Answering the Call

Roger Pocock at Northold, 1937

Topic June / July 2019. As the threat of another world war grew ever more likely in the 1930s, Frontiersmen had hopes that they would be granted a named unit as they had in the First War. As retired senior officers, both Cdt.-General Brigadier Morton and his Chief of Staff, Colonel Dunn, had contacts in the War Office. They were made to understand that there was absolutely no chance that this would happen, but, as we saw in the last topic page on Yorkshire, the army was keen to recruit as many trained Frontiersmen of suitable age as possible. Colonel Dunn wrote to all Squadron O.C.s instructing them to forward to H.Q. a nominal roll of all ranks between the ages of 41 and 55 who were physically fit and able to pass a medical examination and who were not in a reserved occupation. There can be no doubt that these men were needed as senior n.c.o.s because of their past experience. Junior ranks of the army had no experience of battle conditions on the continent. We will never know how many sergeants and sergeant-majors who crossed the Channel with the British Expeditionary Force had gained the benefit of training and service with the Legion of Frontiersmen.

In Canada, Australia and New Zealand the demand to go and fight for the Mother Country which we saw in 1914 was nowhere near as fervent. In Canada, the Frontiersmen who did not join the armed forces were in big demand as auxiliaries to the Police. Police in many towns and cities in Canada relied heavily on the services of the Frontiersmen. They wore their own uniform which they paid for themselves with an auxiliary police badge above the left breast pocket. If extra auxiliaries were needed in nearby towns the Frontiersmen would travel there, again at their own expense, to provide back-up. Some Frontiersmen even used their own vehicles. In the town of Guelph, Ontario, Cpl Walter Smale used his own van, or panel truck, displaying a temporary sign on each side reading “Guelph Auxiliary Police”. This in spite of the fact that the R.C.M.P. had ended the official affiliation of the Legion. In New Zealand there was to be great concern about possible Japanese invasion, especially after Pearl Harbour, and so the Frontiersmen were used in home defence.

Some of the City of London Squadron, c. 1935.

Two letters written by Ernest F. (Fred) Meacock (1904-1985) in 1979 give the clearest picture possible of life in the Frontiersmen in the period before World War 2 and how the military eagerly recruited any trained Frontiersman they could at the start of that war. Meacock commanded No. 1Troop of “A” City of London Squadron, which has always been the elite Squadron of the Legion. He was also Equitation Officer for London Command. The Squadron was commanded by Capt. Lazenby. On the formation of the LDV/Home Guard Meacock was seconded as a weapon training officer until he joined the Royal Tank Regiment. He was badly wounded in the leg at El Alamein and invalided out of the army, but he did manage to wangle himself a position in the T.A. Reserve of Officers in a Cadet Unit. Although he was invited to rejoin the Legion after the war he declined as he could no longer ride due to his wound and he believed that all Frontiersmen should be able to ride.

City of London Squadron, 1938

Meacock remembered meeting Roger Pocock when he reviewed the City of London Squadron at a gymkhana at Northolt in 1937. Roger stayed the night under canvas and chatted until well into the night. Unfortunately Meacock did not say or did not remember what they talked about. Next morning Roger reviewed the Squadron and Meacock “was horrified to see behind him the cookhouse dog busily gnawing the Sunday joint in the grass. I have never known an inspection last so long.”

We will quote in full from Meacock’s second letter as this is the best and most well-written surviving account of what it was then like to be a Frontiersman:

“…I suppose my best plan will be briefly to outline the position as it appeared to me, a very young [age 33] troop commander in a squadron composed of hard-bitten troopers – many of them ex-commissioned officers all be-medalled and many decorated, most of them refusing to take any sort of rank, but all determined to have a good time in what was an incredible elite force. The discipline on parade was harsh – almost Prussian, but off parade was another matter. It was a very happy period of my life, especially as we knew that war was coming and we hoped, indeed we were promised, that we should serve as a unit under our own officers. When the Territorial Army was doubled overnight, we were asked whether we could supply NCOs and officers to help with the training of the new intakes, and there was an immediate response naturally. I vividly recall a TA Sgt-Major whispering in my ear,

‘Sir, when you call the parade to attention, you must not address them as Frontiersmen. The order is Squad!’

