John Murrish

Cambridge District Scout Archive

John Morrish MA attended Fitzwilliam Hall, graduating in 1911, and become a teacher.  He was a Scout Master with the 10th Cambridge and the founder of the 12th Cambridge in 1911, which stemmed from the 10th.   It is as John Morrish that he is listed as a leader with the 10th Cambridge in 1911.

Cambridge Rally 1913 SM J Murrish Scouter left hand side back row (as viewed)

Before 1915 John Morrish changed his name to John Murrish.  The reason for the change is unclear but early letters are addressed to Morrish and the Cambridge University War List has ‘J Morrish, see Murrish’. 

1915 John was in communication with Elwes of the Headquarters Gazette in 1915 on the topic of the retention of older boys. He was advised to write a letter for publication to initiate a flow of ideas.

1915 DSM CT Wood wished to propose John as ADSM, and sought his support when calling a District wide SM meeting, naming his experience significant. In the same year the District Sec, the very significant AJB Green, also gave him great praise. When it was known that he was seeking a Commission C T Wood wrote ‘I am afraid to think what the results will be to scouting in Cambridge if you go of with a Commission’.

1916 A scrapbook of the 12th Cambridge in the Cambridgeshire Collection has a number of ‘Scout News’ columns published in the local newspaper under the tag of Wolverine.  John was the author of these pieces. His discussions with Ernest Thompson Seton (below) involved a tale concerning a Wolverine. In a 1916 letter from the DC Professor Gardiner the columns are referred to, the DC writing ‘I think the Columns are of great service’ and suggesting that they should be more widely used. It is also suggested that an unspecified document may be given coverage in the columns. He did offer the columns to The Scouter, who declined them as unshaped source material but was open to John working them up into finished copy. John was invited to answer to the District for some remarks made as ‘Wolverine’ in the public press (March 1916), but as he was later asked to take up District roles his responses were presumably accepted.

Co founder and coordinator of the Cambridge Red Feather Brigade alongside SM Copplestone of the 6th John Murrish later received his own Red Feather.

See Scouts Defense Corps

Report by DC C T Wood on 1916 Night exercise

1916 A letter remains from the DC which congratulates John on a positive outcome from a tribunal at HQ. This was after the departure of Aubrey Westlake and presumably relating to his work for the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry. In John’s scrapbook (Cambridgeshire Collection) he has retained a pamphlet concerning a fund raising event for the 5th Cambridge District, the Troop run by Aubrey, and he is invited to collect awards for Scouts of the 5th that were to have gone via Aubrey.

1916 – 1919    Murrish joined up in 1916, the year when conscription started; in January for single men, July for married men. Teachers, however, were exempt from conscription, and his acceptance delayed as he had changed his name. He was a Lieutenant in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and Royal Engineers (Field Survey Bn.) whom he approached directly through Arthur Quiller Couch. Sir Arthur was King Edward VII Professor of English Literature and Fellow of Jesus College from 1912 and clearly known to John.  Sir Arthur was one of the two men who raised the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry 10th Btn. (Cornwall Pioneers). He was informed that he would need to spend sometime in the ranks before getting a commission. John’s entry in the Cambridge University War List also records that he was wounded, but not how.

1919                He was back in Cambridge in 1919/1920 and continued to be involved and supportive of the 12th Cambridge and active at District level (see below). 

On his return from war he studied applied psychology.

During this time that from his old College the Fitzwilliam Hall Amateur Dramatic Society performed a fundraiser for the troop.

1921                He left the District in 1921 to take up a head masters role at Springfield School, Moseley Birmingham.  The local paper records this as Springfield College, but this is probably a mistake for Springfield (primary school), College Road, Moseley.

1932 Presented with Thanks Badge by the 12th on the occasion of their 21st anniversary

1939 Listed in the Census as living in Cambridge as a retired schoolmaster.

1944                John donated a window to All Saint Church, Cambridge (See page ‘Stained glass Scout’) which depicts a Scout in the troop scarf of the 12th Cambridge.

He died on the 3rd September 1965 and is buried in the All Saints portion of Mill Road Cemetery Cambridge alongside his wife and mother in law.

John and Ernest Thompson Seton

From the Cambridgeshire Collection a letter of 1913 exists from Ernest Thompson Seton to ‘Scoutmaster’.   ‘To Scoutmaster John Morrish’ can be seen below the signature.  It mentions the story of Wolverine and asks him not to publish it ahead of his own story.

