Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948

Chapter III


Scouting in the British Isles

Derek Belfall was fourteen years old and lived in Bristol. The minimum age laid down at the outbreak of war by the Government for Air-Raid Precautions workers was sixteen, and many young Scouts were therefore prevented from becoming official members of the various organizations. Such official. prohibition did not deter Derek. On the contrary, it seems to have acted as a stimulus, for he did not cease from importuning his father until he had at last received reluctant permission to join the Messenger Service attached to the local A.R.P. headquarters. Here he showed himself to be active, efficient and intelligent, never more so than on the night when a swift attack was made on Bristol. When it was at its height, a message had to be sent, for the telephone lines had been cut. Derek took it, delivered it, and returning passed by a house from which flames were beginning to issue. Thrusting open the front door, he stumbled over a stirrup pump which he picked up and turned upon the fire, soon bringing it under control. Relieved presently by the household, he went on his way, but soon afterwards, hearing cries, rushed into another burning building and brought out from it an injured and badly frightened baby. Then for the third time during that fire-shot night he turned his steps towards the A.R.P. post, only to be struck by a bomb fragment. He was picked up badly wounded and carried to hospital. As they laid him upon the bed he murmured, "Messenger Belfall reporting. I have delivered my message," and so died.

In this display of courage and determination Scout Belfall was not unique, but he has provided an example, one of many, of that attitude of mind which enables so many Scouts to rise to so many occasions. Never, not even during those grins years 1914 to 1918, did Scouts have so many or such great opportunities of displaying to the world both he inner and the outward meaning of Scouting. This is no mere generalization but a sober fact. The figures prove it. Sixty thousand Scouts were awarded the National Service Badge for sustained work of every kind and description. No task was too great or too small, too important or too insignificant, for the Scouts, and the variety of their employment may be seen in Appendix I. For their leaders, the Munich Conference of 1938 had been a finger-post pointing straight to danger, and when a year later "a worn and tragic" Prime Minister told a listening nation that Great Britain was once again at war with the same foe, the Scouts were ready.

The basis of their activity, in war as in peace, was the solid foundation of the third Scout Law (A Scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others). In this law, which perhaps more than the other nine has impressed the imagination of the world, lay the secret of the Scouts’ success in war-time. To observe it is to a Scout second nature, and whether it was a matter of supplying messengers to inform the deaf of air-raid warnings or the sounding of the All Clear, to fire-watching, to erecting indoor shelters, to the manning of listening posts, to hop-picking, to waste-paper collection, to wood chopping, to painting kerbs of pavements white, or the thousand and one tasks which had to be performed in a society engaged in total war, the habit of the Good Turn was ever at their elbow.

To classify the work of the Scouts during those six years is very difficult because its variety was so great, to describe each separate item is impossible within the compass of one or even of many volumes. Only their principal services to the community can be mentioned. First, those of a general nature, not specifically connected with Passive Defense. At the outbreak of war, Scouts, in common with every one else, were keyed up and eager to contribute their individual share to the common effort. Good turns multiplied prodigiously. There were at that time somewhat more than half a million Boy Scouts, and to judge from the very large volume of reports from Groups and Troops, most of them modestly laconic, and the even larger volume of public and private testimony, each one of them must have performed more than one good turn a day. Here are some examples. All over the country Scouts made thousands of camouflage nets, an occupation on which the younger members of Troops were engaged throughout the war. In many districts harassed and overworked Post Office officials were helped in the sorting of letters by Scouts, and other Scouts collected clothing for refugees and persons who had lost their property in air-raids, the amount thus amassed running into thousands of tons. At the special request of the Minister of Fuel and Power, Scouts made a prodigious number of briquettes from coal dust and collected bundles of firewood and loads of logs.

The first Christmas of the war, taking place as it did in the ‘black- out, was rightly regarded as something different from the joyful feast of peace-time. Scouts all over Britain, with a special eye to the poor and needy, made a great and determined effort to reproduce normal conditions as far as possible. They gave hundreds of Christmas parties for children, they collected food for the aged, especially the aged poor. They took a prominent part in entertainments for the Forces. One Troop, from so poor a district that its members could not even afford to pay their subscription, collected discarded toys and, with the help of paint and glue, willingly supplied by the shops, made " a great pile of bright toys" for the children of the district, as poor and needy as themselves, but with fewer opportunities than they had for strewing resourcefulness. They went further and collected, again from the shops, baskets of " sweets, nuts and fruit," which they distributed. In Sheffield the Jewish Scouts organized a service which helped many a weary member of the Forces, by carrying his kit for him from one railway station to the other. In Edinburgh Wolf Cubs collected paper, bottles and other rubbish scattered about the Zoo, and ran messages for the infirmary. In Northern Ireland the Scouts concentrated their efforts on tinfoil, and did all they could to keep the Armed Forces supplied with magazines and books. The Scouts of Wales made a special collection of red seaweed to be used by the botanical department of the University College of Wales for medicinal and bacteriological purposes. In Dublin, which never felt the weight of wet, the Sea Scouts showed themselves eager to help survivors of torpedoed ships, a service deeply appreciated.

