Wolf Cubs' enrolment card, circa 1930.
This is much as I must have looked in 1952!
I used to live in a small village called Stanground on the outskirts of Peterborough and I joined the Wolf Cubs illegally because I was only seven at the time! Our Cub pack was the 45th Soke of Peterborough and our neckerchief half yellow and half green. The word "Soke" is an old Anglo-Saxon word and means that the area was exempt to a large extent from ordinary civil law. It could hold its own court of justice and was controlled by the Bishop's court in the medieval Cathedral of Peterborough, the first church on the site of which was a wooden building started by King Peda of Mercia in 655 A.D. The Soke of Peterborough was, during my Cub and Scouting days, England's smallest Scout county - smaller even than Rutland, England’s smallest administrative county.
My elusive County Badge - finally added to my collection in 2002!
So when it came to swapping badges (trading patches as it is known to Americans) being part of the Soke of Peterborough turned out to be a very useful attribute - we could count on a rarity value of at least three to one! Those very badges are real collectors pieces now and it was not until 2002, fifty years after I first wore one on my uniform, that I managed to replace the long-lost one I had as a Scout with the one shown here.
The Cub pack was run in the Victorian landscaped parkland of the vicarage gardens, set on the banks of small stream and planted with trees from all over the world - including American Redwood Firs. It was a great life. I stayed and stayed until I became senior sixer - and when we moved to live in the City of Peterborough when I was 11, I knew I was leaving behind one the best parts of my life.
AT the time, the English education system separated children by 'ability', and I was sent to Deacon's School, a Grammar School which, believe it or not, was not the oldest school in the city even though it was founded in 1721! By far and away the best thing about the school was that it had its own Scout Group. Just going to school did not guarantee entry, but my Akela had put in a good word and I was in.
Scouting was in transition. I was in the Owls patrol and revelled in all the activities, but especially the camping. Although we did not wear the 'wide-awake' hats, or carry Scout staffs, we did on occasion push our trek cart along the roads to Milton Park where the local Scout Association had the right to camp on the land of Earl Fitzwilliam, the biggest land-owner in the country. We camped here at weekends on an idyllic campsite completely isolated from the 'real' world and not far from the banks of the Nene in which we swam, hearing, but never seeing woodpeckers, with our campfire songs punctuated by the sound of owls. My campfire hat had stitched onto it the very, very rare prewar Soke of Peterborough badge on felt. On the scale of things this badge now approaches hen's teeth in rarity. I am delighted to report that, thanks to these Pages, I now, once again, have an example of this badge, shown here. The original badge, my Scout Uniform, my camp shirt (bright and colourful) and my handmade camp mug (deep and thirsty) - these once-proud possessions - went the way of all the things of childhood and youth when I left home for college.
Deacon's School Scout Troop, being full of grammar school lads, was expected to be of a very high standard and we were. The troop entered and won every District Competition in sight. Our summer camps were usually in Derbyshire, and it was there that I saw my first mountain. Well, you have to understand that Peterborough is on the edge of the fens, an area that was previously under the sea and was drained by Dutchmen - a lot like Holland. The highest point in Peterborough is about 30ft above sea level and the River Nene at that point has thirty five miles to flow, in a dead-straight drainage cut, to the sea! So Thorpe Cloud is only 940ft above sea level, just three hundred feet or so above the nearest road and less than five hundred feet above the cold, fast-flowing River Dove - but it was definitely a mountain to me! I got vertigo walking up it - strange to recall, as I was later to go on to teach Scouts rock climbing.
1957 World Jubilee Jamboree
IT was whilst I was at one these Summer Camps that we went for a day to visit the older Scouts from our Scout troop at the World Jubilee Jamboree at Sutton Coldfield, some miles away in the geographical centre of England.
The full impact of the World Jamboree on a young mind cannot be imagined. An area bigger than a small town was set out in sub camps for Scouts from all over the world. Each country and each area of Britain tried to outshine the rest with their own ingenious gateway or creation of "gadgets", rope bridges and flagpoles. The whole place was a-buzz with life. A Scottish contingent might be marching down the road to the skirl of pipes, kilts flying, with a Fijian contingent in khaki saw-edged skirts swinging along in unison. Every language of the world could be heard and, of course, there were thousands of badges to be swapped. If this was not paradise then I would never find it!
