Topic April / May 2022. Apart from the 1918 War Issue, the Frontiersman magazine had not been produced since the summer of 1914. Everyone wanted a Legion magazine, but it had always struggled to break even. There was a shortage of money – and jobs – after the end of the war. Although every Frontiersman was expected to buy the Legion magazine not everyone could afford it. There was certainly a demand across what was then the British Empire, but a copy could take weeks or even longer to reach the more remote areas. Sometimes if the mail missed the regular boat it was held up for a long time waiting for the next one.
The Executive Council thought they had found a solution and the first issue of the new series to go on sale was the May 1922 edition – one hundred years ago. In this article we will see some of the many ways the world has changed, while the Legion of Frontiersmen has many, but not all, similarities to that time. Below is an interesting extract from the Legion Headquarters editorial piece from that first post-war issue:
Without any desire to “ape the military”, Frontiersmen are ready enough with the essentials of discipline at the proper time and in the proper place; a colonel can be a Frontiersman as well as anyone else, for rank is not to be coveted for its own sake. To deprive the Legion of its essentially social side in any circumstances would be a blunder, fatal to the idea of brotherhood and accordingly not to be thought of. After all, this was very much the case in many of the old Volunteer Corps which, existing largely at their own expense, were highly efficient and comprised men in every station in life who, ex-officers and civilians alike, were quite content to serve without any responsibility of command.
This last feature, too, was conspicuous in the many Volunteer Corps and also in the Special Constabulary, both of which served and rendered such good home service throughout the late war, so this characteristic in the Frontiersmen is nothing new notwithstanding it is sometimes lost sight of.
To sum up the whole matter, the “pucca” Frontiersman is a man of experience, of wide sympathies, generous and enthusiastic in his ideals. Not living for himself alone or confining his interest to his particular squadron or troop only, he seeks to follow the instincts of true patriotism, genuine friendship and dogged perseverance.
The Executive solution to the cost and distribution problem was to hand the production, sales, and final editing over to a firm of printers Potters of Peckham Rye, London, on a seven year contract. One unforeseen problem, which was not to surface for about four years was that the editor-in-chief and Director of Porters, Legion Staff-Sergeant Joseph Porter, was one of those who became dissatisfied with some of the men at the head of the Legion. He was not afraid to express those views in print. Porter was registered as war-blind and it is to his credit that his disability and very limited eyesight did not prevent him writing or editing – and also working for St. Dunstans. Like many a Frontiersman, Porter was not always completely truthful about his previous military career. There is no evidence of him having ever served overseas. He was born in 1869, the son of a Coldstream Guards sergeant. There is no record of him in the 1881 census so it is possible that the family had travelled abroad with the father on an overseas posting. He spent his life in the printing trade, being listed from 1891 onwards as an electrotyper. By 1911, he and his wife Margaret had seven children, four daughters and three sons. He had seen uniformed service as a volunteer in the militia, but that did not include foreign service. His qualifications for joining the Legion of Frontiersmen were therefore dubious ones. In July 1916 he joined the National Defence Corps (at forty-six too old for the army) but in March 1917 he was discharged as ‘sick’, presumably due to his deteriorating eyesight. If you look at the photograph of him (second from the right, then a Legion SSM) at an inspection by Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, you will see that he only bears the two First War medal ribbons. He still had enough sight to parade. His bad eyesight was apparently a long-term medical problem and not caused during his war service, although he always claimed to be “war blind” and that even appears in his entry in the 1939 Register. By then he was living in Thedwastre, Norton, Suffolk with Margaret Shillito, listed as “housekeeper/secretary”, although local talk suggested she was more than that. Margaret Shillito was also the organist for many years at the local St. Andrew’s Church.¹ There was no mention of Porter’s wife or any of his children. When the IOLOF broke away in 1927, Porter was one of the instigators and, as independent editor of the magazine, one of the loudest complainants that the Legion was being led by men who had no war record. Nobody seems to have mentioned Porter’s own lack of a war record. Perhaps his claim of being a war-blinded soldier and the fact that he worked industriously for St. Dunstans prevented any enquiries? The IOLOF promoted him to Legion Captain. After the re-absorbing of IOLOF into the main Legion of Frontiersmen in 1934 his name seems to have disappeared from the records, probably because that is when he retired to Suffolk, but he was still known locally in Suffolk as “Captain Porter”. In his retirement he gave talks and lectures around Suffolk, as can be seen from his business card illustrated here, often in the aid of St. Dunstans. He died in 1944.