In the field of finance the Scouts showed themselves to be particularly useful. No gum was too large or too small to escape their notice. An evacuated Wolf Cub from Hounslow raised £60 by his own efforts towards the cost of a Spitfire, while the Thrifty Threes Club, inaugurated by the Scouts of Richmond, of which each member was required to carry a twelve-sided three-penny piece and to produce the coin on being challenged or pay a fine of 2d., collected £100, and the Glasgow Scouts raised £1,300 in order to provide a minesweeper with all its auxiliary equipment. In Fulham the Boy Scouts War Savings Group amassed a total of £57,232 in four years. The 8th Batley (Hanover Street) Troop of Yorkshire made use of some unusual methods of raising money for their town’s War Weapons Week They sold two thousand yards of Savings Stamps and erected a signaling tower from which members of the public could send messages on payment of a fee. At the foot of the tower they set up a model Scout camp, pitching it on a piece of ground in the center of the town and carrying out a different program each day, with a camp-fire every evening. Using their powers of persuasion on a battalion of the Royal Armored Corps, they induced a large number of the public to ride in a tank on payment of a small sum. "This proved a great attraction . . . as the soldiers chose the roughest ground they could find, with plenty of bumps thrown in." Finally there was the Bob a Job scheme mentioned in Chapter V, which produced £32,000 in one day.

Of the good turns done by the Scouts in the early stages of the war, none was of greater importance than their labors among evacuated children. The sudden transfer of school children from large cities and towns to country districts presented many problems, and local authorities soon found themselves in positions of great difficulty. Lord De la Warre, President of the Board of Education, appealed to Scouts, saying that many of the children "are running wild and all sorts of stories are heard about what Is happening." The appeal was answered and soon Scouts of the countryside were busy strewing those strange places, the woods and fields of England, unknown to four-fifths of her population, to boys from the streets and squares of her cities, to many of whom Scouting was not even a name. The main difficulty was find a cure for boredom. The town child forcibly evacuated the country had lost his old interests and had not had time to acquire new ones. "The adventures of his street . . . the cinema, the shops, the night school, perhaps his club and church activities, and means of easy and quick transport, all these had gone." The country Scouts began their heavy task with a will. It was both easy and difficult. Their success with their opposite numbers from the towns was never for a moment in doubt, but with those who were not Scouts it was often a grinding task. Nevertheless, little by little much was achieved. The small town boy is an adaptable creature and presently found, under the guidance of his new friend, that the countryside had much to offer if he took the trouble to discover it. Patrol, Troop and Pack meetings were held, handicraft classes inaugurated, and individual interests stimulated by means of hobbies, reading, and Scout games. The results achieved were cumulative rather than striking. Had Scouts and Scouting not existed the situation would have been much more difficult.

In the solitary instance of the reverse procedure, when 650 children were moved from the comparative safety of Gibraltar to endure the London blitz, Scouting proved invaluable. These "rock scorpions"-the name followed them to London-had " nothing to do except misbehave." In some parts of London, notably in Holborn, Tottenham and Ilford, Troops composed of them were started and soon proved successful. Great difficulty, however, was experienced in the genteel respectability of Kensington. Allan Bilby of Imperial Headquarters undertook the task and was soon reporting that his experiences in the Royal Palace Hotel, where potential recruits were housed, reminded him "of the Demons’ Chorus from The Dream of Gerontius…. It took me back . . . to my experiences in the East End in I910 and 1911 when I had to dodge tomatoes and cabbage stumps when coming home in uniform. But I do not intend," he went on, " to let a pack of naughty kids who know no better, put me off the work I have promised to perform." Starting at the beginning with a nucleus of sixteen, who established a Court of Honor, the Troop was gradually built up, and after a slow start began to grow. The difficulties were very great, the children spoke little or no English, air-raids were frequent, they spent, most of their nights in the tube station at Notting Hill Gate. They were bewildered and far from home, strangers from the bright Mediterranean strayed into a land of fog and fire. But the perseverance of Bilby, ably supported by a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. B. F. M. Bussy, won victory in the end, and before the war was over, " the Scout Troop had improved the behavior of the Gibraltar refugees beyond recognition." One of them, a member of the 1st Gibraltar (London) Scout Troop, Harold Wahnon, was awarded a Silver Cross for his work during the London blitz.

Greater even than the importance of collecting money or clothing, and looking after evacuee children, was the cultivation of the land. For Scouts the slogan "Dig for Victory," a snore worthy exhortation than the "Business as Usual" of the First World War, meant very hard work. The appeal of the Ministry of Agriculture fell on ears alert and keen, and many troops took to " farmping," a nauseous but effective telescope word to describe the annual camp which they combined with work on the land. Fruit-picking-one camp in Worcester attended by 600 Scouts plucked a million pounds of plums; harvesting-the Doncaster Scouts formed a mobile harvesting Troop which maintained a permanent week-end camp from which they sallied out to farms all over that part of Yorkshire; herb-gathering-2,000 lb. of mixed herbs, I5,000 lb. of horse chestnuts, and 17,000 lb. of rose hips, not to mention 45,000 lb. of moss, 8,000 of nettles and 750 of acorns; planting-one Troop planted 50,000 cabbages for a Wiltshire farmer at twenty-four hours’ notice; all these were undertaken with an enthusiasm from which skill was by no means lacking. In Leicester the gardens of men serving with the Forces were kept in excellent order by the Scouts. At Blackburn the Scouts ran their own allotments, and the Woodlands Group lifted 800 lb. of potatoes in one season " without touching more than the fringe of their allotment," and this although it was situated in a densely-wooded area and had had, before planting, to be cleared of old trees and bushes. Perhaps the most curious agricultural task was that performed by a Patrol of Scouts from Stepney, who assisted the Oxford University Bureau of Animal Population to plot the movements of the gray squirrel in; the south-east area of East Anglia, the object being to determine the amount of damage such vermin did to crops. From June, 1944, to December, 1945, the Patrol covered some 2,000 miles when engaged on this investigation. Before the war was ended, Scouts in the British Isles had worked two and a half million hours at harvesting and general farm work, and somewhat more than 600,000 hours at forestry.

