Drill – the extra bits

Each performance of Drill is timed perfectly and lasts 20 minutes. But with such a long standing tradition, writing about it takes two blog posts!

Whilst Drill was not unique to the School when it started out, it seems likely that no other schools have anything like it today. The closest might be Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore which has some movements that are similar. However, their Gym Drill is described on their own website as

The Middle and Upper School perform an all-school dance and school exercises which have been performed since 1904

https://www.brynmawrschool.org

There are elements that are more like cheerleading movements than the marching exercises performed at RMSG but as trainees under Madame Bergman-Osterburg came from, and disseminated to, all corners of the world, it is quite possible that the origins were once closely aligned.

Martina Bergman-Osterburg

This image, dated 1880, is the earliest photograph of Drill apparently being performed. One has to say ‘apparently’, as this may be a posed image, possibly including every girl in the School at the time, and there are no records anywhere of it being performed outdoors. Clearly, if this were a performance, someone would have had to have wheeled out two grand pianos for the accompanying music!

This brings us nicely onto the music. In the C19th and perhaps the earlier part of the C20th, the music was played by senior girls. By the later part of the C20th, that task fell to music teachers. The pianists required skill not just to read and play the music but, if necessary, to speed up or slow down tempo if the Drillers were a little too enthusiastic or tardy in performance. On one occasion, some Senior girls decided, out of mischief, to repeat some of the exercises more times than normal. Valerie Curtis, music teacher from 1958, later commented that she had thought the Drill was taking a little longer than usual but she just fitted the music to the movement being performed!

In 1980, it was decided to try recorded music. With some trepidation Miss Curtis was asked if she would mind being made redundant. The nervousness was uncalled for as Val was delighted to be freed from the task of turning up to every rehearsal on time and thumping out music on a keyboard!

This sample of Drill music is from 1933 although the book is dated 1916.

In 1982, Hooked on Classics – classical music given an up tempo treatment by Louis Clark – was storming the charts. The Drill was re-worked to this music which now includes the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, March of the Toreadors from Bizet’s Carmen, the Blue Danube Waltz, Deep in the Heart of Texas, Sousa’s The Liberty Bell, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 and The Dam Busters. About 30 years later, the opportunity arose to tell Mr Clark how his musical treatment had been utilised.

“He was genuinely intrigued and delighted to know that his musical arrangements had helped to popularise Drill, giving pleasure to so many over such a long period of time.”

Drill is a special part of life at RMSG but that does not mean that it is a fixed entity which no-one dare change. It is said that former pupils watch the performances with eagle eyes, later declaring that it wasn’t as good as in their day but they would say that, wouldn’t they?

However it can, and does, change according to need.

This movement is no longer included although, as this image from the Great Hall shows, still was in the 1930s. In 1937, as a special, the staff performed a version of drill for the girls. The School magazine records the apparent astonishment of the watching pupils as, in slow motion, the staff touched their toes!

This is the wheel performed in the very earliest days at Rickmansworth (no portraits on the wall gives that away). It was not performed for Prize Day 1934 (then in May) as there had not been enough rehearsal time since the School had only arrived on site in April. However, it was performed when Queen Mary opened the School – on a wet, miserable, rainy summer day. Some of the spectators here appear to be dressed appropriately for British summer: raincoats and warm clothing!

With performances stretching back as far as at least 1876, there have been many notable spectators. In 1888, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) watched it. In 1946, his grandson, George VI watched it.

The King was in what has become known as the King’s Chair – one of the Caledonian chairs presented to the School in 1795. On the back of this chair is recorded a list of the illustrious royal bottoms that have sat upon it to watch Drill: Queen Mary in 1912 and again in 1934; the Princess Royal in 1927; George VI in 1946; Princess Marina in 1948.

