An Unusual Method of Self-Defence

bxp22839hSurprising Snippets 3.  In its early days the London Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen had a number of acclaimed and highly-skilled swordsmen among its ranks. One of these was Capt. Graham Hope who wrote an article in 1907 for the magazine of the Northern Command:

The large majority of us mercifully pass our lives without ever undergoing the necessity of defending them, and the number of those who have to go through even the mildest of “scrapes” is very small…

Captain Hope’s suggestion for the most suitable article for the Edwardian gentleman’s defence against any cut-throat, footpad or robber was a surprising one:

Probably no item of everyday equipment seems so essentially peaceful as an umbrella…

Some of Hope’s instructions on the way to utilise an umbrella against an attacker are very violent and, if followed to the letter, would result in severe injury – or worse – to the assailant. He does suggest one less violent defence:

…A safer place still, if you can make sure of hitting it [with the point], is the “mark”, i.e. about the middle of the waistcoat, or where that would be if he had one. And as regards defence, pure and simple, though an umbrella snaps easily when used for striking, it has great resisting power against a blow aimed against yourself, as the ribs and covering form a cushion which effectively breaks the force of an attack…

Hope then goes on to explain how an overcoat can be used as an additional form of defence.

I doubt it would be wise to make the London Police aware of Hope’s full and detailed article on the use of the umbrella and how it could be lethal. The Police might then decide to arrest every bowler-hatted City gentleman carrying an umbrella for being in possession of an offensive weapon!

© 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, Surprising Snippets, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Naval Frontiersmen Who Fought on Land

Armoured Train

Topic October / November 2017.  It has always been something of a puzzle as to what happened to the men of the famous Manchester Troop of the Legion who served with the 3rd Belgian Lancers after the “British Colonial Horse” was disbanded. Any research has not been assisted by the fact that most of the men’s surnames were far from uncommon. We do know that Robin Everingham was wounded at the Battle of the Yser. On recovery from his wounds he joined the Welsh Horse which, incidentally, was formed by a Frontiersman.¹ He fought at Gallipoli where he was killed by a sniper on 10th December 1915.² Bertram Davisson was commissioned in the Royal Garrison Artillery and survived the War, but not for long. He was married at the beginning of the War and no doubt his wife was relieved that he was one of those who came through it without serious injury. Just before the Armistice he was gassed and with damaged lungs he was one of the many who succumbed to the great influenza epidemic, which killed him leaving his young wife as yet another grieving widow. Charles Edward Critchlow was commissioned in the Manchester Regiment. He was killed on the first day of the second Battle of Passchendaele, 26th October 1917. He was one of seven officers of his battalion killed that day. His remains were never found. He was probably one of many whose bodies sank into the awful mud. He is remembered at the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium. He never got to marry his sweetheart. All he could do was to mention her in his will and leave her also grieving.

Royal Naval Division

We have known for some time that Capt. Henry (Harry) Nowell who commanded the B.C.H. afterwards joined the Royal Naval Division where he served as an officer in the Drake Battalion. Another of the men, Thomas B. Balliol Lamb also served in the Royal Naval Division, but in his case initially with the armoured trains. The Royal Naval Division were in a good position to recruit the men of the Manchester Troop as they were fighting in Belgium at the time. As to the armoured trains:

Since Lord Fisher invented the first modern armoured train in the campaign against Arabic Pasha, British naval men had specialized in this instrument of warfare. In Flanders they drove to the assistance of Belgian, French and British troops wherever there was a track available for their queerly coloured armoured locomotives and tracks. A British naval officer usually commanded, with expert gunners and Belgian sharpshooters on the train.³

The camouflaged trains were held, manned, under steam, and with guns loaded a few miles away from any action. Those unexpected guns arriving on rails silenced many an enemy battery and the trains had passed before the Germans could get their range. The armoured trains suffered virtually no casualties.

It is thought that other members of the Manchester Troop also other Frontiersmen joined the Royal Naval Division. Why was that?

Another type of new army officer was, I believe, more fully represented in the Naval Division than elsewhere: the man who had knocked about and seen life in the raw, planted tea in Ceylon, and daggers in recalcitrant cannibals, built bridges in India, and blown them up in South America. This kind of officer was apt to be unduly affronted by the luxury of a sleeping bag, or the elaborate fittings of a dug-out.⁴

And not necessarily just officers. The Royal Naval Division was very different to the army. It was formed to utilise the reserve Naval men who could well have been stokers or working as Tyneside miners. The R.N.D. insisted on being Royal Navy with Navy ranks, terms and traditions, also:

…there was no false barrier created between the officer and the N.C.O.. Each knew exactly what the other had learnt in order to qualify for his position, and each, in this way, got confidence in himself and the other.⁵

Sounds very like the Frontiersmen.

