5th Cambridge (Perse) A Short History

Cambridge District Scout Archive


The history of the 5th Cambridge (Perse) Scouts Troop/ Group is recalled in two major in-house pieces; The First 50 years, compiled by the school and largely taken verbatim from the school magazine entries, and a smaller piece A History of Scouting at the Perse compiled by Adrian Whittington in 1984 which contains some early personal reminiscences.

The considerable task of compiling a complete second fifty years from school records has not yet been tackled although many small pieces about the 5th Cambridge (Perse) Scouts have been pulled from District and school archives and into many articles on the Cambridge District Scout Archive site. They do not yet make a single history.

The School archives hold significant amounts of original documents from the camps and overseas trips; numerous photographs, many without names or dates; a number of uniforms, trophies and other pieces.  It is evident that a number of other references to Scouts remain within the archives not in the boxes labelled ‘Scouts’.  A number of glass photographic plates and slides are yet to be properly reviewed.

This is a short history and intended to give an outline and to identify the major names associated with the Group as leaders or as Scouts.  Very little remains of the early Wolf Cub or Cub Scout history.

(Note for researchers:  Districts had dual numbering systems before c. 1928.  Being inside the town boundaries the Perse Troop was the 5th Cambridge.    Being outside the town boundaries the Trumpington Troop was the 5th Cambridge District.)

Dr Rouse and the start of Cambridge Scouting

The Perse school plays a very important role in the start and the early years of Cambridge Scouting.

Dr W H D Rouse, headmaster 1902 – 1928, hosted the meeting when Baden Powell came to talk in Cambridge. Many others were invited from across Cambridge by the YMCA organising committee. The Perse founded one of the first Scout Troops following this meeting and Dr Rouse later became co chair of the early Cambridge District when it became evident that local organising bodies were required.

An innovator and enthusiast he had a reputation for questioning established ways and was active in devising new methods in education.  His direct involvement did not persist beyond the first few years although his support continued.   Scouting was taken up by a number of teachers within the Perse perhaps most notably Gavin Malcolm MacFarlane-Grieve.  Dr Rouse’s successor, Hubert Arthur Wootton, was elected member of the Cambridge District Scout  Council.

The first record in the School magazine, the Pelican, was in Dec 1909 gives ‘Nearly 40 of our junior boys have joined Baden Powell’s ‘Boy Scouts’. A photograph exists dated 1909 showing the troop with bicycles and horses, flags and uniforms.  Certainly a mounted and a cycle patrol existed in the District in 1911.  The first known camp for the troop was reported in December 1910 at Houghton Island.

The 5th ran continuously from 1908 to 2008. It is clear that they started in 1908.  Reports twenty years later concerning the troop, when the founding leaders were still at the school, confirm the date.   A confusion about this date occurred very much later within the school. The school held an 80th celebration in 1991 and the school commemorative table states 1910. This was the date of the first District registration, but the District did not exist as a body until 1910.  It was formed, by Dr Rouse amongst others, to give some oversight to the many troops that already existed in the town. 

Although the designation as (only) the ‘5th’ Cambridge Troop has been challenged no clear evidence exists to suggest that the early lists were wrong. The 1st and 2nd both have very early dates as identified by several points in the archives; the 3rd and 4th are harder to give absolute starting dates but records maintained by Secretaries active in 1910 confirm their very early existence.  It is possible that the exact date of starting was unclear in several troops, the Perse Troop among them.

Between the first numbering and the first existing list some troops had already fallen into abeyance and this lead to a belief that the numbers were issued randomly, not sequentially.  The earliest remaining list omits the previously registered but failed troops 3rd and 4th Cambridge. 

Along with all other troops the 5th was registered at the first national listing at Imperial Headquarters (IHQ) in 1919 with the number 903.  The number 903 reflects the place of the 1st and the 2nd Cambridge which both predated the Perse in the District lists and both in existence in 1919.  IHQ numbers started at 900 for this first set of Cambridge registrations. The surviving lists do not identify 902 and we should assume either the 3rd or 4th, both having several incarnations, were briefly active at this first national registration.

The troop was first identified in District records with this national number in 1921. Records from this time are few. The Wolf Cub pack was registered in 1922.  At this point although effectively a Group, Sections were registered separately.  With the national rearrangement of troop, pack and crew into Groups in 1928 they were collectively re registered as 7555.

No evidence exists of concern about precedence at the time; all concerns arose significantly after the event.  As several members of the Perse were actively involved at District level at the point of numbering we can assume that if it had been a concern at that point it would have been raised.

It is clear that the 5th was a 1908 troop and were the longest running original troop in Cambridge Scouting history. Several other Cambridge Groups have now passed their century.  The Perse Exploration Society (PES) has replaced Scouting within the Perse and has remained a very successful outdoor adventure organisation.


