Topic June/July 2016. For the first thirty and more years of the history of the Legion of Frontiersmen, its leaders tried hard to dissuade members from taking part in revolutions around the world. They could not prevent the many adventurers among the Frontiersmen from taking jobs in countries, of which there were many, where revolution and regime change was virtually part of the culture. When a spoof advertisement for Bandits Limited appeared in a 1920’s issue of The Frontiersman magazine beginning:
The Bandits Association Limited, beg to announce to the nobility and gentry that they have made arrangements to supply spies, scouts, pirates, blockade runners, assassins, press gangs, tax extorters, rebels and agitators of all descriptions on reasonable terms and at the shortest notice…
There was some element of historical truth in the advert as there had been few revolutions and local wars from the very early days where one or more Frontiersmen had either been involved or at least an interested spectator. We will be centring this topic on one of the most puzzling of Frontiersmen adventurers who, in later life became steadily more secretive and reticent than when he was a young adventurer. This desire to escape publicity followed his most famous (or infamous) adventure and one that brought much criticism on his head, although he always maintained that what he did was for the right reasons.
If you do a web search on Major Hugh Pollard, you will find quite a bit of information about him, much of it incorrect, some of which would have amused him, and some of it politically opinionated, which would have infuriated him. Here we will tell more about this Frontiersman adventurer, one of a distinguished list of such men, and will tell the unbiased truth, such as we can discover it. In a letter written just before he died, Macdonald Hastings, father of Sir Max Hastings, wrote about his good friend Hugh Pollard:
He was a fascinating person, who probably had a greater impact on events than he cared anybody should know. If you can unravel him you need to know all the tricks of Mr. Smiley and James Bond. I confess that all I know about him is mischief. He was a remarkable man.¹
In spite of that warning we have discovered much – although far from all – about a remarkable Frontiersman. Because of his importance to history as well as the Legion of Frontiersmen, this particular Topic will of necessity be longer than most.
Hugh Pollard was a soldier and author who was also a criminologist, a microscopist, a photographer, an authority of firearms, and a scientist with a useful knowledge of anatomy and chemistry.²
He was born in January 1888, the son of an eminent physician, Joseph Pollard. At the age of nine he was sent to Westminster School in London, but seems to have lived most of his free time on his grandfather’s farm and estate in Hertfordshire. There he learned to shoot and soon became an expert shot with a great interest in firearms of all types and in country sports and pursuits. This interest and skill was to stay with him for the rest of his life.
As a day boy at Westminster… it was his practise to arrange his journeys to and from school to include as many gunmakers’ shops as possible.³
One of his favourite shops was Churchill’s. After the First War he became friends with Robert Churchill who had taken over the business from his uncle. At the age of fifteen he left Westminster and went to work with major engineering company Armstrong Whitworth, and then until 1908 he attended the Crystal Palace School of Practical Engineering. In that year his taste for travel and adventure encouraged him to join the Redmond-Hardwick exploration syndicate on an allegedly prospecting venture in Morocco. A photograph exists of a William Redman serving as a Lieutenant under Belton, so, knowing how commonly surnames were mis-spelt especially in newspapers and magazines, there has to be the likelihood that this was the same man and prospecting was only part of the adventure. Alfred Arkell Hardwick was a Frontiersman and adventurer in many lands. He was killed in an aeroplane accident in 1912 while working as General Manager for Handley Page. Morocco was in a state of revolution, which was so complicated it has never been fully described. The ruler was Abd El Aziz (various Europeanised spellings can be found). He was supported by the French. The British wished to keep away from it but did not want the Germans to gain a foothold. The most recorded Britisher was the “Kaid” or General Maclean whose name regularly appears in accounts of events. There has to be doubt that Maclean was quite the gallant figure he has since been made out to be.
