Topic Dec 2020 / Jan 2021. This topic is something we have not featured before. We are looking at one year of the Frontiersmen’s activities; an important year with WW2 just a year ahead. The First War had only ended twenty years before, well within the memory of many people. Quite a percentage of the population of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand plus many a small British colony wanted to avoid war at almost any price. While not wanting another war, Frontiersmen were making preparations and contributors to the “Frontiersman” magazine were writing in complaining of the lack of preparation by the British Government. Countries such as Canada had an additional problem in that they had a large number of German born or German descent settlers whose sympathies could well be with Adolf Hitler. Rearmament in Britain did not really begin until 1935 as before then the emphasis was on reducing the armed forces and trying to negotiate peace. “Frontiersman” magazines gave a remarkable picture of their activities and their opinions from that difficult time. Any quotations here not otherwise noted come from “Frontiersman” magazines of that year.
Winston Churchill, leader of those M.P.s who were campaigning against the appeasement of Hitler said in May 1938: “We are now in the third year of openly avowed rearmament. Why is it, if all is going well, there are so many deficiencies? Why, for example are the Guards drilling with flag instead of machine guns and anti-tank rifles?” (Hansard).
Leo Amery, M.P., the Honorary Commandant of Birmingham Frontiersmen Squadron and keen supporter of the Legion in general, who had been Colonial Secretary in the 1920s, was rightly acknowledged as being a leading critic of Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement towards Germany during the summer and early autumn of 1938.
The President of the Legion, Major-General Lord Loch, gave the opening speech at the Annual General Meeting in May:
At the present moment this country and this Empire of ours were at a time of crisis which it is not possible to exaggerate. It could only be saved if all members of the Commonwealth stuck and worked together. We, of the Legion of Frontiersmen, had, in his opinion, a very important role to play. We were, all of us, men who had seen danger and hardship. We knew what it meant, and, knowing what it meant, knew how foul and filthy war was. We, all of us, wanted to avoid it with honour and without disgrace. Another reason why he thought the Legion was so important was that, being composed of men who knew what danger and hardship were, we should judge what was real danger and what was press scaremongering…We must enlist every man worthy of being a Frontiersman and not forget the rule that no man should be enlisted who was eligible for any branch of the Forces… One of the great forces of this organization was that we had tentacles practically in every part of the Empire.
What was originally Air Command of the Legion had grown rapidly in five years – and enjoyed two name changes. Air Command was absorbed into Northern Command becoming known as Air Defence Branch and from March 1938 as the Air Communication Group. Considering that Frontiersmen had to finance themselves and flying was an expensive hobby, the Air Frontiersmen had become very successful in only a few years. In their annual report published in 1938 they reported that during 1937 their pilots had flown over 609 hours. They had flown in exercises to assist the Territorial Army had had also flown in conjunction with the training of Anti-Aircraft Brigades. Training of the men, other than pilots, was comprehensive, consisting of “Observation, Map-reading, Engines, Rigging, Wireless Telegraphy,Machine Guns, Rifle Shooting, Gas, First Aid, Despatch Riding, Drill”. It looks strongly as if their work, especially in Yorkshire, had not gone un-noticed by the Government because later in 1938 the short-lived but official “Civil Air Guard” was formed after consultation with the Flying Schools around the country. Although the Frontiersmen received no credit, the activities and training appear to have been identical to that of the Air Frontiersmen. The one difference was that those serving in the Civil Air Guard received a small financial subsidy towards their costs plus a free uniform. This was attractive enough to persuade a few Frontiersmen pilots to move their allegiance. Another example of a Frontiersmen idea being adopted (without credit).
Although they were doing useful work with the Anti-Aircraft Brigades, there was the problem that the Air Frontiersmen were working and training with De Haviland bi-planes of First War design and with obsolete weapons. Modern design aeroplanes were not appearing in the number they should have been.
According to a well-informed MP (Sir Hugh Seely, speaking in May 1938), of the 340 Hawker Hurricane single-seat monoplane fighters ordered in June 1936, only 28 were actually in service and only a single example of a more advanced single-seat monoplane fighter, the Supermarine Spitfire, was on hand. The RAF was still using the 20-year-old Vickers machine gun…¹
The Air Frontiersmen certainly could not be criticised for lack of enthusiasm.
