‘We do wash sometimes’
Mary Hurst has been examining a first-hand record of early scouting in Dorset
Published in January ’11
Since it was on Brownsea Island in 1907 that Robert Baden-Powell set up his first experimental camp, it is hardly surprising that scouting developed early and rapidly in the Poole and Bournemouth area. A pen-and-ink handwritten log covered with tree bark and dating back to 1914 captures those early beginnings. Written by a Scout and accompanied by sketches and photographs, it describes the activities of the 27th Bournemouth Troop, St Andrew’s Church, Bennett Road, over a period of fifteen years. The log belonged to my father, Don Randall, who became the youngest Wolf Cub to go to camp at the age of six. That early start kindled a passion that lasted for the rest of his life and years later, having risen through the ranks, he became Vice Chairman of the local Scout Association and was awarded the Medal of Merit for services to scouting in 1966.
Carefully turning the delicate pages, I learnt a great deal about those early days of scouting. Discipline mirrored the army, but they also had plenty of fun. No doubt health and safety would now ban the rough and tumble games, especially ‘blanket tossing, Spanish bullfight, blind boxing and swinging clubs to music (the music did not keep in time with the club swinging)’.
Entries are humorous and light-hearted, but there are poignant moments too, describing the disruption brought about by World War 1. The foreword to the log, written retrospectively in 1924, states: ‘By this time the original members have scattered far and near and some have gone “Home”’; in other words they had died, no doubt in the War.
An entry for 1915 reads: ‘Early in the year our SM [scoutmaster] was commissioned as a Captain to the Cheshire Regiment and left….In August we went to camp at Hampreston. Owing to the difficulties of wartime we slept in the schools but from all accounts it was an enjoyable camp. For some time the energies of the troop have been directed to the collecting of waste paper and so successful have been their efforts that a trek cart was purchased – a most welcome addition to the equipment.’ And for 1917: ‘In February the Rev. H. W. Wheeler resigned, leaving to join the Army Chaplaincy….One of our members has been engaged on Coast Watching under the Admiralty scheme for Sea Scouts.’
Entertaining descriptions portray camp adventures which took place under canvas, military fashion, at sites scattered over the beautiful Dorset countryside – Wimborne, Stapehill, Frogmore near Canford, Wareham and Corfe Castle. However, strict rules were laid down before a boy was allowed to go to camp, including ‘Any boy refusing to obey orders, or who otherwise makes himself undesirable, may be sent home at once, and in such case the fee is forfeited’ and ‘The Scoutmasters trust that the parents will impress upon their sons the need for strict obedience, cheerful readiness to assist in all camp duties, and good behaviour in camp and village. In short that every scout and cub will show by his bearing, that he is proud to belong to the great International Brotherhood of “the bare kneed Knights of the twentieth century”.’
Food was an important feature of the outdoor experience, but not always successful. ‘The summer camp was held at Frogmore near Canford on the Viscount Wimborne’s Estate from August 12-18th. Some 15 members of the Troop, feeling very energetic, trekked to the site. ASM Boys was in charge and the Rev. J.F. Campion also helped, especially with a certain suet pudding mentioned below. We cannot claim yet to have mastered all the branches of the science of cooking. A certain suet dumpling has received vigorous criticism, but “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” and the lusty camper who tackled four helpings of that delicacy seemed to suffer no ill effects as a result of his daring.’
Later, when the troop camped at Ashington near Wimborne, the following episode was noted down in great detail. ‘A subsequent refinement in the culinary department was the erection of an oven. An oven proper was a large biscuit tin raised from the ground on bricks, and surrounded by a casing of clay culminating in a chimney. The day when 6lbs of meat were cooked to a turn in this oven and served with potatoes will long remain fresh in the memory of campers. The fact that the meat caught fire on emerging from the oven and made its first appearance to hungry eyes in the guise of a Christmas pudding added only to the zest of the repast. The second course on this memorable day was plum duff and treacle, as usual “a la waspe”. Campers are still wondering why it is that such succulent meals cannot be cooked anywhere else but in camp.’
In Ashington camp, field games based on Baden Powell’s original army training were tackled with enthusiasm – although perhaps not so successfully mastered. ‘Camp raiding games provided training in concealment and silent approach. The raiders tried to work their way into camp past a ring of hidden sentinels. Older scouts were able sometimes to reach camp unseen, but the efforts of the inexperienced provided more entertainment. On one occasion a fan-like wedge of bracken was seen moving rapidly across a field, and at the base of the fan was seen a pair of blue shorts culminating in a couple of brown legs. The swift and stealthy approach of the raider hid from him the approach of another “brave” similarly attired and accoutred. The two collided and fell in a heap of bracken to be quickly captured by the defending scouts.’
A few years later there was a sad note acknowledging the death of the Assistant Scoutmaster, Ted Boys, who had helped to lead this camp. He had died at the age of 24. ‘He contracted a disease in Paris, whilst on vacation from St. Boniface College, where he was studying for the Ministry and after a long illness, he had practically recovered, when he suddenly had a relapse, which proved fatal.’
There were descriptions, too, of formal occasions such as Church Parades, which were an important part of the scouting movement’s activities. ‘The Scouts’ own Service’ was held annually on St George’s Day and in 1927 there is a special entry: ‘On April 1st came the big event of the year, the Scouters’ Conference, which continued until 3rd April. On the first day, the 600 Scouters made the journey to Brownsea Island, where the first Scout camp was held. Among those who were there were four of the original members of the camp. On the Sunday afternoon, there was a parade of all Scouts and Cubs in the district at Christchurch Priory. The Scout and Cub Laws were read by the Rev. J.T. Campion, and the address was given by the Rev. T.J. Anderson, Chaplain to HM the King. The whole proceedings and service were broadcasted [sic] from the Bournemouth Station, “6BM”.’
On leaving the Priory, the parade was inspected by Lord Hampton, the Chief Scout’s Commissioner.
‘St. George’s Day 1928 was held on the 22nd April at the Winter Gardens. The big scouting event of the year was the Jamboree at the Town Hall in April when we were honoured by having the Chief Scout at the opening ceremony. Before the actual opening, Sir Robert [Baden-Powell] inspected the Scout Guard of Honour to which the 27th contributed 10 Scouts. He said to the near 500 present: “I must certainly come again and have a look at you all. Thank you, my lads, for turning out in such numbers. I expected to see about a dozen of you only.”’
The last entry was made in 1929. ‘Most of the summer camps have been in the neighbourhood of Wimborne – this year for a change we went to Carey, which is about one and a half miles from Wareham. The chief thing about the camp was the extreme kindness of everyone we met. We settled down so quickly that on Saturday the whole Troop were able to hike to Creech Barrow for the afternoon and evening. The site was as near the perfect site of text books as it has ever been our lot to use. We had wood and water within a few yards and we were well sheltered by firs and birch trees whilst we had a view of several miles in the direction of the Purbeck Hills.
‘For the Church Parade on Sunday we walked into Wareham and attended morning service at the Parish Church of St. Mary. We finished with our fourth camp fire, a grand affair to which we invited Mr. and Mrs. Sturdy (the landowners). It was indeed with the greatest sorrow that we left Carey on the Saturday afternoon to come back to civilization and (so our parents would have us believe) properly cooked meals, but we are solaced to some extent by the invitation we received to camp there another year.’