When the LDV was formed (soon to be the Home Guard), the Legion melted away as our highly trained Frontiersmen were gladly embodied by whichever unit could grab them. I served as Adjutant to General Gough in ‘Z’ zone, until I was called into the Royal Tank Regiment…

During the whole of my service with the Legion I knew nothing of any internal difficulties. Probably the coming conflict made for greater unity and the burying of quarrels. I don’t know. I only know that each monthly copy of ‘The Frontiersman’ carried on the inside front and back pages the whole lay-out of the LF over the Empire with names,squadrons, right down to troop commanders and at our occasional regimental dinners in London and elsewhere there were usually representatives from overseas. At the gymkhana of which I told you the crowd were greatly entertained to hear, booming over the loudspeaker, the R[ough] R[iding] Sgt-Major from Woolwich Squadron shouting:

‘Where the hell is that B****** from Hong Kong? He’s supposed to be riding in the next event. Find him someone!’

And so it was. The only real dispute was between the Independent Overseas Legion of Frontiersmen and the Legion itself. My memory grows dim, but I seem to recall a message from Danny Driscoll to the assembled representatives of both organisations, ‘Let there be one flock and one shepherd!’ Which happened and went to war reconciled, although in many and various guises. I recall one Barrage Balloon Unit entirely composed of a troop of the Legion, while the early days in France and Belgium took heavy toll of the best and youngest, and I know very little of events afterwards…

…unfortunately the old man with the scythe has been too busy and is finishing what the German Schmeisser machine guns started and survivors are not very thick on the ground. Roger, Driscoll, even Lord Loch, had a vision and for a while we walked in the high places in their wake. All I am sure of is that the High Command in all the Armed Forces, whether they appreciated it or not, owed more than could have been ever foreseen to the stiffening imparted by my comrades of the L[egion of] F[rontiersmen], in which it was an honour to have served.

In the First War many Frontiersmen were proud to serve in the named units of 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers or 210th Frontiersmen Bn. Canadian Expeditionary Force; some New Zealand and Australian Frontiersmen got away with wearing the little button badge of the Frontiersmen when serving at Gallipoli, in Mesopotamia, in Palestine. In the Second World War, there were to be no named units, but the Frontiersmen did their duty around the world – in the British Expeditionary Force where many did not survive and we are unaware how many came back from Dunkirk, in famous battles such as El Alamein where Fred Meacock was seriously wounded, or in what were considered side-shows in places like Africa. Those who did not fight abroad did their particular duties as we have seen in earlier topic pages – in the A.R.P., the Home Guard, as Auxiliary Police and in defending their countries against possible Japanese attack. As Fred Meacock wrote, the free world owed more than could have been ever foreseen to the Frontiersmen who rushed to serve. Many laid down their lives.

collageIndex to photographs

1. Roger Pocock at the 1937 Northolt camp. Note the delight on the faces of the men taken in the photograph with him. He was very much a famous man at the time, and people were keen to have their photographs taken with him.

2. Lazenby is stood to the left of Capt Dale who is at the centre front.

3. Although we cannot confirm it, Fred Meacock is probably the officer in the front row, third from the left as you look at it, and not wearing medals. He had been too young to serve in the First War. He must have worked abroad to be accepted in the Frontiersmen and also been a highly-skilled horseman to be appointed as Equitation Officer for London Command. In daily life he was the Catering Manager for one of the London Clubs.  Fred Meacock fought at El Alamein with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment. On 24th September 1942 he was awarded the Military Medal.

4, 5, and 6 are badges and a shoulder title issued to Frontiersmen as Auxiliary Police across Canada.

© 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

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