End of era - frontiersmen hang up hats

"When we were young we had more free time,"

ISOBEL EWING
Last updated 05:00 25/02/2013
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ANDY JACKSON
The Paritutu Troop of the Legion of Frontiersmen is closing down. Four of the last remaining five members Ian Dalton, John Rose, Alan Lepper and Keith Parker.

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When Barney Dalton joined the Paritutu Troop in 1956, he had to have two days rations, a rifle, and 200 rounds of ammunition to go to his country's defence within half an hour.

That was when the frontiersmen in the Paritutu Troop numbered around 30. Now there are only five, and they are hanging up their hats.

Ian (Barney) Dalton, Keith Parker, John Rose, Alan Lepper and Brett Priar are heroes of a bygone era - the last remaining members of New Plymouth's arm of the Legion of Frontiersmen.

The Legion of Frontiersmen is a paramilitary group formed in Britain in 1905 by Roger Pocock, a former constable with the North-West Mounted Police and Boer War veteran, to bolster the defensive capacity of the British Empire, which later spread across the Commonwealth.

While membership across New Zealand used to be around 1000, there are just under 400 frontiersmen in New Zealand now.

Twenty-five years ago the frontiersmen were involved with search and rescue and helped the police.

In recent times they have assisted the community with traffic control, parking and security at various events. They also supported various charities such as Riding for the Disabled, the hospice and the rescue helicopter.

Mr Rose said the legion was disbanding because of the remaining members' age and ailing health, and recruitment efforts had been unsuccessful.

"You get asked two things by young people. One, do we get paid, and two, do we get booze.

"The answer is no, no you don't."

But he said the 40-hour week made things harder for today's generation.

"When we were young we had more free time, but today young ones have to work to make ends meet.

"It's a whole different world."

Mr Dalton said legions in each area were originally intended to be scouts for the army, and the government supplied ammunition so members could practise before World War II.

The criteria for entry to the legion were simple.

"You had to be a good shot with the rifle, you had to have a clean police record and you had to be 5 foot 8 inches (172cm)."

In his case, that last requirement may have been overlooked, he said.

"I was a good rifle shot so they took me."

Mr Rose said people were generally appreciative of the legion's work.

"In 22 years I've never had an argument," he said.

"We get called a few things but we have a thick skin; you have to," Mr Lepper said.

And the men have no shortage of fond memories.

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"In the early days we all called each other ‘comrade', and we saluted instead of shaking hands," Mr Dalton said.

Sometimes they would act as security at dances to make sure there was no vandalism on vehicles in the carpark.

"That was one of the best parts, you got to dance with a nice lady," Mr Dalton said.

"We've had a hell of a lot of good times."

Mayor Harry Duynhoven said it was a shame more people were not aware of the contribution the frontiersmen made.

"I'm sure many people have taken them for granted because they've always been part of the scenery doing a very reliable, good job for the community.

"It's a pity seeing they have to close basically because no-one is willing to carry on the task."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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