In salvage, too, the Scouts showed themselves equally pertinacious. Delivering slogans, "Save your scraps to save your bacon" and "Rubbish makes rashers," the Scouts of Salisbury collected twenty tons of pig food in one month. Twenty-four Scouts of the 1st Radlett Troop, Hertfordshire, collected 70,200 razor blades in a week, their record being beaten by the 3rd Ewell ((Ewell Castle) Scout Troop, who amassed 80,000 in the same period. Before the war was ended the total number of blades collected in Britain by the Scouts was only fifty thousand short of a million In June and July, 1940, the "steel conscious" Scouts of Sheffield amassed 378 tons of scrap iron. Two thousand tons of metal, 15,000 cwt. of rubber, 750 cwt. of bones, 2,000 cwt. of rags, 85,000 bottles, 900,000 jam-jars, 2,250,000 lb. of seaweed-these were some of the major items to the credit of these omnivorous collectors. Waste paper proved an irresistible attraction. The Paper Control Board appealed to the Boy Scouts Association, and a central depot was established in each district and put in charge of the local Scout authorities. Imperial Headquarters was soon dealing with 250 offers of waste paper a day. The St. Matthew’s Troop of Ponders End, for instance, collected 45 tons in nine months, the Scouts of Cambridge 201 tons in the same time, while those of Norwich took ten months to amass 250 tons, and t hose of Harpenden 240 tons in eighteen months. Even these efforts paled beside the achievement of the Scouts of Kent, who collected 2,000 tons in six months, one Troop alone contributing 100.

Faced with the task of visiting more than 1,500 houses once a fortnight to collect waste paper, the 1st Balderton Troop tried to hire a horse and cart. The price proved too high, but the owner, when appealed to, presented the equipage together with harness and spare wheels "in appreciation of the work the Troop was doing." Scout Joseph Cleasby and his small friend Charles Score, both Handicapped Scouts, dragged their maimed limbs along endless streets, their bag trailing behind them, on their "daily paper chase." In Durham, where too tons of paper was collected in eight months, the additional objects found included a pound note, several pounds of sweets in small packets, some still edible, enough coal to heat a house, straw sufficient to keep a horse for a year, several pairs of nylon stockings, bananas, cheese, a dead, cat, an unnumbered quantity of electric bulbs, sufficient string to connect Durham with New York, a number of top hats, and a quantity of wire sufficient to surround a fair-sized field. The money thus earned was used for various purposes. The camping expenses of poor Scouts were paid, Troop headquarters were built, and camp gear bought. The Scouts of Glasgow handed [182 to the Lord Provost towards the cost of an ambulance, those of Durham sent ,`50 to the Red Cross, and the Scouts of Bishops Stortford and the 1st Hockerill Troop lent ,`50 to the Government free of interest. In Kent a central fund maintained by the sale of waste paper sent frequent subscriptions to local hospitals and to the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families Association. The Scouts of Farsley, Leeds, spent the money they earned in sending 250 parcels to Scouts serving with the Forces. In all, 100,000 tons of waste paper was collected by the Scouts during the war, an average of slightly more than 20 tons a Troop each year. Every item of this large quantity was collected after school hours and at week-ends.

From hospitals the Scouts have received much praise. To these institutions, burdened at all times but especially in war, they made themselves useful in many ways. They acted as messengers and telephone operators, they cleaned wards and carried stretchers. The more skilled found themselves working in operating theaters cleaning wounds, putting on dressings, suturing, administering local anesthetics, sterilizing instruments, looking after plaster bandage trolleys, and all of them, the older and the younger, were ready at any time to give their blood for transfusions. The regularity of their attendance and their reliability were especially conspicuous. Patrol Leader Arthur Penfold of the 10th St. Marylebone (London) Group, a boy of fourteen when he began, worked for two years without a break at the Middlesex Hospital on night duty, and for this received a Certificate of Merit. Another such certificate was awarded to Patrol Leader Alan G. Stephenson of the 41st Newcastle-on-Tyne Group. He was escorting a soldier who had lost a leg to Roehampton and noticed that the stump, which the man had accidentally knocked against the door when entering the railway carriage, was beginning to bleed. Stephenson cut the seal off the emergency locker containing the First Aid appliances, found a nurse on the train, and she and he between them looked after the patient, who had by then become a stretcher case. On their arrival at King’s Cross a stretcher party awaited them, summoned by Stephenson, who, as the train roared through an intermediate station, had contrived to throw a message from the carriage window on to the platform.

