Not Marching

Cambridge District Scout Archives

All discussions concerning Marching, including this one, must strive to differentiate the act of parading in step (marching) and moving past a point in a review (a march past), which maybe just walking.  For some any march assumes that they will be in step.  A ‘route march’ on the other hand assumes no such regimented step and is outside this discussion.

Military Overtones

Marching and Drill now carry strong overtones of military formality. Before the Great War orderliness in carrying out a physical task reflected a well trained team. The praise for the Smart Drill of the Peace Scouts, below, suggests as much. Learning by rote was standard training both in the less imaginative schools and generally with manual tasks. Disorderly practices were dangerous when tasks involved physical labour, as so many did, or new technology.

It is of note that the Drill class, whose funds were transferred to the 55th Cambridge, failed and Scouting took its place. Similarly the 1909 Church Lads Brigade of St John’s, New Cherry Hinton, also practiced and gained praise for drill. They too stuttered and stopped in 1910 whilst the newer approach of Scouting stuttered and stuck.

The quotes below suggest that if it was a ‘thorny old problem’ no clear resolution was reached that persisted through the years.

National views

1929                From Scouting and Youth Movements           Baden Powell

‘The aim of the Boy scout movement is to make good citizens…’ ‘I do not think this can be done through “Form Fours”.’

‘The simple system of drill which is suggested for Boy scouts is merely given in order to enable Scoutmasters to move their Troops and Patrols in good order for parade purposes and not as an exercise for frequent practice with the boys when other occupations are possible.  When I see a Troop drill well but fail to follow a trail or cook its own food I recognise that the Scoutmaster is not much good as such.’        Chapter VII: Is Scouting a Military Movement?

1943                The Scouter of March 1943 encouraged smartness and orderly operation in getting into position for trek cart operations but strongly discouraged ‘excessive drill’ as the fallback of unimaginative leaders.  Marching, yes, but minimal instruction.

1989 POR        Marching is described in Rule 94 only to require traffic pickets.  Rule 96 states Beaver Scouts do not march but may take part in informal parades.  Marching is not defined.

Cambridge Archives

1911 1st Cambridge (Histon) British Boy Scouts (Peace Scouts). This large breakaway movement was concerned that the Baden Powell Boy scouts (as it was known) was too militaristic. Nevertheless, when reviewed by its Chief Scout, Sir Francis Vane, it was praised by him for ‘smart drill’.

1912                5th  Cambridge                        ‘On Empire Day the troop marched past and saluted the flag with the school contingent of the OTC’.

This is the one photograph to show clearly Scouts marching in step. Between the wars, the photograph of the 5th Cambridge was taken on camp and, strongly from context, the troop was on the way to keep fit session.

1932                55th Cambridge           The troop started in 1932 with 4/7 from the Drill class and a donation of 5/5 – making ten shillings.  It is possible that the Drill class morphed into the Scout troop.  There is no evidence of a continued focus on drill in the troop.

1937                Coronation                   ‘A torchlight procession of 200 preceded by figure marching by the 5th (Perse)’            Report of AGM in paper clipping form District records

1939 13th Cambridge logs report Marching Drill early in this year. These full reports do not carry Marching as a frequent entry.

1960’s              District Minutes          The St Georges Day parade was often accompanied by a band and described as a march past

            1962    Scouts March past Cubs watch from Market Square

            1963    The offer to the Cubs to march (with the band) was turned down by CL’s.  Troops will march in columns of three

            1964 instructions added ‘although it is understood that some (Scouts) do not want to take part.’

1977                Cambridge Scout Gazette       ‘At… Activities Sub Committee that thorny old problem of Marching or walking at St George’s Day parade was looked at.  After some discussion the Committee was of the opinion that it could not recommend it due to the fact that we do not teach our boys to march and to do this takes a long time and expertise.  I speak from experience as a drill instructor’.

The author of this piece is unknown. The long term District Secretary and DC, Howard Mallet, became CSM in his Great War but showed no sign of any predisposition to continue parade ground practices exists after the war.


The quotes from 1929 and 1977 neatly bracket the discussion.  Marching to military standards cannot be achieved within the time available to Scouts without a significant loss of other training.   Marching in step does not make good citizens.

JWR Archivist