistent good work throughout, and has at all times set a splendid example.” Suffering badly from malaria, Major White moved to South African Military Command in 1917 and in 1918 he became acting Lt. Col. with the Nyasaland Field Force. He was then awarded the O.B.E. After the War, the Major, as he was still always known, returned to the life of a gentleman, travelling the world, fishing and sailing motor boats. His Frontiersmen experience did tell once around 1927 in Mexico City, when a taxi driver drove the Major and his wife out into the country rather than returning them to their hotel. The Major hooked his walking stick around the driver’s throat and pulled hard, making himself understood in true Frontiersman terms. The shaken taxi driver promptly returned them to their hotel. The Major died at only 60, the wound to his chest, malaria contracted in East Africa and heavy smoking from an early age shortened his life. His advice to his son was “Here are the cigarettes and here is the whisky and any boy who takes them is a fool.” His son took notice and lived to a ripe old age.

Many thanks are due to the Major’s son, the late Mr. Henry White, and his grandson Mr. Ron White, who lives in America, for their information, permission to use the photographs and help in producing this tribute to the very brave Major H.H.R. White.


© 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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Chaplains of Adventure

A Harry Leigh Pink photo reproduced courtesy of the Leigh Pink family

Topic October/November 2018.  The first Legion Padre was Bishop H.H. Montgomery, who we will know of in the main as being the father of the famous Montgomery of Alamein. He was succeeded by several mainly London-based clergymen, often with somewhat unusual surnames. In 1909 there were two Chaplains: Arthur Humphrey Townsend (1867-1942) an eccentric curate, and W Grome-Merrilees. From 1912 the duties were shared by F.W. Everard Digby-Digby, F. Houlden Merrick and C.P. Casey. From 1914 until after the end of the war, the sole Chaplain was Rt. Revd. E.N. Powell (1859-1928) who between 1908 and 1910 had been Bishop of Mashonaland.

In the 1930s, the enthusiastic Padre was the Revd. William Pennington-Bickford, well-known in London. Although not a Frontiersman traveller, as he had spent his whole career as Rector of St. Clement Danes, he was an outstanding publicist and his Church was central to many Frontiersmen parades in the capital. In 1919 he had restored the church bells and 1920 he used the carillon to play the tune of “Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St. Clement”. Other London churches have claimed that they were the original St. Clement but Pennington-Bickford made the rhyme his own, holding an annual service when fruit, the gift of the London Danish community, was handed out to children. On May 10th 1941 St. Clement burned down as the result of a German incendiary bomb. Pennington-Bickford was so broken-hearted that he died a month later and it is believed that he took his own life. His wife fell from an attic window shortly afterwards and this was also believed to be suicide because she could not face life without her husband.

The best-known Canadian Padre was Legion Major Harry Leigh-Pink. He wrote many lively western and adventure books under the name of Hal Pink, as well as the biography of a man whose name will be familiar to Canadian Frontiersmen, “Bill Guppy, King of the Woodsmen, life–long friend and tutor of ‘Grey Owl’”. One of his more lurid fiction books was “The Screaming Plant.” “Flower-shaped suckers there were indeed, opening and shutting like so many mouths waiting for food…” The plant’s first victim is the cat, the plant sucking all the blood out of the poor animal. Leigh-Pink was a good friend of the Legion Founder, Roger Pocock, and told the story of Christmas 1930 when Leigh-Pink worked for London General Press.

Strong tea was his tipple in those days – he was 63 (actually 65) – and usually he managed to arrive in my office just when the typist had made a steaming brew. Off would come his trench-coat and hat, dripping wet from the London rain; he would plump in the captain’s chair beside my desk, I would push a packet of Gold Flakes towards him, down went the tea, up went the smokes, and some chance comment of mine would set him off on a chain of reminiscence. 1

Leigh-Pink interviewed many Frontiersmen and wrote excellent accounts of some of the events they had experienced in East Africa.

1908 photo of Cave from The Sketch.jpg

However, the strangest and most adventurous of the Legion padres has to be Sir Genille Cave-Browne-Cave who took over the duties during the 1920s until his death in 1929. Born in 1869, his escapades caused his family many problems. His father sent him to a training ship of the Royal Naval Reserve, but after 6 months his father was told to “take the little devil home”. The boy wanted a life at sea so his father apprenticed him to serve on the sailing ships sailing to Australia. Still causing problems he signed on in the 13th Hussars claiming to be 18 instead of 16½ becoming a“gentleman ranker”. As we have seen in earlier pages, it was not only Buffalo Bill who ran a Wild West Circus and the young man became involved with “Mexican Joe’s” Wild West Show. This made him determined to become a cowboy. After service in India he bought himself out of the army. He spent some time wandering and working in Burma, Australia, America and Greenland and finally made his way “out west” in America to become a cowboy. He soon became an expert both with a lariat and with a gun. First of all known as “English” his nickname changed to “Kit”, short for Kitty. For the full entertaining story of how that came about the reader will have to search out a copy of his very rare (and nowadays very expensive) autobiography “From Cowboy to Pulpit”. 2 Other stories tell of how the westerners found their way around prohibition. He served in the Spanish American War of 1898. He would have liked to have fought in the Boer War but instead found himself on a ship going to China. Even then he was unable to get into action in the Boxer Rebellion as he could find no way to leave his ship. He returned to his cowboy life in the west of America. What he said about the life there confirms everything Roger Pocock wrote about it.3 He told some fascinating stories:

One fine old judge that I remember was coroner as well, but he had only two formulas for the death certificates – that is to say, when he remembered to fill them in. One of them was that the deceased died from lead poisoning – that was when he was shot; the other was that he had died from lack of breath, which was when he was hanged.