The Scouts of Croydon, members of thirteen Troops, worked so continuously in the hospitals that they became known as The Hospital Scouts. They were to be found in every department and their duties ranged from the development of X-ray films to the preparations of corpses for post-mortem examination. On the 16th September, 1942, the services rendered by the Scouts of St. Marylebone to the Middlesex Hospital were officially recognized by the naming of a bed and the unveiling of a tablet in their honor. The Scout Gilt Cross for gallantry was awarded to the 48th Kensington Scout Troop as a whole, and individually to Peter Cronbach The hospital medical superintendent reported that " they were most worthy of the great organization of which they were members."

All these activities, and others of a lesser sort, were carried on not only in a country shrouded at sundown in absolute darkness from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, but also subject from time to time, often for weeks and months on end, to savage air attack. For the first time since the Danish invasions of the ninth and tenth centuries, with the exception of the half-hearted air warfare conducted by the Zeppelins of the war of 1914-1918, the civilian population of these islands found themselves in acute physical danger Some 50,000 were killed, many more thousands wounded. It was a strange, a terrible time, which those who lived through it will not lightly forget. Of these, many, like a London doctor who wrote of the Scouts "their courage and unflinching devotion to duty were magnificent. . I feel proud to be working under the same flag as these excellent examples of our young manhood," will remember those boys in dusty uniforms or dustier plain clothes who thought ho danger too sharp, no toil too heavy to endure in the fulfillment of their self-imposed task of helping their fellow citizens. By boys such as these the Home Office ruling -already mentioned, which sought to prevent those under sixteen from enrolling as National Service volunteers, was honored more often in the breach than in the observance. Messengers, telephone operators, call-boys for A.R.P. staff, drivers, policers of air-raid shelters, sandbag-fillers, gasmask assemblers, disinfectors, entertainers of shelter "patrons," erectors of indoor shelters, fire-watchers, these were some of the " professions" which the Scouts entered.

On the first day of war a young Wolf Cub was sent with a message to a civic center in London. He delivered it, and finding that there was no answer, remained with the staff and continued to work with them till discovered when-he still continued. His spirit typifies that shown everywhere among the Scouts. Scout Service Bureaux were set up in towns and villages throughout the kingdom and there lists were kept of all Scouts available for service, together with particulars of their age, school, occupation, address, hours when they were free, and details of any special badges of qualifications which would render them particularly suitable for special work. Scouts thus registered were given hours of duty, during which they were available to assume any task.

One of these was the erection of Morrison shelters The Scouts set up snore than 40,000 of them, being called upon to do so by the Ministry of Home Security, which realized the difficulties that many housewives whose husbands were on active service might encounter when they tried to install them. The Scouts worked swiftly, and after a little practice were able to build one of these shelters in twenty minutes though it was made up of 200 parts. The record was achieved by a Liverpool Patrol which erected a Morrison shelter in sixteen. The 8th Aintree Scout Troop built no less than 200 of these shelters, and one gratified householder wrote saying, "My mother is an invalid and I expected it to be a noisy job, but your boys did it so quietly and efficiently that it was a pleasure to watch them." In Bethnal Green shortage of labor imposed a delay in the erection of three-tier bunks in the tube shelters. The local Scout Troops were called in and in nine months set up 5,000, working only in the evenings and at week-ends.

From the erection of shelters,, the work of looking after those who used them was a small step. Here, perhaps more than any where else, the Scouts were invaluable. Scarcely more than children themselves, they knew how to look after children. "You can find him in Holborn Tube Station any night," wrote one A.R.P. warden, "He carries a haversack of blanket pins and makes a nightly round folding and pinning children’s blankets, Scout fashion. The occupants all call him ‘Big Chief Blanket Pin.’"

In the East End of London, which had to endure the first fury of the air attacks, Scouts were particularly active in the stinking overcrowded shelters, which were all that could at first be provided for a population bewildered, afraid, but resolute to endure. "The scene is typical of many nights," runs a letter written at the time. "A warden on duty, with him several Scouts to act as messengers. The bombs are falling and the barrage is loud. One small Scout has a baby in his lap, playing games with her and showing her a picture book to distract her attention. A mother arrives sobbing with several children; she has left one behind and asks the warden if she can go and get him. The warden shakes his head. Immediately a voice chips in, ‘ Where do you live, Mother? ‘ The address is given. ‘ Give me the key, please,’ and the owner of the voice goes off and brings in the child. There are 700 people of all ages in the shelter. The Scouts gather round the piano and start the shelter’s signature tune, ‘ Green grow the Rushes 0.’ A dusty A.F.S. man looks in; he wants help and out goes a Scout to direct him and his men to the scene of the fire. The gas is cut off, so the Scouts warm babies’ bottles over candle flames. At midnight the Scouts on duty group together again and there is silence in the shelter, for every night at this hour they hold a Scouts’ Own Service for ten minutes-a hymn and a prayer."

