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Open Features: The Fun Of Scouting

Frank Healy tells of the fun and pleasure to be had from Scouting.

“In the recent floods,’’ he reminds us “Scouts and leaders from the 3rd Tewksbury threw open their doors to provide food and shelter to the community.

"That makes me proud to have been associated with Scouting for a great part of my life. May it continue to flourish for the next 100 years.’’

Being a Scout when I was young was not all about lighting fires, or helping little old ladies across the road. We also had to raise funds.

Much of this was done once a year with Bob a Job Week. Bob was slang for a shilling (5 pence in modern money) a not insignificant sum in those days when wages were low in comparison to today.

My grandmother had a public house, the Great Northern Hotel at Laisterdyke and some of the people who gave me jobs were her customers. I have no doubt that she did some lobbying for me with them.

My first call to offer my services was the local greengrocer and fishmonger.

Yes he had a job for me. Clean out his yard and get rid of all the rubbish. This was a normal Monday morning job as they did not close until 6.00 pm on Saturday – remember Sunday was a day of rest back then.

Being in uniform I wanted to go home and get changed first, but he would have none of that. Get on with it he said, so I did. I was in tears when I got home.

My nice smart uniform was dirty and wet.

Daft as it sounds every year I would make him my first port of call for Bob a Job Week and it was always the same job and scenario.

I never learned, always getting my uniform wet and dirty.

23rd April is St George’s day and an important date in Scouting as he is their patron saint. Scouts still parade and renew their promise on the Sunday nearest that date. I remember that for several weeks we were drilled in how to march. As our leaders had all been in the forces they made sure we did it right!

On the big day Scout troops from all over the city would meet up for a parade to their respective churches, and come together after the service for a march past the Lord Mayor and various dignitaries. The city centre was closed off and crowds lined the route.

What a pity that it cannot be done in the same way these days, a demonstration of youthful discipline by the largest youth organisation in the world.

I did suggest it some years ago but was told it was not practical. Sunday trading and big business would not want us to disturb their money making.

Going on camp was very much of an adventure in many ways. Mr Jackson, who lived behind the church, had a removal business, we would load everything, including ourselves, into the back of his van and he would then drive us to our destination. No motorways in those days so it was a long uncomfortable journey.

Rydal water in the Lake District was one of our favourites. When we arrived we would have to carry everything around to the other side of the lake and set up camp, and of course we had to carry it back at the end of it.

Tents were big and heavy, many of them being ex army. Cooking was over wood fires and many hours were spent collecting fuel.

Occasionally we would be awakened when cattle or sheep decided to be curious and come into the tent. If it was a cow there was a quick exodus (they looked very big to a little boy) and often there was a need to clean up behind them.

One result of being on camp was how our view of food changed. No longer did we complain that we did not like onions in our gravy. We ate whatever was put in front of us, and asked for seconds. One thought that does occur to me is how they went on with food rationing. It was not until 1954 that it finally ended. We always had plenty to eat so someone must have sorted it out.

One “delicacy?” that we looked forward to on camp was named “Dead Babies”. This was a suet dumpling that was dropped into a dixie (a large container) of boiling water. They sank like a stone but rose to the top when cooked. A liberal dollop of treacle was applied and we tucked in. Cannot imagine serving those up today.

Fresh air and the activities got everyone eating. The same thing applies today. Kids I have taken on camp always came back without fads.

I did upset parents after one camp by serving roast chicken complete with all the trimmings for lunch on the last day.

For some strange reason nearly every mother had decided to do it for tea when they got home. All the kids declined saying they were still full from lunch.

Being in the great outdoors it was a time when we could put into practice all the skills we had been studying on our meeting nights. Hiking and climbing featured as well as woodcraft. We were taught the safe way to use an axe or saw, survival skills and so much more.

In all my years as a Boy Scout – they dropped the boy in 1967 - we only ever had one accident. That was when someone twisted an ankle. We had to carry him off Blubberhouse moors.

Equipment in those days was primitive in comparison to today. Only very few could afford the specialised equipment now available.

Our footwear was a sturdy pair of shoes with an ample supply of “Segs” which were metal studs hammered into the soles. Bradford being a mill town there was always an plentiful supply of leather from the machinery drive belts, and I, along with others used to mend our own shoes. Another useful skill I learned as a Scout.

Fast forward a few years and in 1993 I was invited to join a team as an instructor running mountain walking courses for Scouts. On one expedition we lost two Scouts. It was obvious that they had taken the right hand fork instead of the left, so, along with another leader I set off to catch them up.

When we did so they had travelled so far that it was not practical to retrace our steps and we decided to ford the river – the Little Don - and meet up with the rest of the party. I and the Scouts managed to cross using various rocks as stepping stones. The other leader (actually his name is Don) decided that he would take off his boots and wade across, having tied the laces together he threw them across, but his finger snagged in the laces and they fell short of our outstretched hands – the result was that we had to chase them down the river for some distance.

When I wrote the report of the trip for the newsletter it caused great hilarity, and for years after the story was told each time he ran a course.

The moral of course is you develop a great sense of humour in Scouts.

Memory is a funny thing. We all recall that holidays were sunny and it snowed at Christmas. Rain, of which I am sure we must have had plenty, somehow did not feature in our lives when we were young and having fun.

In later years when I was a Cub leader I was required to present a programme for approval before I could take them on camp. It was required that you actually devised two. One for wet days, one for dry. In all my years as a leader the only difference was that we put on waterproof clothing if it was wet. Rain was never ever allowed to stop the fun of Scouting.

Modern Scouting teaches so many new skills in addition to the basic ones that featured in Scouting for Boys, they inspired young people to meet and form the first Scout troops. It still continues to fulfil the dream of its founder Robert Baden Powell.

In the Scout promise there is a line “To help other People”

In the recent floods, Scouts and leaders from the 3rd Tewksbury threw open their doors to provide food and shelter to the community.

That makes me proud to have been associated with Scouting for a great part of my life. May it continue to flourish for the next 100 years...


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