Elliot’s Horse

ELLIOT’S HORSE [LEGION OF FRONTIERSMEN] 1914: AN OVERVIEW

© Barry William Shandro M.Ed.

Edmonton Canada – 10 October 2016, revised 20 April 2017

Elliot’s Horse was the title given to a Legion of Frontiersmen squadron from Victoria, British Columbia who were organized and equipped for overseas service immediately after the 1914 call-to-arms. – This historical information may be of particular interest to the Royal Canadian Dragoons and perhaps the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) as well.

According to a surviving partial document from the Legion of Frontiersmen Calgary Command and other sources, “Elliot’s Horse” was a squadron composed of Legion of Frontiersmen from both Victoria and Vancouver Commands. This “free-lance cavalry” was sponsored by R.T. Elliot KC of Victoria B.C.

The 1914 news of the day stated that “Elliot’s Horse” was to be composed of men who could fulfill the recruiting requirement of being “veterans with previous active service”. The squadron list of 83 men indicates that most of the men wore one campaign medal or more, primarily the Queen’s and/or King’s service medals for the South Africa War. Other medals worn by the Legion of Frontiersmen re-titled Elliot’s Horse were the “Indian Frontier Medal”, Khedive Medal, Natal Native Rebellion Medal, Matabele War Medal, and “Mexican Madero Medal”.

A detailed firsthand account by Colonel W.K. Walker DSO, MC published in 1936 stated that although he had not seen active service prior to his 1914 enrolment he had Officer Training Corps experience and was able to join Elliot’s Horse. Once overseas he was subsequently elected* officer in command. *Note that the election of officers was a unique practice followed by the quasi military Legion of Frontiersmen active throughout the British Empire.

Upon departure from Victoria, Elliot’s Horse was reviewed by the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, the Premier of B.C., Victoria’s Member of Parliament, the Mayor of Victoria and the squadron Founder Mr. R.T. Elliot KC. Beyond the uniform illustrated, Spencer’s Department Store of Victoria provided boots and under clothing for the Squadron. The store owner Victor Spencer “became a colonel in the Canadian Army Service Corps and held a very responsible appointment.’’ [The Daily Colonist, 08 Nov 1936].

A review of information indicates that the initial plan was to have the Squadron join the British 2nd King Edwards Horse once overseas. This changed as most men appeared to have a preference for joining a Canadian unit. Any confusion resulting from this seemed quickly sorted out. Colonel W.K. Walker DSO, MC stated that this body of 83 men, with the exception of four specified officers, was then greeted by the Lord Strathcona’s Horse and the Royal Canadian Dragoons. Subsequently Walker and others were enrolled into the army proper. He stated, “I felt it a great honor to become an officer of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, and was especially glad it meant my remaining with so many of my pals of Elliot’s Horse.’’

The regimental placement of each member of Elliot’s Horse has not been researched; however, Colonel Walker DSO MC commented that some members of Elliot’s Horse rejoined their previous British units and that Lieutenant Sloan had also rejoined his old regiment the Scottish Horse and was later killed in action. – G.H. Sloan was originally from Hamilton Command had become an Organizing Officer circa 1911 with Vancouver Command, Legion of Frontiersmen. – Walker also noted that Lieutenant H.L. Houlgate of Elliot’s Horse joined Lord Strathcona’s Horse as a trooper, later being commissioned into the 2nd Battalion Border Horse. As well a curious retrospective quotation regarding Lord Strathcona’s Horse follows: “In 1914 on the outbreak of the Great War, a contingent of the Canadian Command of the Legion joined Strathcona’s Horse and formed their own Legion Squadron distinguished from the other Squadrons by a distinctive flash” [Frontier Post, Autumn 1933]. – If correct, could this have referred to the members of Elliot’s Horse? More research is required regarding this matter.

Referring to those who perished, Col. W.K. Walker DSO MC an original trooper in Elliot’s Horse stated that as of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 only 12 men had survived the Great War of 1914-1918. Sadly, this fatality rate was extremely high and it is little wonder that the story of the Legion of Frontiersmen as Elliot’s Horse is virtually unknown. – As a tragic comparison the overall Legion of Frontiersmen casualty count From the Great War 1914-1918 was initially quoted as follows: “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.” [The Sydney Morning Herald, 1919]

The badge worn by Elliot’s Horse was not described; however, it may have been the maple leaf badge of the Legion of Frontiersmen British Columbia Command. This bronze badge had slightly different versions indicating a homemade quality to some. The khaki uniform was described as follows: Stetson, a mackinaw jacket, khaki shirt, puttees and boots. A likeness of this uniform is illustrated and interestingly this style of a uniform was typical of most Legion of Frontiersmen Commands throughout the British Empire.

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References:

  1. Calgary Daily Herald, 17 Nov 1914.
  2. Untitled partial document, Loose pages 1 [2 and 3 missing]to 9, published by Calgary Command LF, 1915. University of Alberta Archives.
  3. The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Aug 1919.
  4. Frontier Post, Autumn 1933. University of Alberta Archives.
  5. The Daily Colonist, Victoria BC, 08 Nov 1936.
  6. The Frontiersman (Corps of Imperial Frontiersmen, Hamilton, Ontario), Dec 1951.
  7. Legion of Frontiersmen Notebook, online document, 2017.

For Detailed Discussion and L.O.F. background information,

  • Contact History & Archives Section, Countess Mountbatten’s Own Legion of Frontiersmen, bwshandro@hotmail.com
  • Refer to LEGION OF FRONTIERSMEN NOTEBOOK, a 91 page online document.

Background of the Author – Barry William Shandro B.Ed, M.Ed, SBStJ graduated from the University of Alberta and the University of Ottawa. He was commissioned into the regular army, but resigned to pursue education and graduate studies. As well, he served briefly with Edmonton city police. – Overall, teaching high school was his primary career with a focus on family and community activities until disabled as a relatively young adult. During a period of forty years he maintained an association with the authentic Legion of Frontiersmen [Countess Mountbatten’s Own] and has pursued Legion of Frontiersmen historical investigation as a hobby.