1908 Cave Wild West Show from The Sketch

His skills in all of the cowboy arts became well known and he was offered a job running the Circle Dot ranch. This belonged to a wealthy man who had entrusted it to his son who knew little about cowboy work. The word soon got around the local town that this Englishman would be taking over the ranch, and not everyone approved:

‘Be careful, English, Big Nat is going to get you.’

Not only was Kit skilled at handling cattle, he was also fearless and a crack shot with a revolver. One evening he went to the town and found that everyone was giving him a wide berth, when out of a local eating house stepped Big Nat, obviously well-lubricated with liquor:

“You damned English,” he said, ‘going to run an outfit, are you,’ he said huskily, ‘I’m going to blow you apart.’ He made a grab with his gun, but as it came out of the holster my Colt roared, and his went flying out of his hand. I shall never forget the look of surprise and terror on his face as he saw my gun covering him and expecting me to drop him where he stood.

‘I can shoot straight and quick,’ I said, ‘and can draw as quick as I can shoot. But it will do me no good to kill you. Get out of town as quick as you can.’

The street by this time was full of men, curious as to what was going to happen, but he slipped away like a hare, and not even stopping to pick up his gun. In ranch law I should have been quite justified in killing him. I was never bothered there again.

Roping with lariat

Kit began work at the ranch and was kept busy mending fences until one evening a group of three or four men rode up They seemed far from friendly and one of them remarked:

‘Goin’ to run this outfit?’

‘Sure thing,’ I said.

‘Huh, and what’ll yo do if yor cattle get stolen?’

‘Look here, stranger,’ I said, ‘if I lose one head I get two back for it, understand? We hang cattle thieves round here. I’m chancing things, and I am running this outfit to suit myself.’

After a few more remarks they rode off, but I felt there was trouble brewing, and that night I gave my two .45 Colts an extra clean. It was always best to carry one, although while working on fences I had not been packing a gun.

Now, by this time I had got to know my herd pretty well, and although things went on pretty smoothly for a time, one morning I missed several head from the herd, and on counting them I found it was exactly ten. That night I went off alone looking for night herds. In the end I found one and in the early morning I returned to the ranch with twenty head, which I turned into my herd. This was rank stealing, of course, and that day I carried two guns. I had made up my mind to see it out, testing myself several times that day. I knew exactly how fast I was on the draw.

Towards sundown I saw what I took to be the same four men riding towards the ranch, and I slipped round to the back of the the ranch house and waited with my back to the corral fence, so that no one could get round and attack me from behind. Riding up, they dismounted and came towards me.

‘Where in hell did you get them cows?’ shouted one.

‘Stole ’em,’ I replied at the top of my voice.

‘Hell,’ he yelled, and I saw his hands move.

In a flash both of my guns were out, and here I remembered a very useful hint given me by an old Texas gunman. When facing more than one man always keep your eye on something midway between them, then you cannot miss the slightest movement on the part of anyone. In addition, a very useful gift I possessed was the ability to read a man’s thoughts. When the brain sends a signal to the muscle to pull a gun and take the risk of life or death, the eyes always open slightly wider. That knowledge has saved my life more than once. You can shoot while the other man has hardly got his gun out. But in the case I am relating the men had come to a dead stop.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I can get two of you if the other two get me. Now move, and I’ll blow you wide open.’

There was not as much as the tremor of an eyelid on either side for the moments that seemed like minutes: then the leader said ‘Put up your guns.’

I did so.

‘Now shake hands,’ he said holding out his own with a friendly laugh.

We shook. ⁵

The men all then sat down together for supper and a chat, although the ranch cook had been scared out of his life. That night Kit returned those twenty head of cattle and within a few days the missing ten cows had mysteriously returned.

Kit and the leader of the men soon became firm friends.

The way of the West.

It was a boisterous life and the brotherhood of the cowboy never left any man. This explains why so many who had worked in the American west were to join the early Legion. Eventually his father died and “Kit of the Circle Dot ranch” became an English Baronet, although he continued to work as a cowboy when he could escape the press who plagued him on his visits to and from England. Being an expert with the lariat, he was called upon by Colonel Cummins to appear in his Wild West Show, also referred to as “Colonel Cummins’ Wild West Indian Congress and Rough Riders of the World”, at Liverpool. When that show moved to Europe he set up his own show persuading some of those who had been performing with him to join his show. In spite of the fact that there were over a hundred “Wild West Shows” touring U.S.A. and Europe, he experienced some success at the Hippodrome arena in London. His father had left him an estate deeply in debt and “Kit” was determined to earn enough money to pay off the family debts. Shortage of money was to plague him for the rest of his life. Unable to settle down, he moved between America and England. One day by chance he attended a Salvation Army meeting in New York and became a converted Christian and left his cowboy life to work in the Ministry.

Londesborough church parade with the padre

At the beginning of the War in 1914 he tried to gain acceptance as an army chaplain but was too old. Eventually he got taken on by the C.E.F. and served in England as a corporal. On demobilisation he was ordained in the Church of England and settled down as the Vicar of Londesborough in the East Riding of Yorkshire, becoming in the 1920s until his death the Frontiersmen’s Padre who had lived a life as adventurous as any other Frontiersman, but was now a man of peace who had laid aside his Colt revolver. As seen in the photograph, the Frontiersmen regularly attended a church parade at his church.

The Legion’s Padre in uniform

Will any of the Legion’s more recent Padres be able to tell of such an adventurous life story as their predecessors? We will have to wait until after they have departed this world and then future historians will be able to record their lives as part of the Legion’s long history.


