The survivors of the First War had all suffered greatly and those who had served in the 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) had suffered healthwise from the climate and conditions in East Africa. Driscoll would have preferred to continue serving in the army overseas, but a posting could not be found for him in his damaged state of health. He set about putting the Legion back on to a firm footing, although many Frontiersmen had not survived. Those left behind as either too old or too infirm to serve had done their best but the leadership had been lacking, and also Driscoll found that money had been spent at a rate that could not be balanced against the greatly reduced subscriptions coming in. The British weather did not suit Driscoll’s damaged health and he was advised by his doctors to seek a warmer climate. He would have preferred to emigrate to New Zealand where he had many friends, but finances would not allow this. He was offered land in Kenya, British East Africa, where he made plans to start a coffee farm although the land he was actually allocated proved to be unsuitable and he struggled to make a living.
After he had left England Driscoll was succeeded as Commandant-General by an elderly retired soldier, Lt.Col. H.T. Tamplin. Tamplin was assisted by Arthur Burchardt-Ashton as Legion Treasurer. Burchardt-Ashton was a wealthy man who subsidised the Legion for many years. He had also been too old to serve in the First War but was entrusted in 1914 by Driscoll to organise important Remount Depots. Later in the War he went to France with the Y.M.C.A. Burchardt-Ashton also arranged for the Legion to be used as the Mounted Reserve of the City of London Police, where they served with distinction for many years. The great success of Tamplin’s term as Cdt-General was his recruitment of Major-General Lord Loch as Legion President. Loch had served in the Sudan, South Africa and in the European War, where he was Mentioned in Despatches five times. He was a man of considerable influence who persuaded some powerful men to join the Legion’s Governing Council. He had been Lord-in-Waiting to the King 1913-14 and became Captain of the King’s Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard in 1924. Loch encouraged the Legion to become even more Royalist and caused some concern in the War Office during his tenure by writing to emphasise the “anti-Bolshevist” activities of the Legion. Although there was great concern in Britain about the Russian revolution, Britain elected its first Labour Government in 1924. The number of Conservative politicians such as Leo Amery and Oliver Locker-Lampson on the Governing Council together with Conservative-supporting newspaper men such as Viscount Burnham raised concerns that the Legion at that time was being politically lead. Whatever the opinions of the Governing Council, from the very earliest days right up to today the rank and file Frontiersmen have always been fiercely non-political and non-sectarian.
After the death of Tamplin in 1925, Burchardt-Ashton grudgingly accepted the temporary post of Acting Commandant-General. Eventually the “Acting” was dropped. It has always been an almost impossible task for anyone to follow in the footsteps of the great Driscoll. Burchardt-Ashton’s main supporter was his Adjutant H.C. Edwards-Carter. Edwards-Carter’s War Office file poses a number of questions about his reliability, although his friends thought highly of him. He had not seen active service in the First War, but had worked mainly “in munitions”. This was something that always disturbed men who had risked their lives on active service, as it was believed that men like Edwards-Carter had profited from the War. Officers who had served in the 25th Royal Fusiliers, such as Major G.D. Hazzledine and Capt C.W. Hollis, were unhappy with Edwards-Carter, with the leadership of the Legion and with the men on the Governing Council; men who walked in political corridors and corridors of power. The disquiet eventually brought about a breakaway, which began in July 1927 and was apparently instigated by Capt. O. Gordon Forrest. It was completed by March 1928. The breakaway was originally known as the Independent Overseas Legion of Frontiersmen, often known as The Independent Overseas Command (IOC) and it changed its name officially in June 1931 to the Imperial Overseas Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen, often adding the romantic suffix of “Driscoll’s Tigers”. (n.b. An organisation has appeared in recent years also calling itself the “Independent Overseas Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen”. This has no official position or links with the past and chooses to ignore Driscoll’s instruction in what was probably the final letter he penned before his death, that the IOC should cease to exist and that there should only be “one flock and one shepherd.”)