We know that the Frontiersmen were much involved in anti-gas warfare and were to take on duties of Air Raid Wardens and a number of Frontiersmen studied for and were presented with Air Raid Precautions Certificates awarded by St. John Ambulance Brigade. When the war began other Frontiersmen served in what began as the Local Defence Volunteers, later the Home Guard. Another duty taken around the country by Frontiersmen who were still physically fit but not of an age to join the Territorial Army was to join the Auxiliary Fire Service. The Newcastle Troop:
…volunteered as a Unit and were accepted as the nucleus for the City Auxiliary Fire Brigade. To qualify for same we have to undergo one hour’s Gas Training per week, and also one hour in Fire Fighting, which of course takes up the time we had for our weekly parade. We hope in the near future to be able to report that the whole Troop are fully qualified Firemen!
SERVING THE COMMUNITY.
Frontiersmen today still serve the local community in any way they can. In 1938 poverty was rife in parts of London and children had few treats. Islington was one of the poorer areas of London and the Islington Troop organised and ran a children’s party in early January.
Five hundred and sixty children were entertained to tea, and after five hours entertainment left with bags of sweets, fruit and toys -our thanks are extended to those who gave us their help. The cost of the party was heavy and, as we are starting right away to collect for next year, if anyone has any spare cash it will be gratefully received.
We have not discussed Legion medals before because during the last quarter of the 20th century they tended to proliferate, but the subject did arise at the 1938 AGM. The L.M.S.M. was intended to be the sole Legion medal but a motion was put forward to introduce a Long Service Medal.
…That a Legion Long Service Medal be instituted and awarded for 7 years’ continuous service and that, if the medal be authorised, the head of the Founder be embossed on the obverse, in appreciation of his great services to the Legion.
This proposition led to considerable discussion. It was pointed out that it had been turned down last year.
Capt. Pocock said he wished the reference to the Founder’s head be deleted!
The Commandant-General said that he had attended a very large meeting in the Northern Command when this same matter was brought up for discussion. Many were in favour and they asked his opinion. They had the L.M.S.M. and did not want to go on piling it up. It was only a privilege that they were allowed to wear that. For other ranks it had been decided that chevrons be worn as in the army. He felt that was the best thing, otherwise, where would they stop? To give a medal for 7 years service was somewhat ridiculous.
We know that a Long Service Medal was eventually introduced in 1951. For many years most Frontiersmen had campaign medals to wear and a considerable number had gallantry medals.
ANNUAL GENERAL PARADE AND INSPECTION.
Nineteen thirty-eight was one of the best years for the Legion worldwide. For the whole year the Legion could bask in the satisfaction that they could add “Affiliated to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police” on their letter-headings. For thirty-three years the Legion had been desperate to have some form of official recognition and the affiliation to the R.C.M.P. gave them that acclaim. Since 1926 they had been affiliated to the City of London Police but an official link to a country’s national force which had a Royal honour was an outstanding achievement. It went some way to silencing the Legion’s critics in official circles.
The honour was not to last. Eight hundred officers and men paraded at Somerset House and marched off via the Strand and Admiralty Arch to Horse Guards Parade. Long before the days when one could hop on a plane and visit another country, there was a surprising number of attendees from other Commands around the world such as India and South Africa, both at the Parade and at the AGM. A notable name was “Colonel” Fitzgerald of “Q” Quebec Squadron Canada which Fitzgerald claimed had 122 active members and was the largest Squadron in the Commonwealth. Fitzgerald contrived to arrange a private meeting with the Cdt-General, Brigadier Morton, partly from which came Morton’s decree in the following year to split Canada into two Commands, which decree was eventually to cause the end of the brief affiliation to the R.C.M.P..²
At the time this was not even a shadow on the horizon as the Parade and the A.G.M. both went off without a hitch and with the reviewing General, Sir T. Astley Cubitt, being fulsome in his praise of the Frontiersmen:
Commandant-General, officers and members of the Legion of Frontiersmen. It is a great privilege and honour to me to be invited to inspect you today. It is also a very great pleasure to have walked round and to have seen so many of you who have no doubt served along with myself. I have seen men who have been in all parts of the Empire. I am astonished that you could carry off a parade so well without a rehearsal – which I know you have not had – and I am most impressed with your marching and your bearing…
You, however, a voluntary organisation, with your magnificent record, are always ready to take any part collectively or individually, should a national emergency arise, and are setting a splendid example to the nation, old and young, and I congratulate you most heartily.
(Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from 1938 Frontiersmen magazines)
¹ Vincent Orange, Tedder: Quietly in Command, [Frank Cass, 2004] p.104. Lord Tedder was a Frontiersman in Fiji for a time in 1914
² See: https://frontiersmenhistorian.info/rcmp-and-the-frontiersmen/
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