Chaplains of Adventure

A Harry Leigh Pink photo reproduced courtesy of the Leigh Pink family

Topic October/November 2018.  The first Legion Padre was Bishop H.H. Montgomery, who we will know of in the main as being the father of the famous Montgomery of Alamein. He was succeeded by several mainly London-based clergymen, often with somewhat unusual surnames. In 1909 there were two Chaplains: Arthur Humphrey Townsend (1867-1942) an eccentric curate, and W Grome-Merrilees. From 1912 the duties were shared by F.W. Everard Digby-Digby, F. Houlden Merrick and C.P. Casey. From 1914 until after the end of the war, the sole Chaplain was Rt. Revd. E.N. Powell (1859-1928) who between 1908 and 1910 had been Bishop of Mashonaland.

In the 1930s, the enthusiastic Padre was the Revd. William Pennington-Bickford, well-known in London. Although not a Frontiersman traveller, as he had spent his whole career as Rector of St. Clement Danes, he was an outstanding publicist and his Church was central to many Frontiersmen parades in the capital. In 1919 he had restored the church bells and 1920 he used the carillon to play the tune of “Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St. Clement”. Other London churches have claimed that they were the original St. Clement but Pennington-Bickford made the rhyme his own, holding an annual service when fruit, the gift of the London Danish community, was handed out to children. On May 10th 1941 St. Clement burned down as the result of a German incendiary bomb. Pennington-Bickford was so broken-hearted that he died a month later and it is believed that he took his own life. His wife fell from an attic window shortly afterwards and this was also believed to be suicide because she could not face life without her husband.

The best-known Canadian Padre was Legion Major Harry Leigh-Pink. He wrote many lively western and adventure books under the name of Hal Pink, as well as the biography of a man whose name will be familiar to Canadian Frontiersmen, “Bill Guppy, King of the Woodsmen, life–long friend and tutor of ‘Grey Owl’”. One of his more lurid fiction books was “The Screaming Plant.” “Flower-shaped suckers there were indeed, opening and shutting like so many mouths waiting for food…” The plant’s first victim is the cat, the plant sucking all the blood out of the poor animal. Leigh-Pink was a good friend of the Legion Founder, Roger Pocock, and told the story of Christmas 1930 when Leigh-Pink worked for London General Press.

Strong tea was his tipple in those days – he was 63 (actually 65) – and usually he managed to arrive in my office just when the typist had made a steaming brew. Off would come his trench-coat and hat, dripping wet from the London rain; he would plump in the captain’s chair beside my desk, I would push a packet of Gold Flakes towards him, down went the tea, up went the smokes, and some chance comment of mine would set him off on a chain of reminiscence. 1

Leigh-Pink interviewed many Frontiersmen and wrote excellent accounts of some of the events they had experienced in East Africa.

1908 photo of Cave from The Sketch.jpg

However, the strangest and most adventurous of the Legion padres has to be Sir Genille Cave-Browne-Cave who took over the duties during the 1920s until his death in 1929. Born in 1869, his escapades caused his family many problems. His father sent him to a training ship of the Royal Naval Reserve, but after 6 months his father was told to “take the little devil home”. The boy wanted a life at sea so his father apprenticed him to serve on the sailing ships sailing to Australia. Still causing problems he signed on in the 13th Hussars claiming to be 18 instead of 16½ becoming a“gentleman ranker”. As we have seen in earlier pages, it was not only Buffalo Bill who ran a Wild West Circus and the young man became involved with “Mexican Joe’s” Wild West Show. This made him determined to become a cowboy. After service in India he bought himself out of the army. He spent some time wandering and working in Burma, Australia, America and Greenland and finally made his way “out west” in America to become a cowboy. He soon became an expert both with a lariat and with a gun. First of all known as “English” his nickname changed to “Kit”, short for Kitty. For the full entertaining story of how that came about the reader will have to search out a copy of his very rare (and nowadays very expensive) autobiography “From Cowboy to Pulpit”. 2 Other stories tell of how the westerners found their way around prohibition. He served in the Spanish American War of 1898. He would have liked to have fought in the Boer War but instead found himself on a ship going to China. Even then he was unable to get into action in the Boxer Rebellion as he could find no way to leave his ship. He returned to his cowboy life in the west of America. What he said about the life there confirms everything Roger Pocock wrote about it.3 He told some fascinating stories:

One fine old judge that I remember was coroner as well, but he had only two formulas for the death certificates – that is to say, when he remembered to fill them in. One of them was that the deceased died from lead poisoning – that was when he was shot; the other was that he had died from lack of breath, which was when he was hanged.

1908 Cave Wild West Show from The Sketch

His skills in all of the cowboy arts became well known and he was offered a job running the Circle Dot ranch. This belonged to a wealthy man who had entrusted it to his son who knew little about cowboy work. The word soon got around the local town that this Englishman would be taking over the ranch, and not everyone approved:

‘Be careful, English, Big Nat is going to get you.’

Not only was Kit skilled at handling cattle, he was also fearless and a crack shot with a revolver. One evening he went to the town and found that everyone was giving him a wide berth, when out of a local eating house stepped Big Nat, obviously well-lubricated with liquor:

“You damned English,” he said, ‘going to run an outfit, are you,’ he said huskily, ‘I’m going to blow you apart.’ He made a grab with his gun, but as it came out of the holster my Colt roared, and his went flying out of his hand. I shall never forget the look of surprise and terror on his face as he saw my gun covering him and expecting me to drop him where he stood.