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Telling the Truth?

Topic April/May 2017.  There is no doubt that over the years many a military unit has considered itself badly treated and poorly supplied by their bases and headquarters. Many had cause for complaint about the way they were treated by Staff officers. We have covered some of the Frontiersmen’s complaints when they were serving in East Africa as 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen). A couple of examples of their complaints and frustrations based on the writings of those who served can be found at: www.frontiersmenhistorian.info/skirmish.htm and frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/the-frontiersmens-lorry/

Frontiersmen on the march in East Africa.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s other examples appeared written by various men in “The Frontiersman” and other Legion of Frontiersmen magazines. Lt.Col. D.P. Driscoll gave an interview to journalist and author Max Pemberton for a newspaper (issue not yet traced). Driscoll’s comments were measured and, although critical, not controversial. An extraordinarily powerful two-part article, highly critical of the way the Frontiersmen were treated, has just come to light in a May 1919 London evening newspaper “The Globe”. We make no excuses for featuring much of this article. This was written by T.A. Macdonald, about whom little is known other than he had spent some time in Turkey and after “The Globe” failed he went on to be a regular writer for another London evening newspaper “The Evening Standard”. Earlier in the same month, Macdonald had written a highly critical article about the way the whole campaign in East Africa was carried out:

…Like many another British war in Africa, the East Africa campaign was from start to finish a long, pathetic, and hopeless concatenation of blunders which neither the suppressio veri tactics of the late and unlamented Press Bureau, nor the indiscriminate showering of decorations and honours on South African and Indian Staff officers can camouflage into a piece of history apparently creditable to those responsible for the conduct of the campaign… ¹

The criticism carried on in similar vein over many paragraphs. Macdonald concluded that it would be hopeless to expect an independent and unbiased enquiry into the fiasco.

It seems highly likely that a number of men who had served with the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa came forward to tell Macdonald of their experiences so that Macdonald then wrote a two-part article on 13th and 14th May in an even more critical tone, producing damning evidence of the incompetence of most of the Staff officers and of the disgraceful way the Frontiersmen’s battalion had been treated.

…To make clear the nonchalant attitude taken up by the War Office towards the struggle in East Africa, and to draw attention to the other great factor in our failure, namely, the bungling methods and petty jealousies of many of those who were on the spot and responsible for the actual conduct of the campaign, I cannot do better than recount in brief form some of the experiences undergone by one of the two Imperial battalions which served… ²

Macdonald told how the War Office “dillied and dallied” before finally asking Driscoll to form the 25th Battalion. He went on to write about the poor billets the men were given in London and the virtually useless rifles with which they were issued:

Rifles and equipment were issued to them only two days before they sailed, and I doubt if such rifles have ever been handed to men going on service before. Nearly all of them were obsolete and marked “D.P.” (drill purposes) and all were in lamentable condition. Some of them fell to pieces in the men’s hands when they were drilling, and others were so worn that a .303 bullet could be dropped down the barrels from muzzle to breech… ²

This story is confirmed by articles in Frontiersmen magazines. In March 1925 Capt. Sutton Jones wrote that “On leaving England we were armed with forty-five Martini-Henries which were so old that some of them were practically smooth bores but on reaching Malta we got the service rifle issued to us through the kind offices of the military commander there.” Driscoll’s contacts from his South African days came in useful. At a 1931 Frontiersmen dinner Major Hazzledine commented that “…the battalion obtained the right up-to-date rifles at Malta. That was one advantage of having a commanding officer who knew what was necessary and got it.” The military commander of the arsenal at Malta had served with Driscoll in South Africa.

The War Office had emphasised that it was important to get the battalion to East Africa and into action. When they arrived, for some strange reason and in spite of the entreaties of Col. Driscoll, they were split in two, with some being sent to Kajiado and the rest sent to Nairobi, allegedly on a musketry course.

The men who went to Nairobi were kept there for many weeks before they ever fired a round on the range, although in the meantime all the men at headquarters at Kajiado had been through a full course on a range which they had built for themselves and had incidentally participated in the one great success of the campaign at Bukoba; further, the camp at Nairobi appears to have been regarded as a happy hunting ground by any Staff officer who wanted to purloin a Fusilier for employment as his clerk or his servant or for some other similar work. Many of these men never saw the battalion again.

The next experience the Fusiliers underwent was at Maktau, to which they were moved in August 1915. Here, despite the fact that there were hundreds of natives in camp, [employed as labourers and bearers] the men were made, again in direct opposition to the wishes of their colonel, to work some eight hours a day at digging trenches… ²

Brigadier-General S.H. Sheppard.

The arrival of General Smuts did improve matters for a while, as did their posting for a period to General Sheppard’s brigade. Macdonald seems to have received a letter from at least one of the officers of the Frontiersmen:

Here…they found themselves for the first time under a staff which treated them fairly and, furthermore, was well disposed to all of them, from the colonel downwards. Under General Sheppard they did splendid work, both on the march to Moschi and at the taking of Kahé, but unfortunately they were not allowed to remain very long with him.

Instead they were placed in another formation where, thanks to the obstructiveness and indifference displayed by its staff, they underwent what was probably the most trying time ever suffered by troops in East Africa. Space does not permit of my giving a series of specific examples of the treatment meted out to them, although such examples abound. ²

Macdonald goes on to describe how the Frontiersmen, after a long forced march, were ordered by Staff officers to remain in the heat of the sun for a brief rest and forbidden to seek shade under bushes or to go bush clearing for native troops. Flour was issued at the end of the day instead of biscuit, but they were forbidden to light fires to cook. Plain flour washed down with water is not the most palatable of meals, especially after a long march. As a reward for turning the German flank at Lukigura and taking German guns by the point of the bayonet, they were rewarded with a double rum ration – the first they had seen for two months, although rum was supposed to be issued each week. Eventually the survivors of the battalion were sent to South Africa to recuperate. Their next posting was to Lindi:

On landing at Lindi they found absolutely no preparations had been made for their reception. Though they, on previous occasions, had been required to pitch camps for Indian troops, none had been pitched for them, and at first sanitary arrangements were conspicuous by their absence, rations were short, and there was hardly a field dressing obtainable in their camp. This, it should be noted, was at a port; the condition of affairs further up country can better be imagined than described…

Thrown into action time and again against superior numbers, before who native troops had hopelessly failed, they covered themselves with honour, but at the same time suffered appalling casualties. In the end, the few who were still on their feet were gathered together and shipped off to England – in the depth of winter. ²

WO32/5826 T.N.A. Kew. One of many sketches by Capt. Angus Buchanan who was regularly used for scouting.