[Abd El Aziz] did surround himself with Europeans, at whose heart was the comic opera figure of Caid Maclean with his tartan bernous and his English hunting boots…no question…[he was] feathering his own nest handsomely.⁴
The Pretender was Mulay Hafid, who did not have the benefit of any European military advice until another Frontiersman adventurer, Andrew Belton, came onto the scene. Belton had left home at 17 to follow his brothers into the Imperial Yeomanry and serve in the South African War. He remained in South Africa and in 1906 was the officer in command of the Capetown Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen. Belton offered his services to Mulay Hafid and demonstrated his abilities by organising and drilling Mulay Hafid’s men. He was then appointed as Mulay Hafid’s Kaid and for the rest of his life (even on his WW1 officer file) was known as “Kaid” Belton. Events were as complicated as could be expected, but at a totally confused pitched decisive battle it became evident that Mulay Hafid’s army had won. It was suggested that was because Abd El Aziz’s army was able to run away faster than Mulay Hafid’s. The result did not please the French or, indeed, the British, who were concerned that the Germans might take advantage of the situation. We know that the War Office was less than enthusiastic about the Legion of Frontiersmen. A similar opinion would have been held by the Foreign Office. Not only was Belton training the army for what they considered to be the wrong side, but also Pollard and Arkell Hardwick plus Alan Osler and Charles Beadle, all Frontiersmen were there. Pollard said nothing about any involvement in the conflict but both sides employed Europeans to train and instruct their military. Pollard, being already a crack shot and a skilled horseman, would have been in demand. How Pollard at such a young age was accepted into the Legion has never been explained, although the Legion has always treated its rules and regulations as somewhat elastic in interpretation. Pollard wrote to Roger Pocock asking for enrolment forms as he reckoned he could enlist several Vice-Consuls. Strangely, the best account of the battle is to be found in a fiction book City of Shadows by Charles Beadle. This adventure story moves at a cracking pace and might be considered a bit “steamy” for the time it was written. The hero was based to some extent on Belton, who was not known for his sense of humour and disapproved of the book. In the heat of battle the hero rescues a Sergeant Burnett who was serving as an instructor with the other side. During the rescue both sides were shooting at them with ancient muzzle-loaders but firing high and taking a long time to re-load. The nominal Arab commanding general of the hero’s side was armed with a modern Mauser rifle, but he had already jammed his gun and taken refuge in a village corn bin. Sergeant Burnett’s comment was:
Yes, but ‘strewth, it got too hot for me with all our own men shooting at me. Lord, you never saw anything like it! Our men killed more of each other than your’s did! ⁵
France was happy still to sponsor the new regime and the British who had assisted earned the reward of some prospecting concessions. Pollard asked Pocock for a silver Legion badge to present to the new ruler as an honorary member and thought the new ruler in return might have some useful rewards and jobs for Legion members. Needless to say, the Foreign Office was aghast when they heard of this. Things soon went wrong when Mulay Hafid failed to keep his promise not to exact violent revenge. Belton was disgusted to see public executions, crucifixions and the severing of hands of some of the enemies, being solemnly told that this was their tradition. He received much coverage of his Moroccan adventures in The Sketch.
Post Morocco and back in England in 1909, Hugh Pollard took a Royal Geographical Society course. He was listed as the official organiser of the famous Boy Scouts Rally at Crystal Palace in September 1909. Many other Frontiersmen were also much involved in the organisation. He was listed in The Times as “Captain Hugh B.C. Pollard”. ⁶ It is a puzzle as to how he acquired that rank. Lt-Col Driscoll would surely not have permitted a youngster who had not held a military commission in the British army or another acceptable service to hold officer rank in the Legion of Frontiersmen. There remains the possibility that he served in Morocco under Belton and was granted the equivalent rank as an instructor in the army of Mulay Hafid. Pollard’s next adventure was to be sent as a surveyor to Mexico, which was a somewhat lawless country subject to revolution. Pollard wrote an account of his adventures in A Busy Time in Mexico published in 1913. When he arrived, the local office manager was not best pleased. He was short-staffed and had been expecting a qualified and certified surveyor, book-keeper, salesman and fluent Spanish speaker. Pollard had himself been led to believe the tiny salary for a year’s contract was a step to a well-paid position. After a day or two the manager found a job for him. He was to visit a ranch some distance away and collect a substantial sum of money owed. The owner of the hotel where Pollard lodged cheerfully told him that the last three men who went on that task had been shot. Towards the end of an adventurous trip of several days a local Indian took a pot-shot at Pollard with an ancient muzzle-loader. One gets the impression that Pollard’s Moroccan experiences had stood him in good stead so, covering the Indian with his carbine, he persuaded the man to lead him to his destination. The rancher eventually handed over the money and demanded a receipt, which Pollard said he had no authority to issue, knowing that he would have been murdered on the return journey and the money made its way back to the rancher. He insisted the rancher return with him to hand over the money, so Pollard’s guile brought the adventure to a satisfactory conclusion. In Mexico according to Pollard,
…the people in the next village , or over the next mountain, or in the next state, are inevitably evildoers, murderers, and bandits.
