Keeping Clear of Politics

Topic Dec 21 / Jan 22.  We saw in the previous topic page how Kaid Belton was dissatisfied because the Frontiersmen were not doing enough to counter the “Bolshies”, either in the original Legion of Frontiersmen or the breakaway Independent Overseas Legion of Frontiersmen. He set up his own “Imperial Legion” to fight, perhaps even violently, against communism, or what was then known as “Bolshevism.

The Legion has always prided itself on being strictly non-political – but what is “political”? Political in one decade is not in another. Between the wars Fascist parties were considered mainstream, but left-wing socialism was thought to be an arm of Russian attempts to promote revolution. In recent years those views have been reversed. The Frontiersmen have done everything they could to steer clear of politics. Of course they are Royalists, swearing allegiance to the Sovereign when joining, and that would put them in conflict with republicans. The early uniform was either a navy or a black shirt, except in hot countries where it was khaki or fawn. The uniform of the crew of the “S.S. Frontiersman” on their ill-fated attempt at supporting world-flight in 1923 was clearly black shirt and black trousers. Once Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts came on the scene the Frontiersmen had to surrender their comfortable dark shirts, even for working dress, and adopt the patrol jacket rather than be mistaken for what the Founder described as “politicians in uniform”.

The War Office/Ministry of Defence were always concerned about possible infiltration by either extreme right-wing or left-wingers into an organisation of well-organised and disciplined men. In the 1970s they unofficially contacted the Legion hierarchy and decreed that the Legion must never be commanded by one Commandant but by an elected Executive Committee which could over-rule the Commandant. One (long dead) Cdt-General attempted to disband the Executive and change the Legion to a military hierarchy, but he was over-ruled and had to concede or be replaced. The Legion banned Frontiersmen from being members of the then extreme National Front, but that proved difficult because the National Front was an authorised political party. On one occasion a naive British Frontiersmen officer was delighted to recruit a county Deputy Lord Lieutenant and several ex-army officers and men. It turned out that these were involved in a shady organisation wishing to overturn the elected Labour Government. It took all the skills of a senior Legion officer to extricate the Legion and suggest that the new recruits should resign.

But that is a story and names we cannot tell in full until many years in the future.

To return to the inter-war years, particularly the 1920s: we have reported many examples of the Frontiersmen being the guards as well as Guards of Honour for members of the Royal family, particularly the Prince of Wales. After W.W.1 the army, the navy, and indeed the police had disciplinary problems due to discontent with their lot in life, as well as attempts by Bolsheviks financed by the Russians to unsettle them. The Russians were not short of money. They had acquired the quantities of jewels belonging to the Russian royals and aristocracy and smuggled these into Europe where they were sold to less scrupulous dealers to be re-cut. The money was used in Britain to finance the Communist Party of Great Britain, also their undercover activities to stir up discontent, not only in the trades unions, but also the armed forces. This was a matter of great concern to right-wing politicians, the ruling classes and the security agencies.

In 1921, the Commandant of the Legion, Colonel Herbert Tamplin, persuaded Major-General Lord Loch to attend an Executive Council meeting of the Legion and then accept the position of President of the Legion. As well as being a decorated soldier who had been a Lord-in-Waiting to King George V from 1913 and 1914, Lord Loch served the Legion outstandingly well right up until his death during W.W.2. In 1924 he was appointed to the prestigious position of Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard. One of his first acts was to write a private letter to a personal friend who was Parliamentary Secretary to the War Office in which he emphasised the “anti-bolshy” side of Legion activities. He also persuaded influential and powerful friends to join the Legion Executive Council, such as Lord Derby, Leo Amery M.P., for some years British Colonial Secretary, and Oliver Locker-Lampson, M.P. who was a founder of the ‘Clear Out the Reds’ campaign, agitating for an end to all links with Russia. Leo Amery was a good friend and supporter of the Legion, being an active Honorary Commandant of the Squadron in his Birmingham constituency; also making sure he visited Frontiersmen units when his official business took him to countries such as New Zealand. London conservative parliamentary candidates were happy to take advertisements in “The Frontiersman” magazine and ask for support.

The majority of Frontiersmen were little interested in politics: more so in the quality of the beer at their weekly meeting place, usually a local hostelry, and in finding a secure job at a steady wage – not easy in those difficult times. They supported the rule of law and order and were ardent Royalists. Should the ‘Bolshies’ want to overthrow the Monarchy, the Frontiersmen would fight in defence to the last man. They certainly had no use for fascism, which was beginning to gain popularity.

City of London Mounted Police, 1927.

