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Formative Years of Greenock Scouting

Scouting evolved from the experiences of Lord Baden Powell during the Boer War and the Siege of Mafeking in particular. During the Siege, he formed a Youth Corps in the besieged town to perform the more routine tasks normally undertaken by soldiers. This relieved the wearied men from many of their more irksome duties and showed BP that boys could accept most ‘grown up’ tasks providing they were given encouragement and responsibility.At the end of the Boer War, BP returned to the Britain as a hero. He found that his book ‘Aids to Scouting’, originally written for soldiers was being widely used by youth organisations. He decided to rewrite the book but firstly try out his ideas by having an experimental camp for 22 boys at Brownsea Island in 1907.

Thus began the Scout Movement and ‘Scouting for Boys’ was for sale in January 1908. Scout Patrols sprung up all over the country. Within sixteen months the movement had grown to such proportions that BP gave up his Army career to look after the new organisation of Boy Scouts.

In Greenock and in April 1908, the first Troop to be formed was under the auspices of the 5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (Territorial’s) with Sergeant D. Ferguson as the first Scoutmaster. At this time there was no official numbering so the Troop soon became the 5th Greenock when it adopted the Territorial’s regimental number.

In the latter half of 1908, another Troop was formed in connection with Mount Pleasant Church and was called the 1st Greenock. Mr W. Douglas Thomson was appointed Scoutmaster.

Early in 1909, the 3rd Troop was formed by Mr Robert Stone, an Officer in the Boy’s Brigade. Despite it meeting place being simply the Kilmacolm Road, its numbers soared and was a true pioneering Troop. In its first summer, they built a bridge over every burn between the Kilmacolm Road and Corlic Hill… These bridges were used by the public for many years afterwards. Before the Troop was six months old it was ‘adopted’ by Augustine Parish Church. Under the care of St Andrew’s Church, the 4th Greenock soon followed.

Also early in 1909, Scouting started in Gourock when several boys (including Alex Rowan, Andy Crawford, Carl and Alf Riddell, Archie Smith and Bert Gray) approached Mr Sam Garvie with the suggestion that a Scout Troop be started with himself as Scoutmaster. At first it was known as the ‘Gourock Central School Troop’

The details and dates of these early Troops is based on flimsy evidence and’ possibly, faulty memories. There is no doubt that, in April 1909, the Greenock Boy Scout association was formed with Sir Hugh Shaw Stewart as the Honorary President. Colonel W. U. Park was appointed President. This was a bare month after Imperial Headquarters had been set up in London and only a week or two after the Scottish Boy Scout Association had been formed.

In the spring of 1909, there were reportedly about ten Troops in the district. It was estimated that the strength of the Movement was about 450 boys with 50 Scouters. As the various and hitherto independent Troops became affiliated to the Association, an official count put the number of Troops, in June 1909, at seven. The total of seven included a Troop in Gourock and Kilmacolm. At this time a Port Glasgow Troop was in the process of formation.

In October 1909, the strength and the importance of the Movement was apparent when over 6,000 Scouts paraded at the first Scottish Rally held a Scotstoun Showground, Glasgow. Greenock Boy Scouts had a total of 341 boys and 24 Girl Scouts on parade. They travelled by special train and were joined by contingents from Port Glasgow and Langbank.

The big event of 1910 was the first Annual Inspection which took place in the Battery Park in September. Nearly 200 boys headed by the 2nd Company B.B. and the new Pipes & Drums of the 5th Troop marched past Sir Hugh Shaw-Stewart. A series of exhibitions of Scoutcraft was given to the public. After the Inspection, Sir Hugh handed over to the 5th Greenock the first set of Troop Colours to be seen in the district. These were presented by General Friend and the 5th became known as ‘5th A. & S.H. Troop (General friend’s Own)’ In 1912, this title was altered to ‘5th Highland’ but in 1913 – when criticism of Scouting as a quasi-military organisation had reached unbearable proportions – an order went out that no Scout Troop was to be attached to the military. The Troop was immediately reformed in the West Kirk and took the title ‘West Kirk’s Own’.

In the spring of 1911, the District’s eleven Troops had a visit from the Chief Scout. After a civic reception, the Chief attended a rally of Boy Scouts in the Town Hall. At this Rally, the Chief witnessed the presentation by Mr Ryrie Orr of Flags to the 4th (St Andrew’s) Troop and a ‘Thanks Badge’ to Sir Hugh Shaw Stewart, the County Commissioner.

In June 1911, this was the Coronation Year of King George V and Queen Mary, 33 local Boy Scouts travelled to Edinburgh and with 2,000 other Scottish Scouts lined the route for the Royal Visit to the Capital.

Scouting was spreading rapidly in Scotland. Towards the end of 1911, Greenock’s example was largely instrumental in introducing the movement to Paisley. By 1912, there were 22 Troops in Renfrewshire of which 15 were in Greenock District.