Scouts                                      1908 – 2008

Wolf Cubs/ Cub Scouts            1922 – 2008    The Cub Scout pack became an after school activity in 1978/79 when the school no longer opened on a Saturday morning

See also D pack Chesterton Preparatory School which was associated with the Perse until c 1920 and ran a pack c 1918 – 1925.

Rovers                                     1923 – 1947    Although this was several years after the official start of Rovers in 1918, Senior Scouts (a name used before the start of Rovers for patrols of older boys) had separate training at the Perse in 1917.  The obligatory move to OTC at 14 (15 for P/L’s) did not stop the formation of a Rover Crew for 15 year olds in c. 1923/4.  This was two years younger than the official minimum.  Variations such as this were not unusual in the early years.  The advent of Senior Scouts after WW2 removed the need for a Rover Crew for the older boys and the Perse Rovers ceased.  Rover Crew with the usual ages 17 – 25 were not a good fit for school based Groups.

            Note: Some troops ran patrols of Scouts, Air Scouts, Sea Scouts and, for a time, War Service Scouts alongside each other.  One later reference implies that the first period of 5th Sea Scouts was the whole troop.  In some troops the specialist Scouts patrols were only for the older boys.

Sea Scouts                               1910 – 1918    One of the early masters, Mr Green, was a member of the Navy League.

Air Scouts                                1945 – 1948   Air Scout Patrols within the troop

Sea Scouts (again)                   1946 – until at least 1958 (when Census returns stopped asking for this detail)      Sea Scout Patrols within the troop

Air Scouts (again)                    1956      A new Air Patrol formed in this year.  This is clearly                                               recorded by Bob Eden.   The dates are unclear and the census                                            returns 1956 and 1958 did not record numbers by speciality.

Senior Scouts                           1947 – 1965                Became Venture Scouts 1966

Venture Scouts           

            5th VSU                         1966 – 1975    (Rover/ Ranger events)

            Tithe VSU with 7th       1976 – 1991    Patron Sir Vivian Fuchs   (Girls from 1983)

            5th VSU (restarted)      1991 – 2002    Became Explorer Scouts

Explorer Scouts                       2003 – 2008                Became PES

Perse Exploration Society       2008 – date     The last Scout entry in the Annual reports was the 2007 Explorer trip to Ladakh; the first PES awards are given at the 2008 Speech day. PES training is recorded in March 2010, and a joint Scout/PES exercise in April 2010.   The detail of the change is not recorded in the annual reports but Scout camps occurred in October and December 2009 and the last ‘Scout ‘ event in July 2010.    The sixth form trip to Kenya in July 2010 was a PES event and October recorded PES Summit 10, 11 and 12 and PES Ascent events.

            Note: There is no record of a War Service Scouts Patrol being formed during WW2 by the 5th.  The Air Scouts were also an initiative to limit movement from Scouts to the Air Cadets, but were not limited to war time.  Some of the dates above are taken from the Census reports and may be a year behind the date of formation.

Wolf Cubs/ Cub Scouts

Wolf Cubs at the Perse were registered in February 1921 but records are poor.  Yearly entries concerning the pack at the Perse Prep can be found in the ‘The Little Pelican’ are available between 1965 and 2004 then they fade away.  Leaders are just initials except Mrs Halbert and Rosalind Potter, the Akela for 10 years until 1999 (and from 2000 CSL 28th).

They owned and practiced erecting tents from 1972.   The pack camped in 1982 (5th formers only) but not again until the early 1990’s when they had a Pack Holiday in a Youth Hostel.  A second Cub camp in tents was recorded in 2002 and they attended a District camp at Abington in 2003.    The pack recorded a number of involvements with the District occasionally winning six a side football, swimming and chess.

The move to an after school club when the school stopped meeting on a Saturday was ‘a great success’.  Numbers fluctuated between 30 and 42.

Court of Honour

The growth of an active Court of Honour (P/Ls council with guidance by Scout masters) is nearly always the precursor to a successful and active troop.  Evidence remains of the period immediately after WW2 under Malcolm MacFarlane and Douglas Brown when the 5th Cambridge CoH was given significant responsibility and the troop flourished.  During this era many factors changed; the link with the OTC appears to have softened, expectations of members increased and standards were improved.  The new leaders revitalised the troop and expanded the experiences available. 

The School

The interaction of the Troop and the school is significant.  The Troop has swung between periods of strong leadership from within the school and reliance on university students.  This may in part be reflected in the fluctuating numbers (see separate page) although this has not been formally linked. 

