Do Your Best

I’ve just come back from celebrating the 1st Wandsworth Scout Troop’s centenary.

Well, to be more accurate, I’ve just come back from working behind the bar and watching other people celebrate 100 years of scouting in Wandsworth. But that’s a whole different story, and it’s not a pretty one. Suffice it to say that a bunch of flowers would not go amiss right now. A big one. A very big one. And maybe some chocolates.

Everyone who has ever been part of the scouting movement in our little part of London had been invited to the celebrations, and hundreds of them came. They gathered in the field, in front of the hut that some of them had helped build over 50 years before, and somewhat-patiently waited for things to kick off. Cubs from 2012 mixed with cubs from the 1940s, the Scout leaders of today swapped stories with their predecessors from the 1950s & 60s. Parents tucked in shirts and adjusted scarves. The sun beat down. The dogs sought shade. The bar staff worried about the potential shortage of ice cubes.

And then it began. The Opening Ceremony.

It was actually quite a moving experience watching the pack being called to order, and seeing the Scout flag being raised, and the old men who had once been young boys saluting it.  You could sense the pride that they all took in wearing their uniforms and of being part of something greater than themselves.

And you realised that boys and their leaders had been doing that very same thing in almost that very same place for the past 100 years. And would, no doubt, be doing it 100 years from now. Because in a world that has changed so dramatically in the past century, some things have remained the same: Boys….

…and the men who remember being them.

But, don’t listen to me go on about it. I was, after all, only a Brownie for about a minute and a half. So, let me hand over to Akela, the Cub Scout leader (who is also my husband, Tom) and his opening remarks:

“100 years. Wow!  100 years ago scouting was nothing more than the germ of an idea in a war hero’s head, a book and the camping experience of a couple of dozen boys on an island off the Dorset coast. 100 years on and  it is a worldwide movement with 43 million members. 

In 100 years we have had two world wars. The British Empire has risen to its apex and then disappeared. Hundreds of new nations have been created and others have ceased to exist. Cars have replaced horses. We now fly around the world in hours instead of sailing for weeks and months. Post is delivered in seconds to the furthest reaches.

So much has changed. But not scouting. It has evolved with the changing world around it, but if our founder Lord Baden-Powell were to step into the Romany today he would be completely at home. We still sit around campfires, tell jokes and sing the nonsense song he composed—Ging Gang Goolie—we will do so tonight. We go on camping trips, hikes, learn new skills, make friends and we recognise our shared experiences and adventures with treasured embroidered badges. The same as 100 years ago. 

So why has Scouting survived for 100 years? Because scouting is about more than just camping, games and badges. It is all those activities within a framework of values to which we all subscribe. And by all, I mean boys, leaders and parents. “Do Your Best”. “ Duty to God and Queen.” “Think of Others Before Yourself”. “Help Other People At All Times.” ”Be Prepared”. “Do a Good Turn Daily.” These values were relevant when First Wandsworth met for the first time 100 years ago. They are still  relevant. And because the values are eternal they will be at the core of scouting when First Wandsworth celebrates its bicentenary.”

And, after a few more stirring paragraphs (click here if you have a lot of time on your hands), the day was declared open and the rush to the bar began. No, wait…I mean, and the festivities began.

The enormous amount of fun that Scouts of all ages had in showing off their knot-tying skills, and their campfire building techniques, and their silly song singing, and their orienteering abilities and whatever else they were doing in the places I couldn’t see from where I was imprisoned, was wonderful to see, and hear. Their excitement at putting on The Siege of Mafeking and the Birth of Scouting (you can read it here or wait for it to come to a theatre near you, depending on how patient you are, and how desperate for new material the theatre near you is) was only matched by the audience’s desire to avoid getting hit by flying water bombs or retreating Boer soldiers.

And everyone – boys, leaders, parents, bar staff – enjoyed being part of a community, outdoors, in the sunshine, having ‘old fashioned’ fun and espousing ‘old fashioned’ values.

Ok, so looking back on it perhaps I don’t really mind having worked behind the bar, for the entire day, without a break. I suppose that helping out at such an occasion really was something of an honour. Perhaps, they don’t really need to give me any flowers.

But, I would still appreciate the chocolates.

Anyway, Happy 100 years Wandsworth Scouts. Here’s to the next 100, and to the 2112 celebrations! But, let me just say now, honour or no honour, I am absolutely not doing any bar work at that party. Absolutely not. Well, probably not. Depends on what kind of chocolates I receive, among other things…

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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2 Responses to Do Your Best

  1. Can you imagine trying to start a Scouts organisation today? “I’d like to take a group of boys into the woods and teach them things….” Immediate handcuffs. My husband swears the only thing he learned was how to tie girl guides up in knots…

    • Eileen Riley says:

      No, I can’t imagine it starting up today, which is why it is such a good thing that scouting already exists. Seriously Gabi, it was wonderful to see how much fun everyone was having running around a large field on a sunny day, with not a computer or ipad in sight. Oh, and a nice box of chocolates literally just arrived on my doorstep so perhaps I’ll help them out at the 2112 party!

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