A Murder Mystery – Death of a Frontiersman

Lord Erroll 1930

Lord Erroll, 1930, reproduced by kind permission of the 24th Earl of Erroll ©

It would be safe to say that quite a sizeable percentage of those who read this page would agree that there is some unsolved mystery in their own family; perhaps about a grandfather, a great uncle or even further back in the family history. It could be there is even an unexplained death or disappearance, or even a murder. What few families will have suffered is the unending publicity and speculation that has followed the murder on 24th January 1941 of Captain the Hon. Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll, Hereditary High Constable of Scotland. The Earl of Erroll was originally commissioned to command Nairobi Troop of East Africa Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen. By October 1939 the Earl was listed as the officer commanding “A” Squadron with the rank of Legion Captain. The current Earl of Erroll has always wanted to solve the mystery of who did shoot his grandfather, but we have to have great sympathy for him as he has had to suffer countless theories, from the wild to the logical, being published in magazines, newspapers and books as to who was indeed the murderer. There was also a popular, if highly imaginative, 1987 film White Mischief starring an impressive cast, including Charles Dance, Greta Scacchi and Joss Acland. (More about that film at the end of this topic page). It is highly unlikely that this mystery will ever be solved satisfactorily, so we will only mention some of the more logical theories and concentrate on Lord Erroll as a Frontiersman.

The current and 24th Earl of Erroll cooperated with noted Kenyan author Errol Trzebinski on her 2000 book about the murder The Life and Death of Lord Erroll, which is a fascinating read. An official request from the current Earl of Erroll for information regarding the life and career of his grandfather may have been likely to have caused concern and got the official shredders working to capacity. The British Civil Service has traditionally made public only what it feels is good for the citizen to know. Possibly even politicians tend to encounter this problem. Sadly, when files are then opened, the suspicion can be that they have been “weeded” first.

Lord Erroll was never going to be a monogamous type; in this he was very similar in this to numerous other Frontiersmen we have studied and who travelled and lived in what were then the frontiers of the world.

…there is not a shred of evidence that he drank heavily; or that he indulged in orgies…Joss’s affairs were not as numerous as the public have been led to believe since his death…he had the realism not to marry anybody whose feelings would be hurt by infidelity…He did not smoke or take drugs; in fact, as far as these habits were concerned, he was abstemious in the extreme. 1

Joss Erroll had been a fascist. It may not be comfortable in the light of today’s opinions for anyone to know that a relative supported the fascists in the 1930s, but for many years they were an accepted movement by a reasonable percentage of the British public. The greater concern for the majority of the British people between the wars was communism and the threat of Bolshevism, and that was what the fascists claimed to fight against. The Rothermere newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Sunday Dispatch were for many years in full support of the fascists. The appointment of the then Lord Erroll as the British Union of Fascists’ representative in Kenya was reported in The Blackshirt issues of 15, 22 and 29 June 1934 and there was further mention in the issue of 7 Sept 1934. The question has to be raised as to why, when he Legion claims to be strictly non-political, the Earl of Erroll was accepted as a member and given officer rank. This ruling has been not always one of black and white and the Earl of Erroll’s views were not uncommon among the British ruling and middle classes and would have caused very little disquiet. In 1924 Frontiersman (Commander) H Collingwood Hughes was elected as Conservative M.P. for Peckham. An advertisement for him as a candidate had appeared in The Frontiersman magazine and he had been mentioned in an editorial. This seems to have passed without comment.   Oliver Locker-Lampson M.P., who was on the Executive Council of the Legion, organised a series of ‘Clear out the Reds’ rallies aimed at what were then known as “bolshevists”. However, in 1934 Sir Hugh Trenchard, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, unsuccessfully recommended introducing a legal ban on fascist uniforms being worn. The police supported the Frontiersmen, who formed the official City of London Mounted Police Reserve, usually in Frontiersmen uniform, The Territorial Army saw no problem in accepting men who were members of the BUF, but their senior officers disapproved of the Frontiersmen.

By 1938 Lord Erroll had apparently considerably moderated his views and was a member of the Kenya Legislative Council. Like many others, he would have probably been appalled by the violence of the Blackshirts and found the extreme anti-semitism and attacks on Jews by the Nazis in Germany unacceptable. However, the President of the Legion, Major-General Lord Loch, is known to have held right-wing views. The officer commanding Southern Command of the Legion was Major Hugh B.C. Pollard who also held right-wing views. He was one of the men closely involved in bringing Franco back from exile. It therefore seems that the Legion tended to ignore right-wing views of some of its officers as long as the Legion and the Legion uniform were not used in promoting those political views. In fact the Legion had to stop wearing their working dress of loose navy blue shirt (khaki in warm climates) and wear the restricting patrol jacket at all times. This was to stop being mistaken for (in the Founder’s words) “politicians in uniform”.

It is generally accepted that the views of British fascists were influenced more by Mussolini than Hitler. The British Government had been rather luke-warm in enforcing international sanctions against Italy for its invasion of Kenya’s neighbour Abyssinia and there were regular cross-border social meetings within the military. There was a view held by a number of people that it would be better to have white Italians running that country than coloured native Abyssinians who would be unstable and still engage in tribal warfare. On the other hand, the first war against Germany was within easy memory and any deal that involved handing the old German East Africa territories back to Germany in exchange for peace would not have received general approval. Trzebinski covered this in her book.2 Opinions regarding the Italians had to change when they invaded northern Kenya in June 1940.

