Everday Scouting - then and now

Part one - to 1965

Most of the material for this page has been gleaned from Mr. LHG Baker's records. Amendments, comments and additions from those who were in the Group during the years in question would be most welcome.

In the early years and in fact until 1963 the Scouts met twice a week - the Troop on Mondays for competitions and games and the Patrols on Fridays for training and tests - with a great deal of time devoted to pantomime rehearsals in the winter. The Seniors also met on Saturday evenings for a time. The first pantomime Robinson Crusoe was put on in 1937, and a new production followed every year except 1946 until the early sixties. click to enlarge This poster is from 1948. The pantomimes were an important and much enjoyed part of the Troop's regular programme for many years, and Mr. Baker's memoir, still obtainable from me, contains many tales of amusing incidents during rehearsals and performances.

[Click on the photos for a larger version.

When a boy first joined the Troop, usually when he joined the School, he had to pass the Tenderfoot tests before he could be enrolled. There were seven tests: Law and Promise, salutes, Union Flag, clean a wound, woodcraft signs, six knots and whipping a rope.

He then progressed to Second Class tests - basic first aid, observation, tree recognition, knots and lashings, axe and knife, compass, fire lighting, cooking a meal on the fire, Highway Code, care of cycles, 8-mile hike and 3 months service.

First Class, which a Scout probably undertook during his third and fourth years, involved emergencies, swimming, more first aid, more trees, bird recognition, reading tracks, estimating heights and distances, more knots and splicing, felling axe, map and compass and revision of everything that went before. The culmination was the first class journey, when two Scouts went out on a two-day hike, often from summer camp, carrying all their kit and finding themselves a place to camp overnight. The Scoutmaster would visit them to make sure their camping standards were OK (and that they hadn't got lost).

click to enlarge In 1937 the Troop acquired a small sailing boat called the Why Worry, which was donated by Dougie Brightmore - a long-serving Biology teacher, who although never a member, was often helpful to the Troop, and owned a smallholding near Brede, which afforded opportunities for activities like felling trees and so on. The boat was kept at Rye Harbour, and was used mainly by the Seniors. Two years later this craft was replaced by a 14ft boat, purchased from the proceeds of that year's pantomime, which was refitted and christened Pelican. In his History of the 24th, Mr. Baker recounts several escapades with the boat. When war broke out, all boats were towed up to the Town Quay, and in 1945 a search party went over to Rye, located her and brought her back to Hastings on a lorry, where extensive repairs were necessary. She was to provide several more years enjoyment, now based on Hastings beach, before finally being declared unseaworthy.

click to enlarge Any excuse would do to dress up. Of course, the pantomimes provided ample opportunities, but wide-games, often based on a spying theme, usually involved disguises, with sometimes a prize for the best one, and pageants also formed part of the repertoire.

During these years the Troop was very large by today's standards. In 1939 they numbered 45 (not counting the Seniors) and during the war, when the Hastings Composite Troop was formed in St. Albans, to include evacuees from other Hastings Troops, there were seven Patrols, which rose to eight by the time the evacuees were able to return home, with 66 Scouts plus 9 Seniors. Soon afterwards, this stabilized at six Patrols with 48 Scouts. In 1950 the Rover Crew was established, and continued until Seniors and Rovers were transformed into Venture Scouts in 1967.

click to enlarge click to enlarge The war brought many challenges to the Troop. In 1939 the Seniors began work on the Coast Watchman and Signaller badges, and in late summer they started regular watches at the Coastguard hut at Fairlight. When Londoners started being evacuated to Hastings, the Scouts were called in to help escorting mothers and children, and carrying luggage from the station to reception centres and billets. The black-out meant that all the windows had to be covered and the lights shielded with thick black paper, and the streets were unlit. Paper salvage was collected and stored behind sandbags at the School. Camping continued, but the tents had to be camouflaged. From Gilridge - in those days the District had a campsite where Richborough Close is now - the Scouts could hear the guns and see the thick smoke across the Channel.

click to enlarge On July 21st 1940 the School was evacuated to St. Albans and of course the Scouts (or most of them) and all their equipment went too. A very great deal of camping went on - although foster parents were mostly very kind to them, many Scouts were glad to get away from their billets at weekends - and the season extended from February to November. Everything was packed and taken on the trek cart, three miles to Gorhambury, and back again on Sunday evening. For short camps food rationing meant that the Scouts had to take their own rations with them.

click to enlarge During and after the war many parades took place, and were used to mark various occasions. In January 1941 the passing of Baden Powell was marked in this way. There was ice on the ground and a blizzard in progress, but the Scouts were not allowed to wear coats of any kind. With frequent practising they got very good at marching. This photo shows Mr. Baker and Mr. Bowmer leading the Empire Day Parade of 1949.

After the war the Troop settled down into a fairly steady regular routine. The annual reunion of Old Scouts was begun in December 1946. The Scouts had a Christmas Party, and afterwards, in the evening, there was an indoor camp fire; Michael Herbert and Ben Holman were the chief instigators and organizers of these events.

click to enlarge Senior Scouts, which had already operated informally for many years, were officially started by Headquarters in 1947. Then as now there was much discussion and contention about the rights and wrongs of taking the older Scouts away from their Patrols; this problem has never been satisfactorily resolved. Senior Scouts were aged 15 to 18; later, Venture Scouts were aged 16 to 19; and today Explorer Scouts are aged 14 to 17. Probably there is no ideal solution, but the current policy of trying to prise the Scouts away from their Groups I believe to be mistaken.

click to enlarge The Group (as it now was) was represented at several World Jamborees, including at Moisson, near Paris, and Bad Ischl in Austria. Two County Rallies took place at Stanmer Park and Telham. These were the years of County and District camping competitions, which the Troop and Seniors took part in with more or less success. In 1949 the Scouts entered a new class 'Camp Fire Singing' in the Hastings Musical Festival. We continued to take part in this event, often the only entry, until 1965, the year I joined. This was purely coincidence and nothing to do with my singing.

The same year saw the introduction of Bob-a-Job, later to be renamed Scout Job Week, and eventually phased out, when Child Protection came to the fore.

Under the leadership of Ben Holman the Seniors were developing their own programme, which now included badminton, air rifles and archery. The requirements for the Queen's Scout Award had also been made more demanding, as this was now seen as a target for the Senior Section, and after the inception of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme in the late fifties, it gradually became roughly equivalent to the Gold level D of E. Some of the Seniors took up this new challenge, and the first Awards, at Silver level, were made in 1960, followed in March 1962 by the first three Gold Awards to be gained in Hastings.

Rovers were important people. In the context of the School Group, they were mostly prefects, even Head Boys, and as a young teacher and Scoutmaster, I was only too pleased to accept a lift as pillion on a Vespa belonging to a Rover.

click to enlarge 1964 was a year of upheaval. The Grammar School moved from Nelson Road to its new buildings in Parkstone Road, which could not be treated in the same cavalier way. Commodore (as Mr. Baker was known) retired, leaving only Bish (Mr. Byrom) of the old leadership team, and under his guidance it took us rookies several years to re-establish the Group as an important element in the life of the School. More of this in Part Two.