Retention: Pre Service Units

Cambridge District Scout Archive

This page focusses on the on move of boys from Scouts to the Pre Service Units, largely in War time. The information is largely from schools where various cadet corps were in place. No information exists to shows the movement from Scouting to Reservist units, Home Guard or indeed direct into military service.


Schools with an Officer Training Corps (OTC) had a pre existing organisation that superficially had the same role as scouting.

Cambridge Archives

1914    The 5th Cambridge (Perse) had a rule in 1914 that Scouts over the age of 14 in the September must leave for the Officer Training Corps.  It is not clear if this rule was initiated following the onset of the Great War but concern expressed at the time about the effect on the troop suggested that it was a new rule. However, the Troop was clear that it did prepare boys in some way for the experience of OTC.  ‘The OTC will feel grateful… for many a smart young recruit when he leaves the scout troop for the Corps.’ By 1918 it had become less absolute. Frank Carr (see Individuals) was camping with the Troop as PL aged 15.

1924    5th Cambridge ‘The majority of the PL’s who joined the OTC have become Rovers’           The Troop had sixteen patrols at this time. The inhouse rules were initially that P/Ls could stay on for another year with the Troop and that Rovers started at 15. This joining age soon moved to 17. Associations of Old Scouts was formed to feed the Roves but this does not appear to have been successful.

1942    5th Cambridge             A Perse Annual Display traced the progress of a Scout from 10 to 17.  The requirement to move on to the OTC was presumably no longer in place.


The loss of older scouts or leakage has been a concern from the start of scouting.  During the initial phases of the 1939 – 1945 war the movement to pre service units and home defence units was clear cut.   Most schools did not have Officer Training Corp and for most troops this shift was a new experience.

Scouting was very aware of the coupon free uniform available to Army Cadet Force, Sea Cadet Corps and Air Training Corps.  Many appeals for coupons for Scout uniform were made, none successful.  Pre service units were also exempt from Fire Guard and other duties.

Comments made by officers on the merit of Scouts over the more directly linked pre service units were recycled. 

‘And yet give me Boy Scouts every time.  Resourcefulness and Trustworthiness are two things I can use a lot of with my men and I find the old Scouts stand out.  Wish I had more.’                                   Officer Canadian Active Service Force’ quoted in The Scouter May 1940

‘Armed Forces reports testify to qualities of recruits who have been Scouts’                                                          Mid-Cambridge Minutes c.1942

The Scouts initiated three responses to this shift to pre service units during the war. 

  • Initially they investigated having Scout Cadet Units and Scout Flights as adjuncts to the ACF and ATC.  Neither of these gained momentum.  The lines of responsibility are not found in the District Archives and the quote below suggests a lack of agreement between the Army and the Scout Association.  No names were received for the proposed Scout Flight.
  • The Scouts started Air Scouts
  • The War Service Scouts were started with older,  wholly scout based patrols that worked with the Home Guard.

The Boy Scouts Association eventually introduced Air Scouts in 1941 and
War Service Scouts in March 1942

The national registration of 16 and 17 year old boys and girls was announced in January 1942.

‘Following a County Commissioner Conference in 1942 the Chief Scout decided as a war time measure, to introduce a special section of Scouting for boys between fifteen and eighteen known as War Service Patrols.  The Section was open to Scouts and Rovers as well as newcomers and was designed to make them feel that they were in line with those in the Service Sponsored Cadet Corps.  A programme of activities was built up to prepare their members for war service.

Before investiture a boy had to pass an initial test and the subsequent training covered the following: campaigning; health and endurance training, including unarmed combat; exploring including mapping and compass work; observation and reporting; communications, including signalling; the scouts Civil Defence Badge and its subjects; Air Raid precautions including First Aid and Anti Gas training: simple training in drill and the use of weapons; any existing badge tests he desired to take.