In another article in the newspaper Macdonald was also highly critical of the way the surviving Frontiersmen were treated on their return to England. He reported also that an armoured car brigade that arrived at Grantham Lincolnshire from Mesopotamia were forced to spend a bitterly cold night without blankets and a number later died of pneumonia, but considered that the treatment of the Frontiersmen was possibly the worst:

Orders were given to disembark at 11 a.m., but it was after 6 p.m. when the battalion got ashore. Late at night, after a long train journey, they found themselves in Barnes [south of London].

Although ample notice had been given of their arrival, nothing whatever had been done for their reception. After waiting two hours on the roadside, the men, many of them shaking with ague or semi-delirious with fever, were marched into empty houses without rations and without fuel. Early next morning they found some teashops, and there they arranged for themselves the best substitute for the welcome which had been denied them. Later in the day some rations arrived, but still no wood or coal to cook them with. In the end fuel was issued, and so were profound apologies; but the colonel merely remarked that his battalion was well used to such treatment, and a little more or less of it didn’t matter much. ³

The shameful treatment Macdonald reported was surely worse than many soldiers had to endure? Probably the fact that this treatment received such coverage by an independent journalist in a London newspaper yet again did not endear the Frontiersmen to the War Office. The Frontiersmen were always considered an irritation and, even though they had a number of highly-placed supporters ⁴, it was only in desperation that Driscoll was instructed to form the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers and lead them into action. As we saw in: www.frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/supporting-the-authorities/ the Dominions and the Colonial Office found the Frontiersmen a useful auxiliary as they did not have enough men to maintain the law in the large areas they usually had to administer. These Frontiersmen were well-trained men who cost the authorities little or nothing and who continued to train with enthusiasm. They were also extremely loyal to the King and to what between the wars was still the Empire. Time and again they proved their value. We will cover further aspects of this in future Topic pages.

The Colonial Office were expected to refer any matter that might come under a military heading to the War Office. We can and will be giving examples of the War Office instructing that the Legion of Frontiersmen were unofficial, not approved, and not to be supported or encouraged.

Bivouac.

The War Office had long memories and articles such as Macdonald’s publicly criticising in the strongest terms the way the Frontiersmen had been treated in East Africa were not going to improve their opinion of the Frontiersmen. The War Office was convinced that they were a body independent of thought and action and unwilling to tread an official line. To Frontiersmen, this attitude was grossly unfair, but an outsider might consider that, among the regular army officers at the War Office steeped in a far different culture, it was to some extent understandable.


¹ “The Globe” 6th May 1919, T. A. Macdonald writing on East Africa

² “The Globe” 13th and 14th May 1919, Macdonald writing about the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers in East Africa

³ “The Globe” 29th March 1919, Macdonald writing about the problems and poor treatment of some troops returning to Britain.

⁴ Notably Lord Cardross who in September 1914 wrote several times to the Colonial Office urging them to use the services and skills of Driscoll and the Frontiersmen. (T.N.A. CO537/28/212)


For exceptional details of the 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa we highly recommend viewing the excellent website http://www.25throyalfusiliers.co.uk/

Another website well worth studying is that of the Great War in Africa Association http://www.gweaa.com


© 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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Two Men

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Leo Amery

Topic February/March 2017. This Topic will look mainly at two men, their influence on the Legion and the Commonwealth (then the Empire) and the influence of the Legion on them.

One of the names, Lieut. Stanley Fred Shingleton, (1889-1961) will almost certainly be unknown to most readers, but the name of Leo Amery will no doubt ring a bell and may indeed be well-known to some. It may come as a surprise to most that Rt. Hon. L.C.M.S. Amery, M.P. (1873-1955) was a Frontiersman in his own constituency in Birmingham and also served as the Hon. Commandant of the Edgbaston Squadron. Capt. Owen Lewis, local Councillor, and the agent for Amery, served as a Frontiersman in that Squadron. The rank and position of “Commandant” may seem unusual, but in fact Legion military-style ranks above Captain are only a fairly recent introduction. For much of its history the Legion stuck to the original principles (rigidly enforced by Driscoll) that no Frontiersman officer should carry any such rank higher than Captain unless he had achieved that substantive rank in the army, when he could then be referred to as “Major” or “Colonel”. Lieut.-Commandants wore Major’s insignia and Commandants that of Lt-Col.

Amery was an Imperialist who served as Colonial Secretary from 1924 to 1929. He could be called the “Father of the Commonwealth” because of his work at the 1926 Imperial Conference. This resulted in the Dominions being declared “Autonomous communities…equal in status..united by a common allegiance to the Crown.” Earlier in that decade Amery was keen on the principle of “overseas settlement” (rather than using the word “emigration”) and on the development of the wealth and population of the whole British Empire. He persuaded the Cabinet to authorise a free passage to the Dominions for any ex-serviceman or woman who wished to seek a new life. In that time of unemployment and hardship, which had hit the ex-serviceman very hard, many, including Frontiersmen, re-settled and sought prosperity in countries such as Kenya, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. By the time the scheme ended in 1924, around 86,000 people had taken advantage of it. The “Frontiersman” carried regular articles extolling the virtues of life in Canada as well as Australia and New Zealand. Amery was often ahead of his time and thought that the Colonial Secretary should visit all the Dominions making personal contact and seeing things for himself. Certainly he recorded visiting Frontiersmen units when in New Zealand in January 1928, where he was made most welcome by Wanganui and by Wellington Squadrons among others. Amery was also involved in 1928/9 when the Frontiersmen were used officially to assist the British authorities in Egypt, a subject we will cover in a later Topic page. An accomplished linguist in many languages and a highly skilled mountaineer, he was equally at home dealing with generals and politicians as he was talking to the Frontiersmen at their meetings about their experiences in the Great War and their problems returning to civilian life – after all he had served at the Front himself, also in Serbia and Salonika, and had been torpedoed at sea. Like a number of other men of power and influence, he was a keen supporter of the Legion. He was a very short man and, in spite of his ease in conversations with anyone, his speeches in Parliament could be very long. It was said of him that, had he been half a foot taller and his speeches half an hour shorter, he could have served in one of the highest Offices of State such as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary or even Prime Minister.

