Real Austerity

First Armistice Day Parade, Leeds, 1919

Topic August / September 2019. It was not until 1922 that the Legion of Frontiersmen recovered in any way from the losses of the First War. The Legion had grown so rapidly in its first ten years and with such enthusiasm that it had outgrown any structure. Communication across the globe was far from easy and a letter to or from Australia, New Zealand or Africa could take many weeks. Not only had the Legion lost many thousands of members in the conflict, but the influenza epidemic that followed the war took the lives of many who had survived all that four years of war could throw at them. Many units had lost every single member. In 1922 the “Frontiersman” magazine began to be printed and distributed again. It might take until the end of 1922 or even early 1923 for the first magazines to reach units and sub-units in distant parts of the world, but it was read with delight and began again the old bond to Headquarters in London and Frontiersmen friends around the world. In parts of England, such as Yorkshire, Frontiersmen had begun to meet again as early as 1919 in comradeship, especially those survivors of the campaign of the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa.

At the end of the Second War the Frontiersmen had far fewer communication problems. By the end of the 1930s the structure and chain of command was well-established. That continued throughout the war with a number of dedicated volunteers who, in addition to their duties in the Home Guard, as Air Raid Wardens, Auxiliary Firemen and Special Constables, still gave their time to ensure that communication carried on not only in Britain, but to other countries. The Legion made use of telegraphic communication, unavailable in the First War, especially to Canada as mails could not be guaranteed to reach their destination. In Canada and other Commonwealth countries, the Frontiersmen continued to be used as auxiliaries to the Police and other official bodies. It was in post-war Britain that the Frontiersmen had to seek another role, as their particular preparations for the past two wars would not be needed again. Frontiersmen in Britain had a major problem which did not affect other Commonwealth countries in the same way.

And that was – Rationing.

The country was almost bankrupt and everything manufactured had to be sold abroad wherever possible. There has been much talk in recent years in Britain about “austerity”, but to those living or even surviving during the years after World War 2 the idea that Britain suffers austerity nowadays will be considered risible. The Legion was also in major financial difficulties. Apart from the fact that the front of the building in Craven Street, London used as Headquarters had been bombed out, the Legion could no longer afford the rent. Throughout the war and in the first years afterwards subscriptions were hardly coming in at all. It was only generous donations from the Frontiersmen in New Zealand and the affiliated Corps of Imperial Frontiersmen in Canada that kept the Legion financially afloat. The much-prized Air Command had to be disbanded as there was no petrol for private flying. It was also nearly impossible for the Legion to offer use of Frontiersmen’s private vehicles in any emergency. Those who had been able to keep their pre-war cars could seldom get petrol for private use. The country was making as many cars as it could, but almost all for export. If anyone could afford to buy a new car the waiting list was at least two years. The situation was such that if anyone was lucky or influential enough to be able to buy a new car, they could sell it after six months for a profit. Virtually every commodity and most foodstuffs were on ration. Town gardens were turned over from flowers to vegetables and perhaps a few chickens as a luxury. Nobody was over-weight, even those lucky enough to have relatives in U.S.A. and Canada who could send food parcels. Meat was the final item to come off ration, but not until the summer of 1954. Many houses in cities and towns had been bombed in the Blitz and people, including many Frontiersmen, had lost not only their homes but also their possessions. Since its formation, the Legion had been proud that every Frontiersman had to be able to ride. There was little or no fodder for recreational horse riding. That was needed for working horses. Because of the shortage of fuel, deliveries, such as coal, milk, fish etc. were still being made locally by horse and cart. Cities and towns were gritty and grimy with whole areas reduced to rubble by the bombing. Except in the country where wood was available, the source of heat was coal, but as the best coal was being exported all that remained for sale (on limited ration) was poorest quality contributing more to pollution “smogs” and grime than heating. Fortunately the Legion had the support of the Territorial Army and for several years were allowed the use of T.A. halls and barracks for their meetings and often borrowed army horses. For a few years after the war, the Headquarters of the Legion of Frontiersmen was a Nissen hut in a bombed out area of London off the Pentonville Road, which was also the HQ of one of London’s T.A. units.