1 “Canadian Frontiersman” Oct-Nov-Dec 1964. More about this is to be found in “Outrider of Empire: the life and adventures of Roger Pocock”, by Geoffrey A Pocock. For more of Leigh Pink’s stories see: Frontiersmen have always been found in the most unlikely places and http://www.frontiersmenhistorian.info/bukoba.htm

2 “From Cowboy to Pulpit” by Sir Genille Cave-Browne-Cave (London, Herbert Jenkins, 1926, see also extracts published in the “Dundee Evening Telegraph”, November 1926)

3 “Outrider of Empire” tells much of Roger Pocock’s experiences as a cowboy and with cowboys, particularly when he rode the “Outlaw Trail” from Canada to Mexico in 1899

⁴ “From Cowboy to Pulpit” and “Dundee Evening Telegraph”.

⁵ Ibid

The photograph of a Legion Church Parade at Londesborough together with the Padre is from an unidentified newspaper cutting in the Legion archives and therefore reproduced as well as is possible.


© 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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Commemorating the “Nine Thousand”

Canadian Frontiersmen

Topic August/September 2018. There will be many commemorations and countless books about the centenary of the end of the First War – the Great War – the “war to end all wars”. In this topic page we will take a look at the sacrifice of Frontiersmen in the service of what was then King and Empire and the extraordinary demonstrations of patriotism and service shown by Frontiersmen, many of whom paid the final sacrifice. At every Frontiersmen dinner round the world since the 1920s, the toast after that of “The King” or “The Queen” has always been “The Nine Thousand”. That has always been the Legion’s claim of the number of Frontiersmen who gave their lives to King and Empire, now the Commonwealth. The first recorded reference to “the nine thousand” that has been discovered is in the May 1922 “Frontiersman” magazine, although various other numbers appeared earlier than this in newspapers, for example, as quoted elsewhere on this site:

J. Suffern, captain of the New South Wales command stated that: “…out of the 13,500 members over 12,000 have been on active service and of this number nearly 6000, or 50%, have been killed or incapacitated by wounds or sickness.” Capt. J. Suffern also commented: “Here in New South Wales were 350 members on active service.” (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, “The Frontiersmen… 50 Per Cent Casualties”, page 05, 25 August 1919.)

For years the Frontiersmen had been certain that war with German was inevitable. As soon as war was declared a trickle of Frontiersmen, which soon turned into a flood, arrived from all round the world at the little office on the top floor of 6 Adam Street London. The steady stream of rough, often Colonial, men dressed not in London clothes but in practical Colonial garb, wending their way down Adam Street and up the narrow staircase to the Frontiersmen office would certainly have raised eyebrows in this well-to-do part of London.

…every Frontiersman was ready for the call to arms, and they fought in every theatre of the war. Many returned to the United Kingdom to join the Forces. 100 from China and 20 more from South America, all at their own expense. Many worked their passage home in various ways…
Over 9000 gave their lives in the great struggle…
Some 1,500 Australian and New Zealand Frontiersmen died with the Anzacs in Gallipoli.
The South African members served with the Rand Rifles.”

(Major J. Dowd’s 1951 history booklet)

Not only were Frontiersmen from Winnipeg, Canada, making their way to Valcartier Camp, but according to the “Dundee Courier”: “Several impatient members of the Winnipeg Legion of Frontiersmen turned up in London on the chance of being included in an early draft for France.” These were among many Frontiersmen who worked their passage across the Atlantic. Although the War Office would not initially grant Driscoll a named Frontiersmen unit, these men with their great skills in mastering horses were of inestimable value horse-breaking at Shirehampton and Swaythling.

(see http://www.frontiersmenhistorian.info/remount.htm also https://frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/a-persistent-mystery/ )

The “Calgary Daily Herald” of October 5th 1914 reported that 50 Frontiersmen who had grown tired of waiting to be called into active service had made their own way to London and presented themselves at the War Office. According to the newspaper they eventually got to see Kitchener himself and having had their service accepted reported that: “We are leaving for Southampton in a day or two.” One can assume that they had been sent to the Remounts.

In August 1914, Lt.-Col. Driscoll wrote a most illuminating letter to Fred Storey, who commanded the Belfast sub-unit:

Before the declaration of war, the offer of one thousand picked men for serving anywhere on earth was promptly acknowledged by the Army Council. After the war was declared a second communication was received from the War Office thanking the Legion for their patriotic offer, but informing them that until the young force of 100,000 being raised by Earl Kitchener was complete nothing further would be done regarding the raising of extra regiments for the front. The offer still being with the War Office, members of the Legion will have to wait orders patiently like good soldiers. Since the outbreak of war, numerous cables have arrived from our commands all over the earth offering to pay their own expenses and join us in England. It has been very touching to be unable to cable back to them to join their comrades in England. However this may come at any time. The recruiting for the Legion all over England has been remarkable. In London alone some 5,000 men of the very best stamp have been registered at headquarters, so that we are able to offer to the War Office in England alone at least six mounted or dismounted regiments of the finest fighting men in the world outside the British Army. Yesterday a cable was sent from the Governor of Newfoundland to the Foreign Office asking for permission from the Legion of Frontiersmen headquarters to permit one hundred of the Legion of Frontiersmen in Labrador and Newfoundland to join the Canadian expeditionary force. Colonel Driscoll desires all members of the Legion to be patient and to go on diligently preparing themselves for active service, so that if the country needs them they shall be more than ever prepared to go to the front without delay. Colonel Driscoll endeavoured to supply one or more regiments to Earl Kitchener’s 100,000 men, but was informed that only young men of a certain age would be accepted. The average Legion age is above this. Many hundreds of members of the Legion have joined various military departments with the full and unqualified approval of headquarters.

The Argentine Sub-Unit of the Legion of Frontiersmen, London Command, was officially constituted on November 1st 1912, the organising officer was Lieut E. W. Benson, LF. When war appeared inevitable, the Sub-Unit cabled to England on the 31st July 1914, offering their services to the British Empire for any part of the world, and undertook to equip themselves completely and be fully mounted. At that time there were twenty-seven members on the nominal roll, Malcolm Pulbrook being Organising Secretary, and of these men twenty-three travelled to England before the end of the year to join up, the majority sailing in August and September 1914. The remaining members were at that time debarred on account of age. As most of the men had seen active service in some part or other of the world, and were fully qualified in drill and shooting, they were rapidly taken into the army, and before the close of 1914, several of them were at the front.

