Publicising the Legion and Recruitment

Tatler Kent camp 29 Apr 08

Topic December 2018 / January 2019. Certainly the Legion of Frontiersmen showed skills in recruitment and promoting the Legion, especially in the early years. With no television and no radio to occupy their relaxation time men went out in search of entertainment. The Frontiersmen skilfully attracted men, especially those who had served in the Boer War. Right through until the Second World War, the Legion was constantly putting on “smoking concerts”. These had been popular entertainment in South Africa and the Legion decided to repeat the popularity and use them as a way of recruiting men who had served in the military. The entertainment was often by gifted amateurs or semi-professionals. The evenings were for men only, so the men could smoke their pipes, cigars or cigarettes and engage in banter, reminiscences and risqué stories without have to take care that their language was acceptable in front of ladies. Other than temperance smoking concerts, which the Frontiersmen never promoted, there was usually a good supply of beer as they were normally held at licensed establishments. Frontiersmen ‘smokers’, as they were colloquially known, in the London area often attracted known music-hall artistes. One who was a particular attraction was Frontiersman George Leyton who was a highly popular performer of military based songs and monologues and who often appeared at leading music-halls. He was known to be a supporter of old soldiers and carried out charity work in that connection. In 1914 Leo Dryden, another well-known actor/singer of the stage was singing his patriotic songs on the music-hall stage dressed in his Frontiersman uniform promoting the Legion. Men who missed the comradeship of their army days enjoyed those evenings out at smoking concerts. The uniformed Frontiersmen present were keen to persuade them to join the Legion.

Roger Pocock the Founder, usually together with Lt. Col. Driscoll travelled the country putting on meetings and where possible with the aid of recently-formed local Frontiersmen units. Roger on his own attracted reasonable audiences but nowhere near as large as when Driscoll was in attendance, due to Driscoll’s reputation as a Boer War hero. Roger’s photographs of his adventures in America and Canada, shown with the aid of the ‘magic lantern’ and aided by his personal eccentricity were certainly some attraction, but Driscoll’s magnetic presence drew larger crowds. Roger’s promotional concert at Portsmouth in January 1907 was well reported in the local newspaper:

In the course of the evening’s amusement – and capital amusement, too – Mr. Roger Pocock, the founder the Legion, made a speech upon its objects. He was introduced by one of the leaders, Capt. J. A. Foster, and appeared in Frontiersman uniform, which appeared to be of grey cloth, with a tinge of green together with a black silk neckerchief, slouch hat, revolver in case at the side, with the belt full of cartridges, knee breeches and heavy black leggings, and spurs. As he was being introduced Mr. Pocock stood at attention, and then made a seventeen minutes speech in a soldierlike manner. His remarks were illustrated by limelight views, and when he wanted another lantern slide slide he banged the butt end of his riding whip on the platform. The sharp concussion was distinctly alarming, and you could hear ladies jump with temporary terror. They were quite prepared for a war whoop or a revolver fusilade of blank cartridge…

The lecturette was most interesting. The slides showed cowboys on the plains, frontiersmen in the Rockies, Canadian Mounted Police in the North West Provinces – their Military system of independent commands and non-red-tape has given the Legion its model – and the Union Jack and Stars and Stripes floating side by side over the snowflelds beside the Yukon, the trapper, with frosty moustache, was seen in his buckskin, and also the Rocky Mountain Dick Turpins, whom Mr. Pocock, camera in hand, caught at tea…¹

There was a supporting musical programme with a “humorist”, a conjuror, vocalists, a sword display and “ Miss Winsor’s string band”. The evening entertainment was well received but no mention was made of how many recruits were obtained for the Portsmouth Frontiersmen.

The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 17th October 1908.

Driscoll was in attendance alongside Roger Pocock at a recruiting meeting at Yarmouth, Norfolk. The attraction of having Driscoll present was indicated by the presence of the Mayor of Yarmouth presiding over the meeting. As well as old soldiers they wished to attract…

…hunters or travellers and any who had special knowledge of foreign countries, and who could perform useful services in time of war…men who had been on frontiers, and were trained in handiness and adaptability…Cowboys, big game hunters, trappers, and forest rangers had a life’s training that made them perfect scouts…They wanted colonial teamsters who could drive down the roof of a house without an upset, also an accomplished cow-thief who could steal and drive off his meat, butcher it and cook it…Such a one was a useful man. ²

Many thousands of men had travelled and worked in cattle country in the United States, in Canada, in South America, Africa and in Australia, in the mines and forests of Africa. They had returned to the home country or were just passing through on their way to the next assignment or back to where they had been working. They picked up the idea of this new organisation with its comradeship across the world, simple and inexpensive uniform and principles of duty and service to King and the Empire. They spread the word among expatriates and those with family ties to the ‘old country’. The meetings and shows staged around Britain enthused these men.

Frontiersmen Recruiting Show 1907. Due to the unavailability of ladies on that occasion, the “damsel in distress” unfortunately sports a substantial moustache.