Leo Amery is remembered today mainly for one famous speech. He achieved his finest Parliamentary hour on 7th May 1940. Things were looking bad. The Germans had just conquered Norway and the Norwegian Army had been lost. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, had given a lack-lustre speech. When the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party rose to speak, Amery’s words rang round the Chamber “Speak for England!”. Amery was a great student of Oliver Cromwell and ended his own very powerful speech by quoting the words of Cromwell to the Long Parliament, but which he addressed to Chamberlain: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”.

Chamberlain resigned and so, thanks in part to the wonderful speech of a Frontiersman and keen supporter of the Legion, the great War Leader Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Shingleton Army Photo

What about our second man, the forgotten Stanley Fred Shingleton? He had joined the Territorial Army in 1909 and in 1914, as an ex-Public School pupil (Haileybury), was considered by the opinion of the time to be an obvious candidate for a commission and was appointed to the Royal Field Artillery as Second Lieutenant. As a reliable but unspectacular officer he only received one promotion, to full Lieutenant. He was Mentioned in Despatches at the Somme but invalided home in 1917 with “neurasthenia”, which we would probably call some form of shell-shock. The treatment given to officers was better than the rank and file and by the end of 1917 he was fit enough to be posted to Egypt and Palestine with the R.H.A. within the Anzac Division of the Desert Mounted Corps. Early in the 1920s he had joined the Legion of Frontiersmen where he became an enthusiastic, although not especially active, Legion officer. Like Leo Amery, he had the gift of writing, although there is no record of him having any books published. He was known as an excellent descriptive writer for his contributions to The Frontiersman magazine.

What caused Shingleton to join the Legion? The answer to this would apply to many others who joined between the Wars and steadily swelled the membership. This was a reason that Amery, having also suffered the horrors of front-line warfare, would have understood. He would have had great sympathy for these men. Men had come home from the War, often to find that their pre-war jobs were no longer open to them: that the economic situation was such that there were too many men chasing a few vacancies and that employers did not want men who were disabled even in a minor way by their wartime service. Who would want a man who still had malaria in his blood from service in the tropics and who could suddenly have to take days off due to an unexpected recurrence? Job security was non-existent and an employer could hire and fire at will. Those who had not been to war for any reason and had no “baggage” were far more in demand, increasing the bitterness of men who found that a row of medals, even gallantry awards, meant nothing to a prospective employer. Joining the Legion gave them a sense of purpose and a return to the comradeship and security of a uniformed organisation without the horrors of war. At Legion meetings they could share tales of their experiences, which acted as some therapy for their problems and nightmares. The Legion also did its best to see if jobs could be found for the Frontiersmen who needed them. The problem for the Legion was that many men found it difficult to spare the subscriptions and the Legion was permanently in debt. Thanks to the very wealthy Treasurer and, after 1925, “Acting” Cdt.-General Burchardt-Ashton, the Legion was several times saved from folding due to financial problems. In spite of this, Burchardt-Ashton was not really popular, as opposed to his predecessor, Col. Tamplin. Burchardt-Ashton had not fought in the War as he was too old, nor had he been in the Boer War, like Tamplin, as he was in Hawaii making his fortune. Few knew that Burchardt-Ashton’s son and heir had been killed in action in France.

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LOF Overseas

Shingleton was finding it difficult to gain permanent employment, relying on a succession of short-term jobs. He was fortunate that he had a small private income as his father had been a wealthy gentleman, but, as with many Victorian gentlemen, had a number of children looking for some support from his estate. He had tried a couple of times to get back into the army, but his medical history went against him, also his comments in his letters to the War Office that he was finding the stress of civilian employment very difficult. Shingleton was one of many who contributed war tales to “The Frontiersman” magazine over many years. We re-print much of one here, to show something of what just one man of the Frontiersmen had suffered. Note that the dark humour of the British soldier shows through at the end:

It was at the Battle of Loos in 1915 that I experienced a series of events that will live for ever in my mind – memories of hardship, sufferings and endurance incomprehensible to any but those who fought in the trenches. How can one ever forget that terrible suspense before an attack, that waiting for “zero hour” with the trenches a mass of glittering steel and brave-hearted Britons – a mass divided into two distinct types of soldiers; first the old soldier who has been “over the top” before – his type forms the majority; he stands in the trench drinking his ration of rum, joking, laughing, and trying to cheer up that other type of Tommy, the young soldier, the teetotaller, who, refusing his “tot” of rum, sits huddled up in a corner of the trench, his face white, his knees shaking. Picture to yourself his feelings, accentuated the more by the cheerfulness of the old soldiers around him, and you will realise what mental anguish, what “hell on earth,” that young soldier is passing through. Do not look upon him as a coward; he is not; he is amongst the bravest of the brave, for at the appointed hour he will, with set jaw, charge forward with his comrades, but in harder circumstances since he has had no stimulant to stir his blood and so continues in that state of “hell on earth” until the bayonet begins its ghoulish work and the bloodshed makes him “see red,” or in other words until the devil of war takes possession of him…

Later, whilst our trenches were being subjected to a terrible bombardment, there was a terrific explosion and I knew no more. Some time later I regained consciousness only to find myself buried alive I knew not where; it seemed like a ghastly dream, a dream from which I could not wake; I gently moved my limbs and felt myself to see if I was really awake and still in the land of the living, and then, feeling stifled, I suddenly realised the horrible truth that I was, in reality, buried alive. I commenced to push and claw frantically with my hands in an effort to remove the broken sandbags, earth, timber, and still warm jagged splinters of iron shell which surrounded me, and eventually to my great relief saw the sky above me and was able to breathe fresh air again. Being free from wounds, I was able to crawl out of that part of the trench, which had, I then discovered, been battered beyond recognition, the parapet having been blown clean away, leaving the ground exposed, as I soon learned when a bullet whistled by my head and forced me to seek safety by crawling on my stomach to the nearest trench…

No wonder these men suffered dreadful nightmares for the rest of their lives!

