Topic August/September 2016. Supporting the Legal Authorities (even when their cause may be doubtful). Although in most countries the Frontiersmen have not received official recognition, their services have regularly been sought. Sometimes the tasks they have been given may have been in the grey area of what is legal. To explain this, we have to look at countries such as New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Many areas of these countries were sparsely populated and so policing services were stretched. A body of disciplined men with experience of working under pressure and in danger, and in particular whose services were provided at no cost to the taxpayer, was an attractive bonus to the system.
Our country of New Zealand is about the same size as the British Isles in area, but our present day population  is not yet 3¼ millions, so compared with Britain we are not densely populated. Just imagine what it was like sixty or more years ago with a population of around 1½ millions. We really had ‘great open spaces’ in a big way and the concept of the Legion of Frontiersmen had full scope. Our ties with Police, Transport Dept., and other Civic bodies was constant and close, even to the extent where we, the Legion, were mobilised in this Bay of Plenty area, and with police officers we spent more than a week under arms in a search for an armed murderer. As it happened he had meantime shot himself so there was no gruesome finale to our efforts. This was not a happy episode, but it does show how close we were to the forces of law and order. ¹
This shows the confidence that the police had in the Frontiersmen to use them as armed auxiliaries. The first claim of their use by the authorities comes from South Africa in 1906 at the Zulu uprising in Natal. This was claimed as a revolt, but started as protests at a hut tax, or poll tax. Poll tax protests are well known in England in living memory. Roger Pocock wrote of this in his second autobiography:
Our nearest man rode with the news, but his horse fell dead in the outskirts of Maritzberg, so he ran on afoot to the nearest telegraph office, and cabled to me “Zulus rising instruct.” This message reached me twenty-four hours before news was received by Government or Press. I mobilized our two thousand men in the Johannesburg Command, then offered them armed and mounted to the Government of Natal.²
The problem of this story is that, while Pocock’s accounts of his own adventures were basically truthful, although with a personal slant, he was far too inclined to believe stories told him by Frontiersmen to be factual. The tale of the early cable is no doubt correct, but the “two thousand men” is a gross exaggeration. No official account of the uprising mentions the Frontiersmen. No doubt many did volunteer, serving with the Umvoti Field Force, but not as Frontiersmen. The man in question, Capt P. Gordon Huntley, is listed in 1907 as the Legion’s sub-commissioner for Natal, but ceased to appear in Legion records in subsequent years.
The next record of the Frontiersmen aiding authorities comes from China in 1912. It is a story, all too common over the years, that although Government departments, such as the Foreign Office in London, had rather a poor view of the Legion, their services were often welcomed locally. The best-known adventure of the China Frontiersmen was the Shensi Relief Column. This a story fully covered elsewhere ³ and too complicated to be explained here. China was a somewhat lawless place and most British working there were men who chose adventure above security. In some towns every male British citizen had joined the Frontiersmen, although that often numbered less than ten men. Another point against them was that they seem to have ignored HQ orders regarding ranks. In 1912 the “Far East Command” comprised seventy-three members, of whom fifty were officers. The twenty-three other ranks included two Quartermaster-sergeants and three sergeants. Nevertheless, the assistance of the Frontiersmen was greatly appreciated by the British navy:
…Capt. Hollamby, in his launch, was specially useful in delivering the message from the Consul at Wuhu, to the Chinese Admiral, and so enables me to maintain a strict neutrality, which otherwise might have been questioned had my boats and officers been observed communicating with the latter.
He also rendered services in other ways, particularly as regards communicating with the British Hulks moored up river; while his launches have always been at my disposal during the siege, many of the services have been performed at considerable personal risk from rifle and shell fire, and I therefore have much pleasure in bringing them to your notice.
This letter was signed by Capt Marcus Hill of H.M.S. Hampshire and written to the C-in-C of the China Station, Vice-Admiral Jerram, who also added his own congratulations:
I have also much pleasure in stating that I myself am equally indebted to Capt. Hollamby for his ready assistance whilst I was at Nanking.³
If the British Foreign Office, as recorded in their files at the British National Archives, had a poor opinion of the value of the Frontiersmen in China, it seems that the British navy found at least Capt. Hollamby of service, carrying out a task which would have been difficult or diplomatically impossible for the British Navy.