1913 saw the celebration of the 5th year of the Movement. A number of changes took place. The main one (on paper) being the numbering of the various Troops. A County system of numbers was introduced. Greenock’s part in instituting Scouting in Renfrewshire was marked by the first eleven County numbers being given to local Troops. 1st Greenock & 1st Port Glasgow were given the numbers of 1st & 2nd Renfrewshire respectively.

The First World War (1914 – 18) saw Boy Scouts being used as messengers and guard duties for places such as the James Watt Dock. The most important war work was the provision of regular patrols working with H.M. Coastguard on coast watching duties. These tasks were undertaken despite the fact that many Scout Leaders were on active duty. The Scout Patrol system showed its worth with Patrol Leaders carrying on the Troops with the Court of Honour as the directing body.

When the War came to an end, it was some years before the Scout Movement regained its feet. In a large way, the spur was provided by the First World Jamboree at London in 1920. 8,000 scouts from 34 different countries took part. Honour was brought to Greenock by the 5th Renfrewshire Scouts. The war years had seen the Troop severely depleted largely due to the origins of the Troop being the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The Troop’s ‘foster parents’, the West Kirk help the Troop to re establish themselves and the Pipe Band was reformed and equipped with instruments – all to such an effect that the 5th Scout’s Pipe Band went to the London Jamboree and won the World’s Championship for Scout Pipe Bands.

By 1920, Wolf Cubs were making great strides and almost every Troop had its Pack of Cubs. A post-war idea was that of a permanent campsite. The 4th Troop acquired a hut in the woods above Inverkip. Gradually the site – Everton Camp was enlarged and added to until it eventually became the wonderful site that it is today. It was due to the generosity of Sir Hugh Shaw Stewart and the continuing patronage of the Shaw Stewart family that Everton is available today.

The early 1920’s saw the start of foreign visits by local Scouts. These have continued except for the War Years right up to the present time. 1922 saw the forming of the 45th Troop and new ground was broken when a Mothers Committee for the 32nd Scouts was formed. Such was the impact of their fundraising that the Committee gave the Scoutmaster the funds to realise his dream of having his own headquarters. Under the supervision of skilled men, the boys built the hall themselves and in March 1928 it was formally opened watched by a large gathering.

Another Troop which raised money to build its own HQ was the 59th which was formed in 1923. By 1926 they had their own hut build behind Trinity Church. This Troop at that time was so large that it met over two nights.

The1920’s saw the number of Greenock Troops increase from 11 in 1918 to 24 in 1928. By 1928, there was 18 Cub Packs. In all, there were over 1.000 members in Greenock.

In competitions, keenness was very evident and no fewer than eleven Trophies were contested every year. Many trophies such as the Shannon Cup, the Drummond Vase and the Victory Trophy were presented by local firms and dignitaries. Through the 1930’s, Scouting continued to flourish with many notable events.

With the advent of World War 2, Scouts again went ‘on duty’. A useful contribution to the war effort was made by acting as ARP messengers and as helpers at Casualty Centres.

When conditions returned to near normal, Greenock was honoured by a visit of Lord Rowallan making his first public appearance of Chief Scout.

Slowly but surely local Scouting began its second post war climb back to normality. In 1948, a Three Year Plan was adopted to consolidate the District. Part of this Plan was to raise two District Pipe Bands – The Dunrod & Corlic. The services of Pipe Majors, Donald Balloch and Alex Mackay was obtained as a first step to training new recruits. For a long period, both Bands played at Parades, Rallies and Displays.

By 1950, Scouting was in a healthy state. In 1951 – Festival of Britain year, Scouts were on ‘Bonfire Duty’ when they built a 24-foot high beacon at the top of the Lyle Road.

The love of the great out of doors led to the led to the introduction of ‘Kanutakit’ Exercises – a series of weekend camps and climbs. These included a ‘Slogger’ of over 20 miles and an investiture at over 3,000 feet on a ‘Munro’ at dawn on an appointed morning. The success of the exercises was due in no small measure to the keenness of District Commissioner James J. Swan.

The first fifty years of Scouting in Greenock was the foundation of what was to follow.
Scouting has continued to prosper in an ever changing and challenging world.

Whilst the District has been continually served and supported by a long line of dedicated leaders and friends, it is perhaps fair to highlight some of the early characters such as Mr Ryrie Orr. Mr Crawford Black, William (Paw) Shearer, Jim Swan, Jean Tulloch, Agnes Connie, Colin Finnie, Bertie Morrison – – – the list is endless. It must be said that the ‘Youth of Inverclyde’ – young and old owes a debt to their commitment over a long number of years.


Comment from Bill Salmon
Time January 29, 2010 at 11:18 am

Hi – amazing to see those names after so many years – they were all friends of my dad Ernie Salmon and Mum Jessie – nee MacKillop. I was a Cub at 1st Gourock, I think, but also had the priviledge of mixing with the older boys at Inverkip, where I seem to remember my dad was ‘Skip’ for a while. He also had a sailing boat on the river in his earler days + a Morgan 3 wheeler.
Anyone who remembers any of us (& especially can throw light on the boat) – would be welcome to get in touch.

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