by Bruce G. Fuller,
Archivist/Historian Australasia Region,
Legion of Frontiersmen (Countess Mountbatten’s Own)
Over the years much has been written as fact that New Zealand Frontiersmen were given permission during WW1 to wear the famous Frontiersman buttonhole badge while in uniform. However having read through the New Zealand Defence Department correspondence dealing with this matter, one is left with the feeling that Legion Captain E. D’Esterre (Legion Staff Officer and Organiser) may have tried to confuse the Army into allowing this to happen. Much correspondence was to change hands. The result is not really what the Legion desired. The Frontiersmen had been pushing the New Zealand Minister of Defence to allow that body to form a Unit in itself. More or less similar to the 25th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen) which was fighting in British East Africa at that time. However this was not acceptable to the Defence Department. A letter from D’Esterre dated 26th October, 1915 advised the Department that a meeting of Frontiersmen had accepted this decision. It was hoped however that where possible Frontiersmen would be kept together on entering camp. It was in the body of this letter that D’Esterre went on to say that Members of the Legion should be permitted to wear their distinctive badge at the (war) front. No immediate reply has been found to this D’Esterre letter but the discussion was to carry on for some time. A Memorandum written to the Minister for Defence and signed by Lieutenant-General A. Godley (Commander of the NZ Expeditionary Force) was sent from Cairo on the 3rd January, 1916. In it, Godley thanks the Minister for his extract from Hansard with reference to the “wearing of badges by members of the Expeditionary Force who happen to belong to the Legion of Frontiersmen, and in reply have to state that in my opinion it would be extremely inadvisable to authorize any deviation whatever from the sealed pattern of badges authorised to be worn by the various regiments……” He adds, “Such a departure would be quite opposed to the spirit of the King’s Regulations…”
Another Minute Sheet dated 23rd February, 1917 was circulated. This time it was from the Adjutant General Colonel C.M. Gibbon and approved by Major General A.W. Robin. This clearly stated that the wearing of all unauthorised badges was to stop at once. This included the Legion badge and the National Reserve badge.
Within a matter of days another Order dated 26th February, 1917 went out to ALL CAMPS. “…the wearing of such unauthorised badges to be stopped at once.” However it added, “The badge of the Returned Soldier’s Association may be worn on walking-out dress only, and not when on duty.” (There is some confusion over just when the RNZRSA badge came into being. The first order for a badge went to Mayer and Kean in Wellington in December, 1916)
However, D’Esterre persisted. In a letter 2nd June, 1917 to General Alfred Robin he pointed out, “Some time ago a paragraph was inserted in Headquarter’s orders permitting members of the Legion of Frontiersmen to wear their badges of membership while in uniform. But from time to time someone or other in camp conceives it to be his duty to order the removal of these badges and a recent routine order resulted in our men being again told to remove their badges.” Then came a flurry of letters and notes. On 7th June,1917 a Sergeant E.C.F. Rynd, Company Quarter Master Stores, writes to the Adjutant at Trentham Camp: “Sir, I have the honour to apply on behalf of the members of the Legion of Frontiersmen , now in Trentham Camp, that they may be allowed to wear the above Badge on the right breast when in ‘Walking out Dress’. I venture to quote a paragraph from a letter sent by the Secretary to the Legion in New Zealand to an N.C.O. in camp. ‘About the badge. If you turn up the Headquarters Orders you will find that it is definitely laid down there that the Members are permitted to wear the badges, presume that you have the same Orders as at Featherstone?’”
Within days a letter went out to the Chief of General Staff, Colonel C.M. Gibbon. “These men profess to be soldiers and as such should know a uniform is not the place to wear other than Imperial medals and decorations.” This came from Major-General A.W. Robin, Headquarters, dated 11th June, 1917. Within a matter of days there was a reply to this note: “I agree. No unauthorised badges should be worn in uniform excepting the returned soldiers’ badge which is permitted to be worn in walking out dress only, but not when on duty.” Signed: Colonel C.M. Gibbon – C.G.S. Then a reply to D’Esterre’s letter 2nd June: “As I can find no trace of such an order, I should be glad if you will please furnish me with further particulars, if possible quoting the order, or giving its date and reference.” Douglas Bryan. Captain – Assistant Military Secretary.
