Southampton Scouting in the 1950’s


Southern Daily Echo. April 14th 1955 by “Echo” Staff Reporter

In the flickering light of a campfire, 20 boys sat spellbound as they listened to the man whose tall shadow fell across the clearing.

They did not know that history was being made that August night in 1907. Neither did they know, those boys—some of them Hampshire lads—that they were the guinea pigs of one of the world’s greatest experiments.

The man they were listening to was to become the founder of the Boy Scout movement, Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell. Already a great soldier. writer and artist. he was destined to give the world something more.

It was at that experimental summer camp on the Isle of Brownsea, Poole Harbour, that the man with the magic initials ” B-P.” was planning what he himself called “a school of citizenship through woodcraft.”

Years afterwards, an eyewitness wrote of that first campfire scene: “I can see him still. An alert figure, full of the joy of life, now grave, now gay … and everyone present was ready to follow him wherever he might lead.”

To follow wherever he might lead. . . . Nearly half a century, two major wars, and a very uncertain peace have gone by since that first camp. But follow they did.

The cradle of Scouting

Soon after the publication of the founder’s “Scouting for Boys ” in January, 1908, the scheme spread from Hampshire and Dorset—often called the cradle of scouting—throughout Great Britain to the dominions and colonies, and into foreign countries. Today few uniformed organisations are growing as steadily as the Scout Movement. I wanted a picture of the early days of scouting in Southampton so I had a word with Mr. R. A. Hewett, honorary secretary of the West Division in the town. Southampton, so often warmly referred to by “B.-P.” returning from his world-wide travels to his home at Bentley in Hampshire, made an early start in 1908—but even before that a few lads had gathered together in Spa Road (a few yards from where I am writing this story) to apply the ideas of the founder. And the movement had not by then been officially inaugurated!

Small wonder that by 1910 there were 21 troops active in the town, meeting In parish room and church hall, coffee house and mission room.

First records of a local Court of Honour in June 1909, stipulated that – Southampton Scoutrnasters’ uniforms should be: “B.-P. hat, grey shirt, brown belt, khaki breeches, green tie and puttees.”

Ready for First War raids

Few of the original scouters are left to talk of the old days. But, Mr. Hewett tells me, there remains “Uncle” George O’Dell, who is still active in the movement and who – was one of the founders of the 2nd Southampton Troop in 1908. Another of the old 2nd is Arthur Dawkins, Who retired from active Scouting in 1950 and received the highest award for service—the Silver Acorn—from the Chief Scout. It was during the first world war that scouting showed its ” Be Prepared” motto to be more than a catchphrase. The 2nd Troop was in camp at Winchester when hostilities started, and Scoutmaster Dawkins was sent for to perform , his duties as Quartermaster of the Red Cross Society at the Docks, receiving wounded Belgians who were rushed here. Not ‘wishing to leave his troop behind, he marched them all to the Docks where they finished their camp as messengers and orderlies on war service.

In case of Zeppelin raids, local Scouts were ready to sound the “all clear” on bugles. Scouts were also messengers and orderlies in the emergency hospitals set up in Regent’s Park Road

When the hospital ship Britannic was short-handed, 17 Sea Scouts – and Southampton led the country in the field of sea scouting – volunteered to sail in her. On this voyage the ship was torpedoed but, to quote a paper of November 26, 1916: ” . . after the explosion each lad showed conspicuous gallantry and went calmly to his post to help the ship’s officers. . . “

Six of those 17 Sea Scouts were Southampton boys — V. Mackenzie (20th Troop), V. Bowles (2nd), J. Vickers (2nd), G. Perman (2nd), R. Boulter (11th) and W. Cooke (2nd).

Came the Armistice and the Southampton Scouts had earned their place in the Victory Parades.

Scouting flourished between the wars. In 1929 the “Coming of Age” of the movement was celebrated by a week of displays at the old Coliseum.

During the Spanish Civil War. Basque children refugees were encamped at North Stoneham and the Rovers played a big part in looking after these innocent victims. ” Uncle.” George O’Dell was the leader and resided in the camp. Once. while there, he was isolated as a suspected an typhoid case. He received the Medal of Merit for his work there.

