A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LEGION OF FRONTIERSMEN EMPHASIZING
THE INDEPENDENT OVERSEAS COMMAND
The title Legion of Frontiersmen was taken from a poem by Rudyard Kipling. It was used to describe a band of patriotic Englishmen who came together in a joint foundation of ideas in 1904.
Captain Roger Pocock, the founder of the Legion had just returned to England from Canada where he has served in the Royal Northwest Canadian Mounted Police. Upon his arrival, he wrote series of articles describing his experiences and philosophies that were published by the British press, making him an instant celebrity. On December 26, 1904 a banquet was held by one of the Prince of Wales favorites Lord Lonsdale the Marquis of Queensbury, famed for his “Queensbury Rules" in the sport of boxing.
In attendance at the banquet were the founder of the Scouting movement Lord Baden-Powell, future president of South Africa Field Marshall Sir Jan Smuts, Captain Frederick C. Selous of the Selous Scouts, Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshall Lord Kitchener, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Henry Rider Haggard, Major General Sir Alfred Turner, and many other famous men and top Royal Army commanders.
Among the early members of the Frontiersmen movement were Antarctic explorers Captain Ernest Shackelton and Captain Scott, Captain Oates, Edgar Wallace, General Sir John French, Field Marshall Lord Birwood, General Lord Lock, and General Sir Peter Strickland. The original idea of the Frontiersman movement was that this group of ‘Empire Loyalists’ who hailed from all corners of the British Empire would form an organization that would act as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Empire. Reporting on activities directly to the various British Embassies on matters, which they though might keep any adversity from impacting the interests of the Crown. Further, these gentlemen vowed to come to the immediate service of the Empire should national security ever be threatened.
It is noteworthy to mention that it was the principals of the Frontiersmen movement that Lord Baden-Powell included in his building of the Scouting movement. These still resonated to day in their motto “Be Prepared” and especially in the British Boy Scout oath “I promise, upon my honor to do my duty, to God and the King. To serve other people at all times, and to obey the Scout Law”. He also gave the scouting movement the campaign Hat, the headgear of both the RCMP and the Legion. In those early days, many Scouting leaders were also Frontiersmen. Much of the Frontiersmen’s original handbook can be found within the pages of “Scouting For Boys”. This is due, no doubt, to the influences of Captain Pocock’s Canadian and South African experiences, as well as, events in the life of Lord Baden-Powell.
The Legion sought to bring men together who had served their countries throughout the world. Those men who had lived, worked, and survived on the outreaches of the British Empire. Men who had labored as seafarers, soldiers, engineers, explorers, ranchers, miners, hunters, scouts, and all the other tasks it takes to build and retain an Empire. Most were self-trained, reliant, and were ready at moment’s notice to heed the call placed upon them.
The founders possessed two main ideas concerning the organization. The first was the idea of a fraternal brotherhood among all Frontiersmen, and secondly the usefulness to a nation of the type of man who could be called to apply his resources to help defend their nation, simply through the knowledge accrued by their everyday tasks.
On February 15, 1906 the Legion Executive Council was granted official recognition by the British Secretary of State for War. The following August 7th. saw the Legion granted the same status by throughout British South Africa.
Before World War I, Frontiersmen units were being organized in all corners of the Empire. Members of the China Commands participated in the rescue of Europeans from posts during the Boxer Rebellion. Valuable reports from members led to the suppressing of gunrunning activities by the rebellious tribes. Many overseas units formed part of recognized Coastal Defense Forces. One in particular discovered a secret German base in the Caroline Islands, and advised authorities of the numerous attempts to establish a base in North East Africa in order to cut the communications lines to India.
Other operations which Frontiersmen units were accountable include: the survey of the Kiel Canal for destruction in event of war, reporting movement of arms for a war against India by Pathans in Afghanistan, the charting of the Elbe defenses and mine fields, and the suppression of a number of illegal expeditions in Central and South America.
