Compass and Map Work

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Compass work was required to become a 1st class scout before map work became a requirement.  Combined compass and map work was required from 1936.

Compass work

Compass work very quickly proved to be easier than anticipated, the requirement shifting from 1st class test to a 2nd class test within a year. 

  • 1908    First Class Test.           Point out the direction of different points of the compass where he stands.
  • 1909    Second Class Test.       Know the sixteen principle points of the compass
  • 1939    Second Class Test.       Demonstrate the practical use of the compass and know the 16 principal points
  • 1946    Second Class Test.       Know the 16 points of a compass and how to set a map

Map work

  • 1909    First Class Test            Read a map correctly, and draw an intelligible rough sketch map.  Use a compass and point out a compass direction without the help of a compass
  • 1936 – 1956  First Class Test  Map Reading – Read and be able to use a 1-inch Ordnance Survey Map (or its local equivalent) and draw an intelligible rough sketch map.  Use a compass and point out a compass direction by day or night without the help of a compass

Cambridge Archives

Like much of the mechanics of navigation the practice is not often recorded.  The use on hikes and in competitions is assumed – scouts need to be able to read a compass to navigate: they didn’t get hopelessly lost:  therefore they had navigated adequately.

It may be that the use of a compass was not as soundly conditioned, or that the equipment was not available.  The two examples that follow are early in the history of Scouting.  Both the named Scouters had very good reputations as Scouts. 

1910                       R W Wright was a warranted SM and DSM working with the 9th Cambridge and his home troop in Duffield.  On ‘night operations’ with the Duffield troop (not Cambridge) it became extremely dark and foggy.  He went ahead to find a safe route.  Although he knew the district very well he took a false step and fell down the face of a quarry, dying of his injuries shortly after.

5th Cambridge    ‘On the first morning we decided to climb along a mountain ridge.  As we ascended the first mountain it gradually became colder and misty, until we could only see a few hundred yards.  By the time we were half way up, we had lost direction and path, and only the timely production of a compass by Mr Macfarlane Grieve saved us.  Thus we proceeded along the ridge, frozen and nearly blind, until eventually we reached camp, wet to the skin.

In 1910 it is possible that reading a compass was not yet generally a part of a Scouters skill set.  R W Wrights role as SM and DSM was possibly based on other criteria.

The second report is by a Scout and the timely production of a compass is given a gently dramatic presentation.  Whether this reflects the general concern of the moment or it is presented for conscious effect is unknown.  It can be read as if Mr. Macfarlane Grieve gave the Scouts enough ‘rope’ and stepped in with the compass both as a demonstration and a safety measure.  

The report may, however, suggest that only one compass was available to the expedition. A compass is expensive now and more so then.  In 1939 a bottom of the range compass was 19/- and a full prismatic compass £5 (Army and Navy Catalogue 1939 – 1940).

A hike report of 1947 records one compass bearing taken. This was to locate a gravestone of note in an unkempt field – they stumbled upon it after 12 paces. This reflects the lack of challenge in this piece of country. Unless it is dark, an ill defined route is hidden behind a gentle rise in the land or a particularly convoluted meeting of footpaths baffles it is generally not required.

In 1968 the active 11th/9th note that they need 5 Silva compasses, one for each patrol. This reads as if they have none, or rely on privately owned pieces.

5th Cambridge (Perse) c 1958/9

JWR Archivist Feb 2019