Pulbrook served as a driver in the Royal Engineers and E. W. Benson as a Lieutenant in the Bedfordshire Regt, attached to the RE Signals. He was awarded the Military Cross.

Although we have so many accounts of the remarkable patriotism and eagerness to serve shown by Frontiersmen all round the world there were examples of Frenchmen showing equal dedication. The “Sheffield Telegraph” told of two French reservists who were working as trappers on the Mackenzie River some 1300 miles from the furthest north-west railroad in Canada. By September 30th 1914 they had tramped towing a sled to Fort Chipewayan on Lake Athabasca where a Canadian Mounted Police officer gave them a letter of explanation as to why they were so late reporting for duty to present when they reached France. They still had another 700 miles to walk through the Canadian winter before they reached a railroad.

Legion Major J. Dowd wrote a reasonably accurate brief history booklet of the Legion in 1951 with only a small number of inaccuracies. He had the advantage of having served for many years and met many of the original members:

No Corps in the world possesses the elements of adventure in so great a degree as the Legion of Frontiersmen nor carries so many decorations for Active Service and Valour.
The Legion has gathered into its ranks men whose collective adventures in all parts of the world would make as thrilling and absorbing reading as any volume of fact and fiction ever published.

Turner inspection

Major-General Sir Alfred Turner inspected the Legion on parade on Victoria Embankment in London in 1914 and is recorded during that year as a member of the Executive Council. After the inspection he wrote to Lt-Colonel Driscoll:

…The value of a trained body of soldiers, a large number of whom have served in one or more campaigns, men who are in a very respectable position in life, and who, out of feelings of pure patriotism, enrol themselves for the service of the Empire, cannot be too highly estimated, and they deserve every possible recognition and encouragement from the State. The manner in which they stood on parade, the way in which they held themselves and marched, showed that they had not forgotten their former military training.”

Arriving for parade

This parade, some 350 strong, was held about nine weeks before the start of the War. not only of members from all round Britain, but also representatives from Malta, Persia, Calcutta, Nigeria, Australia, the Federated Malay States and other countries, all of whom had also attended the previous day’s Legion A.G.M..

When the War Office called for a further inspection, this time on the very hot Sunday 7th September, the Frontiersmen were inspected in London by General Bethune, another South African veteran. About seven hundred of them marched from the Embankment to Vincent Square to be inspected. It would have been more impressive had Driscoll been able to raise his promised two thousand, but his defence was that these were mainly men who lived in or near London. Some of the Manchester Troop were there, also the Lord Mayor of Manchester. According to a writer in “The Sketch”, “..what a magnificent set of fellows they are…” The brief extract from Bethune’s report to Kitchener surviving in War Office files stated that the men were “typical toughs who would do most excellent work as irregulars”. This statement quoted in War Office files out of the context of the full report sounds critical of the quality of the men, but it should probably be read the other way, that the Frontiersmen would be suitable for the way they wished to serve. There can be no doubt that Frontiersmen were often tough characters and some were “known to the police”. In 1919 the “Manchester Guardian” told of an incident in 1915 when the police were searching for a wanted man. It was suggested that the man might have enlisted in 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) to gain a swift passage out of the country. A plain-clothes policeman was sent from Manchester to London to see if he could identify the man among Driscoll’s troops preparing to entrain for their ship. Asked whether he had found his wanted man, the policeman replied “No, but I recognised all the others”. Possibly true or possibly false, but the story does show that however rough and tough these men were, they remained intensely patriotic. It is difficult for us, over a century later, to comprehend the attitude of these men. The most extreme case is that of fifty-four year old Edgar Keeling, a Manchester Frontiersmen. He was desperate to re-enlist, but although he was an expert rifle shot and known as a sober and respectable man, neither was he allowed due to his age to go with the Manchester Frontiersmen to Belgium nor was he accepted by any army unit. He was so depressed that he could not fight for his country that he committed suicide with his old service rifle which he had somehow retained.

If we go forward to 1939, although Frontiersmen were willing to fight for their country, it was with a grim determination to defeat Fascist Germany. The enthusiasm which brought men from all over the world to enlist in 1914 was not there. After the First War many survivors had moved with their families to countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia, taking up nationality. As we have pointed out in previous items on gas warfare training the First War had only ended some twenty-one years earlier, well within memory. Most families had lost family members. In the final years before the start of the Second War the Territorial Army was busy recruiting and actively seeking out the younger Frontiersmen as they would already have been well-trained. Senior army officers from the First War were happy to serve as rank and file Frontiersmen and it was often the younger men who were elected as officers. Ernest F. Meacock, a Second Lieutenant in the Frontiersmen, was sought out by the Territorials and commissioned. He wrote that he had to be reminded by his sergeant that “The order, sir, is ‘Squad!’, not ‘Frontiersmen!'”.

Frontiersmen Memorial Canada

What of today? The world has changed beyond recognition and there is a strong movement against becoming involved in any war or conflict in any country. In some countries there is a requirement for military training by the young, but not in much of the western world. Few of the young have any idea of military life and nor would they care to. Armed conflict relies heavily on computers. Those Frontiersmen who rushed to Britain in 1914 to serve would be absolutely astonished to see the world well over a hundred years later. As the famous L.P. Hartley quotation goes:

The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

Frontiersmen New Zealand Memorial at National Park

There are two dedicated Frontiersmen Memorials around the world. One is in Alberta, Canada and the other in New Zealand. The plaque on the New Zealand Memorial reads:

Erected to the memory of the 9000 members of the Legion of Frontiersmen who gave their lives in the Great War 1914 – 1918. And of those gallant comrades who fell in freedom’s cause in World War II 1939 – 1945. We Shall Remember them”

The Frontiersmen will always carry on raising a glass to “The Nine Thousand”.

