The Frontiersman who wrote to the King

DEC09Jan10_1“I’ve lost a good friend,” said a Frontiersman to one of the Padres officiating at the funeral of Henry Cecil Edwards-Carter on January 31st 1934. His coffin draped with the Union Flag was borne on the shoulders of eight Frontiersmen into what was then the Frontiersmen’s Church, St. Clement Danes in the Strand London. Edwards-Carter’s favourite hymns were sung by Frontiersmen with unashamed tears in their eyes. After this service the coffin passed through the City of London to the City of London Cemetery. As he had been an Officer of the City of London Police Reserve traffic was held up on all sides and outside the Mansion House the City Police paid their respects.1

And yet two years earlier the Legion’s greatest leader, Lt.Col. D.P. Driscoll, who was also to die only a few months later during 1934, wrote in a letter:

[Edwards-Carter] at Craven Street is not one of us. I think he belonged to the Legion in its early days at Cape South Africa. I never heard of him or from him in all the long years I was in control, he had dropped out if ever he did belong to us. He appears to have blown in after the war with some other choice individuals and snatched at the chance of establishing himself during the confusion. His latest exploit is to have got himself up as a Lieut. Colonel and attended a Fusilier Memorial Service presumably representing me and my battalion the 25 Royal Fusiliers…I would like to know who he fought with in the war.”2

Driscoll was not alone in the Legion in having and declaring his distrust of Edwards-Carter and to have asked questions about Edwards-Carter’s war and military service.   How could it be that one man could divide opinion so deeply? There can be no doubt that the wildly divergent views of this one man’s character caused a serious rift in the Frontiersmen which even can be considered to be relevant today.

Edwards-Carter told of an adventurous youth, having run away to sea and arrived in South Africa in 1894. He joined the Natal Naval Volunteers, served in Matabeleland in 1896, became a reporter for the “Diamond Fields Advertiser” and served with the Diamond Fields Horse. He then joined the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles, serving under French. Following a period with railway administration he was commissioned in the Transvaal Light Infantry in 1903, transferring to the Witwatersrand Rifles. In the last few years before the war he was on the staff of the High Commissioner, Lord Gladstone.   It has been impossible to verify these claims. He is not on the nominal roll of the Natal Naval Volunteer Rifles and one of the War Office files on him states that Records were unable to trace him “on the S.A. Medal Roll of Diamond Fields Artillery (Horse).” Just before the start of war he had returned to England, for a holiday according to Burchardt-Ashton, but in a 1921 letter in War Office files he said it was “prompted by certain information I had semi-officially obtained”.3 This raises the question as to why he had not spoken to the local military about this – or was there something in his past that prevented him? At any rate, he approached the War Office. It seems likely that he had a recommendation, possibly from Lord Gladstone, because he was granted a temporary commission as a captain in the 12th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He appears to have been employed in training but on 23rd July 1915 a Medical Board found him unfit for service at the front but only for light duties at home. He was quite badly asthmatic. In July and August he passed some cheques without funds to cover them and looked likely to face a Court Martial. His excuse was that he had lent money to a friend who had left for the Dardanelles without warning.4 Why was he then so short of funds when his claim was to be that, when in South Africa:

Luck seemed to come to him during this period, and he made thousands of pounds. Although rich, he worked very hard. He ran two theatres and acted in them…He lived part of the time in Durban where he had a fine yacht.”5

Like many stories of his life, this does not add up. It seems that the Royal Warwickshires then disowned him and an attempt was made to transfer him to the 1st Garrison Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, but they were not enthusiastic to take him. Edwards-Carter asked to be transferred to a tropical country better suited to his asthma, but it was finally decided to allow him to resign his commission on the grounds of ill-health. The GOC Southern Command said that:

…there has been considerable correspondence in connection with this officer, but, reading between the lines he imagines Capt. Edwards-Carter is considered an undesirable officer in the 12th Bn. Royal Warwick Regt and this seems to be the case as regards the Battalion to which he is now attached.6

DEC09Jan10_2We do not know how he made a living between October 1915 and the following August when he obtained a position in the Munitions Inspection Service. In this he seems to have been in control of two factories until March 1918 when he again attempted to join the services and was lucky enough to obtain an RNVR commission. He served in the Naval Transport Service in Glasgow and was eventually sent to France after the War in January 1919 until that November when his asthma caused him again to be invalided out. In later life he was to claim that he had then been in the diplomatic service and had spent some time in Eastern Europe, however during the early months of 1919 he was in England to marry Miss Catherine L Puttick, the 33-year old daughter of a schoolmaster and organist. A daughter, also Catherine, was born in 1920. In April 1921 he again blotted his copybook – this time in a very big way when he petitioned the King to be granted War medals. This communication was passed to the War Office. It is a mystery how an intelligent man who had worked throughout the war in Britain could consider he had any entitlement to medals. His war experience in Britain was no different to many a man whose wartime duty kept him well clear of danger. Of course his request was rejected. There is no doubt that he was a clever man who in July 1921 returned to Government service as an official translator as he was proficient in a number of languages. In 1923 or 1924 (claims vary) he joined the Legion of Frontiersmen, although he previously had some involvement in South Africa in their early days. According to Arthur Burchardt-Ashton, who succeeded Col. Tamplin as firstly Acting, then Commandant-General:

[Major G.D.] Hazzledine at once appointed him an organising officer, and co-opted him on to the Executive Council and General Purposes Committee. When I was appointed Adjutant, Edwards-Carter was appointed to assist me as Staff Officer for Administration, and later, when I was appointed acting Commandant-General, he was made Adjutant in my place. As the Legion grew and the scope of his duties increased, the title of adjutant was changed to the more suitable one of Chief Staff Officer.7

Had Edwards-Carter been prepared to accept that his task was basically that of Secretary to the Legion – for certainly at those duties there was none better – queries would not have been raised about his suitability. However, he allowed himself, or maybe encouraged for himself, ever higher rank. He should have argued with Burchardt-Ashton who did admit that until his own time there had been no higher rank in the Legion than captain but claimed that: “in view of the responsible duties carried out by some officers, a higher rank was necessary.” Neither Tamplin nor before him Driscoll formally used the term Commandant-General and always signed themselves with their military rank. Driscoll was totally against higher Legion ranks unless previously earned in the forces.