With the outbreak of the second war evacuation drastically depleted the ranks, but who remained in Southampton did what they could, the 2nd Troop maintaining a seven-day messenger service in the docks for the embarkation staff until replaced by Service personal.

Southampton scouts distributed call-up notices to the LDV (later Home Guard), and set to work with a will in all the salvage campaigns.

Many former Southampton scouts gave their lives in the war and many were honoured. Jack Mantle. an ex-member of the 6th Group. serving in the Navy, gained the VC.

“Back in the old days I remember how our shorts used to arouse the hostility and derision of the boys who didn’t join us.” recalls Mr. Hewett, “and how we used to walk up Church street to our headquarters in groups to avoid the rough handling meted out to lone scouts.

“Then, in the ’20’s, I remember those annual variety shows the scouts presented at the Avenue Hall, the way the Albion Band sprang from the old 1st All Saints’ Troop, those big-scale field days under the leadership of Mr. Paris and captain W.E.T King. the relay runs from here to Gosport.”

Feeling pulse in Southampton

This is a test from the past to the present. From the past to the present. To feel the pulse of the now 1700 strong Boy Scout movement in Southampton the other night I turned round of several of the towns groups. With the town the Commissioner (Mr Charles Anderson) and a staff photographer, I set out to see something of Scouting life under a variety of different conditions.

We saw the sponsored groups those taken up by church bodies and the open groups. We saw Scouts and Cubs proudly settled in headquarters of their own, offers making the best of rented premises-and one group meeting in a rambling shack which is nearly derelict.

Everywhere though we received the same friendly welcome. I learned that first Scout Law is not a series of prohibitions , but a positive statement of decent behaviour cooperating among other things trustworthiness, loyalty, helpfulness, obedience, brotherhood and courtesy.

One of the things which struck me most was the way that the movement seems able to hold the appeal and answer the needs of all age groups-the great continuity through the Cub pack scout troop senior Scout troop and Rover Crew.

Vivid example of this was seen at our first place of course. We were visiting the Cubs of the 10th (Avenue) group, sponsored by the congregational church. And looked in on a big moment in the scouting life of 11-year-old Marcus Watts whose father was secretary the central division for many years.

Marcus was spending his last evening with his brother Cubs. He was to graduate that night into full Scouthood. The Cubs were giving him the Grand Howl for lice last time and then Scoutmaster Dr. John Manners was there to welcome Marcus into the troop.

There were congratulations for Marcus, too, from Group Scoutmaster Captain I. Mackintosh TD. Then Dr. Manners introduced the young graduate to his new patrol reader, Colin Taylor of the Eagles. It was also in Avenue Hall that I met Assistant Commissioner of the Central Division, Mr. Roy Davis. Roy has been in the movement for 21 years.

Woggles for Scouters

During the war, I learned, Roy was one of four Queen’s Scouts selected to tour Canada and tell scouts there – how their brothers in England were facing up to the difficulties of those grim years.

Purpose of Roy’s visit back to his old group was to present Gilwell woggles – in recognition of training successes to scouters.

Among those who received a woggle was Assistant Scoutmaster Mr. E. St. J. Holt, husband of the cubmaster. And as 11-year-old Allan Holt is a member of the scout troop, the Avenue group has become quite a family affair. Our next call eras on the 2nd Itchen (Sholing) Group the North East Road headquarters and here it was I first learned of the big part parents and friends can play in furthering the activities of the movement.

The bright headquarters, worth £750, Was shown me by group Scoutmaster skipper Craft. He could not speak highly enough of men and women on the group committee who had helped bring the dream of a place of their own into reality.

“Four ago we had just £25 in the kitty now we have this headquarters and can keep our heads above water financially,” said Mr Craft.

Told men how parents had joined their sons in money raising activities to bring about the present happy position at Sholing.

As of the ladies of the group committee were busy serving the scouts and cubs with refreshments I learned how busy they had been rigging out the new headquarters with curtains and fittings.

Repaying a debt

Here too I met Mr. John Guilmant, the schoolmaster who is the district commissioner for kitchen. He said of the divisions newest headquarters:

“what has encouraged us most has been the presence of lay helpers and their enthusiasm to do what they can for the boys. Many of them look back on their own young days in the movement and remembering what it did for them are anxious to repay the debt.