Photographs © Legion of Frontiersmen CMO archives. Photograph of New Zealand Memorial courtesy the late Bruce Fuller, Fenreach Trust


© 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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Origins of the Legion of Frontiersmen and the formation of MI5/6

From Le Queux Invasion of 1910

This is a summary of the talk given by Dr Anne Samson1 on 19 May 2018 to the Victorian Military Society.2

The question to be answered was “how was the formation of the Legion of Frontiersmen linked with the formation of MI5 and MI6 and what was the role of novels (yes, you’ve read this correctly) in all this?”

Three strands come together as a plait to form what is known in South Africa as a koeksister – a cake/baked sister described once as sickly sweet and twisted:

Strand 1: The spy novel as epitomised by William le Queux in The Great War in England in 1897 (1894) and The Invasion of 1910 (1906).

Strand 2: The Legion of Frontiersmen started by Roger Pocock in 1904/5.

Strand 3: The political and social structure of Britain.

Strand 3 is most important to understanding how the secret service came to be. The Crimean War (1855) and the earlier Peninsular Wars (1807-1815), the American Civil War (1860s) and Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) changed perceptions of the army. Technological developments such as the railways, steam engines, telegraph, wireless and photography as well as flight, changed the nature of war and people’s ability to travel. This all linked with the scramble for Africa and the development of Empire which needed to be protected to ensure a source of raw materials and markets for the sale of manufactured goods. This brought countries into conflict with each other, a point reflected in the novels of the day. During the 1800s France was enemy number one as depicted in William Le Queux’s novel The Great War in England in 1897. This was to last until after the Boer war, as France supported the Boers in spirit being anti-British at the time. When Britain reconciled with France in 1904, Germany became the ogre as seen in Le Queux’s The Invasion of 1910. Follow through to today and the same holds true: think of James Bond, Die Hard, The Bourne series and more recent television programmes such as NCIS, Crossing Lines and Deep State.

Strand 2: At the start of the previous century, Germany was increasing the size of its navy which posed a direct threat to Britain’s mastery of the sea. With the growth of Empire came colonisation and the need to protect the Empire’s assets which is where Roger Pocock saw a role for the frontiersman and woman – the person who helped maintain some sort of order along the borders and pushed into other territories to see how far he could go. Roger was inspired with how the amateur or frontiersman could support the Empire, ideas gleaned through his experience of visiting the Crimea in about 1895 and later in 1904 when he visited St Petersburg. He was able to share his information with the Admiralty, in particular with the Director of Naval Intelligence, Prince Louis of Battenburg who saw the value of what he’d been given.

Roger Pocock had served as a Canadian frontiersman and learnt the hard way about survival and friendship before heading to South Africa and the Boer or South African War of 1899-1902. Between his time with the North West Mounted Rifles, later Police, when he lost some toes due to frostbite, and going to South Africa in 1900, Pocock had travelled widely taking work on ships to pay his way. In 1898 he organised the Klondyke expedition which aimed to take pack-horses to the new mining frontier in Canada, an expedition which failed, and which hounded him for the rest of his days when Sir Arthur Curtis disappeared, believed murdered. Soon after, Roger undertook to travel on horseback from Canada to Mexico, a distance of 3,600 miles through the American deserts. He then went to South Africa in 1900 where he served with Waldon’s Scouts and the National Scouts until his time expired on 31 March 1902,3 two months before the war ended. Between his travels, he was based in London where he wrote and published novels detailing his adventures.

This experience together with his travels led Roger to suggest the formation of the Legion, ‘to keep the frontiers quiet lest any affair of outposts give the Kaiser excuse for picking a quarrel.’4 On Christmas Eve 1904, he sent a letter to ten newspapers announcing the arrival of the ‘Legion’ which was to be ‘for good fellowship, mutual help and possibly service to the state in time of war.’5 On 10 April 1905, the Legion of Frontiersmen was launched with the Earl of Lonsdale as President. By 1908 they had 3,500 names enlisted and issued ‘a somewhat flamboyant “Second Annual Report” of their activities, and a prospectus in which many well-known names appear.’6

The Boy Scouts, Territorial Army and National Reserve all followed in the wake of the Legion, Roger believing the Legion had influenced their organisation.7 Baden-Powell was apparently visiting Lonsdale at the time the formal organisation of the Legion was being discussed.8 The Boy Scouts organisation was founded on 24 January 1908, later that year, Pocock’s friend and fellow author, Owen Vaughan also known as Owen Rhoscomyl and Robert Scourfield Mills published a book on scouting and Baden-Powell himself followed with On scouting in 1909. The Territorial Army having been under discussion as part of the army reforms introduced by Lord Haldane following the Anglo-Boer War was finally inaugurated on 1 April 1908 and the National Reserve came into operation around the same time. Roger had led the pack.

The next years saw internal struggles in the Legion. Roger became strongly opposed to everything and everyone, wondering why he continued as ‘After all, the whole visible Legion was only a mask for the secret service, which they had never heard of. The vital duties from which I had been ousted, consisted of squashing incipient filibustering expeditions to preserve the British Peace, and watching the German Menace while the nation slept.’ However, he would go down fighting and complete his book on the ‘first formulation of the science of pioneering’.9

In 1909 he published The Frontiersman’s Pocket-book, the list of contributors including some of the ‘well-known names’, a number of whom were members of the Legion of Frontiersmen, others specialist in their field but all determined to support the Empire in its time of need. Significantly, Roger did not ask Daniel Driscoll to contribute to his Pocketbook, despite Driscoll having been significantly involved in recruiting for the Legion and his own frontier experiences including participation as a scout in the Anglo-Boer War. His exclusion might have had something to do with his close association with exaggerated numbers of spies. Members of the Legion who did not feature in the book included those linked with spies and stories of invasion, most notably Lord Roberts and Henry le Queux.