It was in the vicinity of Bullecourt during March 1917 when I was responsible for keeping the whole of the infantry of my Division supplied with ammunition, that a very curious situation arose in connection with which I was recommended to be “court-martialled” and “Mentioned in Dispatches” for the same act. Our infantry had made an attack for which I had supplied them with large quantities of grenades and rifle ammunition, and on demanding further supplies from Divisional headquarters to replenish my stock I was told, to my amazement, that there was no ammunition immediately available as owing to a blunder by a staff officer at the Base the ammunition train had not brought any supplies for our Division for two days. I sent a telegram to Corps H.Q. but still no ammunition was forthcoming, and as a heavy counter attack was expected, the situation was now becoming critical, so I turned out three wagons and rode off with them post-haste in search of ammunition.

Coming across an ammunition dump beside a railway siding with a sergeant-major in charge, I at once gave him orders to fill my three wagons to their greatest capacity; he began to explain that the ammunition was not for our Corps. I however told him to obey my orders, which were urgent, and giving him a receipt for the goods taken, I rode off with my three wagons as fast as they could go and delivered one load to each Brigade just in the nick of time, as their supplies were running short and the Germans were counter-attacking in a very determined effort to drive us back. It was a near thing, and my wagons were greeted with a cheer on their arrival, for that supply of ammunition enabled the infantry to beat off the attack and continue to hold the line which must otherwise have given way.

Thus at the last critical moment did I keep my promise to the infantry -“to keep them supplied with ammunition at all costs.”

On the following day I heard from my Divisional headquarters that the General commanding the Corps whose ammunition I had taken had been calling me all the names under the sun, had reported me to my Corps commander and asked for me to be court-martialled. My own Divisional General, in defending my action, pointed out that the ammunition was not urgently required by the other Corps which was not engaged in the counter-attack, whereas to our own Division it was a matter of life and death, and that for my prompt action and initiative on that occasion, which had saved the Division from being driven back, my name had been recommended for “Mention in Dispatches.” It was eventually decided, after much discussion, to compromise by giving me neither the “court-martial” nor the “Mention in Dispatches.”

A few days later I received a request to return the “borrowed” ammunition to its rightful owners, in reply to which I pointed out that it would first be necessary to collect the bulk of the bullets from the bodies of the German dead which lay scattered in front of our trenches.¹

His action in “borrowing” the ammunition was something which the great Lt.-Col. Driscoll would have expected and approved of from any Frontiersman.

Did these two men ever meet? It is doubtful, although quite possible.

Amery’s later life was to involve the deepest sorrow. His second son, Jack, who nowadays would have been diagnosed with mental illness and treated for it, travelled to Germany and was tried at the end of the war for treason and executed. He attempted, completely unsuccessfully, to recruit disaffected British prisoners-of-war to fight with the Germans against the Russians. His proposed name for this unit? The Legion of St. George! No doubt he had heard his father speak about the Legion of Frontiersmen. Also Jack Amery had been friends with the unreliable “Count” Johnston-Noad, who for a time in the 1930s commanded the Legion Maritime Command.² We know little of Shingleton’s later life. He is recorded as living in a succession of rooms in what appear to be boarding houses in west London until he died in 1961. As far as we know he never married. His engagement to a Miss Dorothy Knox was announced in “The Frontiersman” in May 1926, but this seems to have come to nothing. In 1938 a Miss Davidson of Edinburgh wrote to the War Office seeking information about him as they had apparently been friendly until his letters to her ceased during the First War. He had told her that he expected to be somewhat deaf for the rest of his life; a regular problem for men working in close proximity to the big guns.

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Field of Remembrance

As a final point, the photo above shows a disabled soldier from the First War still selling wooden crosses and collecting for his old comrades in 1938 at the Field of Remembrance in London. Frontiersmen always attend that November ceremony (as do members of the Royal family) every year and will annually continue to pay their respects there for those Frontiersmen who lost their lives fighting in two wars. It is worth noting that there was no free National Health Service in Britain between the wars, so this old soldier could not get a prosthetic leg in spite of his sacrifice. He had to make do with a pair of wooden crutches.


¹ Taken from The Frontiersman, November 1926, p.76. Another article Shingleton wrote for the magazine was of his experiences as a F.O.O. (Forward Observation Officer). This position directing the guns was of the greatest danger and one needing great skill and courage.

² An excellent biography of Leo Amery and his sons is David Faber’s “Speaking for England” (The Free Press, 2005) No mention of the Legion of course, but there seldom is in such books. Even when the Legion is mentioned in passing, it is usually inaccurate.


© 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, Legion of Frontiersmen | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What Caused the Rift?

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Canadian Division badge 1939 onwards

Topic December 2016 / January 2017. Seeking the causes of the breakaway of the Canadian Division:  a more complicated story than at first seems likely.

As has been stated before, the mistakes of the past can be made beneficial, if they are noted and remedied. (From the Canadian Division magazine December 1966, Commandant’s message.)

Surprisingly, the seeds of the problem can be traced back all of thirteen years to the death in 1925 of Cdt-General Tamplin. Colonel Herbert Tamplin was a much respected Cdt-General who was regarded with affection by the Frontiersmen. He had been an unspectacular middle-ranking officer in the Boer War. His great success was bringing in Lord Loch as President of the Legion. Loch was a man of great influence with friends in very high places and he did a lot for the Frontiersmen. Bringing in Lord Loch may have been the greatest action Tamplin did for L.O.F., however his steady hand at the helm when the Legion was trying to re-build after the losses of WW1 was of almost equal importance.