Of significant note, especially with our Command’s ties with our Royal Patron, that following the assassination in February 1908 of the King and Crown Prince of Portugal, His Britannic Majesty King Edward VII had been very keen to secure the position of the new young King, Dom Manuel II. As the safety of the young King was in peril, and when Dom Manuel dared not leave his palace, even to take the oath. Information had come to the Legion that an assassin had been hired by revolutionaries to murder the young King and had been engaged as a servant in his Palace. On January 27, 1909 in a thick London fog, then Commandant General of the Legion, Roger Pocock went to the house of King Edward's friend, the Marquis de Soveral to pass on the information. The Marquis was extremely grateful, and in turn told the King Dom Manuel II, King Edward VII was extremely grateful for the intelligence capabilities of the Legion, and it’s actions assured the lineage of the Portuguese Royal House. Subsequently, a subsidy of the Legion was placed in the hands of Lord Esher, to act as a guard for the young Portuguese King.
The ideals of the Frontiersmen influenced and persuaded men from all walks of life to join the Legion. Thus, by the beginning of armed hostilities of the First World War, the Frontiersmen were already a uniformed, drilled and trained force well versed in cavalry techniques. Colonel D. P. “Pat” Driscoll (fonder of the IOC) offered these men to the then Imperial War Office (now the Ministry of Defense) as a Unit.
At the outbreak of World War I members the Legion were among the first to come forward to serve their countries. Colonel Driscoll offered the services of the Legion to the War Office for immediate deployment; he was informed that the Legion’s services would be required later. On July 24, 1914, King Albert II of Belgium requested volunteers to join the Belgian Army when thirty Frontiersmen of Manchester’s “H” Squadron crossed the Channel to heed the call. The following day saw these men in Ostend building barricades and defensive positions, as well as, tending to the wounded. Called “Colonial Horse” or “Canadians” due to their uniforms, the Legion of Frontiersmen were the first British troops to engage the enemy, taking the field with the 3rd. Belgian Lancers. Frontiersmen wear the pendant of this unit as a permanent citation. Also, King Albert II of Belgium made a group of these Frontiersmen as his personal bodyguard.
In September 1914, 600 Frontiersmen from western Canada traveled to Ottawa and enlisted as a body in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Only 19 members of the Unit survived the war. Other Canadian members formed the 210 Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and the Legion of Frontiersmen Expeditionary Force. The Cenotaph to Canadian Frontiersmen located at Dominion Field in Fort Scott, Alberta was later dedicated by Roger Pocock in 1934.
After their crushing defeat at Tange in German East Africa in November 1914, the British Secretary of War mobilized the Legion. Colonel Pat Driscoll formed the 25 Battalion (Frontiersmen) Royal Fusiliers in early December, traveling from Plymouth and landing in Kalindini on May 4, 1915. Subsequently, their actions earned the Legion of Frontiersmen the following Battle Honors: Bukobo, Beho-Beho, Kilimanjaro, Nyangao, and Nyanza. After the war, the lives of some 9000 Legion volunteers were accounted lost, including the famed hunter and explorer Courtney Selous and Lt. William Dartnell who was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously.
In East Africa, Colonel Driscoll’s tactics became the hallmark of Commando Units. His forces lived off the land. When running low on supplies (especially ammunition) they would re-supply themselves at the expense of the Germans under General Lettow von Vorbeck. Regularly disappearing into the night after attacking a German camp and taking necessary supplies.
Six thousand Frontiersmen form Britain, Australia New Zealand, Canada, India, and South Africa lost their lives at Gallipoli.
Lt. Wilbur T. Dartnell served with the 25th. Royal Frontiersmen Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). On September 3, 1915 near Maktau in East Africa, during a mounted infantry engagement, the enemy lines were so close that it was impossible to tend to the many wounded and get them out of fire. Himself wounded, Lt. Dartnell knowing that the German Askaries murdered the wounded on the field, insisted on remaining behind while attempting to be carried off to the rear. He was last seen alive maintaining a steady fire on the enemy, and subsequently surrendered his life attempting to save other wounded men on the field and cover the withdrawal of his platoon. For his valor, he received the Victoria Cross posthumously. This was the first Victoria Cross won during the First World War.
Further, the African exploits of another Briton and Frontiersman, Captain Fredrick C. Selous of the Selous Scouts, lead to enthusiastic reports by the British Press and to which several books were published.
