The First Ten Years: 1904-1914

On Sunday January 1st,1905, Roger Pocock wrote in his pocket diary, “Began year working on the League of Frontiersmen”. His first name for the Legion was “League” and this inaccuracy has been used in books more than once. Number 6 on his list of members was Sir William Eldon Sergeant, a barrister who had commanded a battalion in the Boer War. He was a Victorian hunting, shooting and fishing gentleman who did not really approve of Pocock, although he was a keen supporter of the Legion and became its Commandant-General for a while in 1909 after a fierce battle with Pocock and his supporters. He was involved in the Army reform plans and was general adviser to the Legion.

Arguments were raging in official circles as to how best to reform the Army. Lord Roberts was firmly advocating conscription, but the path taken was the formation of the Territorials. The Legion clearly stated that any man eligible should join the Territorials, believing that a man, whatever his age, could be of service to his country. There has never been any age barrier to joining the Legion, and from 1919, women were welcomed as equals, particularly in New Zealand. Also, there were men in ones, twos, threes and dozens all round the Empire who were in the perfect position to report little snippets of information which could be vital pieces of Intelligence and could be passed on by the Legion. The Legion did not have an answer to the problem of these fiercely independent men who were swashbuckling types – and maybe were prepared to embroider or enhance any information they sent in. How could the Legion ensure that the information gathered was true? When newspapers like the Daily Mail (encouraged by the writings of Le Queux) spent a great deal of space booming about the “German menace” and ordinary people started seeing German spies everywhere, some of the stories reported back to official sources by the Legion raise a smile today, although they were passed on with all sincerity. The Legion’s other idea, encouraged by many Frontiersmen who had served as Irregulars in the Boer War, was that their scouts could act also as a guerrilla force behind enemy lines harrying lines of communication. This idea was too independent and advanced for the War Office.

The Legion decided on a uniform by getting the London Frontiersmen together in the dress they would themselves wear on the frontier. The result was remarkably similar, varying only in the weight of cloth suitable for the climate the man was accustomed to. It became a slouch hat, loose navy or khaki shirt, neckerchief, riding breeches and boots with bandolier or revolver. Eventually the B-P hat as worn by the Scouts and the Canadian Mounted Police, or the slouch hat, became universal. The motto adapted and used even today on the badge, was “God Guard Thee”, said to be the engraving on the ring found on General Gordon’s body. The first London Commandant was de Hora, according to Pocock “Of course, de Hora was a pirate…half Spanish-Mexican and the other half Red Indian.” The Authorities were unhappy with de Hora and Pocock was told to get rid of him as he was considered unsuitable and, maybe, a German spy. De Hora was a big man, handy with his fists, and Pocock was unwilling to take action, until de Hora had his Bandmaster flogged on parade, and the Frontiersmen demanded his removal. It afterwards transpired that de Hora had possibly been a Boer spy in South Africa and was what could be called an international mercenary.

By 1909, the Legion had many powerful supporters but was close to open rebellion against its Founder, who was not considered as a true gentleman in those class-conscious days. Although an ideas man, Pocock was not a born leader. The Esher Committee had engaged in regular meetings which led to the appointment of Vernon Kell and Mansfield Cumming and the formation of what was to become M.I.5 and M.I.6. Following the assassination in February 1908 of the King and Crown Prince of Portugal, King Edward VII had been very keen to secure the position of the new boy King, Dom Manoel, who dared not leave his palace, even to take the oath. Information had come in to the Legion that an assassin had been hired by revolutionaries to murder the young King and been engaged as a servant in his Palace. On 27th January, 1909 in a thick London fog, Pocock went to the house of King Edward’s friend, the Marquis de Soveral to pass on the information, who was extremely grateful. De Soveral in turn told the King and information came back to the Legion that King Edward was very grateful. A subsidy to the Legion was to be placed in the hands of Lord Esher.

Pocock visited Esher on June 11th, and it is likely that Esher and the King felt that these amateurs could be used to the benefit of the country, because Esher told Pocock that subject to the abolition of the Legion Council and the appointment of Esher’s nominee, Col. Ricardo, the Legion was to be subsidised to the tune of £500 a year. Col. Ricardo looked at the constant squabbles among the leading members and politely declined. Pocock was expelled from the Legion at an acrimonious A.G.M. and eventually, Driscoll, who had been serving efficiently as London Commandant came to be at the Legion head. He soon put matters on a sure and economic footing so that by 1914 the Legion was a strong, if more militaristic, organisation and Driscoll showed his powers of leadership.

The Esher Committee put Kell and Cumming to work and the subsidy faded away.

Next page: The First World War

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