Before the blitz was many days old they had become accustomed to looking after badly frightened people roused from their beds by bombs exploded or unexploded fallen near their homes and to cutting unnumbered piles of sandwiches and making unnumbered gallons of tea to be drunk by the fire" men’ policemen and A.R.P. workers, and this kind of labor, unspectacular, exacting, they performed night after night all over southern England. There was nothing heroic about it. The heroism had to be displayed in the streets outside, and was.

The Scouts of London were more heavily tried than those In other towns because of the long duration of the raids. Their city was bombed ninety- five nights running and they got little sleep. Here, as elsewhere, many Scouts acted as messengers and fire-watchers. Scout John Cox was one night on duty on the roof of a church in Stepney. A load of incendiaries fell upon its, farther end, and Cox was soon busily engaged taking a hand with the pumps and then going for help. On his way, the bells from the belfry crashed through the roof and missed him by a few feet. He mastered his natural fear and hurried to help in the evacuation of people in the shelter beneath the church. Cox was evidently a boy of determination for a few nights later he was discovered by the police carrying tins of glycerin away from a blazing factory at imminent risk to his life. His warden often " had to remonstrate with him because of his utter disregard for his own safety when helping others."

On the 7th October, 1940,, the 36th Poplar (Bow Baptist Church) Troop lost their church and their headquarters. By the middle of March they had rebuilt their meeting-room with boards dug out of the debris of the church, but on the 19th another raid completed the destruction of the church property, including the hall in which the services were held. The Scouts offered their newly completed room, but hardly had the offer been accepted, when this, too, was blown to pieces in the great raid of the 10th May. By then they might with justice have shown discouragement. Instead, they rebuilt the hut which by October was ready to house the Baptist worshippers.. It stood for the rest of the war and still stands, though the final blow fell on these pertinacious Scouts when on V.E. Day the local populace pulled up the fence they had laboriously built round it and used the wood to make a bonfire.

As the blitz continued so the peril grew. Scouts John and Alan Cantillon, aged fourteen and twelve, of the 9th Farnham (Tongham) Group, Surrey, heard "the shrieks of their mother and . . . found that an incendiary bomb had set fire to her bed." The two small boys put out the blaze and held in check the flames which had seized upon the house, until the arrival of the brigade. That same night Scoutmaster George Keen won the Scouts’ highest award, the Bronze Cross, for uncoupling the blazing trucks of an ammunition train and saving forty-five out of fifty-one of them. By this action he also saved the whole neighborhood, for had the trucks exploded the consequences must have been disastrous.

Scouts were active in railway stations, not only helping as messengers but also doing what they could to aid the overworked staff. During the flying bomb attacks a number of Scouts were discovered on the roof of a London railway station. When asked what they were doing, they replied, "Spotting for the lady porters." This was confirmed by the forewoman. "It’s all right, mister," she said. " They let us know when a doodlebug is on the way and we all duck."

Six Holborn Scouts won awards for gallantry and thirty Bermondsey Scouts, of whom one, Scout Frank Davis, aged seventeen, was killed in the rescue of a fellow passenger who had been wounded. For this he received a posthumous award of a Bronze Cross. Altogether, Bermondsey had an especially gallant record, winning six individual Silver Crosses and two awarded to Troops.

Though London was bombed more continuously than any other city, the attacks of the Luftwaffe elsewhere were very severe and caused much damage and many casualties. In Coventry on the night of November 14th 1940, the Scouts’ " acts of gallantry, unselfish, untiring service, and a spirit of cheerfulness throughout, have provoked the greatest admiration among all the Services to which the boys were attached." That dreadful night a Rover aged just seventeen took the place of an A.F.S. driver put out of action early in the raid, and drove his tender until long after the All Clear had sounded. The devotion to duty of five Patrol Leaders attached to the A.F.S. was so remarkable that, when dawn broke and they were still at work putting out the flames of a burning house, a small crowd of dazed and homeless people paused on their way to a rest center to cheer them. Six of their young comrades, also Rovers, were described by the Warden as "worth fifty men," and of their number three were killed "after working nearly the whole night through." In Plymouth Patrol Leader William Cappola,, on duty fire-watching, climbed to the roof of a high building and as the incendiaries fell, kicked them off it into the gutter, Later that same night he was buried in debris, but after an hour or two was dug out and reported for duty on the following night. In Bath a like spirit was strewn. The raids, a reprisal, so the Germans said, for the damage inflicted by the Royal Air Force on German cities, were short but very sharp and much damage was done. One night Patrol Leader Lionel Hawkins found himself engaged on the grim task of digging out a trapped family. Some of them were dead but one small girl was not. With the thoughtfulness of youth, Hawkins bandaged her eyes before he carried her out of the ruin, lest she should see the torn and twisted bodies of her parents. For this and other work at night he won the Scout Gilt Cross. During the heavy raids on Bootle,, James Armstrong, a sixteen-year-old messenger, won the George Medal for his gallantry. Blown from his bicycle by bomb blast, he continued his journey on foot, delivered his message, and on the way back, seizing a hose, climbed a ladder to play water upon a house set on fire by an incendiary bomb. He remained in this exposed position for some time, ignoring the bombs which continued to fall at intervals. Having put out the fire, he returned to headquarters where he learnt that A.R.P. workers posted near delayed-action bombs were finding difficulty in obtaining food. He at once volunteered to take them hot tea and sandwiches, and made repeated journeys until all were fed. So efficient and courageous were the members of the Bootle Civil Defense Messenger Service, nearly all of them Scouts, that they were specially commended by the Minister of Home Security.

