Topic August / September 2021. We show on this website how busy the Frontiersmen have always been both in war and peace. They have carried out many duties and served their communities and their countries. Behind the scenes, not everything went smoothly. This time we will take a look at the disciplinary files. We will not be giving names and the events described all happened fifty and more years ago.
For many years the Frontiersmen visited Belgium where they were welcomed due to the Frontiersmen’s links with the 3rd Belgian Lancers. There are many photographs of the Frontiersmen at official parades. The Frontiersmen always took their ladies or their partners making it also a pleasant social event. But of course there was the occasional problem. The Canadian Division (U.K. Command) also attended. The following is an official complaint to Commonwealth Headquarters by an n.c.o. of Canadian Division:
I wish to bring to your attention that the lady who accompanied me on our trip to Belgium had an embarrassing experience by having her bottom nipped by one of your colleagues, much to her dismay, also the same person – being the corporal – has a cup of mine that has not been returned to me, also a small sum of money that he has not repaid, which I suggested should be put in the fund.
The Frontiersmen always held an enquiry in such cases but, although the constitution lists a number of ‘punishments’, they are dealing with volunteers and such people often will not accept the indignity of such ‘punishment’ and leave before they are pushed. In this case the corporal was found to be guilty of the alleged offence and was dismissed.
Many of the problems occurred in the North of England. For years the Legion in the north had been led by a Legion Colonel who was highly respected by all the Frontiersmen in the north, but at his untimely death the senior men running the north did not always hold the universal respect and regard earned by the old Colonel. At the instigation of the then recently appointed Commandant-General it was decided that the Legion should follow military protocol. This was soon to raise unexpected problems. The senior Legion officer in the north was a Deputy Commandant General, one of several around the world appointed to this honorary position. He was shocked one day to receive a summons to appear in court as a witness in a divorce case by a lady claiming adultery by her husband. The Legion were involved because, firstly, the alleged adultery happened during one of the Legion visits to Belgium and secondly, the lady was a Legion officer’s wife and the man in question was a Legion n.c.o.. Thinking he could sort this all out amicably, the D.C.G. arranged for both couples together to attend a meeting with him. The result of this meeting was that there was a reconciliation between them all. He was well pleased with this result until the following morning when he received a call from the lady’s solicitor who was furious because she had withdrawn her case. There was the additional worry of parades where an officer would parade with an n.c.o. who had seduced the officer’s wife.
What he did not know was that the officer’s wife had a reputation around the Legion in the north of being something of a ‘femme fatale’ and this was not the first – or the last – time she had gone off with another Frontiersman.
In those days it was difficult to check on the claims a Frontiersman wrote on his enrolment form. It could take a long time before the truth came out because a Frontiersman might be efficient and popular, rising through the ranks.
This is just preliminary advice that the above-named officer who stated on enrolment that he was a Doctor of Medicine is not in fact an American, nor is he a Doctor. His name is not ‘J.M.’. He is in fact a confidence trickster and one way in which he obtains money is to purchase cars and having paid the first instalment he then sells the car. Certain aspects of ‘J.M.’’s career are in Police hands.’
The suspicions about this man only arose when he was caught forging a guarantee form for the purchase of a car in the name of another Frontiersman and he was taken away by the Police. It is also a puzzle how he came to be accepted originally if he claimed to be American and not a British or Commonwealth citizen.
The case of the Legion Captain whose wife was allegedly ‘no better than she ought to be’ was taken on by the o.c. Northern Command who had recently been given by the Commandant-General the splendid title of ‘G.S.O. 1 (N)’ and not by his immediate superior, the Northern area D.C.G.. This man comes across as a good officer who did his best to promote the Legion in the north and to smooth over the problems. He also found the problems very frustrating, especially those involving the Captain in the adultery case, who for this topic we will refer to as Captain X. The o.c. Northern Command wrote a report to the H.Q. Executive:
I am informed that the reason we cannot get accommodation in barracks in *****shire is due to the frequent drunken episodes whilst in barracks in which Captain X has been involved. Even on his last visit to the B_______ Troop his remarks were, “We had a marvellous time, we didn’t leave until 5 a.m.”
His wife is also frequently to be found incapable through alcohol, who in the Legion does not know of her escapade with Y? Who does not look upon her as being ‘easy going’ should the inclination occur?
This o.c. was a man with a high moral ethic and who saw problems in his Command. In another report he wrote:
…drunkenness in uniform was a common occurrence in public. Uniforms were so different that they resembled a pantomime when 10 men were together…
A Regimental Association in uniform which has a reputation for heavy drinking and drunkenness, for immorality, for brawling…
He was keen to sort out his Command and was intent on having Captain X dismissed or leave the Legion voluntarily. There was a problem for him, in that Captain X was a personal friend of the most senior officers of the Legion and was a regular personal guest down south – together with his wife. The only solution which might satisfy most of those involved was to shunt Captain X sideways and invent for him the position of A.D.C. to the Northern area D.C.G..
Since its formation the Legion had always constitutionally elected its own officers and members had the right to un-elect them as well. This had worked very well for many years. What concerned the then current Cdt-General was that an occasional Troop or Squadron would elect a man who was very popular and had total support, but whose ideas and views differed from those of Headquarters – and such an elected leader was not afraid to say so. In addition some of those recruited by a few elected leaders, as we saw above with Lieut. J.M., were of no benefit to the Legion to say the least. The Cdt.-General decided that the way forward was to change the constitution and tradition that had held from the beginning and introduce military protocol. That meant that Headquarters, usually based in the London area, appointed all the officers. Of course, that could not apply to Commands outside Britain, as H.Q. had no suitable local knowledge. But now the ‘law of unintended consequences’ had an effect. Headquarters could then appoint a really efficient and experienced man as the officer in command of a Troop or Squadron, but if the rank and file did not like him they voted with their feet and resigned and so the unit was left with an officer but no men.
This is one problem that no Executive in the past fifty years has been able to solve. A position of leadership in the Legion of Frontiersmen needs, to quote from author Anthony Powell on military command, “…the qualifications of a ringmaster in a first-class circus, and a nanny in a large family”.
Please don’t take the view from the above reports that the Legion of Frontiersmen is a body of immoral drunks. This was one problem in one area. We are just demonstrating the human side. The vast majority of Frontiersmen around the world have always been and always will be good men and women who wish to support their community and country. Reporting history must be carried out ‘warts and all’.
So what happened to our Northern o.c. who did his best to put things right? Sadly, within a couple of years he had decided that he was not getting the support he needed and resigned from the Legion. At this current time we can tell you no more about him. Perhaps one day we will be able to.
Please note: the photographs here are just to illustrate the period and events. None of the Frontiersmen in this topic are shown in any photograph on this website.
Index to photographs:
1. Canadian Division U.K. in Belgium 1964. Instead of fawn breeches Canadian Division members wear navy breeches with primrose stripes. All ranks, not just officers, wear Sam Browne belts. This goes back to the time when Canadian Frontiersmen acted as official Auxiliaries to the R.C.M.P. and the Mounted Police all wore Sam Browne belts, but of course with scarlet tunics.
2. U.K. Frontiersmen serving as guards to the Queen of the Belgians’ wreath at the tomb of the Belgian Unknown Warrior 1966.
3. Frontiersmen among the Standard Bearers at Roeselare Belgium 1971
4. Yorkshire Squadrons of Northern Command on parade on St. George’s Day 1951. Photograph by courtesy of the archives of New Zealand Command.
Photographs 1-3 are by kind permission of The Legion of Frontiersmen collection, Bruce Peel Special Collections at the University of Alberta.
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.