Seeing all this proved to me that the world did not have to be like that part of it I had left behind in Peterborough, and the things that Scouting stood for, that you thought of much like the Ten Commandments or Father Christmas - you know, it would be nice if life was really like that - could no longer be ignored. The evidence was there, it was not just imagination. It was real, not just a game for kids, there were too many adults taking part.
What I saw on that day has never left me.
LATER on in the second week of the Jamboree we were back at our Scout camp in Derbyshire, but one night the field next to us was taken over by Rover Scouts who were 'on tour' from the World Jamboree. Rovers were a mysterious section of the movement. None of us Scouts really understood what they did or what they were for. They were not boys but they were not men either.
Badge from a Rover Scout Epaulette
We were invited to their campfire, and I heard songs sung in different tongues by complete strangers who seemed to understand each other and me completely. We felt a part of it, and we were a part of it, and that was a staggering and amazing revelation. I had felt a part of the school and of the Scout Group and had an affinity with boys of the same age, but here I felt so completely a part of this group of young men from all over the world and that feeling was, and is, indescribable. From that night around that campfire, I still have a Scout belt given to me by an Israeli Rover and a Totem Pole made by a North American Indian.
Over the (many!) intervening years, I have continued to collect Scouting badges, artefacts, memorabilia, books, toys - just about anything to do with Scouting. Pride of place amongst these is my collection of lead figures of Scouts and Scouters, which I have built-up to form what I believe is the biggest historic lead Scouting Jamboree in the world.
10th Soke of Peterborough (Deacon's School) Scout Troop 1960
In November 2008 I was able to contact David Foxley, a member of the Group for most of the time that I was in it, though he is a year younger than myself. (What a difference a year makes whilst you are at school!) David fortunately has a superb memory. Not only could he remember events that I had completely forgotten, he could tell me of my reaction on being involved in them! Amazingly he has kept, for nearly 50 years, a photograph taken of the Group in 1960 at another of our Dovedale Camps, better still he had had the good sense at the time to note on the back the photograph the names of those featured on it. With his permission I reproduce it here in the hope if will lead to further contact with ex-10th Soke of Peterborough Scouts.
Front Row sitting (L-R)
Dave Bishop, Graham Frobisher, ? Calvert, Peter Woods, Andy Conn, Dave Pollard, Alan Rook, John Woolhouse, “Ego” Hall, Dave 'Mossy' Moore, Pete Irons
Steve Purkel (an American friend), Osker Moran (French Scout), ? Cohen, Robby, Max (the French leader), W.A. Saul GSL, Bob Blackith SL, Wally Waldron, 3 more French Scouts, Brian 'Wiggy' Smith
Dave Foxley, Andy Hansen, Me-'Johnny' Walker, Keith Lines, Paul Ambrose, Charlie Lambert, Geoff Pollard, Bob Hartley, Mick Saul,
Ken Bush, Rod Vernum, Dave “China” Clay (sadly killed in a helicopter crash in Aden), Pete Stephenson, Al'Monty' Hardiment, Ted Godfrey, Keith Mason, Duncan Howatt, Mick Summerlin, Brian Compton
The above photograph is the only image I have of me as a Scout, (as opposed to Venture Scout Leader, Scouter etc.) and so I am very grateful to Dave Foxley and the unremembered photographer. Bob Blackith SL (a nominal role, 'Wilf' Saul really ran the show), was a keen photographer and though he is sitting in the group, I would not be at all surprised to find that it was his camera that took this image. If you are in touch with any of the people on this photograph please direct them to it!
Harris Street Venture Unit poster. The graphics are very much of their time, but the two-finger 'salute' must then, as now, have been subject to miss-interpretation!
I went on to become a Senior Scout, but after I left the School to go to Teacher Training College at Ponteland in Northumberland, the School Scout troop folded. Many of the lads joined a local group and when I returned from college three years later to my first teaching post, I was invited to become the Venture Leader of that group - the Harris Street Venture Scout Unit. Venture Scouting had now replaced the old Senior Scouts. In this unit was the cream of the young Scouts I had worked with in the Deacon's School Group -
and most of them went on to become Queen's Scouts. Our Venture Scout Unit had several specialities: Rock Climbing (hard for a Peterborough Group - we used to climb railway bridges!); sub-aqua swimming and long distance walking. I regularly took groups on the Lyke Wake Walk
, a 40 mile challenge walk, to be done in under twenty-four hours, across the North Yorks Moors in all weathers and conditions. (For our complete history of the Walk with personal accounts of crossings, visit the Lyke Wake Walk Page.) We also had a notable expedition to Corsica where one of the mini-buses had to be left behind, and a group of us had to make an exciting and practically penniless return home to England.
