Topic December 2022 / January 2023. There are always two sides to an argument. Admittedly some times it is difficult to see the other side, which can often have little merit. When the Independent Overseas Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen (later to call themselves Imperial Overseas Legion of Frontiersmen) broke away from the main body of the Legion in 1927 they believed they had a good cause for dissatisfaction with the leadership. The two men running the Legion at that time were the Commandant-General Arthur Burchardt-Ashton and his Chief of Staff Henry C. Edwards-Carter. In fact Burchardt-Ashton was only ever “Acting” Commandant-General. He did not want the job but nobody else could be found who would take the position.
The main complaint of those who organised the breakaway was that neither man had seen active service in the First War. Burchardt-Ashton had been too old and his only military service had been when he was a wealthy farmer and horse breeder in Hawaii many years earlier. Edwards-Carter had received a commission in 1914 but suddenly found himself back in civilian life – and there were rumours about that (see: The Frontiersman who wrote to the King). He then spent the war working in munitions, which raised suspicions in fighting men of a comfortable and lucrative job. In spite of this he ranked in Frontiersmen uniform as Lieut.-Colonel and led the many parades alongside the Royal Fusiliers, leading Frontiersmen who had fought and suffered in the First War and a number who had served in the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) in East Africa. This rankled deeply, especially with those who carried visible or invisible wounds and especially the veterans of East Africa.
What few Frontiersmen knew was that Burchardt-Ashton was always hoping that some senior army officer would come and take his place and also that the Legion was permanently in severe financial difficulty. It was only the extremely wealthy Burchardt-Ashton’s financial support which saved the Legion from folding as an organisation. Edwards-Carter was a highly efficient and enthusiastic Chief of Staff and, in spite of being a severe asthmatic at a time when medical treatment was far from what is available nowadays, gave generously of his time and efforts. Although many disapproved of him there were an equal number who held the highest opinion of him. The problem of ranks in the Legion, which has been a major problem for much of its existence, constantly dogged him.
The breakaways had one great advantage to begin with. The contract for producing “The Frontiersman” magazine had been given to printers Porters of Peckham Rye (London) and that included complete editorial independence. One of the main group of dissatisfied Frontiersmen who broke away was J.H.W. Porter, a director of that printing company. Consequently, until the contract ended in December 1928, the central feature of the magazine was the IOLOF and their activities – plus constant complaints about the original Legion of Frontiersmen. It was a few years before the original Legion could organise a small magazine, the “Frontier Post”. Relations continued to deteriorate and some of the IOLF comments about LOF HQ became quite acrimonious. The IOLF soon discovered they were not going to be as successful as they had believed in attracting Frontiersmen to cross over to them. They set up a number of units around the world, but many of them had organising officers but few actual Frontiersmen. The other problem was finance. They did not have the wealthy – and influential – supporters the original Legion had attracted.
The IOLOF were so convinced of their success that they had a substantial number of their badges struck. Consequently there are many of the un-issued badges floating around in the badge collecting trade. At some stage – and it has been impossible to trace when – they began to be sold as alleged officers badges of the 25th Bn. Royal Fusiliers in East Africa. That false claim has put their market prices up to a silly level.
In July 1932 the original Legion of Frontiersmen put in an official Petition for a Royal Charter to be granted to them. This request was supported by some very powerful and influential members of the Legion Council: The Duke of Portland, the Earl of Derby, Major-General Sir Henry Lowther, Major-General, Sir Edward Perceval, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Hugh Turnbull (commanding the City of London Police), to name just a few. The War Office was deeply opposed to the Charter being granted, but the support that the Legion produced was influential in the corridors of power. Then the ‘Independents’ (by then changed in name to the Imperial Overseas Legion of Frontiersmen) produced a counter-petition that the Charter should not be granted, proving that there was obviously a deep division among Frontiersmen, and so the petition was rejected, probably much to the relief of the War Office.
The death of Edwards-Carter, the persuasion of Burchardt-Ashton to take an Honorary, if meaningless, position in the Legion, and the appointment of Brigadier E. Morton CBE, as the new Commandant-General in 1933 made the integration of IOLF into the main Legion possible and discussions began. Morton had appeared suddenly in 1932 as London Commandant of the Legion of Frontiersmen. No explanation has been found as to why he appeared suddenly, but the suggestion has to be that he was shoe-horned in by the influential Governing Council to be the successor to Burchardt-Ashton. No AGM minutes prior to 1936 have survived and the minutes book of all meetings (known to have survived at least until the 1960s) has also vanished. Obviously the Council would have been deeply worried about the disputes among the Frontiersmen and thought Morton would be a ‘safe pair of hands’ and with a distinguished past military career which would satisfy all Frontiersmen.. Colonel E.G. Dunn, DSO, another distinguished senior officer, followed Morton into the Legion and became Morton’s Chief of Staff.