After many more adventures, vividly described in the book, Pollard returned to London,where in May 1912 he was commissioned as a T.A. officer. He also began his journalistic career as assistant editor of The Cinema, editor of The Territorial Monthly and technical editor of The Autocycle as well as a correspondent for the Daily Express.
At the start of the World War 1, Pollard was mobilised as officer i/c despatch riders, London. In November he was seconded to the Intelligence Corps as a staff lieutenant. He served through both the first and second battles of Ypres until he was blown off his motor-cycle into a crater, wounded at Ypres and invalided home. He was granted five month’s leave to recuperate and worked during that period for his new father-in-law James Gibbons at his engineering works in Wolverhampton managing grenade production. During this time he also wrote a short book The Story of Ypres, a well-written account of the battles. It was:
..a blazing indictment of the Germans’ systematic bombardment and complete destruction of the ancient, gracious city when their attacks failed. It was an extremely moving document, written at white-heat yet with controlled passion and pathos ⁷
Probably Hugh Pollard’s most notorious story was the one he, along with Alan Osler, invented of the “Phantom Russian Army”, that an army of Russians had travelled by train from the north of Scotland and was embarking to support the British Expeditionary Force. ⁸ It was Pollard’s own invention of the charwoman who “knew it was them Roosians” as she had swept the snow off their boots from the carriages. The story caught on so well that it even gained a leading feature in the New York Times. Pollard’s second propaganda invention was of the particularly horrible one about German “corpse factories” – that the Germans were melting down corpses to make margarine.⁹ Pollard’s inventiveness got him recruited into M.I.7 (b) working with another Frontiersman Captain A.J. Dawson and, for a brief spell, Roger Pocock. The first of Pollard’s many practical books on firearms The Book of the Pistol and Revolver was published in 1917.
After the War, Pollard was appointed to Dublin Castle in Ireland as an Intelligence officer, where his varied skills were called into use. References to Pollard’s many cloak and dagger operations in Ireland are seldom clear. In an uncompleted manuscript dating from about 1921 Pollard wrote that:
In a period of lawlessness and unrest such as succeeds a great war, the pistol becomes a weapon even more important than rifle or machine gun…In fighting, nothing ever happens as it does on the range. You are in a hurry, you are excited, short of breath…In range shooting, the target is static; in fighting shooting, it may be incredibly mobile. It may not be front ways on…I once missed twice at about ten yards by shooting through the median line of a windblown raincoat! The slender rogue was on the windward side [of the raincoat] but I have never forgotten how puzzled I was momentarily at his apparent invulnerability.¹º
Pollard concluded this by writing, somewhat chillingly, “Then I corrected”. Pollard had struck up a friendship with Robert Churchill the gunmaker and the two men were regularly called on as expert witnesses in famous murder trials. It was Pollard’s observations that led to the invention of the comparison microscope, which proved by the markings that a bullet could only have been fired by one particular gun. When Pollard was serving as an Intelligence Officer in Ireland,
…he had connived with Churchill to ship a consignment of naval pompoms and Hotchkiss machine-guns to the Sinn Feiners. By arrangement, the guns were intercepted and confiscated. The object of the exercise was to drain off some of the funds which American sympathisers were providing to finance the rebels.¹¹
Pollard was not only a special correspondent to the Daily Express, but also editor of Discovery. He was the author of many books on firearms and country pursuits and even, unknown to his family, wrote fiction books under the name of “Oliver Bland”. His most well-known book A History of Firearms remains a standard work today. In 1922 he was transferred to the Regular Army Reserve and notified by letter that he had been gazetted Major. Seeing the Army List of 1924 showing him as Captain, he wrote to the War Office. After standard slow investigations the War Office wrote to him saying that his Majority had been a “clerical error”, which rankled with him, as can be seen from some of his notes, such as “The River Wool in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich is so narrow that even a Brigadier could jump it before lunch”. No wonder he had an affinity with the Frontiersmen. In spite of his many achievements, there is one adventure in Pollard’s eventful life for which he has been remembered and sadly misjudged. In 1936 Pollard was busy writing, enjoying hunting in the season, and visiting London on business and also to visit his long-term mistress. Pollard was one of the many early Frontiersmen who were popular with the ladies. He was also working with his favourite projects, guns of all types. He had the habit of letting off revolvers in some of the places he visited:
