Troop, Alert!

40 years ago standards in life were very different. The Scout movement thrived throughout the land, and many schools had scout troops. KES was no exception, and many of the staff were enthusiasts too. There were actually 3 divisions of the 167th Sheffield (KES) Troop – A Troop, which met on Monday evenings, B Troop on Fridays, and C Troop which met on Saturday mornings. Boys in the scouts attended school in uniform on meeting days, and many can be seen on the form photos of those days.

Boys were encouraged to join the scouts and many on arrival had been in the Wolf Cubs in their home areas. When I arrived in 1956, George Layer (French) was overall Troop Leader, V. A. Vout, Eli, newly arrived, had joined A troop as Troop Leader, Mr. B. Hersee was in charge on B Troop and Tom Cook and Raymond Johnston were with C Troop. I understand that scouting had been introduced to the school in the 1930s by A W ('Gassy') Gaskin who had obtained the Headmaster’s approval to form a troop. George Layer, at his valete, related that on hearing they had not opted for the Khaki uniform the Head is said to have replied he would not have allowed the scouts if they had, because he considered khaki would have been too militaristic. “Well,” replied Gaskin, “we’ve chosen navy blue.”

A and B troops wore berets, but C Troop for some reason had retained the characteristic wide brimmed scout hat.

Certainly scouting was taken seriously and many boys distinguished in other areas of the academic and sporting life of the school went on to become Queen’s Scouts, including my original Patrol Leader in A troop’s Ravens, Roger Laughton, later to become a distinguished TV producer and now I understand the Head of the Media School at Bournemouth University. In the next year the expanding A Troop had to have an extra patrol added (the Skuas) and as a result of a rearrangement I found myself in the Merlins with Rex Marsden as PL and Dick Ainsworth (later also a Queen’s Scout) as “second”.

All the Troops met in the wooden scout hut, down towards the swimming baths by the Fives courts. The Scout Hut was heated by a coke stove at the side wall - much treasured in the winter. I recollect it was a lunchtime task to light the thing so the hut would be warm by the time of the evening meeting. Lunchtime meetings were often held in the “Crypt”. This area was reached through a door opposite the dining room on the ground floor, and was the entrance to the tunnel under the Close which had been built as a war time air raid shelter. There were at least three rooms here, one for each troop, where equipment was stored, and I think the senior scouts had a separate room there too, known as “The Tryst.”

The usual scouting activities were enjoyed enthusiastically, and hikes and wide games in the Peak District were particular favourites, though perhaps in winter the scout uniform was not particularly appropriate! Highlights of the year were the two annual camps, at Whit (1 week) and summer (2 weeks). I remember Whit camps at Newstead Abbey (a particular favourite site for KES, where I believe we had some connection), Walesby Forest, and I remember visiting A Troop’s Whit camp at Youlgreave which I did not attend because of illness. Summer camps I remember were in Snowdonia, Par in Cornwall and Little Langdale. Each patrol had its own sleeping tent, a large ridge tent which would accommodate the whole patrol, and an eating tent. C Troop was distinguished by its use of small individual tents at camp. I recollect one year, I think the Lake District camp, C troop were at a site sufficiently close to A troop for visits to be made.

Scouting was a successful and enjoyable part of school life, and I reckon I learnt amongst other things far more about map reading in the scouts than I did in Geography, including interpretation of contours and perspective. All the scouts were excellent map readers which stood us in good stead for the compulsory map reading question in Geography “O” level.

KES being KES it was a point of honour for everyone to achieve their “First Class” badge and “Scout Cord” which meant you had to have acquired, I think, 6 proficiency badges as well, including 4 “public service” ones. Just this year critics of the present school examination system have disparagingly likened the exams to “collecting scout badges”. I have to disabuse them – training and passing any scout badge was (and still is) a daunting achievement and the skills acquired were not to be sneezed at. I remember getting scout badges in First Aid, Firefighting, French, Camping, Photography - and there must have been others which escape me for the moment. Part of the requirements for the First Class badge were a weekend hike (the “First Class Journey”) and an acceptable log as a report. I remember I did my first class journey with John Kirkman in Derbyshire, spending the night camping at Eyam. Sadly the log of my journey was inadvertently destroyed some years ago. Recently I learnt John has had a career as a geography teacher and is now at Myers Grove Comprehensive.

I enjoyed my time in the scouts very much, but found the demands of its time too much after O level, when those of us who had opted to take Science, particularly the Biologists, had to start to catch up the very limited amount of Science we had been taught to that point. At KES in those days we were taken only to what would now be called the Single Science option – i.e. only one qualification over all three sciences, rather than sit them separately or even as a “double award”. It meant once you started A level, there was a tremendous amount to catch up, though perhaps we didn’t realise it at the time. We did wonder, however, how the humanities option students were able to have so many free periods whereas our timetable was still the full 40 lessons a week! Those of us doing Biology, Physics and Chemistry didn’t even have the relief of a previous maths course to take off some of the pressure. Something had to go, and in my case, perhaps sadly, it was the Scouts.

David Cook, Sept 2003

First Class Badge