Personal Memories of Meldreth Scouts, 1982-96
I first became associated with Meldreth Scouts in about 1982 when I joined the parents’ committee and also helped Rod Barnes, the Scout Leader as an assistant. The troop had about a dozen Scouts during this period. My travel commitments at work meant I had to leave in 1984. I believe Rod continued until the summer of 1985 when he also resigned and another person (who I never met or knew) took on the leadership. In 1986 I returned to working mainly in London and was approached by the parents’ committee to ask if I would take on the leader role for the troop. I believed that as I had been a Scout in my youth, managing to attain my Queen’s Scout Award, I had a responsibility to the younger generation to try and pass on some of my knowledge and help them enjoy the type of good times I had enjoyed as a Scout.
Originally the Scouts met in the Village Hall, but with nowhere to store equipment and limitations on the boisterous games which could be played this was not ideal. We then had the chance to move into the old Red Cross hut, next to the British Queen on the High Street. I believe this hut had been built in the 1880s as a working men’s temperance venue, paid for by a subscription of 10 shillings (50p) per man. Its history of use is somewhat vague, but it was used by the Red Cross, probably during WWII and after, but fell out of use by 1980. After considerable communication about its legal ownership, it was agreed the Scouts could have sole use of it for a peppercorn rent (never paid to my knowledge!) as long as we agreed it was owned by the local Conservative Association. When the scouts “moved in” there was no electricity, no gas and no water on the site. For about two years we met by natural light in the summer and paraffin lamps in the winter – very scouty, before electricity was installed for lighting. I would also say that none of these privations stopped us having overnight “camps” in the hut.
Scouts would usually join from Cubs at the age of about ten and a half and leave (to join Ventures or other interests) at about fifteen and a half, but some Scouts joined us during this age span. When I took on the troop there had been no effective leader for at least several weeks and the troop had continued to meet with two older boys acting as patrol leaders and four younger boys.
During this time the troop started to grow in numbers and soon doubled its size from the original six boys and in later years averaged 20-25 Scouts. We set a pattern of holding one meeting indoors and one meeting outdoors (summer and winter) which continued all the time I led the troop. We also started to hold hikes, weekend camps and other adventure events. In 1987 we held the first summer camp under my leadership.
Camps, Activities and Awards
These summer camps, always under canvas, were held in the first week of the school summer holidays from the Friday evening when schools broke up to the following Wednesday evening. (It worked well as five days was long enough for most Scouts and didn’t require leader and helpers to forfeit too much of their annual family leave, and I was still almost standing by the end!) My attitude was basically that Scouts should be kept safe, and they had a shirt-off wash each day and clean hands for cooking and eating. If their mothers had seen them during our messier activities, I doubt they would have approved, but the boys were having good fun. Water, trees, mud, games in the dark were mainstays of many of our adventures. Whilst at camp the patrols, under the direction of the Patrol Leader, always cooked their own breakfasts and dinners and the leaders also ate what the boys had cooked. We did cater for different diets, although on one camp after two days I did have one vegetarian boy ask “Can I eat the same as the other Scouts or do I have to be vegetarian?” I can’t give my answer as his mother may read this! I am pleased to say that every year virtually every Scout chose to come on camp, which other troops told me was an unusually high percentage. The summer camps were held at Scout campsites as these allowed wood fires and often had extra activity facilities we could utilise. Our venues included Walesby Forest, Nottinghamshire; Buckmore Park, Kent (always a favourite because as well as swimming, archery etc. the was a Kart Track which was always chosen by the Scouts as the one repeat activity they were allowed); Thorpe Woodlands, Norfolk; Marlow, Buckinghamshire; Thriftwood, Essex.
On several camps a few of the older Scouts would take the opportunity to pass their “Survival” badge. This involved leaving our camp for a twenty four hour period during which they had to survive by making their own shelter and lighting a fire to cook their own food, which was supplied in as natural state as possible e.g. unskinned rabbit, root vegetables, eggs etc. The only equipment they were allowed were the clothes they were wearing, a sleeping bag, a small box of matches, a scout knife and a small tin cooking set. No Scout ever asked to return to camp early, but they were all really pleased to return to camp when the 24 hours were over and found the experience much, much harder than they expected!