The overlap with school activities and the obligatory structured move from Troop to OTC is marked.  The age limits at which boys moved to the OTC were softened, particularly outside periods of war, and Patrol Leaders were allowed to continue for a year longer in the troop.  The P/Ls also tended to become Rovers in an in-house Crew which started, for a time, at younger than the national age.  The records suggest a greater focus on physical exercise and formal marching than in most Troops.  This aspect is rarely documented in any troop and is only picked up in the 5th through photographs; and the archives hold many photographs.  This evidence, slight as it is, may be misleading.  In WW2 boys were obliged to be a member of one or the other, possibly resulting in modified enthusiasm.   The need for revitalisation post war was likely a consequence of this requirement.

The marked stratification into age groups of a school is occasionally seen in Cub or Scout participation by ‘year’.  Only the 5th form Cubs were selected to camp (in tents) in 1982 and Cubs were selected by year, not by role to have instruction by Young Leaders.  In 2004 the troop was ordered by patrol in the 1st – 3rd school year, but in the 4th moved to one patrol.

The Schoolmasters (specifically of the Perse) being the Scout Masters surely helped guarantee the Troop outside the school.  Personal connections between the school and university departments helped the troop engage in some significant overseas travel/ adventure and in some scientific research to which other troops rarely had access.

Pride in the school has also occasionally coloured the arguments concerning their place within the District, important though this has been, and perpetuated the belief that they were really earlier than only the ‘fifth’.  Even Adrian Whittington’s work misquotes an article, ‘amongst the first’ public schools becoming ‘the first’.  The assertion, found elsewhere, that the Perse was the 20th troop in the Country has not been traced to any factual or indeed false root.  The National Scout archives do not keep records of ‘1908’ troops.

The school supported the provision of meeting places and as early as 1913 the troop had ‘a splendid HQ’, an asset that all successful troops require.   The worth of the Scouts within the School is echoed by the placing of the Troop Leader and Patrol Leaders as School Officers (c 1964) and the listing of the Troop not as a Club or Society but alongside the externally regulated bodies such as the Cadet Corps.

Big, successful troops can but look inwards for most of their Scouting. They do not need to rely on other parts of Scouting to arrange activities for them and to join in District events requires more effort than it is generally worth.  They are recorded in only one District event in the 10 years to 1939, coming second.  Indeed the troop did go through a period where it was described as ‘elitist in their attitude to most of the Association rules’.  Under Douglas Brown’s leadership that changed and they engaged in many more District and County events.  When the Perse did engage in District events they went through periods of winning consistently – the level of Scouting was generally very high. 

If the Troop had little need to mix many leaders were very engaged in District and County roles.  Their expertise was shared widely and their work recognised by the Scouting awards gained.  No complete list of awards exists, more may be found.


G M MacFarlane Grieve was ADC with responsibility for a subset of school based Groups, the 5th, 7th (County School) and the 60th (Leys).  All large and internally self reliant troops they did join together for social events.

Camps and Overseas Trips  

The first recorded 5th Cambridge camp was Houghton in August 1910; ‘15 Scouts camped for a week swimming, boating and cultivating musical skills’. Other camps were held at Longstowe, Wimpole Hall and Melbourne in the early years. 

 After camping at West Runton, North Norfolk SM G. M. MacFarlane – Grieve purchased a site in the village in 1921 and it became the summer camp until 1972.   A loss of ‘Pioneering spirit’ was recorded in the later interwar years, possibly reflecting the reliance on this site. The site was increasingly overlooked by new buildings and at times was too small for the troop.  With the growing opportunities to travel further afield to areas with more adventurous activities the connection was broken. 

In 1946 5th Cambridge Scouts camped for 1488 nights under canvas.  The low number of leader nights recorded suggests that many of the ‘Patrol camps’ were just that, lead by the P/L.  The Perse camps did attract District leaders and other helpers and the 34 ‘leaders nights’ were probably significantly supplemented by other adult oversight or visits.  Local camp sites included Toft Manor (G.M. MacFarlane Grieves’ home), Madingley, Meldreth and Shelford. 

Camps for older Scouts (Senior and later Venture Scouts) became very adventurous.  Frequently linked with a survey or service role between 1950 and 2008 they included visits to Cairngorms (and weather survey), Rhum, several times (meteorological survey), Lotschental, Tyrol, Norway (on the Jostedalsbren glacier), Pyrenees, Gran Paradiso, Morocco, Spitsbergen, Kenya, Iceland and Ladakh.  The later camps became part of the PES itinerary.

Leaders with links to University departments and the British Antarctic Survey brought opportunities to participate in research, access to equipment and to help and skills of experts trained in outdoor survival techniques.

Twice the camping became the focus of Scouting for too many of the troop. In the 1960’s the attendance fell off significantly out of camping season, it ‘became a camping club’, and the leaders refocused the troop.  Numbers dropped at this point before rebuilding on a more rounded Scouting base.   The reformation of the 5th VSU was a response to what was felt to be an over focus on the one big expedition of the year by the Tithe VSU.