Robert A. Smith took on the negotiations on behalf of IOLF. Smith is probably the only Frontiersman of the pioneer members who, throughout his constant service to the Legion, held the universal respect of Frontiersmen everywhere. As with anyone with the name of Smith, he has been difficult to research. We did trace family but found we know more about him than they did. He was a skilled electrical engineer, a highly competent sailor of small boats and a fine swordsman – among many other talents. Smith was assisted by Lieut.-Colonel Andrew Nolan O’Kelly, DSO, who served the Imperial Overseas Legion as Deputy London Commandant and London area Commandant. O’Kelly was another with a distinguished military record, having served in South Africa in the Cape Mounted Rifles and in 1914 was commissioned in the 2nd King Edward’s Horse where he rose to Major.¹ He later transferred to the Tank Corps where he commanded a battalion. In 1920 he had sailed to Canada where he became a Canadian Civil Servant. Returning to London, still as a Canadian Civil Servant, he apparently worked for the Canadian High Commission.
The negotiations must have been interesting, but IOLF agreed to return entirely to the fold and serve under Morton as their Commandant-General. There were probably some difficulties where LOF and IOLF senior officers tried to work in tandem in some areas and there were some resignations of IOLF officers, but the amalgamation did work and, apart from a few rebel groups around the world which survived briefly, the Independent Overseas Command/Imperial Overseas Legion ceased to exist. Lt.Col. Driscoll had never been happy with the breakaway, even though he had accepted the position of Commandant of IOLF. In the November 1931 issue of “The Imperial Frontiersman”, he wrote:
“Comrades, it is time for us to come together again and make our Legion what it was.”
In a personal letter to an old comrade, Frontiersman Rosher, he also wrote:
“Rather late in the day I was appealed to. If I could have got to England at once I would have cleared the situation in a week.”
Driscoll also made the important and relevant point that:
“You know in the old days I killed out all this assumption of high military rank, which brought us into contempt and also caused the War Office to look askance at us.”
On the conclusion of the amalgamation Driscoll’s words were passed to all Frontiersmen around the world:
“We are all Legion of Frontiersmen. Let there be one Flock and one Shepherd.”
The enthusiasm and delight that the main disputes were finally over were diminished when, hardly before the ink was dry on the agreement, the news came in that Driscoll had died in Kenya. At least it was a united Legion of Frontiersmen which was able to attend a Memorial Service in London for the great man.
Roger Pocock put all his enthusiasm to mending bridges and recruiting for the combined Legion. A camp was set up in Kent and open to all Frontiersmen until the end of September with Roger Pocock in permanent attendance. It was well known that Pocock was held in great respect by the rank and file and especially around the Commonwealth, and was an excellent recruiter. He proposed that he should make one final world tour of all Frontiersmen units cementing the amalgamation, meeting important people and promoting the Legion. The cost of this would be considerable, even with him receiving the hospitality of all Frontiersmen around the world, but the Legion had wealthy supporters who quietly provided much of the funds, while British units raised additional money. He would also visit rebel units who did not wish to surrender their IOLF positions so that the Founder himself could persuade them that there was now only one Legion of Frontiersmen. The story of the world tour is covered in “Outrider of Empire” by Geoffrey A. Pocock (University of Alberta Press 2008), but what is of especial interest to us here is his visit to New Zealand. His visit to Australia caused much interest but only limited success in recruiting because the Australian authorities were very lukewarm with the idea of utilising the Frontiersmen, whereas he received much more interest and support in New Zealand. At that time New Zealand was far keener at supporting King and Empire than was Australia. New Zealand had well over a thousand active Frontiersmen in uniform and with a limited population for large areas the highly-trained and efficient Frontiersmen were a great bonus to the New Zealand authorities, and at little or no cost.
On arrival on 19th August 1935 Pocock was met and greeted by the Commander-in-Chief of the New Zealand army and the Finance Minister and Deputy Premier of New Zealand, Gordon Coates, MC, who was one of the most highly-regarded politicians in New Zealand.. According to Pocock he was in addition a Frontiersman. Five days later Pocock was off to visit ‘C’ Squadron by passenger plane in the company of Major-General Sir Andrew Russell, a highly regarded New Zealand officer who had fought at Gallipoli and the Western Front. He did much to support veteran soldiers. According to Pocock he was another who had been a Frontiersman prior to the war. Pocock wrote to Brigadier Morton suggesting that he appointed Russell to be one of his Deputy Cdt-Generals.
