Thursday, February 21, 2008

Be Prepared

We were eating lunch the other day when Ernie asked, à propos of something he was reading, “Have you ever heard of someone called Baden-Powell?”

How could I not have? So many of us grew up in England as members of the Boy Scouts or Girl Guides (known in the States as the equal opportunity Girl Scouts) and we revered Robert Baden-Powell as the founder of the organizations.

Girls under the age of 10 or 11 could be Brownies. I don’t know why, but I was never a Brownie. They wore —you guessed it—brown uniforms, cotton tunics, I think, and their pack (nest?) leaders were called Brown Owl and Tawny Owl.

Around the time of the 11+ exam, we were eligible to become Girl Guides. We met on Monday evenings at 6:00 in St. George’s Church Hall, and I remember Monday teatime being a rush to find the Brasso and iron my tie. I must have walked to the meetings with my friends Diana and Yvonne and we joined about 25 or so other girls in the 11-16 age group. Our leader was Beryl Miller and her sister Brenda was her assistant. I really am having trouble with my nouns here: if there is anyone from England reading this, help me out. I am not sure what the leaders were called, or whether we were troups or packs. But I do remember we were divided up into patrols, with patrol leaders. My patrol was called White Rose and we proudly wore the White Rose emblem on our uniforms. I eventually became the White Rose patrol leader. That’s the significance of the two white stripes on my left pocket and probably of the lanyard, to which a whistle was attached. I am not sure what we actually did at the meetings. I remember a lot of marching around the hall and we finally landed up in our patrols, lined up to the left of the leader. We then had to adjust positions to finish up an arm’s length away from the next person. Then came inspection and we saluted with our special Guide salute as the leader made her way to our patrol. We could be found wanting for unpolished badges (hence the Brasso) or malformed ties. These ties were actually large triangles of yellow cotton, which were folded in some arcane ritual into a strip. The fancy knot was pre-tied and the whole business fastened around our necks with a knot at the back under the collar. The point of this complex accessory was preparation for the eventuality of finding ourselves in the presence of someone with a broken arm, so we could whip off the tie, unfold it and make a sling. We practiced constantly, making sure we asked the patient whether the break was in the upper or lower arm, because each scenario required a different sling methodology. Fortunately, I was never required to use my expertise. While in line we recited the Guide promise:

I promise on my honour to do my best to do my duty to God and the Queen, to help other people at all times and to obey the Guide law
and we then broke off for patrol meetings. I remember a lot of knot tying, but I have little recollection of what else we did as we huddled in our little groups of six or seven.

All that marching came in handy, because the patrols took it in turn to carry the Union Jack down the aisle at Morning Prayer at St. George’s. The patrol leader wore a leather flag holder and struggled to keep the flag at the right angle while she bore it to its place in the sanctuary, escorted by two members of the patrol.

We usually wound up our meetings with singing. I am tone deaf, so I hated that part. Some of the songs and rounds were South African, a legacy of Baden Powell’s history, but the one I remember is Australian:
Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree
Merry merry king of the bush is he
Laugh Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra
Gay your life must be
The badges on my right arm are merit badges. You could earn these for showing expertise in some area. I don’t think we were encouraged to go overboard earning these badges, although I remember some other troups with girls festooned in them. I don’t recall what merit badges I earned. I have a nightmarish recollection of one called Child Care. I had never taken care of a child in my life, but for some inexplicable reason the Cranfields at the end of Bedford Crescent loaned me their four year old, Ruth. I took her somewhere on a bus and we spent the afternoon together in a hall and took part in some activity with bread and jam.

In the pursuit of healthy outdoor activity, we sometimes went camping. This photo bears the caption “Whitsun Camp, 1956: Theydon Bois.” I appear to scrubbing a pan. Our camps were close to home and of short duration. We didn’t get serious about camping until we became Cadets. But that’s for another entry.

1 comment:

Ann said...

Ah, yes, I was a (USA)Brownie, then a Girl Scout. I was a junior, then a cadet, but I never went on to senior. I loved reading the manual and working on badges. We camped once as a troop, and I think I went once to camp. But it ran out of steam in my neighborhood, regrettably, because I was a great camper! Great memories! Some day I will scan my own Girl Scout photos, including the time my mother and I were tagged to give speeches at a large, mother-daughter banquet!