Cambridge District Scout Archive
In December 1945 the Scout Association requested details of War Service. Many Scouters had not returned home at this date. Many other details of War Service are known from the records. This page concerns this reply to the Scout Association collection.
The following are from the returns made although the 31st Cambridge (University) and the 5th Cambridge (Perse) did not feel that it was possible to produce returns. Some groups closed down during the war; the 30th and 42nd amalgamated (the Troop merged and the Pack retained 42nd number) some were Wolf Cub packs only and one started up in 1944 and had no returns to complete.
The records are from the 1st, 7th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 19th, 23rd, 25th, 26th, 29th/42nd, 36th Cubs, 42nd Cubs, 60th. Of those that did not enter returns it was noted; 2nd –no one connected with the troop remains; 65th – SM (Scout Master) killed in early days and later merged with 26th.
These returns do indicate the type of work that was carried out during the war but can only suggest a real total. The formal returns supplied do not exist in District records. The totals given here are taken from the spreadsheet and notes made at the time.
Numbers in Service (Navy, Army, RAF, Merchant Navy, Women’s services)
- Scouts 475 ? a tentative number including the uncertain returns form 9th and 11th
- Scouters 52
- Rovers 101
Commissions 139 Of these 63 were from 7th (County School) and 49 from the 60th (Leys School)
Casualties 28 The list (see Roll of Honour) gives 22 (and increasing) not all on Gillwell Roll of Honour
Wounded 19 this is recorded as an underestimate ‘I know of several (more) casualties and awards’ was specifically noted on the correspondence from the 9th.
Missing 1 (and increasing)
(See Roll of Honour for further review of Casualties)
Civil Defence or Home Guard work
- Scouts 84
- Scouters 36
- Rovers 47
Casualties 1 Mrs Cann who died of illness contracted while part time Nursing in an RAF sick bay for the British Red Cross Society (BRCS) in 1940
Whilst details were specifically requested no Victoria Cross or George Cross was recorded. Twelve other awards were listed.
Medals fall into two general categories, Campaign medals for serving in a war or bit of the war (Africa Star or Arctic Star) and military Awards or Decorations denoting ‘heroism, or meritorious or outstanding service or achievement’. The VC and GC are the highest of these awards; those listed are all Awards or Decorations.
|5||Mentioned in dispatches||60th|
A serviceman is mentioned in dispatches when they are named in an official report in which a ‘gallant or meritorious’ action in the face of the enemy is described. Mentioned in dispatches entitles the individual to add an oak leaf to his Campaign medal.
This list, like the rest of the returns made, is incomplete.
Requisitioned Head Quarters
5th, 23rd, 60th (Junior and Senior HQs) 11th, District HQ Many other Groups had the rooms they hired taken for ‘recreational facilities in connection with evacuees’.
1941 The Military came and inspected the building again. ‘Grafton Street residents proposed to petition for the use of the cellars in raids.’
1943 Home Guard to use Mr Wood’s room Sunday AM and evenings @ 5/- per week. Arranged with fire watching authorities Mr Flack (caretaker?) be appointed street captain. That a room in HQ (9th portion) be used as Sec HQ and that two 50 gallon tanks be installed in the building. The HG gave up tenancy in 3/1/1945 with a parting donation of ₤10 for the good spirit of their acceptance by the Scouts.
The War Work done would appear to be incompletely reported. Details of hours are often missing except where they can be clearly totalled by a concentrated spell e.g. when harvesting. There is no clear link in this list to the work done at District camps fruit picking. (See Cambridge Scouts WW2.)
Among the work reported was
- Collecting: waste paper. Chestnuts, rags, bottles, rabbit skins, scrap metal, rubber, tyres,jam jars, rose hips and conkers.
- Making: camouflage netting
- Demonstrating: field craft to Home Guard, First Aid to Local Air Raid Wardens
- Distributing: leaflets Ministry of Information, WVS
- Orderlies for Women’s Voluntary Service (later WRVS)
- Cambridge Water Company Emergency Service
- Association scheme (no details of this scheme are given)
- Harvest e.g. 2000 hrs Potatoes 1943, flax, fruit, …
- Collecting sphagnum moss (in Scotland)
- War Service Patrol
- Evacuee rest centre work
- Toc H canteen
- Station Canteen
- Erecting Morrison shelters (requests for more volunteers were issued in Sept 1942)
In 1945 the Chief Scout contacted Districts with regards to taking down Morrison shelters. This work is not recorded.
The quantity of waste paper collected in Cambridge was great enough to warrant a mention in The Left Handshake, a review of Scouts around the world during the war; 201 tons in nine months. The work as messengers highlighted in ‘Cambridge Scouts in WW2’ was not sufficiently prominent to be listed in the returns.
