Topic April / May 2019. The first unit of the Legion of Frontiersmen in the county of Yorkshire, England was formed, as can be seen from the copy of the original invitation card shown here, in October 1906. For well over sixty years Yorkshire was to be the strongest and most loyal Frontiersmen county outside of London. If you look at the most excellent website dedicated to the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Legion of Frontiersmen) in East Africa:
you cannot but notice the large numbers of Yorkshiremen who enlisted in that proud battalion, estimated by Capt. A.W. Lloyd, M.C. at between 300 and 400. It has been suggested that this is a conservative estimate and there could very well have been considerably more. Capt. Lloyd was one of the few officers to serve right through the campaign until he was seriously injured in the Frontiersmen’s final battle. He knew more about the men than most of the officers. More Yorkshiremen wrote back to their local newspapers describing life in that campaign than from any other county. We can be grateful for the excellent pen-pictures they painted of the fighting and of the local flora and fauna. What was it about the Legion of Frontiersmen that attracted this organisation to men from this particular county?
There is something characteristic about the very physiognomy of the Yorkshireman. He is much more of a Dane or a Viking than a Saxon. He is usually a big upstanding man, who looks as if he could take care of himself and those who depend upon him in an emergency. This is indeed the character that his neighbours give him; the southerner may think him a little hard: but if ever our country is let down by its inhabitants, we may be sure that it will not be the fault of Yorkshire.¹
Looking at the political picture during the first half of the 20th century, the Yorkshiremen did not seem particularly political as they voted different parties in at different elections. Frontiersmen had a tendency, whatever Headquarters in London said, to meet at a local hostelry and they were probably more interested in the quality of ale than in political movements. A family member said that the Halifax Troop had arranged special licensing hours for their meetings, so that would have made membership of the Legion popular.² Yorkshiremen have always claimed to be almost a race of their own, descended from a different tribe of invaders of England, and had a strong belief in democracy. That is what would have attracted them to the Legion. In East Africa the Frontiersmen had little time for Staff officers who seemed to them to only hold their position due to which school they had attended and the fact that they were upper class. Class consciousness still existed, even after the First War. Frontiersmen wanted to be led by born leaders, irrespective of class and therefore elected some fine men to be their officers. As ever, army rank made no difference to them. For example, in 1938, the Medical Officer for “B” Squadron, Legion Lieutenant G.H.L.Hammerton, C.M.G., D.S.O., T.D. had been a full Colonel in the army, whereas the Legion officers in charge of Troops or Squadrons had often served as n.c.o.s in the army – but they all held those positions because they had won the respect of the men. When the new club headquarters of “B” Squadron (Dewsbury, Wakefield, Halifax and Barnsley Troops) was opened officially on 15th June 1935 by Brigadier R.F. Sugden,:
” Captain Leonard Shaw, Officer commanding “B” Squadron, presided and announced that Brigadier-General Sugden wished to become a Frontiersman.
General Sugden said that he was thoroughly tired of being a general, and wished to become an ordinary member of the Legion. He had started his military life as a trooper It would not be the first time he had been a trooper, and had been corporal, a sergeant and many other ranks. The Legion of Frontiersmen was a body well worth belonging to.” ³
Yorkshiremen in addition had a strong sense of law and order and support for the community. We already know that the London Frontiersmen formed the mounted reserve of the City of London Police, but at the time of the General Strike in 1926, twenty-seven Yorkshire Frontiersmen signed up as Special Constables, not to break the strike, but to ensure that everyone on both sides of the argument followed the rule of law. In 1928 a motor transport section was organised under Legion Captain Rowland Winn to help in any emergency where there was a disruption of essential civil transport. By 1936, the Air Command was in full action with nine privately-owned planes. They were ready to assist the authorities with the transport of urgent medical supplies and other duties in any emergency. The Frontiersmen received great support from Mayors and other dignitaries and also the Earl of Harewood. The Leeds Squadron was permitted to have its Headquarters at the Harewood Barracks, where they were able to experience physical training and horse-riding training with the Yorkshire Hussars.
In 1937 the government were busy recruiting auxiliary firemen in preparation for air attacks. Most of the Leeds Frontiersmen volunteered and undertook training in ladder and hose work. Those who did not re-join the armed forces were to be needed in a very few years. In September 1938, the Town Clerk of Bridlington reported that he had received a telegram from the War Office:
“Give your Frontiersmen special job in your district. Ask your men to stand by further in case war breaks. Strength for each geographical district? Very urgent.” ⁴
By December 1939 all 60 members of the Sheffield Frontiersmen were reported to be serving again in some capacity or other.
“When the war came the Sheffield Squadron of the Legion of Frontiersmen was ready.
The War Office at once sent out an appeal to the Legion squadrons for senior n.c.o.s from the 1914-18 war to take up their old rank in the army and accompany new battalions to France and Sheffield sent its quota.
With very little training they were able to assume their old ranks of sergeant-majors and sergeants and went out to France…” ⁵
After WW2 the Legion numbers throughout Britain made a surprisingly speedy recovery when consideration is given to the numbers of men who had lost their lives in the conflict. Most older Legion officers had served in the Home Guard , A.R.P. and A.F.S. and ensured continuity of the L.O.F. after the war. Fortunately, Colonel E. Dunn, D.S.O., who had been Brigadier Morton’s Chief of Staff before the war agreed to take over as Cdt-General and proved to be a very steady hand on the tiller right through the 1950s until old age affected him. It may be wondered whether he would have been a wiser choice than Morton for Cdt-General before the war. Although their numbers were not as great as between the wars, Yorkshire again proved to be the most successful area for the Legion outside London. Photographs show substantial groups. A grainy newspaper photograph here shows the Shipley Troop on their way to London for Remembrance Day 1949. The Legion was then still welcomed at the Cenotaph in Legion uniform. They did not just lay one wreath on behalf of the whole Legion but, as can be seen here, individual Troops and Squadrons brought their own dedicated wreaths. Another faded photograph shows many Yorkshire Frontiersmen in 1954 turned out for the St. George’s Day Parade, which was then always enthusiastically commemorated.
Until the late 1960s the Legion’s A.G.M. was held alternate years in London and Yorkshire. By this time Col. Dunn was a very old man in a care home. In his dying years he was persuaded to hand over command to a younger man, but a power battle ensued which meant that headquarters and all meetings were held in London. The old Yorkshiremen who had done so much good failed to find the next generation of the right quality to follow them and so over some twenty years and a cumulation of problems Yorkshire ceased to be at the heart of the Legion. Will one day some more proud Yorkshiremen take up the independent and patriotic spirit of the old Frontiersmen? Who can say?
¹Read, Herbert (31 January 1929). “Review of Frederic Richard Pearson, Yorkshire”. The Times Literary Supplement. p.79.
² Letters from Mrs Rita Gill, daughter of Sgt Greaves of Halifax Troop, 1990, in Legion files.
³ “Yorkshire Post, 16th June,1935. The topic page which will follow this one in due course will expand on the subject of rank in the Legion of Frontiersmen, how it was treated, and how trained Frontiersmen were eagerly sought out by the services at the start of W.W.2
⁴ “Hull Daily Mail” 29th September, 1938
⁵ “The Star” Sheffield 15th December, 1939
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