Men such as Major Hazzledine who had served in East Africa began to get very uncomfortable with Burchardt-Ashton and most particularly Edwards-Carter, neither of whom had served in action during the war. Burchardt-Ashton had been too old, but did go to France with the YMCA. He also lost one of his sons killed in action. He was a wealthy man and his financial support more than once saved the Legion from going under. Times were hard and the Legion subscription was difficult for many ordinary Frontiersmen to afford. Stories about Edwards-Carter must have leaked out from the War Office, and anyone who had been involved in munitions was looked on with grave suspicions by those who had fought. Edwards-Carter may have been a civil servant, but many men had made much money selling munitions to the War Office. Opinions on him were completely divided. Edwards-Carter’s greatest success for the Legion was the design and acceptance worldwide of the mural crown badge. Before this the Legion badge had been many variations of the LF scroll. He originally asked permission to use the Royal Crown, but it was made very clear to the Legion that the use of the Royal Crown by unofficial bodies, such as the Legion, was forbidden.8 The more Edwards-Carter represented the Legion, even at official Royal Fusiliers events, the more the men who had fought in the war became uncomfortable. This particularly applied to those who had served in the Royal Fusiliers in East Africa where their supplies (when they got them) were always dated from years before, whereas the Germans seemed well supplied with the latest equipment through the blockade runners who, in spite of the promises of the Royal Navy, always seemed to get through. Before long a decision was made to break away with a separate organisation for those who found the decisions of the men at the top unacceptable. And so came into being the Independent Overseas Legion of Frontiersmen, later known as the Imperial Overseas Legion.   As the breakaway Frontiersmen had editorial control of the Frontiersman magazine, which was under a contract, some very confusing issues of the magazine came out. The Legion attempted to gain official recognition by petitioning for a Charter of Incorporation. In spite of the vigorous opposition of the War Office, the Legion had some highly influential supporters, among them such men as the Duke of Portland and the Earl of Derby. However, the breakaway organisation and its opposition to the Petition played into the hands of those who disapproved of the Legion and the Petition was rejected.

DEC09Jan10_3When in January 1934 Edwards-Carter’s asthma finally defeated him, it is interesting to note that neither Brigadier Morton, by then Commandant-General of the Legion in succession to Burchardt-Ashton, nor Burchardt-Ashton himself, nor even Lord Loch, President of the Legion, nor most of the senior officers of the official Legion attended his funeral. However, Edwards-Carter’s greatest critics in the Imperial Overseas Legion such as Major Hazzledine himself, Colonel O’Kelly the London Commandant of the Imperials and the Legion Founder himself, Roger Pocock, were prominent among the mourners.9 After any official events, Frontiersmen traditionally like to gather at a convenient hostelry and it is probably safe to assume that an informal gathering followed when many problems were thrashed out. The evidence may be circumstantial, but by that summer all differences had been resolved, the two groups came back together, and it was made quite clear that IOC must cease to exist. One of Lt.Col. Driscoll’s last letters before his death demanded that there should be “only one flock and one shepherd.”10

Over the years a number of men who held very senior military rank and had even earned high gallantry decorations have been content to serve their fellow man as a rank and file Frontiersman. The world is full of examples of what might have been, but had Edwards-Carter been content with simply giving the Legion generously his many undoubted talents without feeling the need for unnecessary rank and medals and been more honest about his early life, the costly rift in the Legion might well have not occurred: the Legion might even have gained its Charter of Incorporation. Henry Cecil Edwards-Carter has been far from the only man in its existence to see the Legion as a way to a position he had not attained in service life, but his actions caused repercussions that spread over very many years.

1 Memorial Supplement The Frontier Post Feb/March 1934
2 Personal Letter, Lt.Col. D.P. Driscoll to Frontiersman Rosher, 11th January 1932: Legion of Frontiersmen (CMO) archives.
3 WO339/12470 British National Archives.
4 WO339/12470 BNA
5 Memorial Supplement The Frontier Post Feb/March 1934
6 WO339/12470 BNA
7 Personal letter Cdt.Arthur Burchardt-Ashton to Frontiersman Rosher 4th March 1932. Legion of Frontiersmen (CMO) archives.
8 HO144/6964 BNA
9 The Times, London, February 1st 1934, 17
10 Orders on the dissolution of IOC, 1934, Legion of Frontiersmen (CMO) archives.

Late news: Edwards-Carter’s grave has just been located and his gravestone refers to his service with the Frontiersmen. The stone is in a poor condition, but the local Squadron hope to be able to achieve some restoration.

There are Frontiersmen graves around the world, sometimes noting service with the Legion. Some Frontiersmen are now making an effort to identify such graves and ensure that they receive the respect they deserve. Hopefully this duty will be taken on by many others.

The article above was originally published on in December 2009.

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

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Archive Topics, City of London Police Reserve, Diamond Fields Artillery, Frontiersmen, Legion of Frontiersmen, Roger Pocock and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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