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« Going Underground | Main | Neighbourhood watch »

The Boys’ Brigade and me

When I was six or seven, and living in Maidenhead in Berkshire, I joined the after school Cubs’ group.

I can remember, to this day, the thrill of being taken by my parents to buy the-then Cub outfit - navy blue sweater, green cap, pale blue neckerchief and brown leather woggle.

I can even visualise the small outfitters at the end of Maidenhead High Street where we bought them from.

That aside, I remember very little about my time in the Cubs apart from one Cub camp when we slept in large tents erected on the school sports field which was actually several miles away in Bray.

Three years later, when I was ten, my family moved to Scotland. There was neither a Cubs nor a Scouts group in our village so the following year I joined the Boys’ Brigade instead.

I had never previously heard of the Boys Brigade. I joined for one reason only. My secondary school didn’t play football (the choice was rugby or hockey) but the local BB had a football team that played against other BB groups in a BB league.

The group met on Friday nights in an old church hall at the top of our road. To my surprise, we spent a substantial part of the evening marching.

On one occasion we joined other BB groups and marched through St Andrews behind a pipe band.

We also practised things like first aid and took part in competitions where we humiliated ourselves by failing to recognise that the ‘victim’ had a broken leg and our job was to put a splint on it, something we had never practised, so we put a bandage on the ‘wound’ instead.

Worse, when I instructed one of my team - in front of the judges - to “Call an ambulance”, he replied, “Nah, do it yourself.” We came last out of six teams.

Memories of my one BB camp, when we joined up with other BB groups in some remote part of Scotland, haunt me still. I can sum it up in four words: midges, wasps, boot polish.

The football, thankfully, made up for it.

I mention this because when I visited my mother last week (see previous post) she gave me a few things she had found in a cupboard.

They included various items of my old BB uniform including belt and sash (!) plus several other bits of memorabilia including badges for various activities and four annual membership cards that confirm I joined in 1970 and left in 1974.

During that time I see that I was promoted from ‘Private’ to the giddy heights of ‘Lance Corporal’.

The most interesting item is a small booklet - dated August 1969 - entitled ‘The Boys’ Brigade Handbook for Boys’.

One section in particular stands out. Under ‘Standards of Living’ it reads:

The BB is judged by the outside public by what they see of its members.

The untidy Boy, slouching down the street with a cigarette drooping from his mouth, does more harm to the BB image than many realise.

Every Boy should set himself the highest standard of physical fitness, and seek all opportunity to improve this.

Standards of living in such matters as smoking, drinking, gambling and language are largely matters for individual decision. The maxim of every BB Boy should be “If in doubt, don’t!”

BB Boys should not allow the smoking habit to grip them; should remember the dangers of alcohol and of gambling, as evidenced in all courts of every land; should determine that their conversation will at all times be clean and wholesome.

Cleanliness of living, in all its aspects, can only result in a better life for the individual and through him, a better community and a better country.

Bearing in mind I was eleven when I was given this, I am a little surprised that smoking, alcohol and gambling are cited.

At the same time I can’t help rejoicing in the declaration that ‘Standards of living in such matters as smoking, drinking, gambling and language are largely matters for individual decision.’

Who knew the staunchly Protestant Boys’ Brigade was so libertarian?!

Below: From The Boys’ Brigade Handbook for Boys’ (1969 edition)!

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