Walter Kilroy Harris

One such Frontiersman who gravitated to the Royal Naval Division was Australian Walter Kilroy Harris. As with many Frontiersmen, some of his peacetime exploits cannot be verified. From 1912-1913, Kilroy Harris was believed to have been working as a journalist in England, and was also affiliated with the Australian government’s immigration office. Harris received a Legion commission as a captain in the Australian Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen. His popular 1913 book “Outback in Australia” was re-printed several times. It tells of his journeys across that vast land. His travels included a ride of 800 miles on horseback from Sydney to Brisbane; a cattle-droving trip of 1700 miles; a journey of 2400 miles in a one horse sulky from Sydney to Adelaide and back; and a drive of over 2000 miles from Sydney to Broken Hill and back. He became the youngest Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In December 1914 he was on his way from Australia to report in to Legion headquarters in London when, according to him, he was asked to remain in San Francisco to carry out secret work for the War Office and then carry despatches across America to Washington. We say “according to him” as we will later discover that, although his bravery was without question, his claims were not always to be trusted. He was no different in that respect to many a Frontiersman. On arriving in England he joined King Edward’s Horse, another natural destination for Frontiersmen, but within ten days he was granted a commission in the Drake Battalion of the Royal Naval Division and sent to their training depot at Crystal Palace, London.

Outback in Australia

The Crystal Palace depot had been formed in mid-September [1914] to take the flood of recruits intended for the Army but for whom no place could be found, and it had as its nucleus of senior officers a number of R.N.V.R. Captains and Commanders, whose seniority, in age and infirmities, precluded them from service elsewhere, or, in effect, from any service at all…

…the regular service element [in training] was provided by the Royal Marines, who combined very great efficiency with the more free and easy manners of the Ward Room. They were, of course, used to serving with officers and men who did not belong to their Corps, and were not shocked into defensive silence by the spectacle of people behaving “differently”…the strength of the Division lay in the fact that we had no barrack-square training to drill us into conventional shapes. By the necessity of the case we had to be taught primarily to teach others.⁶

All ideal for the views and ethics of a Frontiersman.

Walter Kilroy Harris was a very brave and effective officer. He is believed to have been one of only three men to win the D.S.O. as well as the Military Cross three times.

“Captain Harris was decorated with the Military Cross for his services at Beaucourt-sur- Ancre in November 1916 “for conspicuous gallantry in action. He led a raid against an enemy machine-gun with great gallantry, capturing the gun and turning it on an enemy. Later, he led a small bombing party, and was instrumental in capturing 102 prisoners.” The official account of the award of the first bar to the M.C., which was earned at Gavrelle, near Arras, is as follows: “For conspicuous gallantry during operations. Owing to the enemy’s wire being very thick the situation during an advance became critical and heavy casualties were occurring in his company. With great bravery he kept cheering his men on, and when [they were] through the wire organized bombing parties to protect the flanks. His conduct throughout was magnificent.” The second bar to his M.C. was for work at Passchendaele, Belgium, “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. His daring reconnaissance and thorough preparations contributed largely to the success of night operations, resulting in the capture of two enemy posts and three machine guns. By his daring and initiative he was the means of establishing our line on a commanding position.” The D.S.O. was awarded for operations near Cambrai, for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When the enemy attacked under intense bombardment and captured his trench, he directed repeated bombing attacks until he had regained half the trench and established a block, which was hotly contested all day. Towards evening he led a bombing attack along both sides of the trench, which regained the whole position and resulted in the capture of five enemy machine-guns. Throughout the day he led his company with great courage and determination under heavy fire, and set them a magnificent example. It is entirely due to his efforts that the position was re-established.” ⁷

He was wounded on four separate occasions (three times slightly wounded, remained at duty), and was once slightly gassed. His last wound, a bullet in the head, rendered him temporarily unfit for active service. Towards the end of the War he was sent over to America on special lecturing duties. This is another small puzzle. He was not the only British officer given those duties. The War Office was keen to send recovering officers to the U.S.A. on what was basically a propaganda mission. One R.N.D. officer who applied but was not successful was Douglas F. Jerrold (1893-1964). Jerrold wrote the official history of the Royal Naval Division in the Great War. Other than that work, Jerrold’s writings are ignored by most academics as his political views were very right-wing. He was a devout Catholic and also a supporter of Franco and one of the leaders of the expedition to bring Franco back from exile, in which he involved Hugh Pollard – see: Tasting Adventure and Revolution for details. Although he was politically very much a right-wing Tory, Jerrold held a poor opinion of the inhabitants of the War Office and the “Colonel Blimp” types often commanding Divisions and Corps in the Army.⁸ He was friends with several Frontiersmen, notably Hugh Pollard, but never joined the Legion. His views and interests were too political.

The request for officers for America stipulated that nobody under the rank of captain could apply. Jerrold held the rank of lieutenant R.N.V.R., which was the equivalent rank to captain in the Army.

“Your name?

I gave it.

Your rank?


(Explosion during the course of which the Army Order was held up to my nose). Can’t you read?

A little, sir. (This was, of course, a tactical blunder but irresistible).

I don’t understand you. Are you, or are you not, a captain?

Not an army captain, sir

Very well, then, are you a captain in the navy?

No, Sir.

(Triumphantly, but still gallantly), That’s what I’ve been trying to explain to you. You’re not a captain at all and not eligible for this appointment.⁹

In spite of Jerrold attempting to explain equivalent ranks, the desk officer would not budge. The order said “captains” and he could not budge from that. Walter Kilroy Harris was also a lieutenant, R.N.V.R., but he held the Legion of Frontiersmen rank of captain, so he may well have used that rank to satisfy the needs of the official order and the desk-bound senior officer carrying out interviews.

On returning to Australia after the war, Harris leased a parcel of land from the Australian Settlement Board. Australia was not the only country to offer land to returned soldiers. Canada had a similar scheme and we know that Fort Scott in Alberta had originally been soldier settlement land, but unsuitable to farm profitably. Harris was to show that although he had been a brave soldier and a successful officer like a number of Frontiersmen he was not averse to making a few dollars by law-breaking.