Moving on to 1914 and British Columbia, Canada, we come to a story that has embarrassed Canadians for one hundred years. This is the story of the ship, the Komagata Maru, that arrived off Vancouver with 376 Punjabis who were would-be immigrants. At that time there was a widely-held view that Canada was a white man’s country and, to enforce national immigration policy, the Punjabis were refused entrance to the country and surprisingly even food and water. There followed a long and heated stand-off, which was reported in newspapers around the world. The local authorities did not wish to inflame the matter by involving the navy, so a plan, thankfully not needed, was considered in June to use the local members of the Legion of Frontiersmen to do what could be described as their “dirty work”:
A conference with the officers of the warship will be held and, if this procedure offers no solution, present plans are to call into service the Legion of Frontiersmen, a semi-official military organization of Canada, to go aboard the Komagata Maru, subdue the hostile passengers and give the vessel armed guard until she is outside the three mile limit, and there turn her over to the Japanese cruisers for escort across the Pacific. This step, if taken, will be made late Saturday night and Sunday morning.⁴
The full story is a complicated one but covered fully on the internet. It was not until 2014 that the Canadian Government made an official apology. There is no doubt that racism was common around the world at that time and, although we may find it unacceptable today, that sort of opinion was not considered unusual at that time.
In 1922 the Frontiersmen were used in the Johannesburg miners’ strike. This was another country enforcing a racist colour bar. As a result of a pay reduction enforced by the mine owners, the white mineworkers went on strike. A number of occupations were protected by the colour bar, but the mine owners decided to abolish the agreement. Jan Smuts dismissed the idea of compulsory arbitration and the strikers held the view that Prime Minister Smuts and the capitalist mine owners were hand-in-glove. The strike turned into a revolt and murder and mayhem followed. The police, fifty of whom were killed, and the troops struggled to cope and the Frontiersmen came to Smuts’ aid. What had threatened to turn into a full-blooded revolution was ruthlessly crushed in a few days.⁵ Smuts had been a hero to the Frontiersmen when they fought under him in the First War as the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers. Smuts had always respected them and treated them far better than did the many Indian Army Staff officers. Below are some extracts from communications received at Legion Headquarters regarding the “services rendered by Frontiersmen in the recent Rand Rebellion”:
I am pleased to say that all members who were on active service came through safely. Trust the old dogs for the hard road. The snipers were the worst to contend with. One never knew whether you were speaking to friend or enemy. On Tuesday morning, March 14, as the town clock struck 11 our balloon went up and we started closing in on Fordsburg. The revolutionaries had a trench across Commissioner Street coupled with the Market Place. That was the Fordsburg stronghold in the centre of the town. They used the big buildings as a way of communication, holes being made through the walls. The majority of the revolutionaries were Greeks, Portuguese, Italians, Germans, Russians, very few British and Dutch…
The following was received from the G.O.C. Witwatersrand:
The General Officer Commanding desires me to convey to you his regrets that the distribution of the Forces in conformity with military exigencies has precluded any opportunity of his viewing and addressing your unit on parade.
He instructs me to state that despite the manner in which your men have been distributed over various defensive posts, he has had opportunities of observing the efficient and soldier-like manner in which various detachments have carried out their duties…⁵
This was signed by G.H. Jeppe, Captain and Adjutant, 5th Mounted Rifles R.L.I..
Were the Frontiersmen brave fighters against a communist rebellion, or merely strike-breakers? As with anything to do with history there is usually more than one opinion.
In 1926 the London Frontiersmen formed the Mounted Reserve of the City of London Police and were praised for their work during the General Strike. In spite of the British upper classes’ fear of the kind of red revolution experienced in Russia ten years earlier, this was very much a British type of strike, which in no way looked like leading to revolution. Once again the question can be asked as to whether the Frontiersmen were strike-breakers or patriots serving their country’s best interest.
Strong links were formed in other countries. The Frontiersmen were regularly called on for support by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, culminating in a rather too short-lived official affiliation in the late 1930s. Various cities’ police departments also sought the support of the Frontiersmen. As one example, Edmonton Police Chief A.G. Shute can be seen in photographs lining up with the Frontiersmen. On his retirement in 1942 he immediately joined the Legion. The Frontiersmen in Canada were issued with official Police shields as auxiliaries. In British Columbia Frontiersmen were sworn in as Special Constables and carried out duties in first aid, air raid precautions and many others. The vast and lightly populated west coast of Canada was vulnerable to Japanese invasion; for this reason woodsmen and associated citizenry were recruited and outfitted to become Pacific Coast Militia Rangers patrolling ‘’eyes and ears’’ for the Canadian military. One role of the Legion of Frontiersmen, made up of often older Great War veterans, was to support the PCMR, who were the fore-runner of today’s Canadian Rangers. The story of the Legion’s association with, and duties with, the police and R.C.M.P. in Canada is far too long and complicated to be covered here. It is expected to become a subject for post-graduate university research.