The task of making the magazine profitable, or at least break even, being passed over to Porters resulted as early as July 1922 in editorial comments appearing in the magazine pleading for more Frontiersmen to buy a copy. Six old pence a copy may not seem much to us today (2½ new pence in current British money) but that was then at least the equivalent of a costly magazine today. Six old pence then would buy a few pints of beer. Frontiersmen were buying the magazine but they were sharing it around their comrades. The first issue attracted advertisers but later additions featured fewer full page and half-page advertisements. One wonders how they obtained for May the full page advert for the extremely heavy trench coats shown here unless they persuaded the advertisers that the magazine had world-wide distribution, including in countries where the climate would be cold. Despite Headquarters disapproving of Squadrons and Troops meeting at inns, hostelries and public houses, Frontiersmen were notoriously thirsty. Many publicans who had themselves served in the war realised this and joined their local Squadron, offering either a room or a section of a bar for the weekly meetings. Their advertisements were a useful source of income for the magazine. Some men were pre-war Frontiersmen before they became publicans after the war:
Readers of The Frontiersman will be glad to know that Mr. Harry Cross, the genial host of the Masons’ Arms, Besson Street, New Cross Gate [London], has contributed to our advertisement columns. Mr. Cross is an old member of the Legion who was out in East Africa with the 25th. He is looking fit and well, and will be pleased to welcome members of the Legion and ex-Service men generally who may have a few minutes to spare for a chat. His geniality is a tonic in itself. We hope shortly to find him again taking a part in Legion affairs.
Whether this was the Thomas Henry Cross who served with 25th Battalion or whether ‘Harry’ served with another unit alongside the 25th Royal Fusiliers we cannot currently say. See:
https://25throyalfusiliers.co.uk/surnames_c_d.html (external link)
May 2022 sees the centenary of (then) General Smuts joining the Legion. The Legion Commandant, Colonel Tamplin, invited Smuts to be President of the Legion but, as can be seen from his letter, he declined, preferring to join as a Trooper. Not long after this Tamplin persuaded Lord Loch to become President. The following letter from General Smuts was dated May 1st, 1922:
Dear Colonel Tamplin,
I am very much obliged to you for your invitation, on behalf of the Legion of Frontiersmen, to become President of the organisation. I think it would be undesirable to have a President outside Great Britain, as the organisation exists largely of ex-soldiers, and any grievances or representations which they may wish ventilated or put forward would be assessed with greater effect if their President were in a position to make representations in person to the Minister concerned. I do not feel that I would be assisting the organisation by accepting this position.
By becoming a member of it, however, I feel honoured in being in the company of men who in times of anxiety have always done what is required of them, as good citizens, and who can be relied upon to use their experience and influence in the public good. I hope that the Legion will not become involved in politics, but will always remain a rallying ground for those who have retired from active service, and will, by its efficient organisation, be able to assist any comrade who may want a helping hand.
Before the First War the Frontiersmen experimented with using cyclists in addition to mounted men. They also had a few Motor Troops, although only the very wealthy Legion officers could afford a motor car. Nottingham had some motor-cyclists. When the war started the War Office eagerly recruited the men with motor-cycles – those well enough off to afford those.² After the war there was more interest in Frontiersmen being involved with the increasing number of motor vehicles. Frontiersmen M.T. Sections were set up and articles appeared in “The Frontiersman”. The Frontiersmen in command of the M.T. Sections were keen to help out any other Frontiersman who was involved, or wished to be involved, with motor vehicles:
We all know that there are drivers who are also mechanics, and drivers who have but an elementary knowledge of the machine they drive. Thus, in many instances, a car is held up through what may be a minor fault, the driver not being efficient.
It must be remembered that good eyesight; good hearing; a strong constitution and sobriety are very essential to the man in public service.
Undoubtedly, ability is a very important qualification. Sooner or later the incompetent man is found out, so that a driver should have a thorough knowledge and be competent in many other respects.
One should, therefore, not only be able to drive well, but understand and keep in running repair the mechanism of the car…
Members should avail themselves of this splendid opportunity of gaining further information in their calling, and are requested to send in questions as soon as possible.
One wonders what comments about their past history will be made by Frontiersmen one hundred years from now in 2122.
¹ A brief account of Porter in Suffolk is to be found in “The Norton Messenger”, the village magazine, of March 2017
² A good account of how in 1914 motor-cyclists were enlisted by the army along with their machines is to be found in “A Motorcycle Courier in the Great War” by Captain W.H.L. Watson (Pen & Sword reprint, 2013)
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.