A total of 6900 hours was given, but many activities give no hours alongside the work done.
Indoor Shelters erected (Morrison Shelters) See IWM photo Twenty six of these were constructed. Heavy duty metal constructions for use in houses with no garden suitable for an Anderson (outdoor) shelter. They had 200 pieces. The details for this work was collected as a separate item.
In 1941 the DC was reporting on a scheme for collecting Drug Plants. No further details were given but many plants were collected during the war including foxgloves, deadly nightshade, autumn crocus and valerian. ‘…at the moment it did not appear that the Town Troops could take up the matter of the collection of drug plants.’ Later that year it was recorded that Cambridge District had collected 16 Stone of rosehips.
In the same year Scouts were asked to collect bread for Mrs Wooster’s goat. This was refused as it was ‘regretted…conflict with Corporation Pig Food Scheme’
Prisoners of War
The responses sometimes gave details not asked for in the census.
A list of addresses for Cambridge Scouters during the war gives ‘H Gordon (Germany nr, Hanover)’ It is not clear if he is German who returned home or a Prisoner of War.
SM Bilbey was a prisoner of war in Japan for 4 years as was Leslie John Collis. Leslie was listed as Missing for 18 months and later recorded his travels. See letter
Missing could indicate ‘we don’t yet know’ or ‘we don’t know for sure what happened, but don’t hope’. People were relocated following capture as happened with Leslie Collis, but missing at sea for an RAF observer, presumably flying off shore was significantly less hopeful.
Death by service
Of 23 listed
- 15 were RAF Of those known – four died in accidents, 1 or 2 Killed in action, 1 missing, 1 missing at sea, 1 ‘On active service’ and 1 following a medical operation
- 6 were Army Of those known – North France ’40, N Africa ’41, Burma ’44, Middle East
- 1 on secret war work (near Cambridge)
- + 1 ‘Captain’ but service not identified.
It is maybe not surprising that Cambridge did not supply many to the Royal or Merchant Navy. Cyril Hoare, on the Roll of Honour but not on Cambridge District returns, is an exception. As a stoker he died with all but three of the crew of HMS Hood in the North Atlantic battling the Bismarck in 1941. Records before the war record Scouts who ‘joined naval training ship’ and two from the 26th ‘in the Royal Navy’ or ‘in the navy’. (See also Evercircular Letters for a different view of numbers recorded)
None listed. It is possible that Merchant Navy service was not listed despite being requested. Prejudice existed about those in this role. It was not seen to be a fighting service, despite having the greatest risk of death of any service: a 1 in 3 chance of being killed.
From Bamboo Thumbsticks published in the 1940’s we have the observation ‘ranks of the three fighting forces and the Merchant Navy’ who were members of the Rover Crew.
The author’s father experienced this prejudice on joining the Merchant Navy at 16 in 1943.
No Bevin Boys were listed in the collection of war time service, but Harry P Thompson ASM of the 44th 1951 -1961, was recorded as having been a Bevin Boy when his legacy was recorded in the Grafton Street Gazette. The 44th Cambridge, Trumpington, did not reply to the enquiries about war time service. Bevin Boys wore no uniform and many experienced the same belief about dodging active service although the selection was based on the last digit of their National Insurance number.
No returns were made regarding Scouters in these services other than Mrs Cann. Mrs Cann, Lady Cub Master of the 26th died in 1940 following an illness contracted whilst a Red Cross Nurse. Her name was put forward by H G Cann on the 26th return but is not on the neater (second?) draft list in the files. Correspondence concerning this decision is not in the folder. It is not known if her name was forwarded to Gilwell.
The notion of an Officer Class was severely dented by the realities of the First World War. However, some level of education was necessary to pass the selection process and it is not surprising that Troops attached to schools that took students beyond compulsory attendance age provided the majority of the 139 commissions.
The Admiralty Y Scheme for entry into the navy was discussed at District meetings. The scheme was to generate sufficient technicians and officers and entrants required a school leaving certificate. The certificate was taken at 16 and most boys left school at 14.
The 7th County school provided 63 Officers from 200 Scouts and 9 Scouters. The 200 seems like an approximation but the 63 a very exact number.
The 60th Leys provided 49 Officers from 74 Scouts, Scouters and Rovers.
The 23rd provided 5 from 87 and most provided 1 or 2: both the 36th and the 65th providing 2 from the 2 Scouters listed as the only members of their Troops in the Services.
These returns can only suggest a real total and indicate rather than list all the types of work carried out during the war.
Please read the following letter from Mackrow SM of the 12th Cambridge to W T Thurbon District Secretary. Note the date Nov 22nd 1943, two weeks after El Alamein of which Churchill said “Now this is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
After the war, he wrote: “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat.”
JWR Archivist Feb 2019