“Harris treated Soldier Settlement as his own cash creation scheme. Before breaking the lease, Captain Harris sold, without permission from the Department, a mare, dray, and harness. The purchaser, Mr. Gorman, claimed he paid Harris £20 cash, and had thrown ‘a cow and calf, valued at £10’ into the bargain. And that was not the worst of it: ‘It would appear that Harris, not content with having fraudently [sic] used the £20 in cash, produced a receipt for one Jersey cow and calf at £10, and sought to obtain payment thereof.’ Keen to make good its losses, the Lands Department arranged for the sale of Harris’ property. Harris challenged the legality of the auction, disputed the amount of his indebtedness to the Department then booked his passage for the United States to give a lecture tour. Captain Harris appears to have found his war record as saleable as the Department’s stock.

An article from the Illustrated Tasmanian Mail described him as the ‘founder of the America-Australian Bureau, a soldier whose gallantry in the field of battle earned for him both the D.S.O. and the M.C….the right type of Australian to engage in propaganda work in the U.S.A.’ The America-Australian Bureau (one of several grandiose initiatives Harris was involved in) was ostensibly founded for the purpose of ‘boosting Australia’. Its more immediate purpose was to boost Captain Harris; within a week of opening for business, Harris had approached all the State governments for a subsidy of £50.

Harris was arrested and gaoled before he filed for bankruptcy. He then ‘escaped’ to Ohio.

Harris may have been a war hero, but he was also a fraud and a braggart.

The A.I.F. had more than its fair share of criminals, adventurers and wasters…” 10

Kilroy Harris travelled the United States being paid very well for giving lectures on his wartime and travel adventures. Eventually he settled entirely in America and his “Radio Travel Talks” were very popular on early American radio programmes. This set something of a trend in travel talks on radio. He wrote regularly to the “Frontiersman” magazine which reported on his activities. We saw in the previous topic page how Percy Escott North continued that trend of travel talks on radio.

There is no doubt that Walter Kilroy Harris was a very brave man but, like plenty more of the early Frontiersmen he had his share of character failings.

That makes him all the more more interesting to us!

¹ see:

² Everingham is listed in de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour. His name also appears on the Gallipoli Roll of Honour of the 1/1st Welsh Horse in the Welch Regt. museum.

³ Sir J.A. Hammerton: “A Popular History of the Great War, Volume 1” (The Fleetway House, n.d. c.1934) pages 496-7.

⁴ Douglas Jerrold: “The Royal Naval Division” (Hutchinson, 1923) p.56 (the reminiscences of Hugh Lunn).

⁵ Jerrold: “Royal Naval Division”, p.44.

⁶ Douglas Jerrold: “Georgian Adventure” (Collins, 1937) p.110.

⁷ Unidentified New Zealand newspaper cutting 13 June 1918 by “Frontiersman” (probably Ernest d’Esterre), located by B.W. (Will) Shandro, Canadian historian, in F.V. Longstaff scrapbook files: British Columbia Museum, Victoria, B.C..

⁸ See: Jerrold: “Georgian Adventure, pages 121-124 and 206-207.

⁹ Jerrold: “Georgian Adventure” p.208.

10 The Last Battle: Soldier Settlement in Australia 1916-39, Bruce Scales and Melanie Oppenheimer, (Cambridge University Press 2016), pages 41-42.

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

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

A Royal Marine who served with the Frontiersmen

R.M.L.I. badgeSurprising Snippets 2: one of a series of brief items about the history of the Legion of Frontiersmen.

CAPTAIN JAMES FREDRICK ELLISON M.C., D.C.M, R.M.L.I.: a Royal Marine who served with the Frontiersmen.

Towards the end of their campaign in East Africa, many officers of the 25th (Service) battalion Royal Fusiliers (Legion of Frontiersmen) became unfit for active service due to wounds or serious illness due to the extreme climate and conditions in which they had to fight. Other officers had been seconded to other units as their skills were much in demand. Much to Lt. Colonel Driscoll’s disgust, a number of largely undistinguished officers with none of the Frontiersmen’s spirit were posted in. One great exception to this was Captain James Ellison, M.C., D.C.M., of the Royal Marines Light Infantry, who for a brief period became their acting second-in-command and who until now has not had the acknowledgment due to him.

In 1900 Colour Sgt. Ellison earned the D.C.M. in October of that year while serving in East Africa with the Uganda Rifles during punitive operations against Nandi raiders on the Nyando River. Due to sickness among the officers he was on several occasions in independent command of detached columns. In his book “The King’s African Rifles: Volume 1”, Lt.Col. H. Moyse-Bartlett wrote:

On the night of 12th October two columns left the camp. The first under Colour-Sergeant James Ellison, R.M.L.I., marched east over the Nyando River, attacked one of the bomas early on the following day, inflicted severe losses on the Nandi and returned to camp before nightfall. Owing to sickness among officers, this was not the first time Ellison had held independent command and conducted operations with ability and success.

When in 1914 there was a shortage of junior officers, this led to the direct commissioning of Ellison as Lieutenant, who was by that time a Sgt.-Major. He was aged 45. Ellison served with the Royal Marines Brigade at Dunkirk and Antwerp and subsequently at Gallipoli where he was wounded in May 1915. A gunshot wound gave him a compound fracture of the pelvis and he also suffered from frostbite.