My next teaching job took me to Derbyshire where I started the 1st Dronfield District Venture Scout Unit which, being only few miles from real rock, quickly became an expert climbing and long-distance walking Unit. The high points were many, not least our support for international camps at Chatsworth Park, in Peak '76 and Peak '80. Our Venture Scouts manned the climbing tower as well as real rock faces, introducing participants to the joys of safe climbing. Just for fun, we did an alpine-style ascent of the main camp road, skilfully knocking pitons into the grass and "climbing" its whole length. I am pleased to say that most of these lads also went on to become Queen's Scouts.
Then I moved to Stokesley to become the Deputy Headteacher of the local Primary School and where I founded yet another District Venture Scout Unit. Stokesley is right of the edge of the North Yorks Moors and more crossings of the Lyke Wake Walk followed with, on one notable occasion, Venture Scouts and friends from all my previous units! As you will see on the Lyke Wake Page, I am very proud to be a 'Past Master' (A very high honour) of the New Lyke Wake Club of Great Britian, and when possible attend their 'Wakes'.
Too old to be a Scout?
ON becoming a Headteacher in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, I thought I could do with a change from Venture Scouting, so became a Assistant District Commissioner (Special Duties) in a newly-formed District whose name I am proud to have suggested. Chantry District was named after one of the three church buildings built on bridges in England. My main memory of Chantry District was enabling Cubs and Scouts to completely take over their own St George's Day - Instead of being run by the clergy or scouting adults each section presented a different play to illustrate the theme of St George - no adults allowed!
I was then asked to become Chairman of the neighbouring Wakefield North Scout District, where I served for almost ten years. During this time I also became the Chair of the Scout Activity Centre at Aldwark, near York. Housed in a converted mill building, Aldwark provides accommodation and tuition for 50 canoeists and is open to both Scout and non-scout organisations.
Chantry and Wakefield North Scout Districts were recently amalgamated into the new Scout District of Wakefield. This is history repeating itself, as the very first meeting I attended in Wakefield was to launch three new districts from what was then the 'old' Wakefield District.
In 1996 I was offered the Chair of Central Yorkshire Scout County which owns Aldwark and covers the Metropolitan Districts of Wakefield and Leeds.
The County grew to have a youth membership of around 8,500 with 1,000 leaders and many and various Scouting activities - including a narrowboat on the local canal, part shares in a glider, and a Scout Paragliding team which was, for two years running, the UK national champions - a championship open to all, not just Scouts.
You may be sure that I felt proud and privileged to represent this great section of the Scouting family. However, I relinquished my post as Chairman in 2000, at the time I retired from my teaching career. I thought then that I might become a County Archivist or Historian, a post I strongly believe should exist in each District, never mind in each Scout County, but this was not to be. In the same year I attended the Scout Association's second 'Heritage Trail', led by its former Archivist, Mr Paul Moynihan. Based at Gilwell Park, we travelled to explore the many places associated with the Founder, including Charterhouse School and Brownsea Island. The information and contacts that I gained on these trips motivated me, as I felt it might motivate others, to take a deeper interest in Scout History and so, thanks to the skills of my Webmaster, editor and long-term friend Mike Ryalls, these Pages were born.
