Belton, Andrew (1882–1970), OBE, soldier, adventurer, and businessman, was born 17 April 1882 in Cleator Moor, Cumberland, son of John and Susannah Belton of Bowthorn Road, Cleator Moor. Educated locally at St Patrick's school, he left in January 1900 aged seventeen and joined the Westmorland and Cumberland Yeomanry to pursue his aim of fighting in the Boer war. Having impressed his superiors, he was later commissioned into a colonial regiment and promoted to captain.
Belton returned to England in 1908, but on reading of appeals for assistance from Mulai el Hafid, the Moroccan pretender, in his attempt to overthrow Sultan Abdul Aziz, Belton quickly departed for Morocco. Allegedly getting through blockades within Morocco by disguising himself as a Moorish woman, Belton met the pretender and his forces at Fez. He subsequently claimed that he was eventually appointed commander-in-chief with the title kaid (commander) and reorganised el Hafid's forces. Five months later he defeated Aziz, and el Hafid became sultan. The arrival of the French forced him to flee Morocco and he briefly settled (c.1910–1913) in Canada, where he served as staff officer to the commander-in-chief and the ministry of war. It is possible that he learned to fly aeroplanes at this stage in his career.
In 1913 Belton returned to England and, following the outbreak of war in 1914, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Special Reserve of the Royal Fusiliers. He was promoted to the rank of captain during the same year and saw active service. In April 1918 he transferred to the technical branch of the Royal Air Force and was granted the temporary rank of major. The following year (3 June 1919) Belton was appointed OBE in recognition of services rendered during the war. He retired from the RAF with the rank of major in November, due to ill health, and worked as stockbroker, banker, and financier in the firm of Adamson & Belton in London.
During the summer of 1921 the British government were secretly exploring the possibility of a truce with the Irish insurgents under Éamon de Valera (qv) and Michael Collins (qv). Belton appears to have attempted to establish himself as an intermediary between the British government and de Valera. Yet it was unclear what side, if any, he represented. An approach to de Valera in May, purportedly on behalf of the British prime minister David Lloyd George, was rejected. Belton was also in touch with the leader of the southern unionists, Lord Midleton (qv), who had personal contact with Lloyd George. In June Belton wrote to Midleton with regard to securing a meeting with the prime minister, at which Belton would represent de Valera. Belton later (July) informed Midleton that he would be attending a conference in Dublin and wished to know if the latter wanted him to take a particular line. His intentions are unclear, but from his subsequent career in Ireland it might be inferred that he was attempting to manoeuvre himself into a position to make the most out of any possible settlement.
Belton's involvement in Ireland continued after independence when Midleton used him as a channel of communication to Irish ministers in relation to the drafting of the new constitution. This brought Belton into contact with Darrell Figgis (qv), the deputy chairman of the drafting committee. Figgis had political ambitions and saw himself as a future minister for reconstruction if elected in the June 1922 elections. Belton saw Figgis as an opportunity to further his commercial ventures through political connections, and he formed Irish Developments Ltd, of which Figgis became a director and shareholder. The aim of Irish Developments was to secure lucrative contracts relating to (among other projects) harbour development in Cobh and Galway, the electrification of Kilkenny city, rebuilding the Four Courts, and the raising of finance for a loan to the Free State.
Figgis was elected as an independent candidate in the June 1922 election, which was dominated by the end of the Collins-de Valera pact. His relationship with Belton soured, and he resigned from Irish Developments Ltd in August. In April 1923 the company tendered for a licence to operate a radio station through a company controlled by Belton, the Irish Broadcasting Co. The latter was provisionally awarded the licence in November, but on 14 December Figgis moved in the dáil that a committee be established to consider wireless broadcasting in the Free State. The committee sat from 10 January to 25 March 1924, and the evidence revealed details of the business relationship between Figgis and Belton. It was also alleged that Belton was the agent of powerful commercial interests in London, among them Lord Beaverbrook. By 28 January the committee had already concluded that Belton was completely untrustworthy and that the companies within the Irish Broadcasting Co. were all fronts for his own machinations.
Belton responded by saying that he had used Figgis for his influence and ability to secure contracts, and that Figgis had introduced him to W. T. Cosgrave (qv). Figgis claimed that Arthur Griffith (qv) had warned him against becoming involved with Belton, and that after his split with Belton he had written (22 August 1922) to Cosgrave, claiming that Belton was backed by persons at the highest level in Britain. Although Figgis denied being involved in Belton's machinations, he did admit that he had attempted to introduce Belton to members of the government, but failed. More serious for Figgis was the allegation that Belton and his alleged backers had attempted to destroy the Collins-de Valera pact during the 1922 election by running a number of independent candidates. A memorandum from Belton to Lord Midleton, dated May 1922, was produced at the inquiry to show that Belton had attempted to break the pact and form a party representing business and unionist interests. When it emerged that Belton had funded part of Figgis's election campaign, it seemed that at best Figgis had been duped and at worst that he was an accomplice of Belton.
Following the committee's accusations of untrustworthiness Belton returned to London, where he later (1927) took command of the Independent Overseas Command of the Legion of Frontiersmen. The Legion had been founded in 1904, when it was largely drawn from those who fought for Britain during the Boer war. The Independent Overseas Command was formed when the original organisation split. In the 1930s the Legion was largely reunited, but Belton formed (1932) a group called the Imperial Overseas Command that remained independent until after his death in the 1970s. Belton returned to Morocco in 1940 and again in 1956–8. In an interview conducted in 1959, he claimed that during his time in Morocco he was de facto dictator of the country.
He married first (2 November 1913) Mlle Babin of Canada, who later died (1927/1937) and is buried at St Mary's cemetery, Cleator Moor. No details are known of his second wife, but he married thirdly Kathleen Mossop, a niece of Dean F. C. Clayton, OSB, parish priest (1911–51) at St Mary's, Cleator Moor. Belton had at least one son and one daughter. He often claimed that his crowning achievements were his audiences with the pope, and the church honoured him with several awards including the Grand Cross of Saint Sylvester, a knighthood of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Order of the Golden Cross of Jerusalem. He lived in several countries, including London, Morocco, Canada, Santa Domingo, and South Africa. He died in South Africa in 1970.