Topic of the Month
The Legion of Frontiersmen of the Commonwealth
The first move to establish a Legion of Frontiersmen organisation in New Zealand was in July, 1905.1 The Founder of the Movement was Roger Pocock and it was he who wrote on the direction of the Earl of Lonsdale and LOF Headquarters in London. This letter addressed to the Prime Minister was replied to on 27th September, 1905. 2 “…it is not considered that the organisation referred to is required in New Zealand.” Signed R.J. Seddon, Premier.
Despite this rebuff the Legion did not give up. A small insert in the Northern Advocate newspaper dated 9th August, 1906 stated: “Forms of application for enrolment in the Legion of Frontiersmen may now be obtained from Mr Edward Foster, James' Temperence Hotel, Whangarei. We hear that there is a likelihood of two clubs in connection with this organisation being formed in the town”. The seeds were being sown! Later, an Engineer, Captain Hamilton Herbert Noyes, who was to be working on the Grafton Bridge in Auckland, was appointed “Commissioner” for the New Zealand Command in 1907. In London, Roger Pocock entered in his diary for 31st Jan. 1907, “dined with Noyes” and on the 2nd February he stated, “Noyes sailed for NZ”. 3 The August, 1907 Northern Command magazine in England 4 lists Noyes as living in Auckland with the title “Commissioner”. When he left New Zealand in 1909, he had secured no support from either the Government of New Zealand or the Defence Department. New Zealand was then the only country in the Empire not to have encouraged the formation of the Legion of Frontiersmen. The aim of Noyes was to get official approval for the Legion. This does not mean there was no Legion in New Zealand by the time he left in 1909. The Legion was here when the first Frontiersman set foot in the land.
It does not appear that a formation of the LOF was in itself against any obvious law. It was a self regulated, self funded movement with no political leanings. It simply seemed to those who were in authority that the Legion might consider itself on a par with the established military forces of the country and want equal recognition.
It had already been claimed the Legion in England had the full official recognition of the British Government. That of course was not a fact. It was simply a matter of interpretation. The Legion got it wrong!
It is not clear why, in the early days, the Defence Force in New Zealand in particular was against the formation of a Legion. Self interest has often been suggested. Members of the Legion were mainly retired soldiers and sailors who had fought in the Boer War. Some had also been involved in other wars. By the outbreak of WW1 almost all would be over the age of acceptance into the Army. The battle of words for acceptance of the Organisation in the country raged on right up to WW1. Even to this day, just as in England, it has never been officially recognised by either government! Only in British East Africa (Kenya) has this ever been the case.
The powers that be, however, had underestimated the determination of members of the Legion. Many of these Frontiersmen had come to New Zealand having already joined the Legion in England and elsewhere. It was not long before they began to individually contact each other to form the first Troop, which was in Christchurch. The absolute date of just when this movement began is not positive. The seeds sown by Noyes had become seedlings. In another Legion Journal it is also suggested a Unit in the S.I. was formed as early as 1908. However no documentation exists for this.
The first New Zealand Commandant, Alfred John Cook, was elected in 1909 and the Returning Officers were Fsm. John W. Barraclough and Fsm. Chas. Boxshall. (Source LOF Records) A letter dated 10 May, 1910 sent to the Officer Commanding Military Forces in Wellington from a John Cook, asks if the Department can supply the name of the nearest enrolling officer of the Legion of Frontiersmen.5 It has often been claimed this was from the John Cook who founded the first Command in New Zealand. It wasn’t. Even the Army Intelligence made this same error. A Memo dated 17 Feb. 1911 with the initials A.G. (i.e. possibly Maj-Gen. A.J. Godley) states in part: “It is not clear from this file how the L.F. came to be started in N.Z. at all, since they were twice definitely refused permission.” 6
For the record the North Island was considered “attached” to the South Island Command. The first Squadron to be formed in the North Island was Waiapu early in 1912. However one Francis Morphet Twisleton M.C., who had served in the South African War, joined in 1911 7 and went on to form what became known as ‘C’ Squadron, Poverty Bay. Shortly before WW1 he became Commandant New Zealand. 8
As soon as war was declared Francis Twisleton of ‘C’ Squadron immediately offered the services of the Legion, firstly as a body in its own right. (similar to the 25th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) which would later go to British East Africa.) Major General Sir A.J. Godley rejected this offer but said, however, they would be welcome to enlist as individuals.9 Some kind of a compromise was reached with the suggestion the Legion register as Rifle Clubs and shoot with the Territorials and Cadets.10 It was agreed the Legion could continue to choose its own officers.
In a letter dated 8th Sept. 1914 to the Minister of Defence, Twisleton asked that the age limits of men be raised from 35 to 40 to allow Frontiersmen to be able to serve in the regular army. A footnote on a letter from the Minister of Defence dated 17 Sept. 1914 states, “The age for first reinforcements has been raised to 40 years.” Twisleton had won that one! However the Legion was still not ‘recognised’ officially as an organisation.
Today this situation still exists in New Zealand. They do however assist government bodies such as the police in times of need. The nearest they get to being ‘recognised’ is a letter of thanks from the police itself!
The heart of the Legion of Frontiersmen is where it was founded – London. Although no Commonwealth Headquarters exist there today, in the minds of true Frontiersmen it is still home! In the early days, overseas commands were merely a formality. An assembly point.
Commissioners; organising officers; whoever; whatever. These men were the first Frontiersmen in New Zealand. New Zealand being just one country but split in several areas by sea is still one country. Therefore the Legion in New Zealand was founded when the first Frontiersman put his foot on our shores. Who said it needed someone’s permission?