In the last St Andrew’s blog I told you about how I started in the choir. I can also remember exactly how we started with Cubs and I can feel a diversion coming.
As you know, plastic was hardly ever used and domestic plumbing relied on metal pipes to carry water. I think they were iron or steel. (There may have been some lead pipes. I know we used to let cold water run for a while before taking a glass of tap-water to drink. I think this had something to do with traces of lead, which is poisonous.)
You also know that we did not have central heating. Houses were heated with coal fires. We didn’t have double glazing and kept windows open for fresh air. In winter we sometimes had frost on the inside of windows. (If you don’t know all this you should seriously consider reading properly from the start!)
Metal pipes were all right in general because flowing water did not freeze. But inside the house there were places where the water did not move overnight. Pipes under the floor were even colder than our cold houses. If the water froze it expanded to make ice and this sometimes led to burst pipes when the ice thawed.
One day we had a burst pipe. (To be honest it happened a few times.) There was water in our bedroom over the garage. I’m not sure of the details but in those days neighbours helped one another in emergencies. A man from two or three doors down the road came to help. I am not sure he actually did anything but he noticed three young boys and had one of a similar age. He suggested to Dad that he should send us to Cubs at the church like his little boy. So that’s what happened.
Cubs and Scouts
Cubs and Scouts were in many ways similar to the same organisations today. Cubs were for boys up to age eleven and Scouts for boys from eleven to fifteen. (Girls went to Brownies and Guides although nowadays many Cub and Scout packs are mixed.)
I will treat them together because in places my memories are not precise. They were quite similar.
The uniform was important. Shown above are a British Wolf Cub of the sixties and a US Scout from the seventies so they are approximately right. Both uniforms included short khaki trousers and woollen socks held up by gaiters. (In those days all boys of Cub ages wore only short trousers.) Cubs had a thick, dark green woolly jumper that was rough and uncomfortable, a scarf with its woggle and a cap. Scouts had a khaki shirt with pockets and a similar scarf. I think the scout hat was different.
We met once a week in the Church Hall at 7:30 pm. Each Cub ‘pack’ was led by a leader called Akela with assistants named from other characters in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. All the Cub leaders were women. Cubs were divided into ‘sixes’ each led by a sixer.
(In the Scouts, leaders were men. Instead of sixes we had patrols with patrol leaders. Much of the structure and activities were similar for Cubs and Scouts.)
Meetings started with a sort of parade where we were inspected. We stood to attention and were asked to “Dyb, Dyb, Dyb,” to which the response was: “We’ll Dob, Dob, Dob.” [That’s Do Your Best and Do Our Best.] Scouts must have used different terminology. Although it was like military service in some ways, there was nothing related to combat or the use of rifles. There was a Cub Promise and a similar Scout Promise which amounted to: “I promise to do my best … to do my duty to God and the Queen … and to obey the Cub/ Scout Law.” Nowadays these has been modified to allow for more widespread political and religious opinions!
Scouting activities were based on the ideas of Robert Baden-Powell and his book Scouting for Boys. It was about fieldcraft and living outdoors so we learned about camping, cooking on camp fires, knots, using axes and the identification of different trees.
Sometimes it was more like playing games – such as British Bulldog. Occasionally in summer we went outside. I remember at least once being taken to Wanstead recreation ground, one of our local parks. (This was before they moved the North Circular Road and put it in the way.)
I am not sure how it ever happened but I have memories of sometimes taking the 3d subscription money to the fish and chip shop. It was just enough for a portion of chips – served in newspaper. (In modern money that’s about 1p.) I don’t remember actually playing truant from Scouts. Perhaps that forgot to collect it and we went on the way home.
To encourage us in our progress there were lots of tests leading to badges. All the badges had to be sewn on by hand by Mum. There was a series of tests leading to a Second Class Cub and more for First Class. I always knew I would never achieve First Class status because I couldn’t swim.
I can remember two tests for these awards. As a Cub there was something called ‘Cleanliness.’ It was a routine test and consisted of a chat with one of the leaders. (I think they assumed we would all pass so there was no preparation.) To me the tester was an older woman but she may have been quite young and easily embarrassed. We got almost to the end and she started fishing. She wanted me to say something to pass the test but – for me to pass – she could only hint. I didn’t know what she wanted me to say. In the end she came out with it – “Of course, you always wash your hands after going to the toilet.” This was something I had never heard of but presumably I agreed to pass the test. (I was very young.)
There was also a badge for ‘Hand Axe.’ Even as Cubs we were expected to be able to chop wood. We had to name the various bits of an axe and learn how to chop wood. I took the test at the home of one of the leaders. I was failed immediately for taking the axe out of its leather cover without carefully checking that no one was nearby! I got everything else right and passed the test later!
We went camping as Cubs and as Scouts. Sometimes it was the whole troop, sometimes just our patrol. I remember camping with our patrol at Haverering-atte-Bower, where we more or less camped in a field. In those days the Central Line Tube went out to Ongar so places in Essex were easily accessible. With the Scouts we usually went to Gilwell Park, which is still used by the Scouts.
Modern tents are framed and easy to assemble. The picture above shows a modern reproduction of our traditional Scout Tents, which took six occupants. We had wooden tent poles and lots of lines which were fixed to the ground with tent pegs. It was a difficult operation to erect it or take it down. If it came down in the rain – as it often did – we would have to unroll it in the Church Hall to get it dry and properly folded away. All the Scouting equipment went under the stage in the hall.
The tent did not have a fitted groundsheet. We each took our own individual one. We took sleeping bags and everything we needed in a rucksack or kitbag.
Camping was primitive. We used our skills to find and cut appropriate wood, light camp fires and cook over them. Water for drinking and washing up came from a large (possibly plastic) container filled from a cold tap somewhere. We dug holes in the field for latrines. We probably didn’t bother too much with keeping clean.
There were no Health and Safety concerns as we know them today. We used axes for chopping wood for the fire and knives to make little gadgets. Scouts routinely carried an open sheath knife in its sheath.
I can also remember a weekend camp with our Scout patrol, without adult supervision, where we spent most of the time smoking. I didn’t inhale and never learned to do it properly. I gave up smoking after that – at the age of fifteen.
It was a time when the military aspect of life was still more prominent with post-war patriotism. Conscription and National Service only ended in 1960. We had CCF (Combined Cadet Force) at school. Scouts were not military but they were patriotic.
Every month on the first Sunday of the month we had Church Parade. All the Cubs and Scouts (and Guides and Brownies) paraded in uniform and processed into the normal Church morning service of Matins. We were led by proudly carried national flags.
I tried to find suitable pictures but I don’t want Scouts in long trousers with their hands in their pockets. (We were never allowed to do that even at school.)
I think there is just enough left for one more about St Andrew’s …