The group photo above shows the IOC wearing their cap badge (also shown separately). This badge often appears for sale incorrectly listed as an officer’s badge of the 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen). As such, often unacceptably high prices are asked as it did not appear until the late 1920s. A number of these have been sold in mint condition. The probable answer is that some wealthy member of the short-lived IOC had an optimistically large number struck. It uses the badge of the 25th Royal Fusiliers with the Legion button badge design superimposed. The IOC were very lucky that there were no complaints about them featuring the Royal Crown without permission.
As the editor of the official Frontiersmen journal was J.H.W. Porter, blinded in the First War, and Porter’s family printers Porter and Sons of Peckham Rye were under contract to print the journal, for several years Frontiersmen read a puzzling magazine, which published all details and information on the official Legion of Frontiersmen, but attacked it editorially and promoted the IOC. Using their 25th Royal Fusiliers brotherhood, it appears that Hazzledine and Hoare wrote to Driscoll in Kenya to enlist his support. The letters no longer exist, but it would be safe to assume that they emphasised any problems. Driscoll then agreed to take on the position of Commandant of the breakaway, but his letters to a number of people over the next few years give the impression that he was unsure of the wisdom of the break. They contacted Roger Pocock, the Legion Founder, by then living quietly in semi-retirement at Charterhouse. For some time Pocock refused to take sides with either of the warring parties. In 1931 the second volume of Pocock’s autobiography “Chorus to Adventurers” was published and Porter went to Charterhouse to interview him. The March 1931 issue of “The British Imperial Frontier Man” gave an enthusiastic review of the book and this set in motion a train of events that brought Roger Pocock into IOC.
The death of Edwards-Carter and the replacement of Burchardt-Ashton by Brigadier Morton added to the realisation that it was ridiculous to have two Frontiersmen organisation fighting for members around the world led to all parties agreeing in 1934 that IOC should cease to exist for good and the two organisations would come back together for the common good. This was far from the end of disputes regarding the way forward for the Legion. There was the extraordinary case in 1932 when the December issue of the journal had two pages censored and removed. It is not until the June/July 1938 issue of the New Zealand “Frontiersman” that this is explained in a correspondent’s letter. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff in 1932, General Sir Archibald Montgomery-Massingberd, had written to the Legion saying that there was a grave scarcity of anti-aircraft artillery in the United Kingdom. He asked for the cooperation of the Legion, which would have been welcomed with open arms. The correspondent suggested that the officers of the Legion were quite happy to appear in smart mess kit with a row of meals, but were less enthusiastic at appearing in dungarees and handling a greasy gun. Similar accusations about Frontiersmen preference of smart uniforms over hard work have been made up to the present day. It appears that at that time the hierarchy of the Legion was engaged in discussions directed at some form of amalgamation of cooperation with St. John Ambulance Brigade or the British Red Cross. Brigadier Morton can be seen in this photograph in discussions with Major General Sir John Duncan, Chief Commissioner of St. Johns. In May 1935 the British Home Secretary replied in Parliament to a Wolverhampton M.P. that the Legion was working with the Order of St. John and the British Red Cross “with a view to assisting those bodies for the alleviation of air attack.” However, the War Office file WO32/10428 is somewhat disparaging about the Legion and the DGTA said that “In the past they have always professed to be ready to take on any job which was allocated to them but, when offered opportunities in Anti-Aircraft units or National Defence Companies, have been extremely slow to accept them.” No mention was made here or credit given to the Legion for their work in anti-gas warfare.
