On Boxing Day, 1904, a letter appeared in major London newspapers calling for men who had experience of work or action abroad to come together for comradeship and service to the State in times of need. The scope was later extended to women as well and the Legion has served widely and well for over ninety years and included many who made the ultimate sacrifice. The letter came from adventurer and author Roger Pocock who had seen service in the South African War and in Canada with the North-West Mounted Police. Only in his fortieth year, he had seen enough adventure to fill several lives. He held the long-distance horse-riding record, for at the turn of the century he had ridden unarmed from Fort MacLeod in Canada to Mexico crossing the great American deserts. He had even ridden up to the outlaws’ stronghold to interview Butch Cassidy and his fellow outlaws for a London newspaper. Cassidy had been so amazed by this unarmed Englishman that he had agreed to an interview. The 1904 letter soon attracted others of a similar adventurous spirit to Pocock and the Legion was born. Before long it was represented throughout the four corners of the earth.
Pocock had been to Russia as a representative of The Illustrated Mail and indulged in some successful amatuer spying. Via a friend he was taken to see Prince Louis of Battenberg, then D.N.I.. From the positive response Pocock received he became convinced that the amateur around the frontiers of the world could provide information of use to Britain and to its interests around the world. In those days before the establishment of an organised British Intelligence organisation, there were many of authority who also held the view that the gentleman amateur was the best source of information.
The newspaper industry was well represented among early members with H.A. Gwynne, R.D. Blumenfeld, Edgar Wallace, and importantly the most insistent of those warning of “German Spies”, William le Queux, eagerly joining. Specialist War Correspondents, Edmund Chandler, Capt Walter Kirton, F.A. MacKenzie and Frederick Moore became members. Pocock enlisted friends among well known authors and travellers of the day, such as Cutcliffe Hyne, whom wrote the Captain Kettle books, Morley Roberts and Harry de Windt.
Politicians started to consider the Legion a good idea, more Conservatives than Liberals, and some influential ones became members, such as E.G. Pretyman who had served as Civil Lord of the Admiralty and maintained the Naval links for the Legion. Sir Henry Seton-Kerr, member for St. Helens was better known as a big game hunter. These were men of great influence rather than of power. A good example was Sir Eric Barrington who had entered the Forign Office in 1867 and had been Private Secretary to, amongst others, Lord Salisbury and the Marquis of Lansdowne. He retired from the Foreign Office in 1907, where he had ended his career as Assistant Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs – a man with a great knowledge of the Forign Office and its ways who would have been well able to promote the interests of the Legion.
As well as men of influence writing and talking about the Legion, the fifteen foot square room at the top of 6 Adam Street in London soon came to be filled with a motley collection of seamen, soldiers of fortune, cowboys, explorers – many of these men with strange life stories and knowing the shadier sides of the law.
Next page: The First Ten Years: 1904-1914
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