The final story we will cover is that of the notorious Crystal Beach race riots of 1956. Crystal Beach, Ontario was a popular amusement park located across the USA border from Buffalo, New York. Although social norms of 1956 did not encourage comfortable racial intermingling, this Canadian park was not ‘’segregated’’. It was a popular summer destination for both black and white U.S. citizens via a 45 minute excursion on the Buffalo, N.Y.‘s vessel, the ‘Canadiana’. Racial tensions strained by civil immaturity and escalating intolerance erupted into violence at Crystal Beach and continued on the Buffalo ferry homeward bound. “The Argus” (Melbourne, Australia) newspaper report stated that “Canadian and Buffalo police are forbidden, under international agreement, to board the excursion craft. Two special police aboard the Canadiana were helpless.” It seems virtually certain that the “two special police” on board were actually Legion of Frontiersmen volunteers, uniformed “citizens” rather than sworn policemen representing any province, state or country. If this was the case, as is evidenced by the rather faded newspaper cutting shown here, authorities on the spot must have hoped that these citizen-volunteers would have provided some sense of authority in lieu of sworn police officers. This “bluff” at policing 1700 agitated ferry passengers obviously failed, as two persons were not a deterrent to youths, both black and white, intent upon intimidation and racial conflict:
RACE RIOTS SHOCK US CITY
BUFFALO, NEW YORK, Thursday: A day-long race riot between white and negro teenagers reached a violent climax last night when knife bearing gangs seized control of a crowded excursion boat on Lake Erie. Six persons were admitted to hospitals with minor injuries, and Buffalo and Canadian police arrested several youths. The riot began yesterday morning as the excursion boat Canadiana was taking a mixed group to the opening of the Crystal Beach Amusement Park, across Lake Erie. It continued throughout most of the day and was not broken up by police until the boat returned to Buffalo late at night. Police who met the boat took 30 hysterical white girls to headquarters. The boat carried about 1,700 passengers, of whom 1,300 were negroes. “Gangs just took over the boat and roamed at will,” one witness said. Forty white boys and girls barricaded themselves in a dining-room for protection from the gangs.
Nightmare of knives
Margaret Wynn, a reporter for the “Buffalo Courier,” who was on the boat, said it was a “nightmare of flashing knives and sobbing, frightened teenagers. “Gangs of negro girls roamed the boat “attacking and molesting white girls.” Canadian and Buffalo police are forbidden, under international agreement, to board the excursion craft. Two special police aboard the Canadiana were helpless.⁶
The news photo shown here mis-identifies the Frontiersman as “provincial police.” There are other references to be found of “provincial police”, “park police” and that the vessel had on board its own “privately contracted special police.” Analyses of the riot were made years later when the Frontiersmen were not so much in evidence, so the mis-description of their then little-known uniform is unsurprising. Victoria Wolcott’s “Recreation and Race in the Postwar City” is an informative analysis. ⁷
Here we have one final example of the Frontiersmen being asked to do the “dirty work” for the authorities. There are many more we could have quoted. Frontiersmen have always tried to do their duty for the legal authorities, at times receiving credit for this, but usually being treated by those at the very highest level as something of an embarrassment. Frontiersmen were, whatever the reaction, happy to do their duty by society.
¹ Letter from Claude Bathe, New Zealand Adjutant, 10th December 1984, in Legion archives. See also: frontiersmen.homestead.com (external link).
² Roger Pocock, Chorus to Adventurers, (Bodley Head, 1931) p.53
³ The Frontiersman magazine, December 1913, p.251
⁴ Morning Oregonian, http://www.oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83025138/1914-06-20/ed-1/seq-1/
⁵ The Frontiersman,June 1922, p.31. See also F.S. Crafford, Jan Smuts, a biography, (Doubleday Doran & Co 1944) 190-198
⁷ Wolcott, Victoria W., Recreation and Race in the Postwar City: Buffalo’s 1956 Crystal Beach Riot, The Journal of American History; June 2006; 93; 1; ProQuest Central, p.63.
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.
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