Memories from the 1920’s
MY RECOLLECTIONS OF THE 2nd (Freemantle) SCOUT GROUP IN THE 1920s
by John Guilmant
One of the oldest Groups in the town of Southampton (1909) started in a church hall in London Road, soon thereafter moving to an old bakery at the end of Stratton Road, Shirley, before finally being allowed to use a barn next to the old Brown as Harrison dairies in Vaudrey Street.
This old wooden building had previously been a builder’s workshop and even when I Joined, the stairs to the loft used as the meeting room were rickety and all the floorboards squeaked. We were warned NOT to jump about too much! Except at DRILL time of course, when everything seemed to shake! The four patrols occupied corners of the room, with all the Patrol flags and equipment separated. My patrol was “Lion” – patrol leader Rodney Hewett. Elsewhere in Scout History books references have been made to his sterling work for the Group and for West District, during and after. the Second World War. Rod was truly one of the heroes of the 2nd.
I well remember the night I Joined in 1922. My mother and father came with me, a boy of 8 years; we were interviewed by Mr Dawkins. He modelled himself upon Baden Powell. Short in stature and speech, stiffly erect, a bit stubby in build, and always wore formal Scout uniform, basically a khaki Army Officer’s Jacket with large pockets and breeches. The brim of his hat was absolutely perfect – honed every time out! I don’t think I ever saw him OUT of uniform! Certainly there was a remarkable resemblance to our famous leader Baden Powell. Having asked my age, he looked at my father 6ft 5ins tall and said sharply “He’s too tall for the cubs; he’ll have to be in the scouts”. Of course at this time I did not know that strict rules governed the ages of Cubs and Scouts.
Anyway, Arthur Dawkins was a law unto himself as I found out 40 years later when as District Commissioner I made my first inspection of his Group. His work and character had not changed during all those years. He still wore the same kind of uniform, except the breeches. These had been replaced by khaki corduroy shorts! His office was still in the ground floor of the Barn and he was STILL revered and feared by one and all. Good discipline was everywhere – not only within his Troop but also in his own life.
Incidentally, as far as I recall, there was no electricity, gas or water in Vaudrey Street, and only a bucket in the outside shed for a loo. Lighting was by hurricane lamps and I think he had an oil heater in his office. The walls were of single boarding full of splits and knot-holes, and one summer we spent weeks and weeks cutting up old tea chests into 3ply-wood panels to make the Meeting Room a bit more comfortable and less draughty!
Uniform was strictly Dawkins-like – regulation hat, navy blue shorts and stockings, black boots (soles heavily impregnated with what used to be called “cleggs”) and a heavy grey machine-made woollen jersey with wide button up collar, worn (without tail) outside the trousers.
Symbol of the 2nd was the proud Royal Blue neckerchief, white haversack and leather Scout belt with a fold-up knife, (complete with a hook “to get stones out of horse’s hoofs!”) And, yes, EVERY Scout had his own stave!
All the traffic stopped for us, including trams! We were proud of our Bugle and Drums Band, which was well known locally, as we attended many events to play to the public. Straight down Shirley Road we marched turning right into Paynes Road halting outside the Church and were then marshalled in.
The same procedures operated on the way back. Brass instruments were always polished brightly and everyone looked smart and of course, we all marched proudly and in step or we got an earful!
Scouting in Southampton owes a massive debt to Arthur Dawkins, and thousands of boys and their parents are grateful to him for the privilege of sharing his lifetime’s enthusiasm within the good old “Second”.