The Scouts was expected to undertake some form of practical war service work such ah as helping with a Scout Troop or Cub Pack, Civil Defence messenger work, fire fighting, salvage work or some other form of service…’

From B-P’s Scouts and Official History

The last two years of the war had a considerable growth back into Scout numbers.  War Service Scouts were absorbed into the new Senior Scouts.

Cambridge Archives

1941                ‘My Scout training came in very useful when I was put into the Unit Defence Corps (really like the Civilian Home Guard).When we had map reading I virtually took  over from my sergeant as I knew far more about the subject than he did!  I did attend a local Scout concert…, but it was not up to Cambridge standards!’             Ken North 1978

1941                February          ATC      ‘DC reported no names had been received so there was no possibility of forming a Scout Flight’                                     District Minutes         

1941                May     12th Troop was taking up Air Scouting            District Minutes

From Evercircular between 23rd Rover Crew on Active Service 1940/41

1942                Suggestion of formation of Scout Cadet Unit.

1942                Although ’sufficient replies had he received to justify formation of a Scout Unit it had proved impossible to come to terms with Colonel Grace.’    District Minutes

1942    DC       ‘Thought that the 17 – 18 year olds would go to the ‘pre service’ units but this trend should not be regarded as necessarily disappointing in the present circumstances.’         H Mallett DC                                     District Minutes

1942                Branch of Sea Cadets being formed in Cambridge.

1942                ‘War Service Patrols 1 & 2 registered (both Technical School) and WSP in 11th, 12th, 13th, 26th, 54th, 64th     Numbers given were 7th/10, 11th/6, 12th/15, 13th/6, 26th/10, 54th/6, 64th/1  totalling  54                 AGM    These early returns do not match the formal census returns.

1942                Plans for co-operation with Home Guard were noted in District Minutes and in June 3 War Service Scout camped with the Home Guard.

1942                Rex Hazelwood IHQ Commissioner, involved in Post War Scouting and War Service Scouts, was to attend Cambridge and his involvement in both ‘was a reason to attend his visit’.

1942                Mr Bennett’s ‘Company of the Home Guard was anxious to help WS Patrols’                                                                                                         District Minutes

1943                Agreement for co-operation with ATC reached                     District Minutes

1943                Pre service units also exempt from Fire Guard and other duties.

1943                On 26th and 27th June 1943 a camp for 21 War Service Scouts held a camp in Hemingford Grey.  It was a ‘sporting weekend’ with Scouts attending from the 13th, 64th, 54th, 29th/42nd, and 12th Cambridge along with 61st Huntingdon.

1943                AGM reported that the War Service Patrols had been very active ‘helping in harvest and training in field craft and assault courses.’

1944                Packs have waiting lists

1944                Sept – Declining interest   Oct – Only 13th now interested in War Service Scouts

1945                No War Service Scouts were listed in Cambridge in 1945; no clear transfer to Senior Scout Patrols has been identified.

1950                Whilst concerned that an Empire Youth Sunday parade was the centre of the event rather than the service the District were also concerned that Pre Service Units should march separately from the Voluntary Youth organisations.


No census was taken in 1939.  1942 is a part record and may omit Air and Sea Scouts.  The records include Rovers, Scouters etc in the District totals on the bottom line.  In 1948 the numbers are bolstered by the absorption of 52 from Mid Cambs district.

The numbers of Scouts clearly dropped significantly between 1938 and 1940.  The drop in Cubs suggests that some of the decline is attributable to loss of leaders and Groups.  There were 20 troops in 1938, 16 in both 1943 an 1945.  The balance between children evacuated from the town and into the town is unclear.


DC Howard Mallett’s observation of 1942 is a point of clarity.  For all the concern voiced the response of boys to the concerns of the moment was but a temporary shift to the martial.  The post war rebound, which tapered back after 1948, demonstrated the public belief in Scouting for the long term. 

WTT 1943 quoted Kipling in a report on Association census numbers. He left it unattributed as was his way.

‘for the Young Men’s feet are turning to the camps of proved desires and known delight’.

(Kipling  The feet of Young Men 1897)

JWR Archivist Jan 2019