When I asked him once if he had ever killed anybody he replied “never accidentally” ¹²
The Spanish Civil War has been covered by a multitude of books, although a substantial number are from a fixed political viewpoint. Sufficient to say that many dreadful atrocities were carried out by both sides. The most noted player in that scene was General Franco. In a London-based plan to “rescue” General Franco from the Canaries and return him to Spain, Hugh Pollard’s thirst for adventure caused him to be involved in
…the most controversial, most misunderstood and misreported incident of his career. ¹³
Pollard has often been treated as the central character in the plot, whereas he was in fact only a part player. The most recent book on the escapade Franco’s Friends by Peter Day, features Pollard strongly, even referring to his involvement on the dust cover. How much the sticky fingers of British Intelligence were involved in the matter is something that will never be fully known. Luis Bolin, the London correspondent of a Madrid newspaper who had an English grandfather had lived in Britain for twenty-five years. Bolin was directed by his employer, the Marquis de Luca de Tena to act as an agent and charter a plane to fly to Casablanca and then on to the Canaries to “rescue” Franco from virtual exile. Bolin went to see one of his greatest friends in London, Douglas Jerrold, a publisher, devout Catholic and High Tory with strong anti-bolshevik views, which were shared by Jerrold’s good friend Hugh Pollard, another devout Catholic and pillar of his local Conservative association. Bolin wanted a respectable man with two girls to act as a party of wealthy tourists as a diversion. Jerrold immediately thought of Pollard and phoned him up,
Can you fly to Africa tomorrow with two girls? Pollard immediately agreed and invited the men to tea that afternoon. …whatever Pollard guessed, he was not told the purpose of the flight at first. He was captivated by the mystery and hint of intrigue; and besides, his friend Jerrold had vouched for Bolin. Pollard had a weakness for all things Spanish…since his early days in Mexico and in the Atlas Mountains in Spanish Morocco.¹⁴
When Pollard guessed or was told something of the plan, he was more than pleased. He was now a fluent Spanish speaker, had involved himself in revolutions from his earliest exploits in Morocco and approved of Franco’s strong support for the Catholic Church. Pollard was anti-Fascist and definitely anti-Bolshevik, but the delights of an adventure would have been enough to make him enthusiastic to take part. He was accompanied by his daughter Diana and a young friend. Following an eventful journey the plane was delivered and Franco and his staff took their places on the plane, while Pollard and the two girls came home by sea. The tale of the adventure is, as with most of Pollard’s adventures, too long to be recounted on these pages. The story can be read, although not necessarily with full accuracy, in many works including those quoted and listed below. Well over thirty years ago, the main author of this Topic had correspondence with and telephone conversations with Pollard’s daughter Diana, who expanded the story and showed that her father has over the years often been unjustly treated by those who have written about these events.
Pollard’s service as a Reserve officer ended officially in 1938, but in 1940 he wangled his way back into the army and began working in Intelligence again, this time for S.O.E.. His file in the National Archives at Kew again poses as many questions as it answers. We know he also went to Estoril in 1940 and was involved in smuggling about three hundred Vickers machine guns that the defeated Republicans in Spain had moved into France across to England.
“I am rather a good pirate in the best English tradition”, he wrote [in some unpublished notes].¹⁵
These had been designed for the Russian service cartridge and had never been unpacked. They were quickly modified to use .303 cartridges. He worked for a while with Dr. Roche Lynch of the Department of Chemical Pathology. He had worked with Dr. Lynch, the official government pathologist, on criminal cases for some years. What could have been the reason for this co-operation between a ballistics expert and a leading pathologist? Could it have been something to do with chemical warfare? We do not know the reason, but Pollard was suddenly dismissed from S.O.E. and spent the rest of the War at the Inspectorate of Armaments at Woolwich Arsenal. All we know from his file is that a letter from Col. Jeffries, the Commandant of the Intelligence Corps, said;
“Certain jobs Pollard apparently could do well, but he was definitely unreliable where money and drink was concerned.”
