To Parade in Honour (Topic Oct/Nov 2015)

The Moose Jaw Legion of Frontiersmen

The Moose Jaw Legion of Frontiersmen. Image courtesy of Bruce Peel Special Collections & Archives

Little has been written about the Canadian Division’s United Kingdom Command, although it was an influential unit for some years after the end of WW2. It is believed to have been started by a group of Canadian ex-Servicemen, most of whom were employed in London at various Canadian Provincial offices. Some may have been Frontiersmen, but others would have heard of the Legion of Frontiersmen and its good works in Canada for many years. They made it their task to represent Canada at any veterans’ parade and carry out any duties required. In July 1958 they were called on to act as auxiliary police on the Canadian side when Her Majesty the Queen Mother visited Windsor Great Park for the presentation of a Totem Pole from the people of British Columbia to the people of United Kingdom. Over the years the Canadian Division of the Frontiersmen was much in demand for such events, although the membership became less composed of ex-pat Canadians and more of British citizens holding a strong affinity to Canada. Several units sprang up around London, also in Bristol and in Yorkshire. There was good co-operation between the Commonwealth Frontiersmen and Canadian Division, often attending functions together, but as separate bodies. Membership of Canadian Division in Britain dwindled considerably during the 1970s when Britain had a socialist government and uniformed volunteer organisations were frowned upon, particularly in certain cities. The Commonwealth Frontiersmen were far less affected as they belonged to the Reserve Forces Association and gained some support from the Territorial Army and limited support from the Ministry of Defence.

1964 50th anniversary invitation Ypres

1964 50th anniversary invitation Ypres. Image courtesy of Bruce Peel Special Collections & Archives. Click to enlarge image.

In 1964 Canadian Division in the UK was under the command of Duncan Gillies who had spent many of his younger years in Canada. The fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the First War was commemorated in Belgium and France. This was well before the time of budget flights across the Atlantic and it was not easy for ex-servicemen, particularly those who had fought in that War, to attend commemorations. Although at the least in their late sixties, a number of fit and active members of Canadian Division were keen to join with younger ex-service Frontiersmen and cross the Channel to take part in the commemorations. These smart ex-servicemen were welcomed and honoured. As can be see by the invitation to Ypres (the Belgian name of the town is Ieper) and the photograph of the Colours at Liege they were delighted to represent in some small way the Canadians who had fought and died. Not only were the Frontiersmen greatly honoured for their service with the 3rd Belgian Lancers, but many hundreds of Canadian Frontiersmen had served and fought with several of the battalions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and notably Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Frontiersmen writings at the time and in subsequent years claim with justification that a high proportion of the original P.P.C.L.I. had been Canadian Frontiersmen. When asked to name their previous service, recruits to P.P.C.L.I. automatically listed their active service units, usually in the Boer War, rather than the Legion of Frontiersmen. Most P.P.C.L.I. recruits were men who had seen active service and such men had sought the comradeship of the Legion with preparation for possible service in the Legion of Frontiersmen in Canada.

The PPCLI recruits were responsible for many of a story of these days when men drove to the nearest station, hitched their horses to a convenient post and vanished eastwards.

(Ralph Hodder-Williams, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry 1914-1919 vol. 1 p8, 1923)

These men who had fought on the veldts and plains of South Africa and worked on the wide open prairies of Canada were about to be plunged into the mud and confinement of trench warfare. They faced death in the swarms of German machine gun bullets attacking them in the other-wordly confines of no-mans-land.

A particularly colourful group were ‘The Legion of Frontiersmen’ largely from Saskatchewan. Dressed in uniform of cowboy hats, khaki shirts and neckerchiefs, many of them were South African war veterans. A group of them in Moose Jaw, hearing that the PPCLI contingent would be passing through Regina, wired [Major Hamilton] Gault for authority to join the train, though it was obvious he could not reply in time. They persuaded an American C[anadian] P[acific] R[ailways] employee, ‘Smoke’ Thompson, to place two coaches on a siding close to its junction with the main line. When the train from the West arrived, they bluffed the night operator at the Regina station that official arrangements had been made to hitch their carriages to it.

The train conductor was less willing to co-operate. A drawn Smith & Wesson persuaded him to take them to the next divisional point…

(Jeffrey Williams, Gault of the Patricias, p64, Leo Cooper 1995)

Also enlisting as a group were the Edmonton Pipe Band, wearing highland dress and tartan, who announced that they were coming to play the regiment to France and back home again.

1964 Liege Belgium parade

1964 Liege Belgium parade. Image courtesy of Bruce Peel Special Collections & Archives.

A somewhat different version of events came from the memories of Frontiersman L Hunter, who was born in 1889. In 1913 he met an Australian, Jerry Bradley, in Moose Jaw and they discovered they were both Frontiersmen. According to Hunter they decided to form a Frontiersmen unit in Moose Jaw. When war broke out in 1914 they contacted London HQ and were told by cable that a train would be leaving Vancouver for the East and would be picking up men on its route. A recruiting officer for P.P.C.L.I. was Capt R.J. McKin(n)ery, who had served as quartermaster under Legion Chief Executive Officer Lt. Col. Driscoll in Driscoll’s Scouts in South Africa, where he had been Mentioned in Despatches. About 200 men from Moose Jaw were enrolled on the train.