Nearby, in Liverpool, Scout William Alfred Leigh of the 19th Fairfield Troop won the Scout Silver Cross to add to the George Medal with which he had already been decorated, by working for hours to rescue a man and his wife and child buried beneath a house. Being small, he was able to crawl through the tunnel made in the debris, and prolonged it sixteen feet, passing the bricks back one by one. This work of rescue took several hours and was hampered by escaping gas which overcame two of the rescue party. About the same time, farther south, Patrol Leader Anthony Dove and his two brothers Henry and Terence, of the Pitsea and Bowers Gifford Group, Essex, all won Gilt Crosses for the rescue of a woman in a lonely house struck by a jettisoned bomb. The building was on fire, the woman trapped by heavy debris. There was a dense fog, and the fire brigade took more than an hour to reach the spot. While awaiting it, the three Scouts, aged fourteen, twelve and ten, carried water in kettles and buckets from a nearby tank and poured it on the burning ruins, thus keeping them damp and so preventing the ‘dames from reaching the woman. Farther south still, in Kent, Troop Leader Donald Jones of the 37th (Medway) Troop, who was made an air-raid warden at the age of eighteen, was the first of that gallant band to receive the O.B.E. He crawled beneath the wreckage of a house, and upheld with his back and shoulders a number of beams so that they should not fall upon three persons trapped a foot or two beneath them. So precarious was the condition of the house that he dared not move, but held the same posture from 2 a.m. till 6 a.m. "keeping up a cheerful conversation the whole time" until the rescue party arrived.

In Glasgow those Scouts under sixteen who were unable to "bluff their way into A.R.P. duties" formed "After the Raid Squads" which went into action as soon as the All Clear had sounded. They helped in the rescue of people buried under bombed houses, salvaged furniture, looked after homeless children, helped in rest centers,, and canteens, and acted as messengers. In one of the worst raids, a row of small houses was wiped out and a Patrol worked for hours digging for the victims. When they had done all they could; they were making their way to a mobile canteen, " their clothes torn, their hands and faces scratched and bleeding," when one of them "heard a moaning cry from a wrecked house." The Patrol Leader burrowed his way in and presently came out "carrying the naked body of a young girl. Blood dripped from a gash in her neck, which was stained crimson." "Take her, skipper," said the Patrol Leader to the Scoutmaster as he thrust her into his arms. "I’m going to be sick."

Such sights, from which most parents would do their utmost to shield their children, were only too common in those days of war. Many Scouts beheld them not only on the bodies of other people, but on their own. Pierced with sudden agonizing pain and that moment of deadly fear which is caused by even a small wound’ they were not found wanting. Ronald Eke of London was rescued from a building beneath which he and his parents had taken shelter His legs were crushed, but "he made no complaint and gave clear directions as to where his mother and father could be found. They were dead, and he died on his way to the hospital." He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Cross. David Friar, aged eight, was five times bombed out of shelters in one highs. Only when the All Clear was sounded did he inform his parents that his wrist was hurting him. It had been broken by the first bomb but he had borne the pain throughout the night and said nothing. The Cubs in one district of London were urged by their Cubmaster to be brave. A few nights later Ronald Troman found himself buried up to the neck in debris. It took many hours for the rescuers to reach him. All that time he was heard humming a tune, and when they laid their hands on him to draw him out, he said "I am a Cub. I can take it." He was nine years old. "I feel I must write and let you know of the courage shown by Alan Grover," wrote a London air-raid warden to the District Scout Commissioner. "He kept a very cool head after being buried under debris for over an hour, and when asked about his mother buried."

Arthur Rossiter, aged fourteen, of the 45th Camberwell Troop, London, was injured by an oil bomb in a daylight raid. He was badly burnt and had to lie for months on his face and undergo "various forms of very painful treatment." The nurses and doctors of the hospital were impressed by his courage and endurance, and most of all by "his concern lest he should be a trouble to any one." He was awarded the Cornwall Scout decoration for being an outstanding example of a Scout who smiles under difficulties. A similar award was made to Wolf Cub George Wooldridge, whose left leg was blown off by a bomb. For some, death, not wounds, was the reward of service, as the many posthumous awards testify. In all; 194 Scouts were killed and father told us very clearly where they were when on duty in air-raids.

So much for the Scouts on land. The Sea Scouts, though not so numerous, were equally active. By an arrangement between the Admiralty and the Boy Scouts Association, their Troops were recognized for the training of boys entering the Navy under . the " "Y"" Scheme. The Admiralty inspected these units and provided basic equipment and a special badge implying that the Sea Scouts were members of a recognized unit. Training was tarried; but in various places and also in the Discovery, Captain Scott’s vessel now living out an honorable old age at anchor-in the Thames. Of the many Sea Scouts, none were more efficient than the ninety-six who were part of the force manning the Thames River Emergency Service. This was an Air-Raid Precautions organization under the control of the Port of London Authority, and its members were drawn from those who knew and loved the Thames, and could handle boats. Among them were peers, barristers, authors, shopkeepers, and artists. If a ship on the river needed help during a raid the small craft they manned went to her assistance, took off casualties and brought them to hospital. Sea Scout signalers were attached to each station and maintained a twenty-four-hour watch. Others manned boats on patrol and the various stations of the organisatior1 on land. The most important of these was a fort in Kent where fifteen Sea Scouts were on continuous duty. It had once formed part of the Thames defenses and commanded two long reaches of the river. It had been manned before, in 1914, also by Scouts.