As well as camps, we had many weekend hiking and Youth Hostelling expeditions to the Peak District, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, as well as many local weekend camps. Somewhere within all these activities the Scouts were able to qualify for many “proficiency” badges and progress awards with several Scouts achieving their Chief Scout’s Award. We were also fortunate that one of the Dads was a canoe enthusiast and instructor. He was able to obtain some older canoes at minimal cost and store and transport them for us. As well as canoeing many times on the Cam and the Ouse, Mike joined us with the canoes at a couple of summer camps and also arranged for us to use a white water canoe course, as used by training Olympians.
The Scouts were always well represented at our regular church parades and especially at the annual Remembrance Service at the village war memorial.
This was the name given to the offshoot of our troop, who were a patrol of Meldreth Manor School boys, most in wheelchairs, who enjoyed scouting activities under their own leader. We tried to meet together twice a term and held a camp and several day activities all together. Cross country hiking with Scouts in wheelchairs was challenging but good fun was enjoyed by all and it helped develop tolerance and perseverance among all the Scout patrols.
As they approached Scout leaving age, some of the Scouts wished to start a Venture Group in about 1991. As was permitted at the time, they also wanted to include girls in the Venture Group. They persuaded John Spenceley to become their adult leader and he spent the next few years helping guide their activities. It was especially pleasing that Andrew Mellor, Andrew Penfold, Elizabeth Greasley and Suzanne Marshall worked towards, and in 1995 gained, their Queen’s Scout Award (a similar standard to the Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award). This involved a wide range of activities including skills, community service, understanding of other cultures and, of course, mini-expeditions. The final expedition required an 80 km walk over four days camping at night. The boys chose Yorkshire and the Pennine Way, whilst the girls chose Brittany with a route based on the Grande Randonnée. Whilst the boys encountered typical Yorkshire weather, the girls found it very hot. Both groups found it equally arduous over mixed terrain.
Over the ten years I was privileged to lead the troop I had many helpers, usually parents, who contributed massively and without whose help we could not have functioned. The Cub Leader (Akala), also having the role of Group Scout Leader during these years was Brenda Knight (a teacher at Meldreth Primary School) who provided much guidance and assistance. The list of all those who helped the Scouts during these years is very long. I hesitate to name them as I shall inevitably miss several of them but I certainly remember owing many thanks to the following: Mike Mynn, who was our canoe expert, Nick Askham, Philip Knight, Stuart McGill, Jeff Dickinson, Steve Oakman (who took over leadership in 1996, when again work travel commitments forced me to leave) and especially Roger Mellor who both helped at Friday meetings and acted as Quartermaster on many camps ensuring rations were accurately issued, helping in running the camp and most onerously ensuring the patrols scrubbed their cooking pots (used over wood fires) to a mirror like finish before they were packed away at the end of camp.
Is the Scouting Movement a “Good Thing”
I believe that any activity for young people which encourages friendship, comradeship, community spirit, self-assurance and self-reliance must be a good thing. Whilst I encountered a very few boys who did not enjoy Scouts, and soon left, the overwhelming majority were keen to come along on Fridays, and excited at going on camps and expeditions. I only know of the careers of a few of the Scouts and there must have been many influences on them as growing young men and women, but of those I do know who are now in mid-career they include professions such as: officers in the military, banking and finance, local government, professional football, commercial flying and architecture, all at senior levels. I think it is fair to say that being a Scout didn’t stifle these young people in their careers.
Sometimes during my years as leader I wondered why I gave up every Friday evening as well as several weekends and some of my annual leave to help with scouting. One Scout thought it was for the pay, but as I have never met any member of the scouting movement who was paid, it wasn’t that! I always came to the conclusion that it was for the joy of seeing the boys enjoying themselves, making friends, learning skills of leadership and “good citizenship” (even though they didn’t know it) and also for the fun it gave me.
P.S. If you want to see the Scout hut today it has been partially rebuilt, more than doubled in size and transformed into a lovely house sited across the car park from the British Queen. I am also certain it now has running water as well as electricity!