When Tamplin died there was no obvious successor. The Legion treasurer, Arthur Burchardt-Ashton, took on the position of Acting Cdt-General but refused to accept any substantive Legion rank higher than Legion captain. Burchardt-Ashton was “Acting C-G” for the whole of his time in office. His great advantage was that he was seriously wealthy and many times funded L.O.F. out of a desperate financial plight. The Legion subs were very low as the working man could not afford much, so he subsidised it very quietly and himself paid some of its outstanding debts. But, and it is a big but, Burchardt-Ashton had no campaign medals to wear as during the Boer War he had been in Hawaii and he was too old to serve overseas in the First War. His favoured assistant was H.C. Edwards-Carter about whom there were split opinions and who also had no war medals to wear. They were trying to lead men who had faced, and had seen, death at first hand.

(For information on Edwards-Carter see: The Frontiersman who wrote to the King)

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Cdt General Morton CBE

In 1927 those unhappy with the leadership of Burchardt-Ashton and Edwards-Carter (who during much of the war had been involved in munitions manufacture in England) broke away to form the “Independent Overseas Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen.” Although they had enough articulate members to become organising officers, they did not attract many of the rank and file Frontiersmen. Their terms of membership were very strict. The fighting soldier had a poor opinion of men who had earned good money back in Britain making munitions, when other men had faced death every day.

Lord Loch and the powerful men on the Legion Grand Council must have been horrified by the turn of events, especially when after much consideration and lobbying the application was made in 1933 for a Royal Charter. The Legion had many powerful supporters including Lord Derby and the Duke of Portland. To the disgust of the Grand Council, I.O.C. filed an official protest and a counter-petition, making some strong complaints about the Legion leadership and senior officers.

Brigadier E. Morton appeared suddenly out of the blue in 1932 as an officer in the Legion’s London Command. Our belief is that Lord Loch asked the W.O. for a retired officer as a safe pair of hands for the L.O.F. Although not an official body, they were called on regularly as Royal bodyguards. Loch would have been concerned at the depth of feelings about Burchardt-Ashton and Edwards-Carter. No doubt there were rumours that Edwards-Carter had been forced in 1914 to resign his commission as a captain in the Royal Warwickshire Regt. due to his bouncing cheques. Lord Loch, as a retired Major-General would have easily discovered that the rumours were true.

(See also: Friends in High Places)

The death of Edwards-Carter in 1934 solved part of the problem enabling Burchardt-Ashton (who was by then well into his eighties) to be ‘promoted’ to an invented position. Nothing was ever really said about the number of times Burchardt-Ashton used his fortune to save L.O.F. from bankruptcy. I.O.C. had to set their membership fees far higher at a guinea (£1.1shilling) which would have been almost half the take home pay for a working man’s week, effectively stopping many ordinary chaps moving to I.O.C.. Minutes of the first annual meeting of I.O.C. showed their world-wide membership as considerably less then fifty. Many of their units consisted of nothing more than the organising officer. The 1934 funeral of Edwards-Carter brought together representatives of both the original Legion and I.O.C. Discussions were held and what was probably the great Driscoll’s last letter before he died pleaded for the warring factions to come back together. This they did, and Founder Roger Pocock agreed to again take up the standard of recruiting. In 1935 he embarked on a world tour of as many Frontiersmen units as possible. This brought great publicity to the Legion wherever he went and much success. Shortly after his return to Britain, something for which he had always hoped, the affiliation of the Legion to the R.C.M.P. was announced. Not only that, but in Britain the Frontiersmen were appointed alongside St. John Ambulance to be responsible for all anti-gas warfare training. The horrors of gas in the First War were still well in the minds of the population. (See: GAS!!)

The Frontiersmen had also been called for to be on duty at the funeral of King George V.

A representative detachment of Frontiersmen was invited to participate in the funeral of His Late Majesty. It was allotted a position at Hyde Park Corner and, being asked to assist the police to keep the crowds from invading the route, was able to render some slight service for which the Legion was subsequently thanked by the Asst. Commissioner of Police. (The Frontiersman magazine, February 1936).

This prestigious position at Hyde Park Corner would not have been awarded to the Legion without authority from the Royal household, probably the new King Edward VIII, who when he was Prince of Wales had enjoyed the services of the Frontiersmen as Guard of Honour and even as bodyguards. (See: From the Hangman’s Noose to Royal Bodyguards)

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Col Dunn OBE CIS and later Cdt General

Another reliable retired army officer in the person of Colonel E.C. Dunn suddenly appeared on the Legion’s membership and became Morton’s Chief-of-Staff. The problem with this, although it was not recognised at the time, was that you now had a powerful body of trained men all around the old British Empire with the Commandant-General in a position to give orders with no real challenges possible to this. It was not until the 1970s when there were worries (unjustified) of political infiltration that what had become the Ministry of Defence insisted that the Legion must be governed by an elected Council of Frontiersmen representing all units around the world. Morton would be remembered today as the man who steered through the negotiations to re-unite L.O.F., had it not been for his ill-judged action over Canada when he acted as if he was still in the army and could give an executive order that would be obeyed without question. L.O.F. has never worked like that. As it is, Morton is remembered as the one who caused such bitterness in Canada that it has taken nearly eighty years to heal the wounds. There is evidence that Morton was capable of impulsive actions. In July 1939, by overtaking very rashly when driving his car, he caused a serious road accident. He could easily have caused death or serious injury and was prosecuted for his bad driving and found guilty.

