Guiding Lights

armsful of badges
Guiding badges

http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news 24 May 2017

In 2017 Girlguiding announced it was planning an overhaul of its programme. It had been consulting its members and thousands of girls had suggested “ideas for new badges, including App Design, Vlogging and Upcycling”[1]. Other suggestions for new badges have been Entrepreneurship, DIY, Festival Goer, Voting, Grow Your Own, Speaking Out and Archaeology. The consultation was now being opened to the general public.

“The new programme, which will be launched in summer 2018, is aimed at making the Girl Guides ‘more relevant’ to the lives of girls and teenagers.”[2]

The organisation was keen to correct the image that the proficiency badges were mostly of a domestic nature – “less adventurous badges like Homemaker and Hostess”[3]. A report in the school magazine in 1965 shows a haul of earned badges at RMSG is indeed somewhat top heavy in domestic skills: Child Nurse 12; Cook 7; Hostess 4; Homemaker 2; Laundress 2; Needlewoman 4; Little House 4; Sick nurse 2; Life savers 3; Thrift 4.

Thankfully, there was also Gymnast 3; Minstrel 1; Map reader 10; Hiker 1; Camper 1; Pioneer 1; Woodcraft 1.

The history of the Guides, however, shows that it has been breaking new ground from the beginning with badges such as Air Mechanic, Telegraphist and Electrician (all 1912); Architect (1920), Electrical Engineer (1920s) and Radio Communicator (1980).

early Guide badge
Air Mechanic Badge 1912

When scouting for boys began in 1907, it was not long before the girls wanted in on it. They adapted scout uniform by cannibalising their brothers’ old cricket shirts and adding sturdy skirts. They followed the pattern of scout troop meetings albeit at a distance and they were a recognised shadow movement, openly acknowledged in 1909. “… at Robert Baden-Powell’s request the separate organisation of the Girl Guides [was] started in 1910 by his sister, Agnes Baden-Powell”[4].

Agnes and a guide

(Left) Agnes Baden Powell image from eadt.co.uk Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13288352 and (right) Picture of 1910 uniform from http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/guides.htm

In 1912, the first Guide Handbook was produced, adapted from Scouting for Boys but given “a fine veneer of femininity, to appease parents and other nervous adults who worried that the new scheme might lead their daughters astray”[5].

The Guiding movement now being well-established, it is difficult to imagine that it might have once been looked on with disfavour. However, at the time, it might have been confused with the more militaristic aspects of the suffragette/gist movement “which sought greater rights and freedoms for women by a range of means, some illegal.”[6] Or it might inspire girls to be more aggressive, or be a subversive method of preparing them for war service as nurses at the Front. In fact, it could be argued that WWI was good for the Guides because they had the opportunity – which they seized – to show how their guide training could be very useful other than in knitting socks for the troops (which they probably also did!).

According to http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/guides.htm, Guides acted as messengers, worked in hospitals, made hospital dressings and

“Many were involved in fundraising for causes such as the Red Cross and refugee funds, and … a special Guide fundraising drive, which raised enough money to set up and run an extensive and regularly-expanded rest hut for soldiers ‘behind the lines’ in France, and also to provide a ‘motor ambulance’”

This positivity meant that, post-war, the Guiding movement really began to flourish “possibly linked to the rapid increase in the number of single young ladies and widows unexpectedly available and with the free time to become Guiders, an indirect and unfortunate consequence of the massive loss of young soldiers and officers in World War 1.”[7] Because the Duke of Devonshire, a leading Freemason, was “a strong opponent of the Girls’ Scout movement”[8] possibly any early attempt by the School to instigate a Guide Company might have been thwarted. As it was, the Girl Guides continued apace but it was not until 1929 that the first school Guide Company was formed.

The School magazine, Machio, records that the first guide meeting was on 13th February with 21 guides. Interestingly, the article refers to these girls having been Brownies so it would appear that a Brownie pack at the School already existed but there are no records for when this began.

Meetings comprised games, inspection, drill and competitions between the patrols with marks awarded. Whichever patrol won the greatest number of points in a term won the shield. The article goes on to say that Guides were preparing a Morse display for Ex Girls’ day in June of that year although we are not given any further information about what this involved.

Their uniforms were made in “the new style” with the exception of the school tie being substituted for the Guide tie.

 

1920s image from http://lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com/guides.htm with school guides image from Machio 1929

Trying to reconstruct the facts after the event using Machio inevitably gives rise to confusion. In 1929 there were apparently two guide companies and yet in 1931 we are told it had been decided to split the Guide Company into two, one for the Upper School and one for the Lower House – um – exactly as described in 1929! The Upper School company had two patrols (Robins and Chaffinches) whilst the Lower School company had Bullfinches, Kingfishers, Blue Tits, Swallows and Nightingales patrols.

We are also told that on February 21st, they celebrated the company’s 3rd birthday whereas Machio 1929 gives the starting date as 13th February. Which is actually correct is impossible to say. Their celebration took place in the Hall [Centenary Hall] and they played games and then did a charade from Cinderella“Miss Potter very kindly allowed us some suitable clothes from the play-box”.

The article, written by two 13 year olds, states that the numbers in the Upper School company had decreased (because of their exam overload) and then in the next sentence says that eight new guides were enrolled. Perhaps they understood what they meant!

One element is clear in the article: that on 4th May Prize Day, the Guide Company formed the Guard of Honour for HRH the Princess Royal’s visit to the School. Princess Mary was made the honorary president of the British Girl Guide Association in 1920, a position she held until her death in 1965.

Image of Princess Mary from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3607650

Unfortunately in the next breath, so to speak, the Machio correspondent is back to the confused/ing statements: the “Guide movement celebrated their 21st birthday this year” (Machio 1932) whereas this presumably happened in 1931. For this, they paraded at church and every guide was asked to do something to help someone else. The School Company made children’s frocks and other garments, which were sent to a London mission.

The writer includes the information that Miss Vickridge “the new French mistress” was a keen guider and was hoping to restart guiding in the Upper House. Clearly in this she was successful as in Machio 1933 we are told that the Guides are now called the Sixth Battersea Rise Company (the Lower School group was the 4th Battersea Rise Company) with 16 members who were enrolled on March 8th by the District Commissioner. By the following term numbers had increased to 48 – six patrols of eight girls: Daffodil, Snowdrop, Fuchsia, Holly, Poppy and Heather [the robins and chaffinches seem to have flown the nest!] Meanwhile, the younger guides were 30-strong and 22 of them, having their 2nd class badges, were working at earning their proficiency badges “such as Needlewoman, Knitter, Child Nurse and Cook [more domesticity!] and working for Athlete and Dancer’s Badges.”

By 1939, the company had increased exponentially, numbering 102 with 9 as cadets or senior guides, and 36 further guides who wished to join so a separate company was formed – back to the confusion about just how many companies there actually were! By this time the School had moved to Rickmansworth and the guide companies were the 4th and 7th Chorleywood companies. In that year there was a Pageant of some kind as the picture shows but the article fails to mention it so we don’t have any further information. However, 24th May was then known as Empire Day and the costumes look to be related to the various countries in it so we can probably assume this was what the Pageant was acknowledging.

Coincidentally, May 24 1939 was a Wednesday as it was in 2017 but that’s neither here nor there.

1939 was also, of course, the beginning of WWII although it is most unlikely that any of the girls in this picture would have been aware of its awful imminence. What price an air mechanic’s badge now? Let us leave them celebrating and in Part Two of this posting we will rejoin the Guiding story post-war.

Sources

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39936006

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

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39936006

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

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] ibid