Strand 1. The way to engage the public and to make the army ‘real’ was to create a need on home soil which could be more easily understood than issues around far-off places which the majority would never get to see and would probably not even hear about unless it was mentioned in the newspapers. The way to get the home front on board, was through a real or imagined invasion of the island and a supportive newspaper owner.

Alfred Harmsworth, from 1905 to be known as Lord Northcliffe and from 1908 owner of The Times, in 1888 started a paper called Answers to Correspondents. Between December 1893 and 2 June 1894, Harmsworth ran William Le Queux’s The Great War in England in 1897 under the title The Poisoned Bullet as a serial which focused on conflict between Britain and France. Le Queux’s next big seller, The Invasion of 1910 was serialised in 1906 with the launch of the Daily Mail on 4 May. The Invasion of 1910 had been informed and endorsed by Lord Roberts who was keen to use it to encourage support for National Service (conscription). The serial and later publication in book form were a success. Wesley Wark in Spy Fiction, Spy Films and Real Intelligence says that William Le Queux was the pioneer of the faction industry – deliberately blurring lines between fiction and fact, presenting himself as spymaster. ‘With Le Queux apparent realism first showed its amazing potential.’10 In 1908 when Northcliffe took over The Times, the paper became the voice for National Service. The Boy Scouts were encouraged to report a German spy for their good deed a day,11 and when the Weekly News offered £10 for evidence of German spies operating in Britain, letters poured in thus providing the evidence required by the War Office to set up a secret services bureau in 1909.

An Intelligence Department had been set up during the Anglo-Boer War which continued after the war with reduced staff and status. Eventually, James Grierson, was appointed Director of Military Operations and Intelligence (DMO & I) replacing William Nicholson on 11 February 1904 at the order of Lord Esher. In 1907, James Edmonds was promoted head of the Special Section or MO5 which was responsible for intelligence gathering. Simultaneously, Esmond Slade became Director of Naval Intelligence in October 1907, and was dismayed to discover that the secret service was not organised. Counter-espionage work was also required, but initially this posed a little challenge. Again, Le Queux’s novel Spies of the Kaiser (1909) and Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) provided the impetus. The success of the literature can be judged by The Times newspaper starting to complain that spy mania was detracting from conscription promotion.12

Edmonds requested a subcommittee of the Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) in 1909 to approve the formation of a counter espionage group as ‘we have … no regular system or organisation to detect and report suspicious cases, and are entirely dependent on casual information.’ Lord Esher, chairman, believed the threat posed by spies was not as great as was presented, however he was eventually worn down with the evidence supplied by the War Office and Lord Haldane. The Secret Service Bureau was formed and split between the military and navy, but within a year, a home department responsible for counter espionage replaced them, eventually becoming known as MI5.

A foreign department was responsible for espionage. It was later to be known as SIS and then MI6. To start, it remained responsible to the Admiralty but little evidence of an invasion was forthcoming – the plans did not exist. A system of spies was set up in Germany by Manfred George Smith-Cummings as head of the foreign section and this helped in supplying accurate information about weapons and ships, and from 1913 on zeppelins and their possible usage.13 When the Great War eventually broke out in 1914, another rearrangement of the organisations eventually resulted in the formation of MI5 for internal security and MI6 for international. In effect, Le Queux’s work influenced that of MI5 and Roger Pocock that of MI6, both members of the Legion of Frontiersmen.


The illustration is from Le Queux’s Invasion of 1910. In the text he tells how the brave Frontiersmen were involved in the defence of London.


Notes:

  1. Dr Anne Samson is Special Advisor on Africa to the History and Archives Section of the Legion of Frontiersmen. She is an independent historian who has published widely on the Great War in Africa.
  2. The complete paper will be published in the Victorian Military Society Journal, Soldiers of the Queen (SOTQ) in late 2018. VMS kindly allowed a summary of the talk to be made available.
  3. TNA: WO 339/69712, long service record H Roger Pocock
  4. R Pocock, Adventurers, p57
  5. R Pocock, Adventurers, p23
  6. TNA: WO 32/10426
  7. Pocock, Adventurers, p39
  8. Tim Jeal, Baden-Powell: Founder of the Boy Scouts (Yale University, 2007) p347
  9. Pocock, Chorus to Adventurers, pp83-84
  10. Wark, Spy Fiction, p3
  11. Morris, The Scaremongers, p157
  12. Morris, The Scaremongers, p157
  13. Andrew, Secret Service, p79

© Copyright Anne Samson. 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 RSM-in-Chief

SJ Alexander, Buckingham Palace, courtesy IWM

Topic June/July 2018. Before we located the I.W.M. photograph of Sidney James Alexander M.C. outside Buckingham Palace, all we had to start with was a rather faint photograph of him in Frontiersmen uniform. By that time he had acquired some rotundity and his face had filled out from the gauntness it showed when he was presented with his Military Cross by the King, but he still retained his military bearing. The Legion of Frontiersmen used a rank “RSM-in-Chief” that was quite clear to all. The first RSM-in-Chief we have traced was Sidney Alexander. Legion records tell us no details about him, but we have discovered a little more about a brave and sometimes controversial soldier. We do not yet have anywhere near his full life story, but his military career is evidence of the social divides of his time.