Some Leaders

Dr Rouse was involved in the formation but the early leaders were Caldwell-Cook, CK Mowll and later his brother RJ Mowll and a number of university students.  A B J Green, although active in the troop and exceptionally important in his role of District Secretary throughout WW1 did not hold a formal warrant.  

As a student Robert Parker worked with the 5th c. 1914 – 1915.  A Conscientious Objector, he was one of the key instigators, with Cambridge scoutmasters Aubrey Westlake and John Murrish, of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry.

The 5th Cambridge has been very fortunate in having a succession of long term leaders.   They were replaced by others as active who stepped in to revitalise the Group at intervals.  The outdoor skills the leaders brought to the Group alongside the professional skills as teachers created and maintained the very high levels of Scouting.

Gavin Malcolm MacFarlane-Grieve Active before 1914 and remained involved until 1967.  He became GSL from the start of Groups (Wolf Cub, Scout Troop and Rover Crew as a combined unit) 1928 – 1967.     District Treasurer for many years, ADC and ACC, Trustee Abington Campsite                          Medal of Merit (He refused a Silver Acorn)

Douglas Brown                      Scout as a pupil at the Perse and SM from 1948 who was awarded Medal of Merit after 15 years with the troop, died at the age of 43.   He emphasised the role of the Court Of Honour and engaged with the District.  The Scout building was remodelled as his memorial in 1967.  Medal of Merit

Michael R Ling                       SM from 1968 (after his time the Troop relied on Student leaders again)

Malcolm MacFarlane                         Senior Scouts from 1948 – 1963, lead the Cambridgeshire contingent at 1951 World Scout Jamboree and was GSL 1967 – 1973.  ADC (S) c.1961 – a District role.

Tony Billinghurst                    (Perse 1952 – 1990) Senior Scouts and later Venture Scouts and lead many overseas expeditions until 1975 (when the VSU combined with the 7th to form the Tithe VSU)                                                          Silver Wolf 1983 (the highest award)

Richard Crabtree                   ASL from 1971, SL from 1972, VSL and GSL (from 1973) – active until 2003.           He was involved as a student and during his time with BAS (1975 – 1985) before becoming a teacher at the school.                         Medal Merit 1983  Silver Acorn 2004

Chris Brickel                           Head of Outdoor Pursuits, a Queen’s Scout and holder of the DoE Gold,he took the Venture Scout Unit into Explorer Scouts and oversaw the end of Scouting and start of  Perse Exploration Society.   2003 – 2011

A few notable Scouts

A very incomplete list

B Pope, L Sunderland              Driver and designer of winning of National Scout Soap Box Derby 1955

Peter Read                              WSJ 1951

P/L Whitaker                           Jamboree in Washington USA (1 of 2 Kings Scouts from Cambridge and 48 from UK)

Boocock and Greenwood        WSJ 1955         and built a diving bell and stayed submerged under the Cam for which they won the Adventurers Trophy.

Bob Eden                                 Baden Powell Scout (a rare achievement) late 1950’s, and selected as one of ten to work as Scout Camp adviser in America

David Loades                           With Bob Eden ran District SS and later District Rover Crew

5th Cambridge Scouts are listed as attending WSJ in 1937, 1947, 1951, 1955, 1957, 1963, 1967, and 1979.  No complete list exists and we can be sure that 5th Cambridge Scouts attended other WSJ’s.


F E Giles          Old Persean    Founded the Portuguese Boy Scout Movement (no Scouts in his time at the Perse)

Rolls of Honour

Two Perse Scoutmasters were known to have died in the Great War, G K Saville and Hugh Ferguson.  More recently Scout Gerald H Smyth and ASM Arthur John Gray have been identified.

The Perse did not forward names to the District records during or after WW2.  The following names from the school Roll of Honour, Leslie James Ashfield, Dennis Charles Lamb, Bernard Frederick West Matthews are known to have been Scouts and possibly Sidney John Leeland, Robert Edward Rogers (his twin brother was a Scout) and Stanley Thomas Banks Wallis.  No comprehensive list of names exists and some small uncertainty remains in confirming these three as Scouts.


The very large collection of scouting material emphasises the importance of Scouting within the Perse.  Indeed the collection is so large that it may over emphasise its worth.  It was clearly a major part of the extracurricular activity, counted along with the cadet corps as externally regulated body.  The support and investment by Dr Rouse demonstrated his early appreciation of the Scouting approach.

The 5th Cambridge (Perse) Scout Group was very successful and flourished for much of its hundred years.  It was, perhaps, most successful as a purely Scouting institution, rather than as an adjunct to the school, in the very early years before and after the Great War and again after WW2 when it was revitalised under a succession of noteworthy leaders.  It was at these times that the Troop was most actively involved in the Scout District.

The open handed welcome and help of David Jones, Perse Archivist, was central to compiling this record. 

A great deal more could be added.

JWR Archivist March 2022