In 1915, by then a Captain, he was back in East Africa on active service this time with the R.M.A. (Royal Marines Artillery). He took part in a number of bombardments with a battery of 4 inch guns and in December was in command of a troop of 12-pounder guns on clearance operations out of Dar-es Salaam,

In 1917 he was commanding a sub-section of a R.M.A. Heavy Battery where he suffered a number of bouts of malaria, was Mentioned in Despatches and in January 1918 was awarded the Military Cross. Captain Ellison was seconded for service to the army on 6 July 1917 and was granted the acting rank of Major whilst second in command of a battalion (25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) from 21 July 1917 to 23 September 1917.

Returning home, he became temporary Adjutant at Plymouth before joining the recruiting service and retiring with the rank of Major in 1922.

He died in 1943 aged 74. Sadly, although the position of this brave Royal Marine’s grave in a Portsmouth cemetery is known, it remains so far unmarked.

Research and article: Brian Tarpey M.B.E., Legion Mediterranean Historian

(additional information from “Turn of the Centuries 1700-1900”, Royal Marines Historical Society)

Posted in East Africa Frontiersmen, Farnham Surrey, History, Legion of Frontiersmen, Surprising Snippets | Tagged | 9 Comments

L.O.F. and Mounted Designations 1914-18

Surprising Snippets 1.
[a.k.a. INDEPENDENT FRONTIERSMEN SQUADRON in the BELFAST WEEKLY TELEGRAPH December 1917 cross referenced with THE DAILY COLONIST, Victoria BC, 08 Nov 1936]. Eighty-three men formed by Victoria BC Legion of Frontiersmen [LOF] Command arrive overseas prior to the Canadian Army. They appear to have been informally slated to join 2 nd King Edward’s Horse, but did not as they generally preferred Canadian units. A number of these LOF did enroll into Royal Canadian Dragoons, possibly Lord Strathcona’s Horse as well and others went into British units.

Uniform details, background and context of find indicate this photo to be of Calgary Legion of Frontiersmen c1912.

VICTORIA VOLUNTEER MOUNTED RIFLES, a Victoria BC association led by John Briant Howes enrolled 08 October 1915 into the Victoria BC Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen.


BRITISH COLONIAL HORSE, LOF formation became 5 Platoon, 3rd BELGIUM LANCERS engaging in action early WW1. Frontiersmen involved would later receive Belgium’s Yser Medal.

REMOUNT SERVICE, LOF newly arrived in England were initially placed breaking horses while the LOF HQ was attempting to form a named unit.

METROPOLITAN POLICE MOUNTED RESERVE, LOF served City of London throughout the First World War.

EAST AFRICAN MOUNTED RIFLES, LOF form one of the six squadrons for Imperial defence in British East Africa.

OTAGO MOUNTED RIFLES, New Zealand LOF squadron rode into camp to enlist in OMR.

2nd KING EDWARD’S HORSE, 60 LOF were eventually recruited from Remounts duty where they were awaiting other placement.

….. and possibly other bodies.

19171201 Can Fman R Can Dragoons Belfast WeeklyTelegraph

Belfast Weekly Telegraph Dec 1917

© Barry William Shandro & Geoffrey A. Pocock, September 2017. 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, Legion of Frontiersmen, Surprising Snippets | Leave a comment

The Call of the Wild

Escott North

Topic August/September 2017.  Throughout its history the Legion of Frontiersmen has attracted countless men, and more than a few women, whose travels had taken them all over the world. Many was the story they could, and sometimes did, tell of their adventures in lands where you could travel great distances without encountering another human being. Some did write about their experiences. Occasionally long-forgotten books about their adventures turn up on the dusty shelves of second-hand bookshops. The stories of some of them we will never know as they did not consider there was any need to commit them to writing or to print.

Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?

Over the years the writer of this topic page has been fortunate enough to meet several old Frontiersmen, now no longer with us, and hear some of their stories. There has to be one major regret regarding a Frontiersman who could have told so many splendid tales. Back in 1978 I received a couple of letters from 90-year-old Percy Escott North who lived at the charmingly named Casa Lareda in Lambley, Nottinghamshire. There he could hear the sound of horses’ hooves through the village, which took the old man’s mind back to his young days in the “Wild West”. He had joined the Legion in 1911 and was given the Legion number of 4576, knew Roger Pocock and many of the original members, had met Driscoll and F.C. Selous in East Africa, and even knew Buffalo Bill Cody. He had been told of my researches into the Legion of Frontiersmen and Roger Pocock by Edgar Vigay, who was the commanding officer of U.K. Command of Canadian Division of the Legion. Vigay had re-enlisted the old man into Canadian Division. Would I care to travel up to Nottinghamshire and meet him? I would very much wish to, but with a young family and large mortgage to support I could afford neither the time nor the money. That was an opportunity I always greatly regretted being unable to take.

