INSIGHTS ON IVOR
The Boy’s Brigade movement was founded in 1883 by William Alexander Smith in Glasgow. It was his vision to bring young boys together with the aim of teaching them Christian values such as discipline, reverence, obedience, tolerance and comradeship. These were, and still are, similar aims to the Boy Scout Movement founded by Robert Baden Powell in 1908. From these humble beginnings the Boys Brigade, usually referred to as the BB, grew to be a worldwide organisation involving millions of young people.
My eldest brother Bert had joined the BB before the outbreak of the Second World War so we had some knowledge of the organisation. Apart from learning, absorbing, and practicing the basic rules Bert also used his innate musical talent to good effect by learning to play the bugle in the drum and bugle band. None of these activities appealed to my next brother Bernard but as I have said earlier, it did interest the next in line, David, and subsequently, me. I joined as soon as I reached the requisite age which was 12 in those days. I must say it was a very wise move.
Although I was very fortunate in being the youngest of five children and raised in a happy, loving, caring close knit sharing family unit the BB gave me the opportunity and experience of going away on summer camps and mixing with like minded boys lots of sporting activities, learning new skills, having fun, standing on your own feet, or in other words, growing up.
Dave and I also learnt to play the bugle and joined the band. We were members of the West Middlesex Company based in Greenford which boasted a membership of 100 boys, the largest company in the world at that time. Another of the many benefits of being in the BB was learning the basic marching drills. This was a blessing when later I went into the RAF. Square bashing on the parade ground held no fears for me as I about-turned, formed fours and slow marched with consummate ease, all thanks to the BB.
Another blessing from my experiences in the BB of being away from home and mothers apron strings, enticing and loose as they were, was further bought home to me in the RAF when I tell you that it is a somewhat sad revelation lying in bed in a billet and to hear some young conscript sobbing. This usually came from a boy who was an only child and had never been away from home before.
I remember my first summer camp. It was decided that we were all fit enough to cycle from Greenford to the village of Thame in Oxfordshire, a distance of thirty three miles. I only had a ladies bike which you can imagine bought forth a few ribald comments but nothing daunted I made it both ways as did everyone else. We camped in the grounds of a house belonging to a Colonel Birch Reynoldson if my memory serves me right. There was a small swimming pool in the garden and as the weather was good we took advantage of this nice facility. We also camped at Littlehampton in Sussex next to the seaside fairground and a new, just opened, Pitch and Putt golf course where, because by this time in my life I had started playing golf a little, I was invited to join the Mayor of Littlehampton for a game. Needless to say he won, well, the course was his brainchild in the first place so I couldn’t show him up could I?
Another summer camp I always remember going to started at London’s Waterloo station on August 15th 1945. Whilst awaiting the train to take us to Lymington for the ferry trip across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, we received the news that Japan had unconditionally surrendered and the Second World War was finally over. This momentous day became known as Victory over Japan day or VJ-Day. As you can imagine this news was greeted with great relief and unbounded happiness. We were determined that now we could relax and enjoy our holiday all the more knowing that the last remaining dark clouds of six years warfare would be replaced by the prospects and hopes of a bright new future for all of us lay beyond the blue horizon.
On arrival at Yarmouth we were transported to our camp at Freshwater.
Unfortunately our euphoria wasn’t to last, the expectant good weather didn’t materialise and we had rain for about ten days. It was so bad that our Captain had no option other than to abandon the camp. Most of us returned home leaving a couple of the Officers aided by a number of the older boy members, my brother Dave being one, behind to dismantle the tents and generally clear the camp site before also leaving for home. Naturally it was a big disappointment for all of us. The general opinion was that the town’s name of Freshwater should be changed to Rainwater!
There was an incident at one of these summer camps, which one I can’t remember but wherever it was, that made an impression on me which ultimately led to my first effort at writing. Because our Company Leader was a priest we had a Sunday morning service and sometimes a Church Parade with our marching band in the afternoon. This incident happened during a morning service held in a typical English field setting with the corn in a nearby field gently waltzing to a warm summer breeze and the sound of bird song competing with the boys singing hymns, which naturally included the BB’s anthem, ‘Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?’
Singing whilst surveying the green lush, and now thankfully once more peaceful, fields of our England, with he neat rows of our white bell tents and the big marquee, where we had all our eagerly awaited meals, I was suddenly aware of how lucky I was to be free and surrounded by such warmth and camaraderie.