Pocock experienced his first challenge with Frontiersmen who had refused to accept the amalgamation when he visited Wellington where there was a IOLF Squadron. Roger Pocock had a poor view of them, especially their top-heavy ranks:
Present 1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants and Sergeant Major, 7 other ranks, 5 ladies and some alleged candidates – a rotten show. Told them that they had ceased to exist as from 30th June, and got the Padre to act as go-between.²
By 2nd September he was in Christchurch:
Call[ed] on Colonel Smyth IOLF and wanted him badly for Squadron Leader. Unfortunately LF will not accept this great gentleman. Announced my arrival in the evening papers and the men rolled up at 4 p.m.. I refused to receive Hunter Raddon, a turncoat who betrays everybody. Found Lieutenant Grimes commanding IOLF (Box 521 Christchurch).
‘D’ Squadron. Joint meeting told IOLF that they did not exist and left them to get reconciled.
On 6th he was back in Wellington and left by road for Wanganui:
IOLF meeting of 18 men in civvies under Captain Hardie. This gentleman rendered distinguished service, but became discontented with LF and transferred to IOLF. He is ready to recognise the New Zealand Command, provided that all his conditions are complied with. I think that he has legion mania, a mental trouble, If one frightens a lizard its tail drops off and shows great activity for teo minutes before it runs down. I recommended the Commandant to ignore this tail until it ceases to wriggle. I found this to be his policy.
Pocock’s final broadside in his report submitted to Brigadier Morton of his tour of New Zealand made it quite clear that the IOLF was no longer to exist:
Please write to Captain Hardie, Captain Allan Smith,Captain Martin Roberts and Lieutenant Grimes, all in care of Commandant Findlater. Point out that every possible courtesy has been extended, and plenty of time given for reunion; that IOLF Units cease to exist from 30th June last, and that their continued existence as seats of trouble for the New Zealand Command cannot be tolerated; that a three months’ extension is granted to men transferring; that those not transferring will be struck off the rolls and no further correspondence accepted. I think that it is necessary to show firmness with those malcontents who on the whole are working for rank and prestige rather than for His Majesty’s Government.
When he arrived at Australia, he found that there had been only a small unit of IOLF in South Australia. As he made no comment we can assume that any IOLF had agreed to return to LF. The authorities in Australia took a completely different attitude to the Legion in Australia and his recruiting drive had only minimal success. The IOLF had made virtually no headway in Canada other than an insignificant unit in Vancouver, British Columbia. The attitude of Canadian authorities to the Legion was rather closer to that in New Zealand and Roger Pocock’s visits across the country were a total success. Because Pocock had presented a radio programme from London in July 1934 celebrating the 400th anniversary of the official Birth of Canada which had been broadcast throughout the Empire, his name was already well-known outside the Legion. In addition his books were popular in Canada. The culmination of the successful world tour was when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced the official affiliation of the Legion of Frontiersmen with R.C.M.P.. That would not have happened had the Frontiersmen remained split. Pocock’s Canada visit sealed the agreement.³ Nor would it happened had not Driscoll’s words “We are all Legion of Frontiersmen. Let there be one Flock and one Shepherd.” been taken to heart by the Frontiersmen.
INDEX TO PHOTOGRAPHS:
1. Reconciliation annual parade at Horse Guards Parade 1934.
2. Frontiersmen marching to the Memorial Service for Lt.-Col. Daniel Patrick Driscoll, CMG, DSO, 18th August 1934
3. Roger Pocock with a group outside “The Gables” Motueka, which had been his parents home in New Zealand before he was born. The lady in the chair had been his parents’ maid.
4. Roger Pocock with a group of senior New Zealand Frontiersmen officers.
Photographs 1-3 are © the Roger Pocock Archive, Bruce Peel Collection, University of Alberta.
Photograph 4 reproduced by courtesy of Legion of Frontiersmen, New Zealand Command (Inc)
¹ For information on the links between 2nd King Edward’s Horse and the Legion of Frontiersmen, see: Money Matters
² This and other quotations are from the report Roger Pocock submitted of his New Zealand visit to Cdt.-General Morton and the New Zealand Commandant.
³ For the story of the affiliation see “Outrider of Empire” by Geoffrey A. Pocock (University of Alberta Press 2008)
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.