Escott North on thoroughbred mount

There is a lot we do not know about the life and adventures of Escott North. What we do know has been pieced together from his writings and accounts of the very popular radio broadcasts and illustrated lectures he gave all round Great Britain. With no television or internet, such lectures by travellers illustrated with photographs they had taken drew in substantial audiences. Percy Escott North was the son of innovative lace dyer John Hallam North (1857-1936). Nottinghamshire was the centre for quality lace manufacture, the products of which were much in demand around the world. He does not appear to have had any desire to follow his father into business. He had spent much of his early life in Sherwood Forest and had a passion for horses and horse-riding. It looks as if he took a passage to America and went to his Uncle Spencer at Salem Massachusetts. Although Escott North was originally intended to make his living as a trader, he then wandered the country often working as a range-hand. He rode along the Mexican border line, which even in those years was not the most law-abiding area. Eventually his travels took him to Wyoming where he met up with Buffalo Bill Cody, who was by then an old man. Buffalo Bill took an immediate liking to Escott North, who had an extraordinary resemblance to one of Bill’s greatest friends, Major Frank North. North had been Bill’s partner in buying a large cattle ranch on the Dismal River north of North Platte. He had been with Buffalo Bill in his Indian fighting days. Some of the re-enactments in the Wild West Show were actually of North’s exploits rather than Buffalo Bill’s. Frank North appeared in the Show and did not seem to mind Bill claiming some of his exploits, just laughing when asked and saying “I am not in the show business”. ¹ Frank North was appearing in the show in Hartford Connecticut:

…while the scouts and the Indians were chasing each other around the arena, Major North fell when his saddle girth broke. Most of the riders following him managed to swerve their mounts aside, but one trampled him. He was removed to the hospital with a crushed spine and broken ribs and never appeared as a performer again. Less than a year later he died of his injuries. ²

This young man, Escott North, who showed a quite extraordinary resemblance to the young Frank North and bore the same surname, must have given the old man quite a jolt. Was there any relationship? It has to be possible but we will never know. In any case, Buffalo Bill made young Escott North very welcome and told him many stories of his adventures. In his illustrated lectures around the country – often in front of audiences of up to fifteen hundred people – Escott North used to re-tell the stories that Buffalo Bill had related to him:

Bill brought his great Wild West Show to London in 1902, and King Edward visited it. The King begged permission to take a ride on the famous old Deadwood Stage Coach, and to bring some of the Royal guests who were at that time staying at Buckingham Palace. Cody expressed himself delighted and the matter was arranged.

In due course the King and his guests arrived and, having packed his friends in the coach, King Edward climbed up on the box beside Cody, who was to drive. Cody was surprised to see the King wink portentuously to him, and to hear him whisper, “Now, drive like hell, Cody!” Never did coach travel so wildly as did the Deadwood stage around the Olympia arena. Cody put himself into the driving as never before, and the six cayuses tore around the ground at mad speed.

At a given signal, Cody’s rough riders and Indians appeared, and yells and pistol shots urged the wildly galloping animals to still greater exertions, until King Edward at last gasped out, “I think they’ve had enough now, Cody!”

When the sweating horses came to a stop, to quote Cody’s words, “you never saw such a bunch of dishevelled Kings in your life!” (There were five monarchs there altogether.)

Before they left the showground, Edward VII, knowing Cody was an expert poker player, remarked, “Cody, I’ll bet that’s the first time you’ve ever had five Kings in your hand!”

Buffalo Bill, who was noted for his quick wit, instantly replied, “Yes, King, and it’s the first time I’ve held the Royal Joker!” ³

As far as can be ascertained, this story has not appeared elsewhere. We know that in his Show Buffalo Bill re-enacted as his own adventures those that were experienced by other men, so probably would not be averse to telling “tall stories”. King Edward VII did visit Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and it is not impossible that he would have requested a private showing. Whatever the truth, it is a good yarn which went down well with Escott North’s audiences.

Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

As with so much of Escott North’s life we know almost nothing of his First War service. There is no record of him serving in the British army, but he was in German East Africa serving as a scout. There he met the 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers with F.C. Selous and Lt. Col. Driscoll who no doubt welcomed him as a Frontiersman. In 1923 he sailed for Canada and, according to “The Frontiersman” magazine, was asked to carry out Frontiersmen business. No doubt he was asked to recruit, as the Frontiersmen had a strong representation before the First War, particularly in Western Canada where he was based. It does not seem that he had any real success at recruitment. During the four years he was there he made many friends, particularly Guy Weadick, the main originator of the Calgary Stampede, and gathered information for his very popular 1942 book “The Saga of the Cowboy”. In this book and in his many lectures he sought to correct inaccurate impressions of cowboy life and lore, which he mainly blamed on the film industry.

When in later years, I rode the range in a strangely big saddle, upon a pony with a curious loping gait that discouraged my English tendency to “bump”, and found myself accepted (by what virtue of mine I still cannot comprehend) by the hard-visaged, erect, steel-muscled, cold-eyed men whose horsemanship put me to shame – and whose courtesy to a bungling novice was the most gracious and unobtrusive I had yet seen – I knew that my hero-worship [as a boy] had not been entirely misplaced. It was also borne in upon me that so far as the cowboy of popular conception is concerned, well, “there ain’t no such person”. ⁴

Escott North with Pete Grant Piegan Chief

Escott North also made many friends among the Canadian First Nations, particularly Pete Grant, who was a Peigan Chief. There is also a picture of Escott North in full splendid headdress after he had been made an honorary Blackfeet Chief. One of the many amusing stories he told in his lectures went back to his days in New Mexico. In those days bathing was a far more primitive activity that nowadays:

Once when he was having a bath in the open air outside his shack, a group of cowboys came round and lassoed bath and occupant, dragging him for miles over the prairie until he was tossed out. Having taken this baptism in good part, Escott was accepted as one of the fraternity and presented with a new bath. ⁵

In addition, his ability to play the piano earned him the friendship of cowboys, even in the wildest places. The Legion of Frontiersmen attracted as members many other men who had worked as cowboys and range-hands in both the United States and Canada. As well as using the Legion motto of “God Guard Thee”, these men also used “Vaya Con Dios”.

