Topic August / September 2020. Misinformation – Deception – Persuasion. It depends entirely your point of view as to what you call it. It was certainly something in which many Frontiersmen were skilled, although we have been inclined to refer to the telling “camp-fire yarns. In wartime such propaganda and persuasion had a definite value. The most notable Frontiersman with these skills was Hugh Pollard.
His most famous propaganda tale is that of the “Phantom Russian Army”. Recent researches throw doubt on his claim to be the inventor of that story and it is pretty certain to say that nobody will ever get to the bottom of how many of Pollard’s stories were true and how many invention.
When in August 1917 Roger Pocock returned from France and his position in the Labour Corps for being “too old and too infirm”, he spent the last weekend of the month staying with Hugh Pollard and his wife. As we know, Hugh Pollard was enthusiastic about inventing stories which could be useful for propaganda and because of this he was working, as were a number of authors, for M.I.7b under A.J. Dawson, another Frontiersman and contributor to The Frontiersman’s Pocket Book. To quote from Dawson’s contribution:-
…Now, by sheer force of personal example and personal influence, they [the Frontiersmen] may do something for Great and Greater Britain, for our house as a whole, for which our children and our grandchildren will have cause to thank them, for which our history will honour them…
England expects and needs that every able-bodied man should do his duty, and fulfil honourably the responsibilities of citizenship, instead of thinking only of its privileges.¹
On Pollard’s recommendation Roger was offered a three month contract. Dawson had a standard letter which he sent to every author who wished to be considered for M.I.7b:-
To that end, I am permitted to suggest to you that you might send me an article, preferably one of about 1,000, or 1,200 words, and certainly not exceeding 2,000 words, dealing in a popular way, and descriptively rather than opinionatively, with any aspect of the war which appeals to you personally, in a manner which you consider would be helpful to the Allied cause. Such an article should be suitable for publication in the Press. For purposes of propaganda, and the information of our own public and the peoples of other countries, regarding the Allies’ part in the war, what may be called the human interest is the most important; descriptive work is always valuable; strategy and tactics are out of place.²
Roger admitted he was not too successful at the job: “My masterpieces were put into a special drawer, to be disinfected, and never one saw daylight.” ³ Captain Alec John Dawson (1872-1951) was an author, traveller, journalist and lecturer who was very keen on Empire patriotism and unity. By 1908 he had written around twenty books based on his own experiences. His writings were well known in Canada, Africa and Australia and he had knowledge of many other countries. In 1908 he travelled through Canada addressing packed audiences. He edited the weekly “The Standard of Empire” for five years. He was also one who warned of the German menace to Britain. His 1907 book “The Message” was one of those that came out in Edwardian times dealing with the German problem. Invalided from France in 1915 he then worked in Intelligence, firstly in M.I.7 b and later for the Royal Flying Corps, which in April 1918 became the Royal Air Force. It was the influence of S.F. Edge, another Frontiersman and contributor to The Frontiersman’s Pocket Book, which brought both Dawson and Roger Pocock to serve the final year of the war in the Air Force. Selwyn Francis Edge, (1868-1940) was born near Sydney, Australia but moved to London aged 3. He first gained fame as a bicycle racer but by the time that book was published (1909) was famous as a driver of racing cars. He won the 1902 Gordon Bennett Cup and in 1907 broke the 24-hour distance record driving a Napier at Brooklands. He also won the inaugural British International Trophy for speedboats in 1903. Frontiersmen’s ability in writing fiction (sometimes about their own lives!) made them highly suitable for writing propaganda stories. Under Captain Dawson, M.I.7b produced an average of 45 propaganda articles a week.
Propaganda and re-cycling
We can suggest a strange way that propaganda in Britain affected the Frontiersmen in W.W.2. Around the country posters abounded encouraging citizens to “Make Do and Mend” (we talked about this in the topic on austerity), “Careless Talk Costs lives”, and varying posters persuading people to recycle everything from metals, paper, rags and even animal bones. Children also were told to go out collecting these materials to aid the war effort. There has been much discussion about the enforced collection of iron in the way of railings and gates. The writer recalls his father being shocked when he came home from work to find the house gates had been taken away by local Council lorry. Park railings also were swept up. Recently, unsubstantiated claims have been made that the government could not handle all the tonnes of scrap iron and that much of it was dumped. Wives were asked to donate their aluminium saucepans to be used in the manufacture of aeroplanes and photographs exist of lorry- and cart-loads of saucepans being transported to depots. Doubts have been raised since the war whether the quality of the scrap aluminium was sufficiently high enough. Every piece of waste paper was recycled. Nothing was overlooked; even some important official paper archives were sacrificed.
In the 1930s there were many well-known Legion of Frontiersmen military bands around the country. Some Troops, such as Portsmouth, even had their own dance band, as did Heathfield in Sussex, although Heathfield preferred to describe theirs as an “orchestra”. The Essex Command band broadcast a concert on B.B.C. London Regional radio on 15th December, 1933. Every Squadron, and most Troops, had their own trumpeter or bugler. At summer camps. gymkhanas and training in the country the bugle call was the signal every Frontiersman listened for. Provincial newspapers in the 1930s regularly showed photographs of presentations of bugles and trumpets to Frontiersmen units. These presentations would have either been engraved or had the Legion badge fitted. What happened to all these instruments, particularly the trumpets and bugles? Only one has survived, stored with other Legion assets. A massive nationwide drive was organised between 19th and 31st October 1942 for non-ferrous metals. Every newspaper carried advertisements and editorials. “You all have unused articles of brass, copper, lead zinc…Give them up now and help the war effort.” Even children were urged to find the smallest pieces of brass or copper and take them to school. Brass and copper all had to be imported and any way that the need for imports by ship could be reduced was taken up.
Britain was in a desperate situation. The metal was needed for munitions and for making instruments for the much-needed aeroplanes. The public took heed of the barrage of posters and advertisements and the drive was a success. There appears to be no question that any surplus of these particular metals was obtained. The younger Frontiersmen were now in the armed forces and the older men needed all their spare time for their work as A.R.P. Wardens, Home Guard, A.F.S. or Special Constabulary. Some Frontiersmen units managed an occasional meeting but there were no parades at the height of the war. It seems virtually certain that the Frontiersman’s trumpet or bugle hanging unused in the hall would have been sacrificed by the patriotic family heeding the bombardment of propaganda.
Living in this current world of plenty we can nowadays be sceptical about overtures from government sources to follow a certain path of action, treating it as mere propaganda. We can also find it difficult to understand the shortages of basic items in W.W. 2 and how vital it was to waste nothing.
So, we can look at the one surviving Legion trumpet and understand another small but not insignificant sacrifice made by the Frontiersmen.
¹ “The Frontiersman’s Pocket book”, Roger Pocock ed. (University of Alberta reprint of 1909 John Murray publication), p.379
² The National Archives WO339/15228
³ “Outrider of Empire”, Geoffrey A. Pocock (University of Alberta Press 2008) p.251
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.