Mr. Guilmant told me there were 16 groups in the itching division. “in six months 29 warrants have been issued and that means that over here we are keeping abreast with the problem of leadership, even if the demand is great. And the basis of that leadership is training.”

Training. That word took us naturally enough to our next stop —over to Westend where we saw in action the prolific prize winning troop of senior Scouts belonging to the 10th (Itchen).

Senior Scoutmaster Arthur Calton was directing operations. I say directing, but I saw here that senior Scouts have reached the stage when they make their own decisions, and work out their own programme.

The lesson of this visit was that Scouting is an organisation run for the boys—by the boys. The “seniors” —they believe in the “out” in Scouting – were busy planning a hike when we called.

Looking on proudly was Group Scoutmaster Mr. R. P. Moody “he really is Scouting in these parts,” said the Town Commissioner —who has run the Westend group for 26 years.

From the neat headquarters at Westend we crossed the town to see something different—a rambling

shack off -Church street, Shirley which is older than the Scout movement itself.

Here Southampton’s oldest group the 2nd (Southampton) Shirley— forced to meet in a rickety construction which 60 years ago passed as a builder’s shop.

Not that the Shirley Scouts are sitting back bemoaning their fate. I walked into a meeting of the Group Committee on which 14 men and women were planning to give the group a new home, a home worthy of an outfit with such tradition as the 2nd Said committee chairman Mr. S W. F. Bailey, their spokesman:

“This is one of the most energetic committees in the town.”

When the group was reorganised two and a half years ago under Group’ Scoutmaster George Bachelor there were practically no funds at all—then the committee got busy, tirelessly organising dances, garden parties, jumble sales—and collecting salvage.

“Now we have £520 and nearly all of this is earmarked for our essential rebuilding fund,” said Mr. Bailey.

But a total of £1,500 Will be needed, it is estimated, to put the Shirley Scouts in new premises,

Meanwhile the search for a suitable site is on.

There’s a waiting list

GSM Bachelor told me as I watched the Scouts busy on their evening programme: ” While under normal conditions the Scouting movement does not wish to live on charity, here you will see there is a real need for outside help.

“We cater for boys of all denominations—a much larger field than the church group—and numbers are the least of our worries. We run two cub packs—and there is a waiting list!”

He introduced me to Scoutmaster Anthony Lock- “one of. the most energetic and useful Scouters in Southampton whom I asked what he thought of conditions at the Shirley headquarters.

“Shocking,” he replied. “In the winter we cannot get down to serious work because we have to have the lads running round playing games to keep’ warm.”

Our last call was to the Sea Scout ship Endeavour—formerly a stable, rented from the railway— where the 19th Southampton Sea Scouts have made things ship-shape.

In charge of Group Scout master Christopher Deaper, we found the Sea Scouts scrubbing down the decks and polishing the ship’s wheel on the “quarter- deck.”

The ship’s wheel, one of the group’s proudest possessions, came from a landing craft which saw action on the D-Day beaches.

Including “seniors” there are 36 Sea Scouts on the strength of SSS Endeavour. They do all the usual Scout badge work–but there is a nautical bias about it all.

They have their own boathouse and Assistant Scoutmaster Dennis Green instructs in boat-building. Recently the group gained the coveted distinction of becoming “Admiralty recognised.”


St. George’s ‘Day — April 23 — is a great day in the Boy Scout Movement.

In anticipation of the big parades and celebrations and in tribute to the pioneers of Scouting in Southampton, the “Echo” tonight devotes this page to the story of the Movement’s growth in the town.

The writer of the article is Staff Reporter DONALD OSMOND.

Conclusion I reached was that in Southampton are hundreds of good people to see to it that Lord Baden-Powell’s method for developing the qualities of good citizenship are being followed. qualities which spelt self-discipline, self-reliance and the willingness and ability to serve the community. Scouting will always be distinguished by its methods, based on the normal desires of the boy, giving practical and attractive outlets for them, and turning them to socially valuable purposes. In Southampton at least, the message of the man at the campfire is still heard.