Escott North kept his many notebooks of his travels over the years. You never know, perhaps one of his descendants still has those prize notebooks, which would be of substantial historical interest. Escott North was far from the only Frontiersman to have had such an adventurous travelling life. An Australian Frontiersman who also gave countless very popular lectures, in his case across America, was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, as was Escott North. Following pre-war journeys of thousands of miles across Australia, this other extraordinary Frontiersman was awarded during his service in the First War not only the D.S.O. but – most rarely – the M.C. followed by two bars to it. As we have run out of space, his amazing story will have to wait for some later month.

Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sage-brush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert’s little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills, have you galloped o’er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa? Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the wild – it’s calling you.

(Robert Service, “The Call of the Wild”)

Escott North c1920s

¹ John Burke “Buffalo Bill, the Noblest Whiteskin” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973) p.64
² Burke “Buffalo Bill” p.146-7
³ “Dundee Evening Telegraph”, 16 November 1927
⁴ Escott North “The Saga of the Cowboy” (Jarrolds, 1942) p.vii
⁵ “Dundee Courier” 13 December 1952

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

Posted in Frontiersmen, History, Latest Topic, Legion of Frontiersmen | Tagged | 2 Comments

Defending against CHEMICAL WARFARE

Britannia and Eve magazine June 1936 p.25.

It can truthfully be said that nowhere, outside the Government Schools, are such facilities available as are offered by the Central Gas School of the Legion of Frontiersmen.

Topic June/July 2017.  We covered the Legion’s work in anti-gas warfare to a certain extent in GAS!!.   Further research recently has shown the extent of the fear – almost terror – of chemical warfare being carried out particularly against Great Britain. This has encouraged us to expand the story of what the Frontiersmen were doing to support the general public and give them advice and help. The use of chemical warfare in countries such as Syria and the warnings that terrorists might attempt to use small scale chemical weapons make this story even more topical. In the years leading up to World War 2, the extraordinary knowledge and skills of the Frontiersmen in dealing with chemical weapons is something which needs further explanation. The story applies mainly to Great Britain as planes had not then been developed with the capability to easily cross large oceans and return.

Replying to a question in the House of Commons in May 1935, the Home Secretary, Sir John Gilmour, said:

I understand that the Legion of Frontiersmen like some other voluntary organisations is in touch with the Order of St. John and the British Red Cross Society with a a view to assisting those bodies for the alleviation of the consequences of air attack. I have informed the Legion that, in my opinion, assistance of this nature would be of national importance.¹

The British government did everything it could to calm public feeling, but there was deep concern, especially in big cities:

Mrs J Gubbins, a Kensington Councillor it is reported has stated, “I’ve travelled a lot abroad lately – and wherever you go they are working overtime at the manufacture of gas for War purposes.

In consequence a small guest room has been prepared ready to complete in five minutes a gas-proof shelter for about eight people with a safety margin of twelve to sixteen hours. Mrs Gubbins wants every householder in the country to know how simple and cheap it is to gas-proof a room…²

The Legion of Frontiersmen Central Gas School at Edmonton (London) was fully equipped with:

…Gas Masks, Decontamination Suits, Oxygen Breathing Apparatus, Charts, Visual and Smelling Sets, Asbestos Suit.

All the best standard books on Gas Warfare and A.R.P. have been purchased and are available for reference.

A complete set of all the Home Office publications, including Memorandums etc., are held and copies of new issues purchased immediately on publication, so that the school is kept constantly up-to-date.

Even books written against A.R.P. are purchased and studied, so that instructors are not only cognisant of what is stated therein, but are prepared to answer.

In addition a unique collection of photographs has been obtained. These have proved invaluable as authentic reference.

The German publication “Die Sirene” is subscribed to so that instructors are informed of what is being done abroad.

Another important feature of the school’s equipment is a collection of old and modern gas masks. These have proved to be of exceptional interest and frequent requests have been made for their loan to A.R.P. exhibitions. Instructors from the school attend these exhibitions and explain the various exhibits…

Many A.R.P. officers and C.A.G.S. [Civil Anti-Gas School]³ instructors have applied for copies [of “The Frontiersman” magazine] and expressed their appreciation of their value. One C.A.G.S. instructor stated: “You people have forgotten more than I know.” Others ring up regularly asking for advice…

The Central Gas School have undertaken and completed with success the training of the staff of a well-known Government contractor.

Lieut. Bushell, the officer in charge, has been selected to attend an extensive course at Porten [probably Porton Down in Wiltshire], his qualifications making it unnecessary to take an examination first. He is at present training the staff of the R[oyal] A[rtillery] Records Office at Sidcup.

2nd Lieut. Gunn has rendered inestimable service to the Legion. Samples of all the latest Gas Masks – German, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Dutch, etc. are regularly provided by him for inspection. His expert knowledge is a great asset.

It can truthfully be said that nowhere, outside the Government Schools, are such facilities available as are offered by the Central Gas School of the Legion of Frontiersmen.