What of Canada? What was happening there? Canada had suffered terribly in the First War and a very high percentage of those enthusiastic Frontiersmen who volunteered at the beginning of the war did not return. Those who did return were damaged in health and wished to concentrate on rebuilding their lives. Many did not wish to see a uniform again. Considerable efforts were made around the country to re-start units, but these attempts were often made by older men. In the mid-1920s a Frontiersman from Croydon near London, Larry B. Blain, emigrated to Alberta and set about attempting to re-form a Frontiersmen unit. He managed to recruit the dynamic Louis Scott, DCM, who was ex-P.P.C.L.I. and had been post-war commanding officer of the Edmonton Regiment. From 1929 Scott had considerable success in building the Legion, mainly in Alberta and Saskatchewan. (See: Legion of Frontiersmen in Canada Timeline (Part 5))

In spite of his success, what Scott could not solve was the perennial rivalry between Western and Eastern Canada, and also, to a lesser extent, the independent spirit of coastal British Columbia. Another success for Scott was the granting of a Dominion Charter, something Imperial Headquarters had not been able to achieve in Britain. What Scott did not do was to involve anyone from outside Alberta in the official application, not necessarily a wise diplomatic move. He did refer his application to I.H.Q. in London. They seem to have given it no more than a cursory glance without studying it deeply and passed it back as approved. They then forgot they had approved it, which was another mistake.

Canadian Division began to recruit successfully in Eastern Canada, especially Quebec, in the mid nineteen-thirties and believed their numbers to be greater than Western Canada. Whether or not this was true cannot be proved, but it certainly grated with the members that they were responsible to Edmonton for everything. The commanding officer in Quebec, Capt. Maurice Fitzgerald of Loretteville was a very enthusiastic Frontiersman, but his military record has not been fully uncovered. He is believed to have been an engineer officer in the First War, for some reason in the United States Navy. In civilian life he managed a business owned by his father-in-law selling items such as snow-shoes and canoes, manufactured by a local First Nations tribe. In 1935 the Founder had undertaken a recruiting World Tour for the Frontiersmen. The final leg took him across Canada from west to east. As well as visiting many Frontiersmen units, Roger Pocock met many in authority in Canada, especially in the R.C.M.P. where he was still held in respect, as he had never ceased to champion the Force.

In the discussions he had with Mounted Police officials during his stay in Canada, Roger [Pocock] recommended closer cooperation between the Mounted Police and the Legion, and he explained how his well-trained and well-run Legion could be a valuable auxiliary to the Mounted Police. The Frontiersmen in Canada were quite convinced that they owed a great deal to Roger’s negotiations, which enabled them to announce with great pride a year later:

Affiliation. Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The following extract from General Order No. 695, Part 1, week ending 26-9-36, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is published for the information of all members:

By Authority of the Honourable, the Minister in Control of the Force, The Legion of Frontiersmen is hereby affiliated with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in the same manner as Units of the Canadian Militia are affiliated with regiments of His Majesty’s Forces in the United Kingdom.

(from “Outrider of Empire”, Geoffrey A Pocock, University of Alberta Press 2008 p312-3)

In 1939 the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada called the Frontiersmen into action as a successful and efficient back-up to the R.C.M.P. This was to be the high point, as in October 1939 the R.C.M.P. terminated the affiliation due to the internal squabbles and divisions within the Legion.

What had happened to cause this? Louis Scott was a strong leader, but that was not enough. He was not in a position to travel across the country to west and east – a time-consuming and costly exercise in those days. There were also political rivalries between the Prairie Provinces and Eastern Canada. Although they were happy to have orders from their Imperial Headquarters in London, the Eastern Canada Frontiersmen objected to being commanded by a man who they had never met and who was from a Prairie Province. As to British Columbia, the Frontiersmen there considered themselves closer to the British Mother Country than any other Canadian Province. Until evidence came to hand, the accepted version of events was that of Scott’s Frontiersmen published in their own Canadian journals. It was claimed that Capt. Fitzgerald of Eastern Canada travelled to London where he met Cdt.-General Morton and persuaded Morton that Canada was too big to be run by one man. Morton agreed and directed that Canada should immediately be split into two Commands, Western Command under Scott and Eastern Command under Fitzgerald. It now seems certain that Fitzgerald himself never visited London.

What did happen was that “V” Sqn British Columbia was commanded by a Legion Captain (Major) H T Guest, the most senior Legion officer in B.C.. Guest was a relative of the very wealthy Guest family who made their money in iron and steel in South Wales. He was a stockbroker and exporter who often visited England. On a visit to London Guest made an appointment and called into HQ to meet Morton, bringing a letter from Scott as he had stopped over in Edmonton on his journey. Morton asked him a number of searching questions about CHQ in Edmonton and obtained Guest’s opinion.. Guest reported on what he knew and what he had seen. Afterwards he considered that he had been set up as the sacrificial goat and would get the blame for the decision to split Canada’s Frontiersmen into two Commands. He promptly resigned from the Legion. Morton’s big mistake was to carry this out arbitrarily without first consulting with Scott. In spite of the fact that he had served as a young man for a few years in the Canadian N.W.M.P., his many years as a senior army officer had persuaded Morton that he only needed to hand out orders. He never really accepted that Frontiersmen can be led, but not ordered. What Scott and his supporters did not know was that the R.C.M.P. had, very unofficially, suggested to IHQ that they were unhappy with the activities of some of Scott’s senior staff. At that time right-wing political views were not uncommon in Alberta and some of Scott’s men came close to being political in Legion uniform, which was totally forbidden in the Legion. IHQ had also received a letter from the highly-respected Larry Blain. According to letters in our files two of Scott’s senior men, who we will not name here, XXXXXXX and YYYYYY were alleged to be habitual drunkards, and even to be fighting-drunks in uniform. Frontiersmen serving in these two men’s Alberta Squadrons were considered by some to be of a poor type and also heavy drinkers. Blain wrote:

In Edmonton we have four Squadrons…The O.C. of …. Squadron is not a fit person to wear the uniform of the Legion of Frontiersmen. There is not a Parade or meeting that doesn’t turn out to be a drinking bout. This while in uniform…We have Capt. ….., who is a Drunkard and is despised by everyone who knows him. There is [sic] very few people who have not seen him at some place making an exhibition of himself…since I have mentioned the R.C.M. Police I might state that although they are proud to be associated with us in other parts of Canada, they do not think very highly of the majority of Frontiersmen here.