Selous was a great friend of the President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt, whom he had accompanied and guided while the President was venturing on his famed safaris. Roosevelt said of him, “there never was a man more welcome as a guest at the White House than Selous.” The Selous Scouts are credited to being the model for the S.A.S. who in turn played a major role in the training of the U.S. Navy Seals. On January 4, 1916, the 65 year old Selous came upon a strong detachment of German forces. The doughty old warrior and scout was killed by a sniper’s bullet shot through his mouth.
Although uniquely a British organization at the time, Americans were no strangers to the Frontiersmen. One of which was millionaire William Northrup, whom was said to be so large (weighing 336 pounds) that his sword hung from a 64-inch belt!
Between the first and Second World Wars, discord arose among the Frontiersmen and with it division. Numerous members of the legion who had fought during the First World War were upset by the posturing of Senior Staff officers who had never served in the Armed Forces, yet were posturing themselves on the glories of those who had been in the service. When these disagreements rose to a head, even the founder of the Legion, Captain Roger Pocock was dismissed by members of the then Imperial Command (now Commonwealth Command). Captain Pocock with Col. D.P. Driscoll, DSO broke away from the Imperial Command and formed the Imperial Overseas Command, with Driscoll as the first Commandant general and Pocock as the first Commissioner. Historical documents recorded at the then Imperial War Office in 1927 demonstrate that Colonel Driscoll formed this division of Frontiersmen as the European Command-Legion of Frontiersmen, and were later renamed International Overseas Command. This new command was comprised mainly of former members of the 25th. Battalion (City of London Regiment) Royal Fusiliers.
With the loss of the “empire” following the Second World War, the Imperial Command was renamed Commonwealth Command, as it remains today. Another break in relationships within the Imperial Command occurred with the formation of the Canadian Command of the Legion. Regrettably, these divisions still persist to this day, and regardless of the gentle and careful diplomacy that may prevail and possibly heal these unfortunate rifts, the members of Commonwealth Command have continuously perpetuated them. Those who wish to still live in the past can never see the future, or the present.
Unlike the formations of Frontiersmen during the First World War, a few hours after the war began in 1939; Frontiersmen were on duty in every corner of the Empire. This time, they would be distributed among the forces where their individual talents could best be utilized, serving on every front and in every type of unit, with older members acting as instructors to the Home Guard. During World War II, Frontiersmen enlisted into the Civil Defense, Auxiliary Fire Service, the Special Constabulary, and other such vital organizations.
Being no stranger to the African Continent, Frontiersmen saw service again in Africa during the 1950’s. In Kenya during the Mau-Mau rebellions, members of the Mount Kenya Squadron assisted British forces operating as an armored car unit.
From Then to Now
With the loss of the British Empire following the Second World War, the Legion became to be seen by many a young person as “Dad’s Old Army.” With the formation of the British Commonwealth of Nations, the aims and objectives of the Frontiersmen also changed. Although clearly not a military force, we remain a non-political organization still uniformed and using the rank structure of the British regimental system.
During the 1970’s, the Independent Overseas Command was the largest body of Frontiersmen in the world. IOC saw the formation of European Command to cater for the Allied veterans of Europe and NATO countries. (Since Commonwealth Command still retains in it’s Rules & Regulations that they will not accept anyone for membership within their organization who is not a subject of the Crown or member of the British Commonwealth of nations.) It allied itself with the Federation Des Combattants Allies En Europe—the premier European ex-services association—and was thus recognized and registered by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
In 1994 IOC and European Command amalgamated and formed a new Command with membership extending to Allied countries of Europe, member countries of NATO and member countries of the Commonwealth. This was later expanded to include the United States of America. Thus enabling any person residing outside the British Commonwealth to be a member, and requiring no form of oath of allegiance to be admitted to the membership.
Presently, there are five official corps of the Legion: Commonwealth Command “Countess Mountbatten‘s Own“, Independent Overseas Command, Corps of Imperial Frontiersmen, the Australian Division, and Legion of Frontiersmen in Canada.
Today, the Legion promotes the same treatise as that of the formation of the Frontiersmen, to be of service to our nations and communities, especially in times of national disaster or conflict. Many members of the Legion are veterans of their respective nation’s Armed Forces, officers and enlisted alike. As noted in the Command’s Mission Statement, the lineage given to us by the founders of the Frontiersmen movement continues into this new millennium.
Author: Lieutenant General John B. Bennett, MD, LF