Strict discipline is maintained and enthusiasm is great. All dues to I.H.Q. are paid. There is a credit balance. Accounts are audited by three officers and certificate sent to I.H.Q.

All this has been achieved without one penny grant from I.H.Q. funds, the school being entirely self-supporting.

Much has been done by the school to uphold the prestige of the Legion.

Fees are charged, but Instructors have been able to recover much more by payments for lectures. Positions have been obtained and promotions secured as a direct result of the training given at the school.⁴

Legion of Frontiersmen gas warfare display with 2/Lieut. Gunn inset

As can be seen from the illustration, 2nd Lieut. Gunn designed and made an asbestos fire-proof suit. In those days nobody was aware of the serious harm to the lungs caused by asbestos. An advertisement in “The Frontiersman” magazine shown here illustrates the different gas masks that were available. What has not been publicised is that the main gas protection agent in the masks was also asbestos. Eventually every citizen of Britain was issued with one and ordered to carry it around with them in its box. There were “Mickey Mouse” ones for children. Those of us who were around at the time recall the unpleasantly strong rubber smell of them and how difficult it was for a child to breathe through them. Nobody was aware that they were breathing in dangerous asbestos which could have an effect in later life. The main public concern was that most families could recall the horror of gas warfare of the First War and the men who came home with their lungs ravaged by gas fumes. The advertisement from a Derby newspaper shows the concern – and how some firms were able to profit from it.

3 advertisment in Frontiersmen magazine

Gas mask advertisement which appeared in copies of “The Frontiersman” magazine.

What happened to that irreplaceable collection held at the Legion of Frontiersmen Gas School? Some of it can just about be seen in the photo shown here. Nobody knows, except that like many Legion assets the collection has vanished. From the end of 1937 “The Frontiersman” magazine contained extensive details about various war gases covering their history, effects, first aid, treatment and protection. Among the gases covered were “The Blister Group” such as Mustard Gas, “The Tear Group” of Tear Gases, “The D.M. Group” of nose gases which contained arsenic, “The Choking Group” of Phosgene, also basic chlorine gases. There was also a detailed article on incendiary bombs and how to deal with them and extinguish the fires. Fortunately, all this training apart from dealing with incendiary bombs was not needed as the Germans did not start gas warfare. Did they have the facility other than the gas they used in the gas chambers? Of course they did. They were trying to manufacture a more stable, deadly and reliable form of gas for warfare but, again fortunately, they did not succeed. Their stockpiles were discovered when the British army entered Germany:

Concentrated in a big forest covering an area of four square miles is one of the greatest stocks of poison gas in Germany, wrote a Daily Telegraph special Correspondent with 21st Army Group on August 6, 1945. He tells of the fate intended for it, and of the chambers where it was housed…

Dotted over the forest which I visited were strongly built storage sheds, very commodious and above ground…In each of these sheds thousands upon thousands of gas-filled shells were lying horizontally in wooden frames. There is ample evidence of Hitler’s preparations to use gas.⁵

What happened to this deadly store? It was sent to the coast and loaded on board a ship, crewed by Germans, and dumped into the sea 200 fathoms deep not too far from the Channel Islands. Although the shells were of three-quarter inch steel it was estimated that even this would corrode in some 200-300 years time. Possibly an environmental time-bomb for some future generation.

Although the Frontiersmen did not need to utilise their specialist anti-gas warfare skills, a far higher proportion of those too old to join the armed forces joined the A.R.P. rather than the Home Guard, particularly in big towns and cities. After being out at night dealing with the results of German bombing they carried on their normal daytime activities and those who could do so kept up their Frontiersmen links. Harry Erswell had served many years in the army retiring as a senior n.c.o.. After a night’s bombing he would laboriously pick his way past bombed London buildings, often by strange alleyways and back passages to the Legion offices then in Bedford Street. Although the front of the building had been blown out, he was still able to get through to the offices at the back of the building and carry out duties at the Legion office. Sometimes he was prevented by some unexploded time bomb until it was made safe, but he never had need of his gas training. As he wrote to Canada in 1941 with customary Frontiersmen optimism, “Still, there’s a lot of London left and will be even when this show is over.”

Will today’s terrorists try to use chemical weapons and if they do, will they use the more modern gases or the simpler older ones? The Legion still has full training details archived on how to deal with those older gases, but not the modern complicated lethal ones. We must hope that none of this will ever happen.

Advertisement from a Derby newspaper.

¹ “The Times” May 24, 1935, p.8.

² Quoted in “The Frontiersman” January 1939, p.9.

³ The British Government set up the Civil Anti-Gas Schools. Their name was later changed to the Air Raid Precautions Schools and the duties became more generally air raid precautions.

⁴ “The Frontiersman” March/April 1939, pp.18/19.

⁵ “War Illustrated” October 12, 1945, p.378.

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


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

Money Matters

1 King Edward's Horse badge

Badge of King Edward’s Horse

Over the past 112 years the Legion of Frontiersmen has always been much in need of money. It has been fortunate with the generosity of members and officers, but when a nice fat sum of money seemed to be coming its way, this money has regularly disappeared like a magician’s illusion. The Legion could be forgiven for pointing the finger of suspicion at the British War Office, as their distaste for the Legion, except in times of emergency, has been documented.