 

With any well-established tradition, there have been those not normally part of a hard-working team who want to participate. In 1934, in celebration of the School being about to move to Rickmansworth, Drill was performed backwards with Drillers wearing masks on the backs of their heads. The teaching staff, as we have seen, have performed it for pupils. In the 1990s, the staff were again challenged, their numbers added to by parents, to a charity performance. Given the all too few rehearsals and fewer than 180 drillers to make the formations, their performance was given grudging praise in the comment “Hey, they’re not bad.”

Year Two pupils, in learning about the School’s history, had a go at some of the movements …

… and learned first-hand that it takes practice to be synchronised!

Drill has even been on the radio. Fighting Fit, broadcast on Radio 4 on 28th May 2005, heard presenter Fi Glover discovering that

“getting the rights and lefts going in sequence, the tippy toes turning, the arm movements in the right order and making sure it is all done in time with the music and in line with everyone else is jolly difficult.”

Rehearsal is vital to make sure each Driller knows where she should be at any given moment so let us give special praise to those Reserves who attend all the rehearsals, turn up immaculately attired for the performances and may not actually be in one. Their dedication is crucial as they might have to slot into any one of the 180 places making the performance seamless. As one of them said:

“… nothing prepares you for the moment when [you are told] ‘You’re East 71.’ You think, where the heck’s that? Am I an up or a down line in the arm things and am I a 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1?”

And sometimes things can go wrong. One former pupil recalled with horror the time her shoe fell off when the Princess Royal was watching. The lady in question winked in sympathy but the girl herself felt devastated. But full marks for quick thinking for the Driller who had forgotten her short white socks so painted her ankles with plimsoll whitener!

Drill performances are three in number: Prize Day and Remembrance Sunday are two. The other arose from what had been a full rehearsal on the Wednesday before Prize Day but, as it proved equally as popular with spectators as the other two performances, it became one in its own right.

On Remembrance Sunday, the set square and compass position is held whilst a speech is given (the speaker being implored to keep it brief to prevent girls from keeling over in a faint), Point is rewarded with a little gift and the girls prepare to end the performance. After removing the poppies they are wearing and laying them at their feet, marching on the spot begins and, at the sound of a whistle, the Drillers leave the Hall. Their poppies remain, a poignant reminder of the sacrifice made by many in war.

[Additional information to create these posts was supplied by three former Heads of PE at the school to whom grateful thanks are extended.]

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Guiding Lights II

In Guiding Lights, we looked at early Guiding both nationally and at RMIG. By the time WWII had come to its weary conclusion, the world had changed. And it continued to change, sometimes with dizzying speed, so things like the Guide Movement offered  stability whilst it also embraced change itself.

“Girlguiding has always changed as the lives of girls have changed since it was founded …”[1]

In 1945 Agnes Baden-Powell died (Robert Baden-Powell had died in 1941 at his home in Kenya) so the post-war period was a time for both remembering the past and moving forward into the ‘brave new world’.

After WWII, a new Guide uniform was created and it changed from the navy blue it had settled as and became what was called ‘headquarters blue’.

 

https://uk.pinterest.com/rangerguide/girl-guide-girl-scout-history/ 1957 uniform & uniform 1940 from http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com

“The Queen’s Guide programme was introduced in 1946, offering an extra challenge for Guides, who had to gain certain specified interest badges to qualify.”[2]

This covered a wide range of topics and took a great deal of hard work to achieve it. At RMSG, Machio records at least three Queen’s Guides, including this one from the 1980s.

The Queen at the time the Queen’s Guide Award was introduced was Queen Elizabeth, later known as the Queen Mother. She and George VI visited the School in 1946.

By 1949, RMSG had three Guide companies: 3rd, 4th and 7th Chorleywood Guides. Patrols within these had always comprised members of the same boarding house, despite the efforts of Guiders to persuade the guides to try ‘mixed patrols’. Clearly house allegiance overcame all other considerations. But in 1949, of their own volition, they decided to try it and it must have worked because there was no other references to them returning to single-house patrols.

An annual camp was clearly a much anticipated, and hugely enjoyed, experience. In 1949, their camp was in Henley with the Thames running alongside the campsite. Imagine the acres of risk assessment forms that would have to be completed today!