One Troop of Sea Scouts were given a fine chance to show their worth. The 1st Mortlake Troop possessed a forty-five-foot motor picket boat, the Minotaur, which they had bought from the Admiralty in 1929 and converted for their purposes. Ten years later she was commissioned and formed part of the fleet belonging to the Port of London Authority, but May, 1940, found her back at her moorings in Mortlake, in use once more for training purposes. On the 29th May, T. A. Towndrow, the Scoutmaster of the Mortlake Troop, was confronted by a naval commander and two petty officers, who ordered the Minotaur to proceed as soon as possible to Sheerness. Realizing the nature of the duties before him, Towndrow aroused his chief, the Town Clerk, obtained a few days’ leave, and set out with a crew of two. Reaching Sheerness, they were sent on to Ramsgate, took on stores and fuel, and, picking up two naval ratings, set out for Dunkirk.

"The crossing took five and a half to six hours and was by no means uneventful," reported Towndrow, who was skipper. "Destroyer after destroyer raced past, almost cutting the water from beneath us, and threatening to overturn us with their wash. We approached the beach with great caution at Dunkirk because of the wrecks. We found things fairly quiet and got on with our allotted job of towing small open ships’ boats, laden with soldiers, to troop transports anchored in deep water, or of loading our ship from the open boats and proceeding out to the transports. Conditions did not remain quiet for long. We were working about a quarter of a mile away from six destroyers. Suddenly all their anti-aircraft guns opened fire. At the same time we heard the roar of twenty-five Nazi planes overhead. Their objective was the crowded beach and the destroyers. One plane made persistent circles round us. Another Nazi plane was brought down in flames, far too close for our liking.

"After the raiders had passed, we shakily got on with the job. Eventually our fuel ran low and the engine made ominous noises, so we were relieved. We took a final load to a trawler, returned to out East Coast base, refueled and turned in for a few hours’ sleep. We were then told to stand by, as fast boats were making the next crossing. We shipped aboard another motor boat as crew, We left before it got dark under convoy of a large seagoing tug. Our job this time was to work from the mole at Dunkirk Harbor in conjunction with the tug. The operation was supposed to be carried out under cover of darkness, but with the petrol and oil tanks on fire it might have been day-time. Having loaded the tug we came away barely in time. As we left the mole the Germans got its range and a shell demolished the end of it. "On the way back we Scouts transferred to a naval cutter, full of troops, which was making the return journey. The officer in charge had lost his charts’ Knowing the course back we were able to take over. After a nine-hours’ crossing we made our East toast base once more. German aircraft constantly followed all small boats out to sea, gunning the crews and troops on board.";

Thus land and sea Scouts did their duty during the long years of war. To record all their deeds in full would be to write a detailed history of the air attack on England and the threatened invasion. The examples given have been taken almost at random from the reports which accumulated during six long years of intermittent) sometimes acute, but ever present danger. The tale they tell is woven of the very stuff of life itself, and death, and the colors of the tapestry are dark. Yet twisted with every somber thread is one of brighter hue, for the courage of those boys, all of them under eighteen and many half that age. transformed a picture of wrath and horror into one of steadfastness and shining worth.

These multifarious duties imposed upon the Scouts by the circumstances of war meant that there was but little time to spare for other activities. Moreover, as the war progressed, a great shortage of Scouters inevitably developed. 222,215 Scouts joined the Services. Once more the same phenomenon observed in the First World War was present in the Second. The Troops which made the fullest use of the Patrol system and gave Patrol Leaders responsibility were those which most successfully withstood the strain. They were helped by the institution of the National Service Badge which any Scout over the age of fourteen who had passed his Second Class tests, could win, and a Pennant with a crown of gold for Troops having the highest number of badges. The requirements of the badge were, in brief, an ability to write and carry messages, special knowledge of the locality in which the Scout lives, knowledge of how to deal with panic and preserve discipline, and enrollment in some form of National Service. Altogether, as has been said, more than 60,000 Scouts won this badge, the record perhaps being held by the 1st Balderton Troop of Nottingham, who won the pennant three years running, each member being awarded the National Service Badge and twenty-five of them the Civil Defense Badge.

Scouting per se, as distinct from the duties undertaken by Scouts as the result of the war, was further encouraged and stimulated by the establishment at Imperial Headquarters of a club for the use of Scouts serving with His Majesty’s Forces and Civil Defense units. In it were displayed awards and trophies associated with Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell. On the walls were his insignia and in a glass case by the door the brave and tattered Union Jack which had waved about his headquarters in Mafeking. The club was visited by many Scouts of different nationalities, the average number-using it being about 1,100 a month.