We have evidence that in 1909 the Esher Committee was planning a subsidy of £500 and £300 a year. It is highly unlikely that much or indeed any of this money, which represented a lot of cash in those days, ever reached the Legion.1  It is quite likely that the influence of the War Office was felt. Twenty years later, the Legion sought a share of another fund. The long-serving Permanent Under-Secretary at the War Office, Sir Herbert Creedy K.C.B., was then to be instrumental in stopping any chance of the Frontiersmen gaining the £500 that could have come their way in 1930.

Badge of 2nd King Edward’s Horse

That story goes back to 1914. Lt.Col. Driscoll was bombarding the War Office with demands that the Frontiersmen as a unit should be taken into service and suggesting various plans as to the most beneficial way they could be used towards the war effort. It is very difficult to trace the official British War Office position regarding the Frontiersmen before they were given their named unit in 1915. A researcher could be excused for thinking that War Office files on the Frontiersmen in the British National Archives are selective: only retaining those showing the Frontiersmen in a poor light. At the end of 1914 the Frontiersmen were running the Remount Depots and breaking horses near Southampton, Bristol and Manchester. We have photographic and documentary evidence that the Legion was doing this officially and in uniform. Obviously, the men were being paid for their unusual skills, but they were being paid as civilians and not as military. It was the only way Driscoll could keep the Frontiersmen who flooded into London from all round the world eager to serve King and Empire. Lt.Col. Sandeman, who commanded King Edward’s Horse from 1914-16 and Major (later Lt.Col.) Lionel James called on Driscoll at Legion Headquarters. They were desperately short of men and begged permission from Driscoll to attempt to recruit some of his Frontiersmen. Driscoll gave his permission and Major James and the M.O., Major Henderson, visited Swaythling, near Southampton, where they recruited 50 men and Manchester where 16 were recruited. No details of Frontiersmen remounts in the Manchester area have so far been discovered. Frontiersmen were the right men for King Edward’s Horse, which had been formed in November 1901 as the King’s Colonials, for it attracted men from all the British Colonies. Originally, the four squadrons were known as the British Asian, Canadian, Australian and South African squadrons. In July 1910 the name was changed to King Edward’s Horse (King’s Overseas Dominions Regt.). Referring to the separate 2nd King Edward’s Horse in his History of King Edward’s Horse, Lionel James also echoed the Frontiersmen’s opinion of certain renegade Frontiersmen groups by writing “…the ephemeral regiment known as 2nd King Edward’s Horse has neither official, nor unofficial connection with the subject of this history.”2

Lt.Col. James, who served with King Edward’s Horse throughout and was its last commanding officer.

James pointed out that several of the Frontiersmen he recruited were “hard case” overseas men, although all then served with great distinction. One, Sgt R.R. Ewbank, was recommended for the Victoria Cross but was awarded the D.C.M. and later a Bar to his D.C.M. Two of the other Frontiersmen, B.C. Newbold and R.A. Griffin, were later commissioned into other units. After distinguished service in France and Italy, the Regiment was stood down in 1919.

In July 1929 the King Edward’s Horse Endowment Fund came to the attention of Capt. H.C. Edwards-Carter, the Legion of Frontiersmen Adjutant. The original draft trust document allowed for half this fund to go towards the erection of a hall in memory of King Edward’s Horse to be erected at Imperial Service College, Windsor.3 Most of the rest of the money was to go to scholarships for boys from the Dominions, particularly sons of former members of King Edward’s Horse below commissioned rank. £500 was then to go to the Legion of Frontiersmen and any balance to be awarded for any other purposes as decided by the Trustees. Edwards-Carter’s letter was very detailed in explaining the origins and service of the Legion, but he did state that the Legion needed the money to finance its forthcoming application for a Charter. This he believed would cost at least £200. The War Office was consulted and they made it quite clear that they would be opposing any application for a Charter by the Legion and that any money given to them would be wasted. The scheme was therefore re-drafted to eliminate any reference to the Legion of Frontiersmen from the document. It was left to the Trustees to decide in their wisdom whether or not to donate any money at all to the Legion.4

Badge of the “Imperial Legion”. This was a unit which broke away even from the original breakaway unit of the I.O.C. It is believed to have been formed by Kaid Belton and was initially suspected of having political aspirations. Note that the badge is almost a copy of the badge of 2nd King Edward’s Horse. It also illegally featured the Royal Crown.

It is well documented that the Legion did make its application for a Charter and this was opposed by the War Office and so it failed.5  It is not known where the money was found to cover the cost of the application. Possibly the Trustees did feel a duty of honour to make a small donation to the Legion, but more probably, as often has happened, the more well-to-do members of the Legion made donations to cover the costs.

The War Office in Britain was not the only official body in Commonwealth countries around the world to find the Legion of Frontiersmen an irritation for most of the time. However, there have been many occasions when officialdom in a number of countries has sometimes unofficially turned to the Legion to “do their dirty work” for them.

But that is a much larger subject!

1 Geoffrey A Pocock Hundred Years of the Legion of Frontiersmen [Chichester: Phillimore 2004], 51-58

2 Lt.Col. Lionel James, D.S.O. The History of King Edward’s Horse [London: Sifton Praed & Co, 1921] 43. For details of the links with the Frontiersmen see 83-4

3 For details and picture of the hall see:  Apparently all that now remains of the hall is the clock tower.

4 WO32/3040 National Archives, Kew

5 Pocock Hundred Years of the Legion of Frontiersmen, 146

The article above was originally published on in December 2007 and has since been revised and updated.

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


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