The one item which greatly affected the Frontiersmen was the uniform of which the Legion was so proud. Clothing coupons were needed by the family for more important items. Newspapers reporting on Frontiersmen parades said how smart they were, but how sad it was that only around half of the men wore the distinctive uniform. There was a belief in “make do and mend”. A man’s wife or growing child might need a coat to keep them warm. There in the wardrobe was a Frontiersman’s patrol jacket made of fine pre-war quality navy serge and enough material could be taken from that to make a serviceable coat. The strong bedford cord of the breeches would make a useful skirt for a lady. Every area had a seamstress or a tailor happy to make a conversion. Those demobbed from the services were issued with a “demob suit” but older Frontiersmen who had served in the Home Guard, with A.R.P., the A.F.S. or similar gained no such benefits. The few clothing coupons allowed had to be considered carefully for their need before being spent. Even bed sheets when they had become threadbare were given an extra lease of life by being cut down the middle and the sides sewn together. That was true austerity.

1950 Officers

It took until 1949 for the Legion to have its first post-war A.G.M., held in a Pentonville Road Nissen Hut. Colonel Dunn, still officially Chief-of-Staff, read out the report and announced that Brigadier Morton had resigned as Commandant-General. This was accepted without comment and it was decided that no discussion would be undertaken about the errors of Morton’s time in office, particularly the disastrous events regarding Canada. Dunn said that it had been impossible to find an officer from any of the services who was prepared to associate himself with the Legion. It was not until the 1951 Annual General Meeting that Dunn finally agreed to accept the position of Cdt.-General. The Legion returned from the dictatorial time of Morton to an active advisory Executive Council. Dunn led the Legion wisely throughout the 1950s until advancing years and failing health intervened. The Treasurer announced that the financial records from pre-war years had gone missing and auditors were appointed to carry out an enquiry. This was not the first (or last) time that financial irregularities appeared in Legion accounts. It was apparent that, although the overall structure of the Legion was mainly sound, without a generous donation from New Zealand the Legion would have gone out of business in 1948. By 1950 the Legion had moved its HQ to the T.A. hall at Penton Street, Islington. In 1951 with regard to the large numbers of Frontiersmen in Yorkshire, the annual meeting was moved to the Northern HQ at Gibraltar Barracks in Leeds. At all three meetings there was a representative from New Zealand and in 1951 also one from Nigeria. Capt. C.J. Cocksedge, the o.c. of “L” Squadron was there to represent New Zealand.. Visitors to Britain were welcome as their money was needed but no H.Q. officer could travel abroad. Travel abroad was not encouraged except to promote exports and for several years even those Britons who could afford to travel were prohibited from taking any more than ten pounds with them to spend abroad.

3 NZ Whakatane 1949 AGM

NZ Whakatane, 1949 AGM

Canadian Frontiersmen were independent and successful. Canadian Division had of course separated before the War and had successfully recruited a number of Canadian ex-pats in Britain to form several U.K. Canadian Division Squadrons. The Corps of Imperial Frontiersmen were involved in security duties in Canada but retained their affiliation to Imperial Headquarters. The reports that went back to New Zealand were very concerned about the state of affairs in Britain although there appear to have been little or no mention of the problems caused by the severe austerity. The possibility of moving Legion Headquarters out of Britain to one of the Dominions such as New Zealand was seriously discussed in that country, but the British Frontiersmen slowly dragged themselves back on their feet again, although only as a shadow of the inter-war years. They searched for a rôle because future technical wars would need more than their frontier skills. Other than commemorating the past on parades, they began training in basic skills as first responders until specialists could arrive in any emergency. In the 1970s extremists of both left and right considered that the Legion could be a useful tool in Britain and attempts were made around the country at infiltration. These were completely unsuccessful as the Legion still remained and remains completely non-political, but that is another story for another time.

Yorkshire Evening Post caricatures, 24th June 1955


The second photograph shows staff officers of the Legion in 1950. Left to right: H.J. “Bish” Bishop, Col. E. Dunn, D.S.O. (Cdt.-General), George Hawkins, and Dr. Russell V. Steele, O.St. J. Dr. Russell Steele was Senior Medical Officer for the Legion of Frontiersmen and also held a senior position with St. John Ambulance.

The third photograph was taken at the New Zealand Conference in 1949 and shows how strong the Legion remained in that country. Photograph reproduced by kind permission of New Zealand Command.

The fourth picture, from the ‘Yorkshire Evening Post’ is of splendid caricatures by “Thack”of some senior officers taken at the dinner following the Legion A.G.M. held at Leeds in 1955. Note Major-General Sir Eric Girdwood KBE, CB, CMG (1876-1963), the distinguished retired army officer who had just become President of the Legion, a post he held enthusiastically until his death in 1963. He had been the popular Commandant of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst from 1927 until 1930

© 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, New Zealand, World War II and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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