Not only did the numerous services performed by the Scouts during the air-raids serve to keep them in the public eye, they were also made known to thousands by The Gang Show, organized by Ralph Reader, a theatrical producer, .These shows, which had originally been staged at the Scala Theater in London, where they drew large crowds, traveled all over Britain and to every theater of war.

Scouts who joined the Services, and there were more than half a million of them, found Scouting of the utmost value, a fact freely acknowledged by their comrades. "My officer’s a Scoutmaster," wrote a sergeant describing his escape from Germany into Switzerland, "and with only a compass and map he led us over 120 miles of woodland into Switzerland. How’s that for Scout training ?"

"I enclose a small gift of money to help the future generation," wrote a naval officer who spent six months in enemy territory and eventually reached England in safety, thanks, so he maintained, entirely to his Scout training. Another Scout wrote to Imperial Headquarters asking for his letter to be forwarded to his former Scoutmaster, whom he wished to thank for having taught him to swim. Swim he did, from the beaches at Dunkirk to one of the rescuing ships. A Glasgow Rover, one of the crew of a trawler sunk off the Norwegian coast by a German bomber, got ashore with his comrades and with a flashlight signaled to a British cruiser in the offing who took them off. Augustus Charlwood, wireless operator of a Royal Air Force bomber, owed his life to John Finlayson, the navigator, who bandaged his wounds after the aircraft had been hit attacking an enemy ship in Norwegian waters. A convoy of a hundred Air Force motor lorries in Burma reached safety because a Scout, Leading Aircraftsman Alfred Deany, was able to repair a wrecked bridge with ~ few old railway sleepers and some rope. It took him twenty-five minutes to do so, and when the last heavy vehicle had crossed, the bridge "gently subsided."

Everywhere where Scouts served, whether in Europe, the Middle East or the Far East, {he tale was the same. For work requiring intelligence and training, the first choice was a Scouter or an ex-Scout if one was available. The position of Scouts in the Armed Forces was well summed up by a brigadier with more than thirty years’ experience of training men for the Regular and Territorial Armies. "A batch of first-class Scouts," he deported, " would prove more acceptable to a commanding officer or a sergeant-major than a similar number of lads with any other form of spare time occupation in their past."

Many gained the highest awards. Among those who won the Victoria Cross was Flying Officer Cyril Barton of the 1st Oxshot Group, who bombed Nuremberg after six of his crew had been forced to bale out, and lost his life landing the aircraft but saved the remaining members of his crew. Others were Lieutenant Donald Cameron of the Royal Naval Reserve, belonging to the 3rd Glasgow Group, who successfully attacked the Tirpitz in a midget submarine; Brigadier L. M. Campbell, Assistant District Commissioner of Guilford, who with his men cut a path through the German lines and behaved in a manner which "can seldom have been surpassed in the long history of the Highland Brigade"; Flying Officer J. A. Cruikshank of the 4th Edinburgh (Greenbank) Troop, who, wounded in seventy-two places, flew his Catalina safely back to base after destroying a U-boat.., Sergeant T. F. Durrant of the 1st Green Street Green Group, who fought at St. Nazaire; and Lieutenant the Hon. C. Furness, 3rd Eton College Troop, who fought to the end in a Bren-gun carrier to cover the retreat of a large column of vehicles on the road to Dunkirk.

Best known of all to receive this, the highest decoration for velour, was Acting Wing Commander Guy P. Gibson of the 1st Tovil Group, who led the raid on the Moehne Dam in the Ruhr and who subsequently lost his life as a Pathfinder of Bomber Command. Gibson had originally been a Scout at school and, to use his own words, "re-mustered" with the 1st Tovil Group as a Rover. The devotion to duty of Boy Jack Cornwell in the First World War, who lost his life winning the Victoria Cross at Jutland, was repeated in the Second by another Scout, Leading Seaman Jack Foreman Mantle of H.M.S. Foylebank, at one time a member of the 6th Southampton (St. Paul’s) Troop. On July 4th, 1940,, he was in charge of the starboard pom-pom when his ship was attacked by enemy aircraft. " Early in the action his left leg was shattered by a bomb but he stood fast to his gun and went on firing.. . . Almost at once he was wounded again in many places. Between his bursts of fire he had time to reflect on his grievous injuries of which he was soon to die, but his great courage bore him up- to the end of the fight when he fell by the gun he had so magnificently served."

So the Scouts,, young and old, served together-all of them, the known and the unknown, the small and the great-from him who grappled with the emergency when it came suddenly upon him in flame or roaring sound and did not count the cost, to the Air-Raid Warden’s messenger slipping through the bomb-loud streets with aid to fellow creatures buried alive.

They upheld the Law, they kept the Promise, and one and all from this nettle, danger, plucked this flower, safety, to the honor and glory of Britain.

Table of Contents

The Left Handshake: The Boy Scout Movement during the War, 1939-1945
    Forward by Lord Rowallan, Chief Scout of the British Commonwealth and Empire.
Chapter I: Bravery. The Story of Jan van Hoof
Chapter II: Enterprise. Lord Baden-Powell
Chapter III: Purpose. Scouting in the British Isles
Chapter IV: Resolution. Scouting in Occupied Countries
Chapter V: Endurance. Scouting in Captivity
To be continued

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Last Modified: 12:17 PM on August 3, 1997