They got off the train at Ottawa, and there were about 600 of them still wearing the Frontiersmen uniform. This unit became Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry…Some of these old-timers were wearing medals of the Boxer Rebellion, the Egyptian Campaign and the Queen’s and King’s South Africa Medals. Some had fought in the Khyber Pass and some were with Lord Kitchener at Khartoum. The authorities caught up with one old chap who was over 60 years of age and sent him back home.

(Canadian Division magazine, October/November 1967)
The Moose Jaw Frontiersmen were commanded by Legion Lieutenant Gerald Hanley who became Sergeant Hanley in P.P.C.L.I.. He was wounded on May 8th 1915 and invalided out shortly afterwards. There were also Frontiersmen from Edmonton – 301 according to a local newspaper – and others from Calgary. For an extensive discussion on the frontiersmen who rushed to join P.P.C.L.I. see Will Shandro’s fully referenced paper on the subject at:

Legion of Frontiersmen in Canada Timeline Part 3

It has to be possible, and in some cases quite likely, that the “old chap who was over 60 years of age” was not the only veteran past acceptable recruiting age who turned up eager to enlist. The total number of Frontiersmen purported to have travelled to enlist comes to around 850, whereas Frontiersmen claims of the number who were accepted never exceed 600 at the highest claim. Some of the older veterans would have been more suited to other units.

1964 Liege Belgium parade

1964 Liege Belgium parade. Image courtesy of Bruce Peel Special Collections & Archives.

This unique regiment eventually landed in France and formed part of the 27th (Imperial) Division. It lost its commanding officer, Lt.-Col. Farquhar early in the fighting, but on March 14th 1915 was sent forward to stem an assault on St. Eloi, a ruined village at the southern end of the Ypres Salient where there was a fierce battle to seize a small hill known as the Mound.

In three lines, swept by gusts of harrowing machine gun fire, “B” Company rushed for the objective. The machine guns on the Mound crushed it almost instantly, but those who were not stricken down came on through the appalling tempest and actually reached ground to the right of the position. This ground was held, and next day the men were withdrawn from the struggle, handing their trenches over to an Imperial unit.

This was the first conflict of any magnitude which the regiment experienced. It was a blood-letting which amply prepared them for the fearful agony to follow…By May 6th the battle line had reached its final position. On that day, the “Pats” were thrown into it to strengthen the barrier of steel.

With dawn a shell fire which created a hell began to batter their line. Before sunrise German infantry surged forward and fell beneath the rage of the regiment’s rifle fire. By sending every available man into the trenches the battalion developed an intensity of fire which checked the German charge. The hostile infantry succeeded in seizing several houses which commanded our positions, however, and from here played havoc with the regiment.

Our casualties were terrible. By seven o’clock that morning a subaltern, Lieut. Niven, was commanding the battalion…

Whole trenches disappeared in smoke. Every machine gun they possessed was smashed up or buried, With magnificent tenacity the crews kept the guns in action as long as their condition would allow it. And, battered, exhausted, surrounded by heaps of corpses and hideous fragments of human bodies, in the roaring fury of the German guns the regiment clung grimly to every foot of ground, clung with a determination beyond all praise and would not retire… The German counted only upon numbers. Moral[e] did not enter his calculations. In this case it was a bitter mistake, for the Princess Patricia’s and their comrades, worn, weak and hard hit though they were, threw back this third assault with a fury incalculable.

That was the turning point…

With two officers in command, Lieut. Niven and Lieut. Papineau, one hundred and fifty men, of all those who the night before had entered, withdrew from that man-made inferno of Death. One hundred and fifty men came forth. The glory of the Princess Patricia’s battalion was assured, its name immortal.

(Capt. Harwood Steele, The Canadians in France 1915-1918, p. 39-41, T. Fisher Unwin, 1920)

There could be no more suitable man to tell this story than Harwood Steele, son of the great Major-General Sir Sam Steele, whose influence hung over the Legion of Frontiersmen from the very first, Harwood Steele was also a good friend of the Legion’s Founder, Roger Pocock and the man entrusted with the care of Roger Pocock’s albums and papers after his death.

No wonder the men of Canadian Division of the Frontiersmen were treated with such honour in 1964. Not only were they there to represent the P.P.C.L.I. as well as the Frontiersmen who had served with the 3rd Belgian Lancers and also with many other units, but a number of the older men wore the First War medals and carried with them memories of long lost pals. Look at the men of Croydon Squadron proudly escorting their Colours marching past King Baudouin of the Belgians taking the salute at Liege. They were there by direct invitation from Les Veterans du Roi Albert. The second man from the front is J (Jimmy) H W Hart who served with the 25th Battn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) during the First War in East Africa, and whose proud boast was that he “served under the great Colonel Driscoll”. One man of the Escort whose face is not visible was Jack Gallagher B.E.M.. Jack was too young to serve in the First War, but was one of many Boy Scouts who were busy on the North-East coast of England. Jack won the B.E.M. for gallantry in the Second War in the Merchant Navy. In those days the B.E.M. was a gallantry award. The other photograph of the rest of the British representatives from Canadian Division show medals from both wars, other campaigns and even some of the younger men who had no campaign medals.

To all of these men it was a matter of great pride to parade in honour of those who had made the greatest sacrifice in wars against tyranny.

(All photographs shown are reproduced by kind permission of the Bruce Peel Special Collections & Archives and are © )

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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