When the holiday finished we returned home and back to school. It was usual for us to be given the task of writing an essay, or composition, as we called it in those days, about what we did on our summer holiday. I decided to try to describe the feelings I felt on that magical Sunday morning. My teacher was impressed with my humble effort and took it to the Headmaster. He duly called me into his office and after congratulating me asked me if I wanted to be a writer. To be honest I didn’t know what I wanted to be, other than a footballer. I replied that I had just tried to put into words the emotion I felt at that particular moment in time. Whilst I was pleased they liked my story, amateurish as it was, it was their reaction to it which bought home to me the power of words.
I learnt that the right words, even those in my amateurish story, can have the power to please, persuade, influence, comfort, inspire, move, disgust, console, anger, amuse, or any other emotion you may think of. Their ability to stir our inner being is very evident in our wonderful expressive English language. Speakers such as Winston Churchill, who wrote many wonderful phrases, actors Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Richard Burton all knew how to use words to good effect. Similarly, musicians such as Cole Porter, who not only wrote his own music but also wonderful clever lyrics to accompany that music. W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) and Noel Coward are others who also used their talent with words to amuse. Writers and Poets also have this gift. Think of Shakespeare and the influence his use of words have had, and still do, on people the world over as are the words of Dylan Thomas and Oscar Wilde.
Finally we can’t forget the work of the war poets, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brook, Robert Graves and John MaCrea who so brilliantly put the horrors of the First World War into such emotive and evocative words that are as powerful and poignant now as the day they were written.
This interest in words started for me from that summer camp awakening and led to my first effort at describing something I’d experienced by writing about it. This desire to write is something I find challenging, rewarding and satisfying, when I get it right! I didn’t study English to any great degree at my Secondary school so I have no illusions or pretensions about the quality of my efforts other than to say that I have been lucky in having quite a few articles published, some accompanied with photographs I’ve taken (photography being another passion of mine) so perhaps that says something! I enjoy trying to wax lyrical with poetry whether serious, light-hearted limericks, silly rhymes or just playing around with words. I think this love of writing is something inherent in our family. As many of you know my father wrote his memoirs and my three brothers have also partaken, with varying success, in this writing pastime and I’m pleased to say both our sons have a penchant for words, Chris has a vivid, imaginative and humorous mind when writing stories and Martin is very clear, analytical, and persuasive with the written and spoken word.
I just wish I had kept that original school composition but unfortunately I didn’t.
Another aspect of the Boy’s Brigade which I enjoyed was marching through the streets playing my bugle on those Sunday Church Parade’s. Although having said that, there was a downside to this. If the parade took place on a very hot summer’s day it is not easy to blow a bugle when you are dripping with perspiration and your lips keep slipping off the mouthpiece. Similarly in complete contrast it is also not easy to be woken up at some god forsaken hour from a deep sleep in your tent when it’s your turn to blow reveille to wake up the rest of the camp.
At this point I should tell you that our Company leader had decided that on our camp we should be segregated into groups like some schools are into ‘Houses’ etc. Well, he decided that our contingent should be split into four groups namely Eskimos,
Hottentots, Mohawks, Zulus. I was a Zulu. In these days of PC (Political Correctness) some people might take offence, thinking it degrading or trivialising these indigenous native people but believe me in those days, and bearing in mind the names used were suggested without any racial intent, by our leader, a Church of England Priest! Nevertheless it could have had some repercussions arising from one particular Sunday Church Parade. We proudly marched through the streets, white sashes gleaming, cap badges, shoes shining and bugles firmly glued to our lips.
The service went well and, as is usual at the end of any church service, when the final Amen is said it is customary to have absolute silence for some seconds before anyone rises from their sitting or kneeling positions. Well, on this particular occasion this respectful silence had only been observed for a few seconds when suddenly this time lapse was shattered by the sound of a lone young voice ringing through the rafters of this sacred and ancient building inviting the congregation to join in the rallying cry of ‘Up the Hottentots’. Fortunately our leader thought it amusing as we boys did except for Billy Collins, the over enthusiastic perpetrator of this invitation to a surprised and somewhat bemused congregation. Poor Billy, it was something he never lived down.
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