John Boyes

John Boyes

Trzebinski claimed to have relied on the East African Standard for her claims that Lord Erroll was responsible for the re-vitalisation of the Legion.3 It is certain that the recruitment of such a public figure would have brought publicity, but the Legion enjoyed a constant presence in Kenya for many years thanks to Legion Major John Boyes who, as can be seen in the illustration, was happy to appear on the streets dressed in full Legion uniform. Boyes left us two books about his early adventures,4 but nothing about his later life. In any case it is generally believed that some of his accounts in his books of events owed something to imagination and exaggeration. The EAS could also probably be counted on to place the occasional journalistic slant on any story as Lord Erroll was an important local character. Legion uniform was strictly set down by HQ in London. Lord Erroll may have made suggestions as to the fabrics that would be suitable for the climate and may very likely have also made alterations to the mess kit, as there were no specific regulations for tropical mess kit. We cannot agree with Trzebinski’s claim that Erroll would have been so egotistical as to attempt to redesign the dress uniform.5 Boyes was the one in command of East Africa Command and Lord Erroll only originally commanded Nairobi Troop, one of several around Kenya. By October 1939 the o.c. “A” Squadron was listed in the East Africa Frontiersman magazine as Capt. The Hon.The Earl of Erroll. East African Command produced its own magazine “The Frontiersman”, which it claimed had the largest circulation of any monthly publication in Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Northern Rhodesia and Zanzibar. The editor was Capt. J. Neale P.O. Box 1323, Nairobi.

We now come to his elusive posthumous Mention in Despatches. It is interesting that, although London Gazette citation of his Mention in Despatches refers to “Second-Lieutenant (Acting Captain) the Earl of Erroll, The Kenya Regiment”, in Campbell’s The Charging Buffalo 6 no mention is made of Lord Erroll’s temporary commission in the Kenya Regiment. The British National Archives seem to have no record of his commission in the Kenya Regiment other than just once in the Army Diary in WO169/726 “East Africa Command Nairobi Lines of Communication” where on 11th June 1940 under Staff Appointments there is listed as Staff Captain A. (2) 2nd Lieut. The Earl of Erroll. The Italians declared war on that date and began skirmishing across the border with Kenya in that month. It appears that Erroll’s commission only dated officially from June 1940. Copies of The East Africa Force Gazette are lodged in this file, but only up to 27th April issue. The Earl of Erroll is not listed in any issue that has been discovered in any NA file. No later copies can be traced in any other files of East Africa Command. Strange.

Life and Death of Lord Erroll

Life and Death of Lord Erroll

Trzebinski on p184 states that Lord Erroll’s movements between approximately 6 and 14 August 1940 cannot be traced. According to the Army Diary, at about that time a Brigadier set out from Nairobi on a tour of inspection to the dangerous area bordering Ethiopia. Perhaps he took Captain the Earl of Erroll with him because of Erroll’s extensive knowledge of the whole of Kenya? This could be the reason for the MID. Researches are ongoing, but this remains another mystery to add to “who killed Lord Erroll?”

The story of what became to be known as the “Happy Valley murder” is well covered in Trzebinski’s book The Life and Death of Lord Erroll, as is the trial and acquittal of the cuckolded husband. Juanita Carberry’s version of events is to be found in her Child of the Happy Valley. Trzebinski claims to have evidence that Lord Erroll was killed on the instructions of British Secret Service due to his right-wing opinions and knowledge of the Duke of Windsor’s alleged links with Germany. Carberry wrote that the acquitted Delves Broughton admitted to her privately that he was in fact guilty of the murder.   It is well worth reading both books, especially the Trzebinski. You can then see what evidence has been discovered. As far as the Legion historians are concerned, we never claim anything without clear proof. Suffice to say that when the film White Mischief came out the writer spoke to a local man Edward Lacey-Hulbert OBE, who as a young man had lived in Kenya and knew all the members of the “Happy Valley set”, although he was not of their group. At the time we spoke he was well into his eighties, but was a well-known character speeding round local country roads in a little Fiat sports car. I asked Lacey-Hulbert whether he had seen the film. His reply was that it was an utter load of rubbish. He claimed that he in fact knew the true story of who murdered Lord Erroll, as did several people still alive. He told me that he would never tell anyone and would go to his grave with the secret, as would the others who knew. There, as far as we know, the story must end. Read the books, and see what you think yourself, but have sympathy for the family of the murdered 22nd Earl of Erroll, Captain in the Legion of Frontiersmen.

1 Trzebinski, Errol, The Life and Death of Lord Erroll; the truth behind the Happy Valley Murder. [Fourth Estate, 2000] p.xvi-xvii.
2 Trzebinski, Lord Erroll, many references, but particularly p.145-50
3 Trzebinski, Lord Erroll, p.142
4 Boyes, John, King of the Wa-Kikuyu and The Company of Adventurers. [2001 reprints of original 1911 and 1927 books by Resnick’s Library of African Adventure]
5 Trzebinski, Lord Erroll, p. 142-3
6 Campbell, Guy, The Charging Buffalo, a History of the Kenya Regiment 1937-1963, [Leo Cooper/Secker & Warburg, 1986]


The article above was originally published on http://www.frontiersmenhistorian.info in December 2011 but has been edited/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.

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyardview.wordpress.com Administrator of frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Archive Topics, East Africa Frontiersmen, Frontiersmen, History, Legion of Frontiersmen and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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