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Memories of a 1960s Boy Scout

Clive Renton, Walhampton 1961-1966, gives us an entertaining insight of being a boy scout in the 1960s

18th New Forest Scout Shirt - 1966 18th New Forest Scout Shirt - 1966
Some reminiscences of scouting days gone by...

The scout troop comprised four patrols: Hawks, Herons, Cormorants and Pigeons. Each patrol had a different coloured shoulder tab (now missing from my shirt in the photo). I was in Pigeons and eventually became patrol leader, which is indicated by the two white stripes on my breast pocket.

To go with the shirt, our uniform consisted of blue shorts with a leather belt (see below) fastened by a scout clasp, blue socks with green garter tabs, a plain blue scarf with a leather woggle and a green beret. We must have looked smart but I have no photos; maybe PL filmed us at some time so we might appear somewhere in the archives.

I joined the troop by moving up from the Cubs at a ceremony presided over by JB. At my first meeting we were taught the fireman’s chair knot. Being the smallest, I was used to test the knot by being hauled up to the scout hut roof in it (not high really but it seemed high enough at the time). In the winter evenings activities were mainly confined to the scout hut and included games such as British Bulldog (which I gather is now banned). In the summer we were able to use the school grounds and the New Forest. For our eight mile walk test, for example, we were simply taken out into the Forest with a map and told make our own way back to school. I enjoyed this and volunteered to do it again; this time there was a heavy downpour and the dye started to run out of my shorts. By the time I got back to school my legs were coloured blue.

One summer term the school hosted a fête on the Front Lawn; we scouts had the enjoyable task of operating the hot-dog stall, frying lashings of onions to go with the sausages which proved very popular.

The troop was run by Justin Davis who made it so memorable by the exercises and construction projects he organised. One evening we went down to the lakes and cut armfuls of rushes. We wove these between sticks stuck in the mud to make a big ring, or doughnut, of leaves. This was then lifted onto a spread-out tarpaulin, the edges of which we wrapped over the outside of the ring and tucked inside. The whole assembly was launched onto the water and, sitting on top of the ring, we paddled it across the lake. It must have worked; I don’t remember getting wet!

Justin was the Latin teacher, so on another occasion we experimented with a roman catapult. This was powered by twisted ropes stretched between a pair of tree trunks beside the Pike Lake (now the Sandwalk Pond). The intention was to lob some kind of ammunition across the lake but I can’t remember whether that was achieved.

One construction that was successful, however, was a rope suspension bridge. A pair of supports was built either side of the track to the Rock Pond, near the tennis courts. Using blocks and tackles, ropes were tensioned over the tops of the supports, lifting up a walkway of poles that arched from ground to ground over the track.

Another memorable project was an aerial runway (zip wire). A tower was built under the holm oak trees at the top of the Glade. This was an exercise in square and diagonal lashings, learning to use mallets as levers to tension the cords and make tight joints.  A rope was then slung from the trees, just above the tower, down to a low frame and anchor point on the ground, some way out from the tower. The intention was to use a boatswain’s chair to sit on and run down the rope, as used on the runway built by JB that operated from a nearby oak tree. One bright spark, however, suggested that we should be like commandos and loop our belts over the rope, hang onto the ends and slide down like that. In those days before ‘health and safety’ he was told “ok, have a go”. All went well to start with and he slid away from the tower, dangling beneath his belt. At the top of the rope the gradient is steep but as he progressed the angle of the rope flattened out and became insufficient to overcome the friction of his belt. He came to a stop, still quite high up. Unable to let go of his belt with either hand without falling and hanging too low from the rope to swing his feet over it, he was stuck. Eventually Justin told him to let go and he would catch him “as well as he could”. This must have been sufficient as I don’t remember anyone suffering broken bones.

For boys of that age group, just before the cynicism of the teenage years sets in, the scouts had a lot to offer. Belonging to a patrol and to the troop, taking part in team activities as well as being able to measure personal progress by passing standard tests and gaining proficiency badges was an exciting way to develop and gain confidence. I will always be grateful to Justin Davis for what he did for us.

Clive Renton  May 2017 (After more than half a century!)