See Ernest Thompson Seton under Elsewhere for full letter and an attempted reading

John and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry

At some point c 1915 John was introduced to Aubrey Westlake (Cambridge student and joint founder of OWC) who was acting as SM for the 5th Cambridge District (Trumpington).  In 1915 and 1916 John was involved in the development of the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, a Woodcraft based alternative to Baden Powell’s Boy Scouts.  The OWC was, in particular, opposed to what they perceived as growing militarism within Scouting.  Aubrey Westlake called John a friend and ‘a remarkable individual’.  It is Murrish who introduced Westlake to the ideas of Ernest Thompson Seton.

John was in communication with the Oxford educationalists Edmond G A Holme (Oxford HMI) and Professor J J Findlay (Manchester) about his ideas for a greater focus on the outdoors and chivalry. Letters exist in the Cambridgeshire Collection. E G A Holme refers to the New Ideal Committee (New Ideals in Education periodical) to whom the ideas will be presented but J J Findlay talks rather of ‘woodcraft, yes’ but also need for elements of advancement and industry, being in a rather rougher environment of industrial Manchester.

Aubrey was training to be a Doctor; it was John with a greater experience of Scouting and of Education who wrote the paper Aubrey delivered to the Central Education Committee of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in November 1915.

From Edgell’s history of the Order we have ‘In fact Aubrey was apprehensive about the invitation and the paper he read before the gathered assembly was actually written for him by Murrish.  A few years later he was to admit that Murrish at this moment in time had been ’the inspiring force’ and that without him ‘I should have done nothing’. 

‘In the first instance the (Order of Woodcraft Chivalry) Council consisted of Ernest (Westlake), Aubrey (Westlake), Robert Parker, (Aubrey’s old Cambridge colleague), John Murrish and Spencer Smith.’

‘Whilst the executive “gained” … it also lost a great deal by the departure of other people, particularly Murrish.  Indeed the Westlake’s were so worried for a time that the OWC might not survive the loss of Murrish that they spoke to the order having to await his return before things could progress in the manner they wanted.  As it turned out this was never to happen, although quite why it did not is difficult to say.  Whilst there is some record of Murrish engaging in woodcraft activities with the OWC in 1919, that is the last that is known of him.’

John is the only person I have identified as being amongst the ‘leading members of Cambridgeshire Scouting’ that the OWC histories suggest were instrumental in the breakaway.  It is interesting that he was immediately brought back into the 12th Cambridge and asked to take on a District role on his return from the war.  This suggests that the effect of the OWC was less than they would have liked; that John’s part was not understood locally or that he was such an important player that he was welcomed or enticed back and forgiven. 

See the page on Order of Woodcraft Chivalry: Cambridge Connections

Cambridge Archive


12th. (Milton Road)  The 12th are simply great in outdoor operations as they always were: who can forget their wading through the mud in Quy water, deluged with soil from the bags of gold on their backs! But they need to remember that we expect a high standard of them in all Scoutcraft, including elementary Second Class work. We congratulate them on getting Mr. Murrish back: their summer camp at Wimpole seems to have been typical of pre-war days.             Reveille 1920

THE Senior Scouts’ Club has been closed this autumn, till we could find a new Supervisor. We are glad to say that S.M. J. Murrish has consented to undertake the work, and hopes to open it in January. Scouts of 15 and over (and all P.L’s. of 13 and oval, who are full members of any Troops may join the Club by paying 1/6 a year. Reveille 1920

Mr. Murrish is also going to run a Senior Scout Troop at the Albert for those who do not belong to any other Troop. They must be at least 15 years old, or have left school. We hope that it will be a great success, and that the Albert may become a real Scoutcraft Centre for Cambridge. Members of the Senior Club will be entitled to attend the Socials on Saturday evenings, as well as a certain number of classes, etc., which the Senior Troop hopes to throw open to them.             Reveille 1920

Proposed that he organise a Cambridge Troop for the Jubilee in London.

1944/5          Donated £100 to the (Adventurer) boat fund

1947                Twelve months ago, when landing craft were offered for sale to the public, the 12th Cambridge Scout Group bought one, and under the direction of their Scoutmaster, Mr W.A. Mackrow, they set to work with a will to convert it for troop use. On Saturday the result of their hard work and skill – a trim looking and extremely comfortable seaworthy craft was named the “Adventurer”. Founder of the troop in 1911, its first Scoutmaster – and a staunch supporter ever since – Mr J. Murrish performed the ceremony, which took place at Peterhouse boat yard.      c47 04 08 Mike Petty

John Murrish anointing the bows of the Adventurer with champagne

John Murrish is still remembered by the Scouters in his Group who are blessed by having access to a several scrapbooks and many records of past events.

John Morrish 1913

JWR Archivist July 2019