‘I can shoot straight and quick,’ I said, ‘and can draw as quick as I can shoot. But it will do me no good to kill you. Get out of town as quick as you can.’

The street by this time was full of men, curious as to what was going to happen, but he slipped away like a hare, and not even stopping to pick up his gun. In ranch law I should have been quite justified in killing him. I was never bothered there again.

Roping with lariat

Kit began work at the ranch and was kept busy mending fences until one evening a group of three or four men rode up They seemed far from friendly and one of them remarked:

‘Goin’ to run this outfit?’

‘Sure thing,’ I said.

‘Huh, and what’ll yo do if yor cattle get stolen?’

‘Look here, stranger,’ I said, ‘if I lose one head I get two back for it, understand? We hang cattle thieves round here. I’m chancing things, and I am running this outfit to suit myself.’

After a few more remarks they rode off, but I felt there was trouble brewing, and that night I gave my two .45 Colts an extra clean. It was always best to carry one, although while working on fences I had not been packing a gun.

Now, by this time I had got to know my herd pretty well, and although things went on pretty smoothly for a time, one morning I missed several head from the herd, and on counting them I found it was exactly ten. That night I went off alone looking for night herds. In the end I found one and in the early morning I returned to the ranch with twenty head, which I turned into my herd. This was rank stealing, of course, and that day I carried two guns. I had made up my mind to see it out, testing myself several times that day. I knew exactly how fast I was on the draw.

Towards sundown I saw what I took to be the same four men riding towards the ranch, and I slipped round to the back of the the ranch house and waited with my back to the corral fence, so that no one could get round and attack me from behind. Riding up, they dismounted and came towards me.

‘Where in hell did you get them cows?’ shouted one.

‘Stole ’em,’ I replied at the top of my voice.

‘Hell,’ he yelled, and I saw his hands move.

In a flash both of my guns were out, and here I remembered a very useful hint given me by an old Texas gunman. When facing more than one man always keep your eye on something midway between them, then you cannot miss the slightest movement on the part of anyone. In addition, a very useful gift I possessed was the ability to read a man’s thoughts. When the brain sends a signal to the muscle to pull a gun and take the risk of life or death, the eyes always open slightly wider. That knowledge has saved my life more than once. You can shoot while the other man has hardly got his gun out. But in the case I am relating the men had come to a dead stop.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘I can get two of you if the other two get me. Now move, and I’ll blow you wide open.’

There was not as much as the tremor of an eyelid on either side for the moments that seemed like minutes: then the leader said ‘Put up your guns.’

I did so.

‘Now shake hands,’ he said holding out his own with a friendly laugh.

We shook. ⁵

The men all then sat down together for supper and a chat, although the ranch cook had been scared out of his life. That night Kit returned those twenty head of cattle and within a few days the missing ten cows had mysteriously returned.

Kit and the leader of the men soon became firm friends.

The way of the West.

It was a boisterous life and the brotherhood of the cowboy never left any man. This explains why so many who had worked in the American west were to join the early Legion. Eventually his father died and “Kit of the Circle Dot ranch” became an English Baronet, although he continued to work as a cowboy when he could escape the press who plagued him on his visits to and from England. Being an expert with the lariat, he was called upon by Colonel Cummins to appear in his Wild West Show, also referred to as “Colonel Cummins’ Wild West Indian Congress and Rough Riders of the World”, at Liverpool. When that show moved to Europe he set up his own show persuading some of those who had been performing with him to join his show. In spite of the fact that there were over a hundred “Wild West Shows” touring U.S.A. and Europe, he experienced some success at the Hippodrome arena in London. His father had left him an estate deeply in debt and “Kit” was determined to earn enough money to pay off the family debts. Shortage of money was to plague him for the rest of his life. Unable to settle down, he moved between America and England. One day by chance he attended a Salvation Army meeting in New York and became a converted Christian and left his cowboy life to work in the Ministry.

Londesborough church parade with the padre

At the beginning of the War in 1914 he tried to gain acceptance as an army chaplain but was too old. Eventually he got taken on by the C.E.F. and served in England as a corporal. On demobilisation he was ordained in the Church of England and settled down as the Vicar of Londesborough in the East Riding of Yorkshire, becoming in the 1920s until his death the Frontiersmen’s Padre who had lived a life as adventurous as any other Frontiersman, but was now a man of peace who had laid aside his Colt revolver. As seen in the photograph, the Frontiersmen regularly attended a church parade at his church.

The Legion’s Padre in uniform

Will any of the Legion’s more recent Padres be able to tell of such an adventurous life story as their predecessors? We will have to wait until after they have departed this world and then future historians will be able to record their lives as part of the Legion’s long history.

1 “Canadian Frontiersman” Oct-Nov-Dec 1964. More about this is to be found in “Outrider of Empire: the life and adventures of Roger Pocock”, by Geoffrey A Pocock. For more of Leigh Pink’s stories see: Frontiersmen have always been found in the most unlikely places and

2 “From Cowboy to Pulpit” by Sir Genille Cave-Browne-Cave (London, Herbert Jenkins, 1926, see also extracts published in the “Dundee Evening Telegraph”, November 1926)

3 “Outrider of Empire” tells much of Roger Pocock’s experiences as a cowboy and with cowboys, particularly when he rode the “Outlaw Trail” from Canada to Mexico in 1899

⁴ “From Cowboy to Pulpit” and “Dundee Evening Telegraph”.

⁵ Ibid

The photograph of a Legion Church Parade at Londesborough together with the Padre is from an unidentified newspaper cutting in the Legion archives and therefore reproduced as well as is possible.

© 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
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