In a letter to a British Columbia Frontiersman, seen also by IHQ in London, Blain wrote:

He [Scott] re-wrote the Constitution, which was passed at a H.Q. meeting in spite of protests by members elected by the local Squadrons and by myself. Owing to many protests by members this was brought up at the annual dinner, held months after, and was voted on by a show of hands, the majority present being drunk…This “constitution” places the control of the Canadian Division entirely in the hands of a few members of Canadian H.Q. The Charter was obtained without the knowledge or consent of IHQ [sic] and without the sanction of the members at an AGM and practically places the ownership of the Legion and all its assets in the hands of three men – Lt.Col. Scott, ……. and 2/Lieut, ……., neither of the latter two men having seen any service.”

Scott was a clever man who was able to run rings around Fitzgerald and his supporters. Scott had gained the Dominion Charter mentioned by Blain, but this nearly turned the Canadian Frontiersmen into a private company. IHQ had indeed been told of the Charter, but had not been sharp enough to demand details in advance. Refusing to accept the division of the Legion in Canada, Scott broke his Canadian Division away from IHQ and used the Charter to prevent Eastern Canada from using the title Legion of Frontiersmen. The Canadian Secretary of State eventually told both parties to concentrate on the War effort. When the War ended a new attempt would be made to resolve the problem. The Legion President, a highly distressed Lord Loch, had involved his many influential friends without success, but he indicated that after the War he would make a special trip to Canada to seek a solution personally. Unfortunately he died in August 1942. At the end of the War Britain was exhausted and the British Frontiersmen needed to concentrate all their efforts on rebuilding the Legion there. And so the dispute continued to simmer.

Had Morton consulted Roger Pocock early on with the full story, he could have contacted his many friends in Canada and probably resolved the matter. Morton did not; Pocock only heard Scott’s side and angrily supported him. A sad example of arrogance of one man at the head causing untold harm to an organisation. Had so many mistakes not been made, the Legion might currently still be proudly claiming that affiliation to the R.C.M.P..

Secure in his position and knowing that the Frontiersmen were being called upon all around the world to assist the local authorities, Morton made an executive decision as if he was still a serving army Brigadier. By that one mistake, all his successes as Cdt-General would be ignored and his time at the head of the Frontiersmen would be remembered by that one decision, which was to have repercussions that lasted for almost eighty years. He had forgotten, or ignored as unimportant, the Dominion Charter of Canadian Division, which was under the control of Scott and his senior staff in Edmonton.

Fitzgerald began a recruiting drive which was highly successful with men who did not wish to be beholden to Edmonton, Alberta, but to their own region of Canada and from there only to Imperial Headquarters in London. Morton’s staff asked for the Canadian Charter to be passed to his headquarters, claiming that the request for the Charter had not been authorised. Scott immediately produced evidence that it had indeed been authorised and also copies of letters granting him total control over the Frontiersmen in Canada. The R.C.M.P., who had thought that London HQ had control of the Charter looked on at the infighting with horror. Because of their concern at some of Scott’s officers, behind the scenes both they and the Government at Ottawa were quietly supporting Fitzgerald and advising him. In the end, matters became so bad that the R.C.M.P. could only withdraw the official affiliation of the Legion, although they still made unofficial use of favoured Frontiersmen units. An additional problem was that, as Scott had control of the Charter, he made it clear to Fitzgerald that he would happily make use of the law to prevent Fitzgerald’s Eastern Canada Frontiersmen using the title of Legion of Frontiersmen and wearing the Legion badges. Once again, Fitzgerald consulted the R.C.M.P. and the Government and it was decided that the name would have to be changed. So, Eastern Canada Command became the “Corps of Imperial Frontiersmen”‘, but still affiliated to and serving under the Imperial Headquarters of the Legion of Frontiersmen in London.

It is not generally known that the title “Corps of Imperial Frontiersmen” was in fact suggested by the R.C.M.P. and that their Dominion Charter was eased through with the help of both the R.C.M.P. and the Canadian Government. For very many years there was both a Canadian Division of the Legion of Frontiersmen, now independent from L.O.F. worldwide, and a Corps of Imperial Frontiersmen working in Canada. There were still disputes over territory and the whole affair showed no credit on the Frontiersmen. On 4th November 1938, Colonel Dunn, Morton’s Chief-of-Staff, wrote to Fitzgerald:

…The whole trouble is that we were ill-advised both in not having consulted Scott in the first place, which really mere courtesy demanded quite apart from the question whether he would or would not agree in the re-organization, and also in the matter of the Dominion Charter…

The Commandant-General is much displeased with the tone of your cables, making all allowances for brevity. While he will support you, as far as possible, a situation has arisen for which you are partly responsible…

The words “ill-advised” lack accuracy as it is not thought that Morton took any advice before making his decision. At the 1949 General Meeting of the Legion of Frontiersmen in London, the following appears in the minutes:

Col. Dunn, Chief of Imperial Staff, followed with a review of the past ten years; a sorry story culminating in his reading a letter from the Commandant-General (Brig. Morton) announcing his resignation, a retirement which was accepted without comment or protest. And so another leader of the Legion of Frontiersmen passed from our ranks into the shadows of obscurity.

Not “obscurity”, but in fact to be remembered sadly not for his several successes, but for one major error of judgment, which was to have such serious consequences that they were last for more than a lifetime. At the 1950 annual meeting: A motion was then carried that an Executive Council as was functioning before Gen. Morton wiped it out should be elected.


This attempt at explaining a painful event in Legion history is based on files of HQ letters etc. discovered only in recent years. We have concentrated on the errors of one man, rather than other contributory factors, as the errors of a Commandant-General with supreme executive powers were central to the story. Nowadays no one person can wield such powers in the Frontiersmen and because of that it is a better, even if smaller, organization.


© 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 Canada, Frontiersmen, History, Latest Topic, Legion of Frontiersmen | Leave a comment

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 http://www.frontiersmenhistorian.info 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: http://www.25throyalfusiliers.co.uk 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:

RACE RIOTS SHOCK US CITY

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, http://www.oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83025138/1914-06-20/ed-1/seq-1/
The Frontiersman,June 1922, p.31. See also F.S. Crafford, Jan Smuts, a biography, (Doubleday Doran & Co 1944) 190-198
http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/71806425
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


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