Kenya’s Legion of Frontiersmen

The worldwide Legion of Frontiersmen, with a branch in Kenya, was a voluntary, unofficial military organisation not always tolerated by governments. It originated at the turn of the twentieth century during the Boer War in South Africa. Captain Roger Pocock, of the Waldron Scouts, dismayed by how long it took to send messages to the nearest military garrison when riders had to gallop for days to the nearest telegraph post, conceived an idea to set up ‘listening posts’ across the frontiers of the British Empire. In 1904, in London, he established the Legion of Frontiersmen. Among the original applicants to join were Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, Baden Powell and Rider Haggard.

The first mention of the Legion in East Africa was in 1907, when a branch was established in Nairobi, with Ruben James Sellwood (1865-1914), bootmaker, as its Hon. Secretary. In 1911 a bill was introduced, and carried, in Nairobi’s Legislative Council, to allow the Legion of Frontiersmen to be a ‘Field Service Unit’, not a ‘District Unit’. Therefore it must have had several members by that date. When the First World War broke out three years later, the Legion came into its own. It was augmented by a battalion raised in London by Daniel Patrick Driscoll (1858-1934). His initial offer, to provide 2000 tough and experienced Frontiersmen to the War Office, was rejected and he was allowed to form the 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. The Battalion sailed for East Africa, fighting throughout the campaign under Driscoll, with Frederick Courtney Selous (killed in action at Beho Beho 1917) as his intelligence officer. It is likely that the Kenya members of the Legion fought with the 25th Battalion.

Corporal Norman Spedding wrote; “As for our regiment, the 25th Royal Fusiliers (Frontiersmen), we comprise all classes and all conditions of men. Besides the average stay-at-home Englishmen, there is more than a sprinkling of colonials and adventurers, men from Valparaiso to Alaska, from Rangoon to the Fiji’s. Amongst our officers are such mighty hunters as Captain Selous, Rider Haggard’s famous ‘Alan Quatermain,’ and Captain Outram.” (Worksop Guardian 24 Dec 1915)

Badge of the 25th Battalion of Frontiersmen

After the First World War the Legion continued to exist in East Africa. Enthusiastic members were John Boyes, self-styled ‘King of the WaKikuyu’, and Ewart Grogan. Driscoll, now farming in Kenya, established the breakaway Imperial Overseas Legion of Frontiersmen, but on his death in 1934 the Legion of Frontiersmen and the Imperial Overseas Legion reunited. This enabled the Legion to operate in the Second World War, with increased membership to about 300. It offered its services as a unit to the military authorities, but was rejected and its members went into different units. During the Mau Mau period in the 1950s the Legion’s Mount Kenya Squadron, under the command of Logan Hook, acted in support of the police.  The Legion was finally disbanded upon the attainment of Kenya’s independence in 1963.