The London Frontiersmen formed the Mounted Reserve of the City of London Police, a loose relationship with that force which has continued until this day. The General Strike of 1926 would call for assistance and action from the Frontiersmen, certainly in London, although there is only a brief comment about their involvement in other cities around Britain in “The Frontiersman” magazine: “…reports are coming in from all over the country that the Frontiersmen responded to the call from the authorities as one man – Derby, Manchester, Leeds and everywhere…” No proper accounts from the provinces have been found of this, either in the magazine or in provincial newspapers. Studying this strike nearly a hundred years later we can look with discomfort at the plight of the miners and the way they were defeated, but in those days the public was not being fed a diet of constant news by television. The news came from the daily papers and only the few left-wing papers were supporters of the strikers. While the strike was on newspaper industry was much interrupted, but the B.B.C. issued five news bulletins each day and tried hard to be neutral, although the Government was breathing down its neck all the time. The view spread that the strikers were encouraged and supported by the Russian Bolsheviks, but although Russia gave encouragement to the strikers they did not do so financially. They may have provided money for the C.P.G.B. but were disappointed that the British Communists did not have more success. Money was sent to the striking miners, but it did save the miners and their families from starving. The Legion decided where its loyalties lay, as described in the May issue of “The Frontiersman” after the strike…

We are… a self-governing voluntary body organised with a view to being utilised on emergency for the defence of the British Empire. Substitute the word Constitution for Empire…and there you have it in a nutshell. The emergency was evident. The attack on the Constitution was obvious, and that we can be utilised in this emergency to maintain law and order and assist the authorities was perfectly plain.

Traffic jams Embankment, London General Strike

Those London Frontiersmen not part of the City of London Police Reserve were enlisted as special constables. Some served with the Metropolitan Police and their riding skills meant that many could be used as Mounted Reserves, a great assistance.

Those who had no police uniform carried out their duty in Frontiersmen’s kit, the uniform attracting considerable attention…

Lieutenant Message, who is a striking figure in his Frontiersman kit…was on point duty when two ladies passing by noticed him, and one of them commented to her friend on the wonderful preparations the Government had made in even getting Canadian Police over to assist…

Frontiersmen always had an eye for an attractive lady…

Who was the lady who was escorted home one day last week by four Frontiersmen?…

…The Frontiersmen’s Company was thus the first of the City Police Reserve to be called into action. A responsible task was entrusted to us: Finsbury Circus had been turned into a huge car park, and it was the duty fo the Frontiersmen to control the traffic in the Circus, ensure that every inch of parking space was used to the best advantage, and above all, guard the 300 or so cars (worth thousands of pounds) against raids by gangs of hooligans bent on wanton damage and destruction.

Almost no trains ran and only a small percentage of London buses crewed by volunteers, so many London City workers had to journey, where possible, by car.

It has been a great opportunity for us, even if nothing wildly exciting happened in our section (although one or two of members were called in to assist in ‘scraps’ into which they ran on their way home). Many old members who have been out of touch with the Legion for years have been picked up again…

Discipline was excellent, and everybody carried out their allotted tasks cheerfully and thoroughly. Grouches and differences were forgotten – the Frontiersmen were comrades together on service again.

The Colonel Commandant of the City of London Police Reserve, Col. Vickers Dunfee, C.B.E., wrote a personal letter, illustrated here, to Arthur Burchardt-Ashton thanking and praising the Frontiersmen for their services during the General Strike – “…you had won golden opinions from the regular Police….” In April 1930 the highly influential Commissioner of the City of London Police, Sir Hugh Turnbull, agreed to join the Grand Council of the Legion of Frontiersmen.

Sadly, and to the disappointment of what is now known as the “diehards” of politics who hoped that in the Frontiersmen they had a body of men who would join in the fight against Bolshevism, this comradeship was not to last. Within a year the Legion was riven between those satisfied with the leadership and those who considered that they should have leaders with a shining military career behind them. For details see the topic The Frontiersman Who Wrote to the King.

The I.O.L.O.F was born in 1927 and lived until 1934 confusing the world with two organisations claiming to descend from the original Legion.

Sadly, again, this was not to be the last time that the Legion was to suffer from disputes and disagreements. At times the original idea of ‘mutual fellowship’ has flown out of the window and the status of the Legion has suffered because of it.

Two more problems have caused much dispute, discussion and letters to the editor of the Frontiersmen’s journals. Those were the matter of ladies as Frontiersmen and the problem of ethnicity. Both problems for the Legion are now considered as political, but there were times when they were a discussion matter for the Frontiersmen. For many years the Frontiersmen were happy to have ladies join the sister organisation, the Circle Cross League, although there were the odd occasions where ladies were welcomed in the ranks: see the story of Adjutant Mrs. Coventry in A Tribute to the Ladies (Topic Dec 15 / Jan 16).

For years there were ardent demands in the magazine that the Legion should be “white men only”, but the Legion slowly accepted multi-ethnicity especially around the Commonwealth and particularly New Zealand and Australia, where the popular and successful officer commanding Northern Territory later in the twentieth century was of mixed race.

Nowadays the Legion is vigorously open to all colours, religions and creeds, men and women, and thus it should be.

Quotations in italics without reference numbers are from 1926 issues of “The Frontiersman” magazines.


1. Cutting May 18th 1923 “Daily Courier”. This is the only illustration we have showing members of the crew in the black shirt and black trousers uniform. We regret we were unable to produce a clearer photograph.
2. Reproduced by kind permission of City of London Police Archives
3. Traffic jams on the Embankment, London, General Strike 1926. No original source has been located.
4. Letter © Legion of Frontiersmen archives, Bruce Peel Archive and Collection, University of Alberta.

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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