“We found with Rat and Mole that there was nothing like ‘simply messing about’ with boats and a river.”

They were there at the time of the Regatta so they had grandstand views from the campsite.

During their time at camp, amongst other visits, they went to a Brewery. And apparently no-one questioned the fact that schoolgirls were touring a place whose purpose was to prepare intoxicating liquor! They also had a number of visitors including the local gamekeeper “with his velveteen jacket with its bulging pockets”. Redolent of a bygone era.

In 1951, 29 guides went camping in Sussex for twelve days. Highlights included bathing at Seaford, lunch on Newhaven Beach and a visit to Glyndbourne where they met the owner, had a behind the scenes tour and were allowed to listen to part of the rehearsal. The article went on to say that [in true British summer weather] it poured with rain on the last day but a local lady came and said she had ”lit the kitchen fire in the empty thatcher’s cottage and had a copperful of boiling water and that we were all to go and sleep there that night.” The Famous Five will be appearing any second now …

In 1952, when George VI died, Guides across the country had to take a new oath of allegiance to the monarch. Now they were serving a Queen, not a King, and one, moreover, who had been a Guide herself. And yet, although there were significant changes, the spirit of guiding continued as it always had. It was clearly popular at RMSG because we are told that the three companies were all large.

Enter the Sixties and 1960 saw the 50th birthday of the Guiding movement and, fortunately, there was no confusion about the date of this in Machio. Unfortunately, it was because there was no mention of it at all! Assessing the activities of guiding at RMSG is dependent on reports in the School magazine and whilst these started to become more sparse there is no reason to believe that this represented a great waning of interest. Indeed, in 1965 we learn that the Guide Captain was leaving the company and hoped that someone would come forward to lead it. When no-one did the Guides continued on their own! They were granted money from the Committee [at the School] to enable them to buy the new uniform.

Drawn image of 1966 from https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/372109987938710346/

However, in 1967 we learn that the three companies had again become two and then we are told that the two companies merged into one with 36 members. Whether this was a lessening interest or the fact that there was still no Guider to ‘rally the troops’ is a moot point. There was help from a number of sources but mostly the Guides organised themselves. To mark the 50th anniversary of Guiding, new initiatives were considered with the aim of developing guiding in the future but self-winding Guide companies might not have been quite what they had in mind!

In 1968, nationally the uniform was revamped and during the 70s the uniform ties changed frequently

“going from a mini necker, to a cross over style tie which was held in place by the Promise badge, to a conventional rolled necker worn with a woggle”[3].

In the 1990s, the fashion designer Jeff Banks was asked to re-design the uniform.

Guide uniforms in the 1980s and then the 1990s

But fashion doesn’t stay still and, with practicality in mind, in 2000 the uniform changed again using more mix and match styles including sweatshirts, rugby shirts, polo shirts, t-shirts, and a hoody, all worn with an individual choice of trousers or skirt. In 2014, it was once again re-modelled introducing a mid-range blue fabric

“deliberately chosen to be comfortable in different temperatures, crumple-proof and quick-drying”[4].

Whilst the modern uniform may look worlds away from the early ones, in some ways they are not dissimilar. They are practical interpretations of what was deemed suitable at the time. The 1910 girl, adapting her brother’s old cricket shirt, is actually not a million light years away from the modern sweatshirts and hoodies and leggings, albeit that the modern Guide buys her uniform and the 1910 Miss made hers. Washability is now a modern requirement. Perhaps just as well. As an RMSG Brownie Guider commented when the sweatshirts for the Brownies were first introduced: “Whoever dreamed up bright yellow? Have they never seen the state of Brownies by the end of a meeting??”

Perhaps Guides are too sedate to get grubby.

(Fat chance!)

 

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/05/17/girl-guides-could-get-badges-vlogging-upcycling-biggest-revamp/

[2] http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/timeline

[3] http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/guides.htm

[4] ibid