Sidney Alexander was born on 28th May 1874. His army career began officially at the age of 18. As an ordinary soldier, no military record was held of his service and in what campaigns he fought. We only know that he was discharged after 21 years service in February 1914 with the rank of Battery Sgt. Major in the 49th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. His service record won him a responsible job as an attendant at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. This would have been the equivalent today of a security officer at the Courts that saw the most serious cases come to trial. Whether he volunteered for service in the First War or whether he was approached first is something else we do not know, but obviously due to his experience being needed he was granted a wartime commission in February 1915 as Lieutenant. In August 1915 he was promoted to Captain, so we can assume that he was a good and reliable officer. The next notable date on his military record is January 1st 1917, when his award of the Military Cross was gazetted. The citations for Military Crosses were then seldom published. There is no mention of any specific incident and New Year’s Day Military Crosses gazetted were often given for general long-term bravery rather than for one particular occasion. What does seem highly unusual is that his Military Cross was presented by King George V himself on 29th August 1917. There were so many Military Crosses awarded that the King would not have been able to present all of them himself.

SJ Alexander

So far, Sidney Alexander seems to have had a spotless character, but he let himself down when he was charged that on the night of 11th-12th February 1918 he was drunk in the field and secondly found to be taking part in a disturbance together with n.c.o.s of his section. He was tried on both charges at Clartres on 23rd February. Initially he planned to plead not guilty to the second charge, but was persuaded to change his plea,although it is doubtful that this was sound advice. He was found guilty and dismissed the service. This seems to us to be a very harsh treatment to a man who had given 25 years of his life to the army. Many an army officer much senior to him had got drunk in uniform and for three years Alexander had been through all the horrors of war. What would have upset Staff officers would have been that he got drunk with n.c.o.s rather than other officers. Today we can understand how, under the pressures he had suffered, and after 21 years as a ranker he would have been far happier with the company of senior n.c.o.s of his own class rather than the young public school officers around him. The class system was still strong in those days and both Staff officers and those running the bases and the War Office would have looked down on ranker officers, often referred to as “temporary gentlemen”, however good they were at their job. The original sentence of the Court was that he was to be Cashiered. This was a most severe punishment and meant that on return to civilian life he would not have been able to work in any part of the Civil Service, even as a postman. He would have lost his job at the Royal Courts of Justice in London and would not have been able to join the Territorial Army after the war. The Commander-in-Chief, Field-Marshal Douglas Haig, saw this and commuted the sentence to the lesser one of being dismissed the service.

To discover the attitude of Staff officers, we have to look no further than the writings of Douglas Jerrold, a great friend of one of our most notable – and controversial – Frontiersmen, Hugh Pollard. Jerrold fought with the Royal Naval Division both at Gallipoli and in France and wrote the history of the Royal Naval Division in 1922.

“I remember meeting, in a pleasant little village behind Abbeville in 1916….. a charming young man, immaculately dressed and wearing the insignia of a famous regiment and several decorations. I asked him, over a drink, what he was, and was told, ‘Oh, I’m the D.L.O.’ I showed my ignorance evidently in my face. ‘Divisional Laundry Officer,’ he explained, with quiet pride, but without a touch of hauteur.”1

Writing about the Lens area, Jerrold expressed the opinion,

“Too many men, too many officers, far too many generals, and a thousand times too many jacks-in-office, R.T.O.’s. Town Majors, A.P.M.’s, Traffic Control Officers, Laundry Officers, Liaison Officers, Railway Experts and endless seas of mud.”2

In an article in the “Pall Mall Gazette” Jerrold told of his acute embarrassment,

“…when two young public-school boys of eighteen who had served with my battalion in the ranks through the Gallipoli campaign were suddenly commissioned. The picture of harassed adjutants crying out for young public-school cricketers was, I pointed out with some acerbity, just moonshine. What were wanted at the front were man with experience in dealing with other men; men with initiative, capable of taking decisions on their own…”3

What the army needed was more Alexanders, even if they did break the rules at times, rather than eighteen year old public schoolboys as Second Lieutenants.

There is something of a mystery regarding what happened to Alexander after he was dismissed. What seems unbelievable to us is that the desk-bound officers at the War Office seriously discussed whether he should be stripped of his M.C.. Eventually they decided that his offence was not sufficiently serious. Such a request would have had to be made to the Palace and the King would have been most displeased if he had been asked to strip a man of his gallantry award for mere drunkenness. In fact the War Office did prepare a request the King to have him stripped of his Military Cross. This went first to the then Secretary of State for the War Office, one Winston Churchill. Churchill had served at the Front and knew his soldiers. His response to the War Office was somewhat terse and very much to the point:

“A Military Cross won for gallantry should not be forfeited for any offence which is not of a criminal nature.”4

Field Gun

By 1918 the call-up age had been extended and at 44 Alexander became due for this. He could not be traced but was believed to be working in Wales in what was termed a “controlled establishment” and this made him exempt. Alexander claimed that he had in fact re-enlisted and served as a private soldier in Russia, but this could not be substantiated. After the War he enlisted in the 7th London Brigade R.F.A. (T.A.) and in April 1920 he was made Battery Sergeant Major. Again the War Office had to be consulted as to whether it was permitted for a man who had been dismissed as an officer to serve as an n.c.o. in the T.A.. After much discussion over many months, in January 1922 the desk-bound officers in the War Office decided that this was indeed permitted and also that he would be allowed to wear the ribbon of his M.C. on his uniform. It would have been most unusual for a B.S.M. to be seen on parade wearing the M.C. ribbon. When he retired from the T.A. he was enlisted with alacrity by the Legion of Frontiersmen as the Legion’s R.S.M.-in-Chief. We know he was still serving in 1936, but have not discovered the date of his death.

The reader can see from the above that we have much still to discover about him. It is currently not known what happened to his M.C. and other medals, although most came up for auction in 2017. They are not in the Royal Artillery Museum. This is a most human story of a true Frontiersman and it is appropriate to commemorate him one hundred years after the end of a war in which he fought with great bravery and dedication.