Using skills I found useful in my old job, I began work on two databases. The first - The Baden-Powell Chronology - is a day-by-day record of B-P's life. This ongoing project will never be completed, as it takes me longer to record The Chief's many activities and travels than it did for him to live them! The results are to be seen in the researched articles and the selected Chronology featured on Scouting Milestones. Another parallel interest, developed since my retirement, has been in the Siege of Mafeking, as can be seen on the Page about The Mafeking Cadets. Whilst researching this I was fortunate to contact John Ineson, a well-respected Mafeking Historian and Philatelist, who has become a personal friend. It was he who discovered that one of its most famous sons, Warner Goodyear, had no permanent memorial, and single-handedly set about raising the money to remedy this situation. John's support and encouragement is documented in most of the Milestones articles and it was through his contacts that I was able to work in the Mafeking Museum, transcribing some of the unpublished Diaries, written during the Siege of 1889 - 1900. These, together with information from other published diaries, medal rolls, letters and other sources form the basis on which I have been able to develop a unique database on the lives of the besieged inhabitants, my Mafeking Siege Register
Both the above mentioned work and the Mafeking Siege Slips were later to published along with major books on Dawn of the World Scout Movement'and Brownsea:B-P's Accorn and other smaller works on Scouting and Mafeking topics that you will find listed in the Milestones shop
The combination of Scouting Milestones and my Mafeking researches has totally transformed my life and has led to a new dimension in my Scouting, communicating with and meeting Scouting enthusiasts from all over the world. The web-pages have led to invitations to be involved in various activities covered by them and on occasion such as the Centennial Issue of Stamps for South Georgia Scout Marr and the Falklands RSS Discovery I become involved to the extent that I myself become part of the ongoing story that I report on these pages, a very satisfying experience, which was heightened in the two examples I have given when on an expedition to Antarctica I was able to visit the Post Offices in these two far flung places and see the results of Scout History research undertaken for the Scout Milestones pages being used in conjuntion with Scouting's Centenary touching the lives, albeit in a very minor way, with those that live in those places and Scouting Collectors across the world.
I still maintain Scouting links with Wakefield, however, through my membership of the Scout Fellowship and would be dellighted to hear from any of my former Scouting Freinds from any of the VSU's Scout Groups, Districts or Counties with which I have been associated.
Joe Walker representing the British Contingent at the 19th World Jamboree
A New Generation
THE cycle is not quite complete. My son Joe was a Beaver Scout in our village, then a Cub Scout and went on to become a very keen Scout. In 1996 we took him for the day to see the Central Yorkshire Contingent at the World Jamboree in Holland. The effect on Joe was identical to the effect on me all those years earlier and Joe was selected to represent his county and attended the World Jamboree which took place in Chile at the end of 1998 to early 1999.
My daughter Heather was a Brownie and then a Guide and was awarded the Baden-Powell Trefoil, which is the highest award a Guide can earn. At the appropriate age she became a Venture Scout and whilst at University training to become a teacher, and resident in Ambleside, she ran a Beaver Scout Colony and trained for, and was awarded, her Wood Badge.
Grandson Oliver, who arrived in 2004, is still too young to be a Beaver, but his cousin Harry gained his Silver Award as a Cub Scout and has recently been invested as a Scout, his sister India is an Brownie Guide. Both Harry and India have campfire blankets and would welcome 'swops'.
If you have read any of the other Milestones Pages, you will understand that I am a keen collector of Scouting artefacts, the reason for collecting being their usefulness in illustrating these Pages. I am also a life-long collector of old toys and have for some time bought and sold surplus models to expand my collection. The two interests crossover and some of my Scouting artefacts are also toys, as the Pages on Scouting Toys and Games and my Lead Jamboree - which I modestly believe to be the biggest, best and rarest in the world. Whilst I do occasionally let surplus items go, this is really not to be confused with my toy trading activity. In true Scouting tradition, I am happiest "swapping".
As well a writing these pages and my published books, I often give talks on Scouting to various groupings, Scout Troops, AGM's, and non-Scout organizations. (I was very pleased to have given a talk in Brownsea Castle on the occasion of the Sunrise Event 2007, and also in the White House, Gilwell at the Re-union this year -2008.)
If you would like to bring a Scouting Milestone talk to a venue near you, please contact me.
THANKS for taking the time to read of my life in Scouting. As I get older I become increasingly aware that my Scouting history reflects an ever-larger part of the history of Scouting itself. At the present count I have been a member for more than 56% of Scouting's 'life' and this percentage will, I hope, continue to increase for the foreseeable future!
Should you share any of the same experiences mentioned above, or would just like to chew over your own Scouting experiences, I would be delighted to hear from you, either via the links on these Pages or, if you visit any of the Scouting events I attend, look for me in the 'Badgers' trading area. If you have any questions about Central Yorkshire Scouting I would be pleased to try to answer them, or you can visit their Web Site. You may also like to visit the Scout Association's own Web Site. Finally, if you want to chat about something in particular, or Scouting generally, why not send me an e-mail?
Yours in Scouting,