On the 4th July, 1917 D’Esterre wrote again to Major-General A.W. Robin. He acknowledges the Army would find it difficult to grant permission for members of organisations to wear representative badges. He states the Legion was the only organisation formed before the war that was ready and able to supply a mobile force to proceed overseas at 24 hours’ notice. He mentions the Legion badge is unique in that it is also an identification disc and there have already been numerous cases of men being identified by the Legion badges after death. He presses the argument the promise was made in Parliament by the Minister for Defence that members should be allowed to wear their badges. “If necessary we can again bring the matter up in the House.” D’Esterre mentions, “My reference to a Headquarters order was taken from a letter from one of our organisers, a sergeant in the 19th M.R. reinforcements at Featherston who wrote to me, ‘We had some little trouble about our badges with some of the new officers, but it is now in Headquarters Orders, on the same footing as a regimental badge and so we are content.’ I cannot give you the date or reference number but I heard frequent reference to it among members on leave from camp.”
This last paragraph poses the question – Why could no one produce this Order? A note written on the back of a letter and initialled by apparently, Major-General A.W. Robins and dated 9th July inst., “Can you find any War Office or other authority for recognition? There was a Troop or Squadron formed at Trentham for members of the Legion of F. Was my Order then issued at Camp?” Letters appear to have been going back and forth quite often. Then a letter from the Camp Commandant, Trentham, Colonel H.R. Potter, dated 19th July, 1917 in reply to Captain Douglas Bryan, Assistant Military Secretary: “Sir, Reference your Memorandum D. 62/4/1 dated 11th July, I beg to inform you that no Order relative to wearing the badge of the Legion of Frontiersmen has appeared in Camp Routine Orders. In terms of Memorandum D.13/234A.G. 1b dated 25th February 1917, from Adjutant General, the Returned Soldiers’ Badge is permitted to be worn in walking-out dress and notification to this effect appeared in Camp Routine Orders No. 782.”
The nail in the coffin then appears to be a letter to D’Esterre written by the Assistant Military Secretary which is dated 23rd July, 1917. “Dear Sirs, With further reference to my memorandum of the 11th July, 1917, relative to your representations that members of the Legion of Frontiersmen should be permitted to wear badges of membership whilst in uniform, I am directed to inform you that on enquiry it has been found that no authority was ever published in Camp Orders in this connection, and it is regretted that Headquarters cannot sanction the wearing of the badge by soldiers of the Expeditionary Force. Your attention is invited to para. 1688, King’s Regulations, an extract of which reads as follows:-
“K.R. 1688. A C.O. is forbidden to introduce or sanction any unauthorised deviation from the sealed pattern of dress, clothing, equipment and badges.”
The recognition of any organisation by the Army Council does not infer that members of such organisations will be permitted to wear their distinctive badges on His Majesty’s uniform. Sealed patterns of dress and equipment are laid down for various units and Regulations do not permit of any departure therefrom. The returned soldier’s badge only is permitted to be worn by soldiers in walking-out dress. No other badges are authorised.”
One would think that was the end of the matter. However the writer feels there may have been some confusion. Army confusion! There is a letter written several months later dated 3rd October, 1917. The author was again Captain D. Bryan and addressed to the Camp Commandant, Trentham. It makes very interesting reading: “With further reference to my memorandum D 62/4/1 of the 11th July last and other correspondence relative to the wearing of the badge of Legion of Frontiersmen on uniform. I have to advise you that the attached copy of a paper relative to the subject was recently handed to me. It appears that your authority was obtained for the wearing of the badge, but official sanction was never given in Camp Orders. In replying to my letter you probably did not recollect having such authority, but I am forwarding the attached letter for your information, together with a copy of my last letter to Mr. D’Esterre, dated 23rd July, 1917. I do not think it is necessary to take any further action in the matter.”
The attachment which is mentioned has not come to hand. Probably the Army authorities felt it was better lost to save embarrassment! However having said that I think the over-ruling authority here really is King’s Regulations. But then should not this have applied also to the Returned Soldier’s Badge? Whatever – the myth that the Legion Badge could be worn on the uniform has been exposed as just that – a myth. Ironically, while the Legion soldiers were fighting at the front for their lives, the Army desk types were fighting another kind of war – a paper war over a little badge!
Note: All information obtained from documents held in the LOF CMO Archives and NZ National Archives.
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