The Legion formed an Air Command with some nine private aeroplanes and based in Yorkshire. As the 1930s passed on, the Legion in London had become involved in anti-gas warfare training and had a most efficient and highly-regarded Gas School in London. Some Frontiersmen did become involved in anti-aircraft gun training. In 1938 Britain had well in excess of 2000 paid-up members. There is hardly a major town or city in the country that does not have archive photographs of large Troops of Frontiersmen in full dress uniform marching through at every celebratory event, or else putting on mounted displays. New Zealand was the second largest Command with approximately 800. Canada had 411 members and South Africa. What is a surprise is that the whole of Australia could only list 64 members – less that the 75 in East Africa. This was in spite of a world tour of Frontiersmen in 1935 by the Founder, when he worked extremely hard in a highly-publicised visit around Australia to enlist members and encourage support. The Legion desperately wanted a named unit in 1939 as in the First War, but this was refused by the War Office. Any Frontiersman of suitable age was eagerly recruited by any unit that could attract them and the extension in 1938 of the age of enlistment in the Territorial Army to 50 years meant that a high proportion of British Frontiersmen were now within recruiting age and were snapped up with alacrity. It was made clear to the Dominions that few Frontiersmen would be available to run Headquarters and it would be up to the Overseas Commands to keep the Frontiersmen torch burning brightly. Some Frontiersmen joined the A.R.P. as they had already worked on Air Raid Precautions. The older Frontiersmen, who were past Territorial Army age, began energetic recruiting of men into the Frontiersmen for national defence. This caused some alarm in the British Government as it could not have an independent body responsible for home defence, so the Government put plans into action for the formation of the L.D.V., later the Home Guard. Local police were asked to find volunteers. In some areas they immediately turned to the Frontiersmen for guidance. For example, in Salford, Capt. Robert Moyse, D.C.M. who commanded the local Frontiersmen, received a phone call from the village constable at Culcheth asking Moyse to form the L.D.V. there. Moyse disappeared for some days, and when he retuned to his home the local L.D.V. were in being. Robert Moyse was awarded the B.E.M. for his Home Guard work. The influence of the Frontiersmen might possibly explain something of the independence and stubbornness evident in the early Home Guard. Frontiersmen never suffer fools gladly.
World War 2 – 1939-1945.
It has long been believed that Legion Major Tom Cushny’s comments recorded in the South African Military History Society Journal Vol. 4 No. 2 (www.samilitaryhistory.org/vol042tc.html) were correct regarding IHQ in London: “A single Frontiersman reported here daily…His normal routine was to brew tea for himself, then open the mail, assuming there was any. This he would peruse and place in marked pigeonholes: sometimes there was difficulty in finding room so great was the accumulation of unanswered correspondence.”
Cushny claimed that at general mobilisation in 1939 IHQ received a single letter addressed to this Legion Captain instructing him to report for air raid duties. He locked the door and departed and the office was unoccupied for six years. Unfortunately, Cushny was one of the few who had supported the IOC breakaway but disapproved of the 1934 amalgamation. Anyone reading Cushny’s somewhat lurid 1967 biography (Ex-Legionnaire 31022) would realise that either he had enjoyed a more adventurous life peopled with nubile young girls than James Bond, or, more likely, that he could at times mix fact and fiction.
To put the record straight, in the case of IHQ London, Cushny’s account runs contrary to the clearly recorded facts in the archives. Although they had other official duties to perform, both Cdt-Gen Morton and Chief of Staff Dunn continued to work for the Legion. The Legion did suffer a major problem in August 1942 when the highly influential Legion President, Lord Loch, died. The office was busy and dealt with considerable correspondence, particularly from Eastern Canada. The Staff officer in charge of the office was Legion Major H.W. Erswell, a time-served soldier and probably one of the very few Frontiersmen to have achieved the unusual military rank of Conductor. Erswell never allowed the bombing of London to stop him attending the Legion office daily. On 15th May 1941, Erswell wrote to the O.C. British Columbia Frontiersmen in Canada:
You will be glad to hear that although the front portion of the building in which Imperial Headquarters is situated was blown out by blast, this office is so far intact and we are able to carry on. We are however sometimes prevented from entering the street or building by the presence of time bombs so that office work is sometimes interrupted for a few days at a time. As Jerry usually pays his visit at week ends one always wonders what the situation will be on Monday morning. On Monday 12th inst. The only way to get to business from Aldgate Street to Charing X was to make for Liverpool Street via Middlesex St. and walk through all the back passages and alleyways imaginable. I heard some wag describing it as the Great Trek to the West. Still, there’s a lot of London left and will be even when this show is over.
© Copyright Geoffrey A. Pocock. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in any form, in part or in full, without prior permission.