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Open Features: Great Days With The Boys’ Brigade

David Hammond tells of a chap who was not amused when he saw his trousers fluttering atop the flag pole at a Boys’ Brigade camp.

The pyjama trousers flying from the flagpole at the Boys’ Brigade camp belonged to a Paddock vicar, and their owner was not amused. In fact, the sentiments he expressed on seeing them were of a most un-Christian nature.

But when he complained to the camp quartermaster, he got advice, rather than sympathy. “Now don’t go getting annoyed about a small thing like that and if it costs you a bit of money to get them back, don’t complain. Just see the funny side of things,” he was told.

The quartermaster was Eric Gosslin, who chuckled at the recollection of the embarrassed clergyman at the camp in the 1940s. “When he started getting angry, I really had to remind him he was supposed to be a Christian,” said Mr Gosslin. “It cost him half a crown to get the trousers back, but I don’t think he liked paying.”

Mr Gosslin was a pioneer worker for the Boys’ Brigade in Huddersfield and loves to reminisce on the early days when the town had five companies and there was even talk of it having its own battalion.

But this did not come to pass, he recalls regretfully.

Oddly enough, it was while gardening in his allotment – he lived in Bromley Road in those days – that Mr Gosslin was first asked if he would become a “BB” worker. The Rev. James Marshall stopped to chat over the fence with him and asked if he would help to form a band for the 1st Huddersfield company, based at Birkby Baptists.

Mr Gosslin, who was a sidesman at the Church, agreed to help, but found the band activities quite different from his previous musical experience – singing tenor parts in Gilbert and Sullivan shows with the Operatic Society at Hopkinson’s Britannia Works.

“But they were great days, and I enjoyed every minute,” said Mr Gosslin. “I formed the band, and in 12 months they were good enough to appear at the head of the Mayor’s Parade.”

The company as well as the band flourished in the early 1940s, with Mr Gosslin adopting a triple role as general secretary, bandmaster and quartermaster. A special train with “Huddersfield Boys’ Brigade” proudly emblazoned across the front of the loco took the lads on their first camping holiday, based at Penmaenmawr, North Wales.

“People stood up and took notice with they saw the sign on the engine,” Mr Gosslin recalls, with a tinge of pride. “The camp had good facilities. I ordered Army-type bell tents from Liverpool, and tried to organise things down to the last detail.”

Many more camps followed – at Cartmel Priory, Dunbar, Minehead, Largs, Bridlington, Ingleton and Scarborough – and, as other groups were formed, they were able to join in too.

The 2nd Huddersfield Group was at St James’s Presbyterian Church, the 3rd at Golcar Baptists, the 4th at Bracken Hall Congregational, and the 5th at Paddock. There were also associated groups of the Huddersfield Group Council at Elland, Brighouse and Hartshead.

Sadly, the Boys’ Brigade declined in influence in Huddersfield in later years, though there is still a strong battalion in Halifax, said Mr Gosslin.

“The Boys’ Brigade represented a large slice of my life,” he said.

Perhaps the open-air camping life helped to make Mr Gosslin so healthy. A veteran of World War I - he was an observer in the Royal Flying Corps – he is still a very active person. He drives a car and amazes the staff at a local health and fitness centre, where he regularly go weight-lifting and cycling.

Control with Kindness

The Boys’ Brigade’s system possibly helped in ensuring good discipline in the camps, and the large numbers attending were also significant.

“One parent came to me and said, “’How do you dare take our so-and-so off to camp? We can’t do anything with him at home’,” Mr. Gosslin recollects.

“I told her that with 180 to 200 boys in camp, he wouldn’t be allowed to disrupt things. If he did, they’d throw him into the nearest pond.”

Then there were the two boys heard discussing with each other how much better the camp officers must be faring than the rank and file. Mr. Gosslin had a remedy for them, too. They were called to the officers’ mess and made to stand through the meal, to see that the hierarchy were eating from just the same rations. “I gave them some apples each before they trotted off afterwards,” said Mr Gosslin.


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