The photograph shows the principal British field gun used by the Royal Field Artillery throughout the First War, the 18-pounder covering a canal crossing in 1918. The heavier pieces were manned by the Royal Garrison Artillery and the Royal Horse Artillery accompanied the cavalry. (details from “The World War One Source Book” by Philip J. Haythornthwaite Arms & Armour Press 1992)

1 Douglas Jerrold “Georgian Adventure” (1937) p111
2 Ibid p175
3 Ibid p 199-200
4 The National Archives WO 339/22795


© 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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A Persistent Mystery

Frontiersmen Remounts Shirehampton

Surprising Snippets 8: An unsolvable mystery is, who was the person from which official government or military department who decided that the file on the Frontiersmen and Remounts in the last quarter of 1914 was not worth saving at The National Archives? The matter was probably controversial at the time as, although for the first months of the First War Remounts were handled by private contractors and not the army, what position did the Legion of Frontiersmen hold? We know that during those first months Lt.Col. Driscoll bombarded the War Office with requests to use the Frontiersmen as a named unit for various duties on active service. The War Office rather vacillated before they finally instructed Driscoll early in 1915 to form the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen). Inspections of the Frontiersmen in their uniforms were arranged at a special London parade and the War Office thought they might be able to use them on active service, but then changed their minds.

The army required thousands of horses – far more than could ever be provided in Britain even by commandeering all the horses in private hands they could find. Horses were plentiful especially in Canada but also in the U.S.A. and other countries. These began to be shipped over in quantity. The problem for the War Office was that the horses were unbroken and they did not have the number of soldiers with the skill to break them. Private contractors were employed but they could not find enough skilled men. In the meantime Frontiersmen were pouring into the country from all round the world desperate to enlist and serve the Mother Country, often working their passage as they could not afford passenger fares. Many of these men had been working with horses on ranches in the big countries of the world and also many of the British Frontiersmen had done such jobs when abroad. It was a pre-requisite to being accepted by the Legion that you were a skilled horseman. All these men were keen to serve the Empire in uniform; they were men of experience and years who had often fought in South Africa. Driscoll was keen to keep them until he was granted a Frontiersmen unit, but these men had a multitude of skills which caused them to be eagerly sought by existing regiments so there was a steady loss of numbers which Driscoll was keen to minimise.

The solution was an extraordinary one by War Office standards. Two big camps were set up over many acres at Shirehampton, near Avonmouth Docks, and Swaythling, near Southampton Docks. Both camps were under the command of a semi-retired senior officer, but the day to day running of these camps was undertaken by the Legion of Frontiersmen. For the records, they were considered as private contractors, but wore Frontiersmen uniform and ranks and were under the control of Legion London HQ with Driscoll at its head.

Capt. Prior, O.C. N.E. Squadron, has received instructions from Col. Driscoll, D.S.O., that a few hundred men are required to go into mounted depot for provisional training, either at Shirehampton, Bristol, or Shrewsbury. As already two of the Southern Squadrons are doing duty, it is probable that only one hundred or one hundred and fifty men will be required for the first contingent in the Northern Command. The date will be between October 10th and 15th. The rate of pay is 24s per week and barrack accommodation, all men to enlist as troopers, and N.C.O.’s will be made according to qualifications. (“Sunderland Echo”, 29 September 1914).

Calculating on the six-day week current at the time, the pay was 4 shillings a day, which compared very favourably with the pay of a private soldier of one shilling and one penny a day and a cavalry trooper of one shilling and ninepence a day, even though that would be for a seven day week. (twelve pence made a shilling and twenty shillings one pound).

On the same day, the “Wigan Observer” from the western side of England made a similar request:

Information has been received at headquarters London from the War Office to the effect that the Legion of Frontiersmen will not be called to the Front until all the Regular Forces are called on, and have made the offer that the members of the Legion be called on for remount duty as Troops and Squadrons, and be located in the several Remount Depots now being mobilised for the breaking in of horses from abroad…

On 4th November the “Nottingham Daily Express” featured an account by a Nottingham Frontiersmen of his experiences at Shirehampton:

Just a few lines to let you know all is well up to the present. We are ‘up to the neck’ with Canadian horses – emptied one more ship load today, and there is another one due tomorrow. The accommodation is not yet complete, and we are having to turn them out in the large meadows and catch the bounders as we want them with lassoes [sic]. The meadows are one vast mass of partially wild, unbroken horses which afford us some great excitement.

It is not a matter of flying shot and shell but of flying hoofs. However, it is a magnificent sight and worth the risk. We get any amount of spectators while we are putting the animals through their schooling. I have been chosen with a few others for this somewhat risky job, while the remaining portion are otherwise occupied grooming, etc. We have often to ‘throw’ the horses before we can get on the bridle and saddle. I like the life very much.

It is not surprising that they attracted many spectators for what amounted to a free “wild west show”! Meadow after meadow was fast being converted into a great township of wooden structures with corrugated iron roofs.

…one pauses in wonderment at the mere spectacle of a young [poetic licence!] Frontiersman astride a rearing and plunging horse, which bucks and jumps, side-slips and feints, in a manner which would astound many a clever circus equestrian.

There are many types of horses included in the remounts supplied from across the water. Some appear somewhat tired until a saddle is placed on their backs, and then the fun begins. Yesterday there was splendid scope for the cinematograph operator. The scenery was such as the Vitagraph Company or their compeers [sic] could revel in, and the ‘action of the piece’ lacked nothing in sensational movement and incident. (“Western Daily Press” 30 October 1914).

It has to be regretted that the official file on the Frontiersmen work on Remounts, which was of great importance to the early months of the war, has not survived; it shows the Legion at its best. Perhaps the War Office was careful not to show that it was bending a few rules and recognising the value of the Legion of Frontiersmen?


© 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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Before James Bond Was Invented…

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

His autobiographical notes for Frontiersmen magazines were much more staid:

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

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

Cushny’s wife, 1927

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow that, James Bond!

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

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


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