Evercircular Letters: Introduction

Cambridge District Scout Archive

During the Second World War the Scouts and Rovers of the 23rd Cambridge (St Matthews) Scout Troop wrote to each other in a number of Evercircular letters.

The idea is not unique to Cambridge or the 23rd Cambridge. The 11th Cambridge maintained a separate correspondence and a magazine (Adventurers Only) for all those over 16 within the troop and in the forces. The 11th did not have a large Rover Crew and overlapped with the 23rd, but did maintain a strong Troop spirit. The only other reference I have come across is mention of a letter in The Scouter of Sept 1941 p 150.

A report to the Cambridge District AGM of December 4th 1940 tells of the ‘12th Cambridge bulletins of local news to all men on the forces until the Blitzkrieg‘ and that these were ‘generally appreciated and it is hoped that it will be possible to recommence them.’ No known copies remain of the 12th letters.

Evercircular letters are between young men, with ages of about 18 – 40. They were originally collected individual letters but these became disorganized and the first of the Dunkirk notebooks was used as a replacement in November 1940. It is these that survive. The correspondents are all Scouts, Rovers, Old Scouts and leaders, and the Scouting attitudes and behaviours are strongly reflected in the entries. The correspondence echoes the social politeness of the era without being unduly formal. The letters are unusual in that they are not between people in one regiment or battle and are not to family with the tendency to reassure. They are experiences of friends placed where the military puts them, not boasting nor damning those doing their bit outside the services, or who are unfit or fall into illness, but mutually supportive of the struggles they were all experiencing.

The letters were coordinated by W T Thurbon (Bill) and included Fred Feary, who having been severely injured in WW1 was not eligible for call up.  Ken North, connected with the 13th but now largely working in the Equipment Store (Scout Shop), was included in the Narvik patrol.  Such support of members in the forces by a Group was strongly encouraged by the Scout Association.

Separate letters were also passed between individuals.  The flow of information clearly indicates these other lines of communication and specific reference to ‘owing letters’ is confirmation.

13th Cambridge A strong link with the 13th Cambridge is found in the correspondents; Ken North (ASM), A J Covell (SM), Mr R E Loades (SM), Syd Odom (SM), Mervyn Thompson are all mentioned in 13th records.

Cambridge Scouts Boat Club A number of the correspondents were active members of the Boat Club (a body believed to be unique within Scouting). A S Oliver (No 7 and Bow), W H Wolfe, E W Carter, Fred Feary, and H Thaxter all rowed in the Town Bumps for the Scouts. Other names mentioned in the Evercircular letters also participated or had family members – P German, not a common name, W H Nunn and M Cousins in the crew. Some named in the letters were also part of the pre war Cambridge Gang Shows.

From 1936 leaders list we have, from the 23rd:

  • GSM Fred Feary (Frederick William T)
  • SM W H D Wolfe (William)
  • ASM L A Chapman
  • ASM E W Carter
  • ASM C E Tatham
  • CM T Germany (Thomas)
  • ACM A E Sansom (Arthur Edgar)
  • RSL W T Thurbon (William)

and from the 13th:

  • GSM A J Covell
  • ASM H A Wright
  • CM Miss F M Clarke
  • ACM D Gentle

Narvik, Dunkirk and Crete or Cats

The two original Patrols are named Narvik and Dunkirk.  In April 1941 following the growth of the number of correspondent’s a third was started but no examples remain nor is it known if the name Crete, proposed by Bill (WTT) in the June letter (below), was adopted.  The name CATS was once later quoted. At this point the ‘Brains Trust’ was also identified, a group unlikely to be sent abroad and who were W T Thurbon, Fred Feary and A J Covell. These three participated in all three Evercirculars from this point. The Padre (Rev Tribe) also refers to being involved in all the Evercirculars.

19th June 1941

One reference to an Overseas Evercircular as CATS is found in August 1942 with one of WTTs unattributed quotes:

‘I’m the cat that walks by myself and all places are alike to me’.  (It is Kipling)

No ‘Crete’ or ‘Cats’ letters remain, it is not clear that they are the same.

The groups are later described as ‘Lone Patrols’, a standing term for isolated Groups unable to participate in District events.

See: Structure/ Sections/ Lone Scouts and Lone Patrols

Fading away

The last remaining letters diminish into uninspired reportage. The young Cambridge men have moved out into other experiences and their focus has moved beyond Scouting. The good old times in the Den were only to be reached through the fight ahead. Many had gone overseas, out of the loop, and as the war got busier those at home may have even less time. The loss of some volumes will have also broken the flow. The real reason may have been that it had done its job. The many correspondents who I have identified as returning to Scouting after the war is the measure.

It should be remembered that Scouting had been prohibited in the Axis states and some leading Scouters executed.

The Evercircular letters in the Cambridgeshire Collection were the only known copies.  The envelope held within the library wrappings specifically states ‘Surviving Evercirculars’ and that they were ‘Circulated by members of the 23rd Cambridge Scouts serving in the Armed Forces between 1939 and 1944’. 

As of November 2021 two early volumes of the Dunkirk patrol were forwarded to the Cambridge District Scout Archive by Richard Haynes, the nephew of William Wolf.

JWR Archivist Sept 2019