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Legion of Frontiersmen

14 August 2018

The Embassy was represented at the inauguration dinner last month in London of Countess Mountbatten of Burma as patron of the Countess Mountbatten Own Legion of Frontiersmen of the Commonwealth. The Frontiersmen were among the first Britons to go into battle against Germany in 1914 by joining the Belgian army.

The Legion of Frontiersmen was formed in 1904 and has a strong ethos of loyalty, duty and service to Crown and Country. One of the Legion’s earliest members was HSH Prince Louis of Battenberg, uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh and second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II. In 1917, Prince Louis changed his name to Mountbatten, his son Louis becoming the first Lord Mountbatten. The third Countess continues the family link following the death of her mother-in-law on 13 June 2017 who gave the Legion its title.

The Frontiersmen were among the first Britons to go into battle against Germany in 1914. Initially, the British Government did not allow the Legion to form its own unit within the British Army. Hence, the members of the Manchester Troop of the Legion of Frontiersmen joined the Belgian Army instead where they fought alongside their Belgian comrades as part of the 3rd Lancers from October 1914. Their arrival on 13 October 1914 was described by Baron Jolly of Singelbeek, Belgium, as “...looking very fine, dressed as cowboys, with big smasher hats, the ‘Canadians’ joined the regiment. They were the first Allies we had seen since two and a half months’ camping, retreat, fatigues, hunger and bravery. They raised no small sensation, and got an enthusiastic and sympathetic welcome. They formed the 5th platoon of the 3rd Squadron, under Commandant J Fontaine, who spoke fluent English. Their arrival was quite an event in the 3rd Lancers, and more emphatically and indisputably constituted for our men, already unused to war, a great moral comfort. These men called themselves Canadians [Colonials], and wore on their shoulder straps the letters B.C.H. ‘British Canadian Horse’; the same letters were branded on their horses and their war cry was ‘B.C.H.’... All had cameras or small cinemas [sic]. They were enterprising lads, looking for adventures to write and scenes to photograph for the English press to which most were correspondents.”

In 1915, the War Office in London finally authorised the formation of a battalion of Frontiersmen within the British Army. They became the 25th (Service) Bn. Royal Fusiliers (Legion of Frontiersmen) and were to see service in East Africa where their attack on Bukoba in June 1915 followed from talks with the Belgian Commandant Josué Henry.

The connection between Belgium and the Legion of Frontiersmen continues to this day, with Frontiersmen from the City of London & Colour Squadron playing a part in the annual ceremony of Relais Sacre (the rekindling of the Sacred Flame) at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. This ceremony takes place every year just before Armistice Day. In 1973, Captain M Warnauts, 3rd Lancers, presented the Legion with a lance which had been carried by the Legion in 1914 to replace the one destroyed during the Blitz of 1940. In 1987 the Legion under Commandant General Pat Hall was permitted to wear the ribbon of the Belgian colours on their uniform.

You can read more about the Legion of Frontiersmen on www.frontiersmenhistorian.info