After D-Day he was sent with Patton’s forces into Thuringia in technical intelligence on small arms.
Here, he did another semi-practical sort of job…and took out a great many arms and designs before the Russians moved in. Later, he was o.c. Intelligence, Technical, in Vienna where, he wrote, he had to deal with anything from atoms to looters. The latter were troublesome. “But” says Pollard, “in three weeks I stopped all the nonsense…with sawn-off shotguns.”¹⁶
One item in his file has excited those who considered Pollard to have Fascist tendencies, but it is a case of rushing to conclusions on false evidence. There is a letter in Pollard’s S.O.E. file from a Capt. Grassby of Tonbridge Wells (evidently an MI5 operative) to Mrs. Archer who had some senior office position in MI5. Grassby claimed that Pollard was an ardent fascist who flew Franco in from the Canaries. He also said that Pollard and his daughter Diana’s names were in a book which also included Mrs. Dacre Fox. Mrs. Archer wrote to Col. Vivian that Mrs Dacre Fox was an active and industrious member of the British Union of Fascists and was at present interned. Mrs Archer told her officer at Tunbridge Wells to “lay off” Pollard. She was obviously happy with him. She was satisfied that Pollard had helped Franco because Pollard was an ardent Catholic and wished to help the Church against the communists.¹⁷ There is a simple explanation as to why Pollard’s name appeared alongside Mrs Dacre Fox (a.k.a. Mrs. Dudley Elam or Mrs. Norah Elam) The Elams were members of the same local Conservative Association as Pollard until they resigned in 1934 to join the British Union of Fascists under Oswald Mosley. Dudley Elam had been a very active member of the Conservative Association. There is no way Pollard would have supported the Fascists or even been friendly with the Elams. Pollard would have hated the Fascists’ anti-semitism due to his friendship and his family relationship on his mother’s side with the orthodox Jewish banking family, the Montagus. In addition, Norah Elam was a long-term member of the Anti-Vivisection Society and fervent opponent of hunting, which was one of Pollard’s favourite country pursuits. How easily some modern writers come to false conclusions without proper investigations!
After the war Pollard lived a quiet life enjoying his country pursuits, disgusted, like many country gentlemen Conservatives of his generation, that Britain had a Labour government. He moved to Clover Cottage in the sleepy town of Midhurst, where none of his neighbours had the slightest idea of the adventurous life he had lived. In 1966, one of the great Frontiersmen adventurers died peacefully. No doubt if he could have foreseen the future, he would have considered all those who have maligned his intentions to have been a ‘bunch of Bolsheviks’, but he would have chuckled at how today’s Frontiersmen have found it so difficult to piece together the tales of his adventures. He would have enjoyed being a “man of mystery”.
¹ Letter from Macdonald Hastings in H&A files, 21st September 1982
² Macdonald Hastings, The Other Mr. Churchill (Harrap 1963) p.97
³ Hastings, The Other Mr. Churchill p.98
⁴ Walter Harris, Morocco That Was (Blackwood 1921) p.57
⁵ Charles Beadle, The City of Shadows (Everett 1911) p. 211. Pages 202 to 215 tell probably the best account of the final battle that it is likely to find although, as a novel, most of the names are changed.
⁶ The Times 6th September 1909, p. 10
⁷ John Brewer, A Memoir of Hugh Pollard (Blackwoods Magazine August 1973) p. 447
⁸ Roger Pocock, A Short History of the Legion of Frontiersmen, written especially for the Canadian Division 2nd June 1941 written for the Canadian Division magazine and reprinted in History of the Legion of Frontiersmen Canadian Division n.d. (c.1980) p. 148
⁹ Ivor Montagu, The Youngest Son (Lawrence and Wishart 1970) p.31
¹º Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.449
¹¹ Hastings The Other Mr. Churchill p.98
¹² Douglas Jerrold, Georgian Adventure (The Right Book Club 1938) p.95
¹³ Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.459
¹⁴ Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.460
¹⁵ Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.462
¹⁶ Brewer A Memoir of Hugh Pollard p.463
¹⁷ The National Archives, HS9/1200/5
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.