Not only were there meetings and shows, but the Frontiersmen also staged mounted displays and assaults-at-arms. They threw open their summer camps to the press and any possible recruits who showed an interest. They put on exhibitions at shows, for example in 1913 at Handsworth Flower Show in Birmingham they gave a demonstration of mounted skills, including lassoing by ‘Prairie Dick’, an Australian Frontiersman. Frontiersmen who had worked as cowboys often adopted western names. The Legion attracted many such men. It may be surprising nowadays but, particularly in late Victorian times a steady stream of men seeking adventure travelled abroad to work at what could be described as ‘Imperial cowboys’. It was in the British nature to be a skilled horseman. We have written about ‘Texas’ Thompson before, but there was also a ‘Broncho Bill’ who appeared in Frontiersmen displays. This was not the original Broncho Bill, William Irving, who featured in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows, for he had died in 1903. A showman, J Howard Laurie, adopted that name in Edwardian times, but he was not the only Broncho Bill on stage or early film. For years it has been assumed that ‘Montana Bill’, a music-hall artiste, was a Frontiersman as he was pictured in Frontiersmen uniform, but in 1916 he was sentenced to three month’s imprisonment for unlawfully wearing Frontiersmen uniform and Canadian decorations to which he was not entitled.³ It is to be assumed that, although an American, he wished to wear uniform to prevent being given a white feather by ladies who considered anyone not in uniform to be a coward. It is most interesting that in those days the law considered that wearing Frontiersmen uniform when not a member of the Legion to be an imprisonable offence.

We have seen in earlier pages how the Frontiersmen displays at Regent’s Park were a great success. In January 1907 they produced a ‘grand assault-at-arms’ at St. James’s Hall, Manchester. This grand hall was capable of hosting an audience in the thousands and was ideal for Frontiersmen to put on a show in the depths of winter. The Earl of Lonsdale, President of the Legion, was present as was the Lord Mayor of Manchester. When the public were not in attendance members were able to hold the first ever Legion national conference with Frontiersmen coming from all around the country. The public display, on both the Friday and Saturday evenings, included sword, rapier and bayonet fighting. There was a wrestling and a boxing match between Lionel Palmer, of the very wealthy shipbuilding family and a Legion officer, who had once been amateur middle-weight champion of Canada, and Billy Bell, some time middleweight champion of England. ‘Broncho Bill’ gave an exhibition of roping. What was unusual was the despatches that arrived during the evening for Lord Lonsdale. These had been sent by relay teams from all round the country, the furthest coming from Portsmouth. These relay teams were cyclists. The Legion was advanced in its ideas as most squadrons had a dedicated cyclist troop. Their belief was that wheeled despatch riders could be used efficiently by the army as well as mounted ones, so it is evident that they were not wedded to the idea that the Legion should always be horse-mounted.

Manchester Courier 4 Jan 1910

Among Legion members were a number of newspaper men, usually those who had served as war correspondents. Legion camps were a source of interest to newspapers and photographs of them appeared in provincial as well as national newspapers. Photographs of Frontiersmen bareback riding, wrestling on horses, scouting, rope-making, cooking and carrying out many other outdoor activities were aimed at attracting recruits. The Legion sought out anything else that might attract publicity. One charitable action that produced column inches and newspaper photographs around the country in 1910 was the funeral of 93-year-old James Williamson, who was one of the few surviving Crimean War veterans. He had been in the Charge of the Light Brigade and wounded in the hip. George Leyton discovered Williamson in a workhouse in his final days, although the old soldier was happy to be there rather than out in the world trying to survive on a meagre pension. The Master of Newington Workhouse treated him as an honoured guest. When he died, Leyton alerted Colonel Driscoll and not only did the Frontiersmen purchase him a grave but paid the funeral expenses and gave him a military funeral with a revolver volley over the grave. The Prince of Wales personally presented a Union Jack to be draped over the coffin. The story of the funeral and the charitable action of the Frontiersmen was reported around the country and a photograph appeared even as far away as in the “Manchester Courier”, bringing excellent publicity for the Legion. The photograph shown here of the revolver volley may seem unusual to our eyes, but until the 1920 Firearms Act was passed by the British Parliament it was quite legal for the Frontiersmen to bear side-arms in a holster at their hips.

These are only a few examples of the intelligent ways the Legion of Frontiersmen boosted recruitment before the First War bringing in many thousands of men. Publicity and promotion have changed totally over the ensuing hundred-plus years and social media, unthought-of in the early days, has a considerable bearing on these matters. The task of these pages is just to report the past. It is for today’s Frontiersmen to think up and to carry out modern ways of recruitment.

¹ “Portsmouth Evening News” 30th January 1907
² “Yarmouth Independent” 2nd November 1907
³ “Manchester Evening News” 3rd November 1916

© 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
This entry was posted in Frontiersmen, History, Latest Topic, Legion of Frontiersmen and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s