Rover Crew in the Forces

Cambridge District Scout Archive

This page looks at the few references from the Cambridge District Archives of Rover activity in the Armed Forces.  In particular of Arthur Thurlow who joined the RAF in 1946.

Rover Crew were present before 1939. RAF Museum London holds a 1931 record card for Hawkes or Hawker Crew, RAF Cranwell.

Between the years of 1939 and November 1960 young men were liable to be conscripted into the British Armed Forces.  During the Second World War the ages were between 18 and 51, dropping after the war to 18 to 21.  There were exclusions for health or specialist work or social responsibilities eg the blind, clergy and lighthouse keepers, married women. Women between the ages of 20 and 30 were also called up during the war.

Without the fleur de lys button hole badge, surely not permitted on Military uniforms (see Awards, Badges and Insignia/ Button Hole Badge) identification of fellow scouts was initially through observing the skills and competencies of those around you.

Note: Bamboo Thumbsticks, a record of Rover Crew of WW2 in India and the Far East, suggests that Scout belts and wristlets were frequently used to identify other Scouts.

Wristlet: Not Cambridge collection

In the first busyness of training and with the advent of posting there was rarely time or energy to form permanent Crew.  The Army in particular physically relocated detachments on a regular basis, in strong contrast to the RAF.  Those in the Royal Navy were, by its nature, peripatetic but the Deep Sea Scouts were a pre existing organisation.

Permanent Military bases and long term postings were necessary for the formation of a Crew – with a high degree of turnover and irregular attendance a fixed place around which to operate was the minimum starting point for a Crew.  The Scouting leaflet ‘The Forces Bulletin’ reports Rover Crews ‘in Exile’.  The one copy in the Cambridge Archives from March 1944 gives addresses in Alexandria, Eritrea, Tripoli, Gibraltar (two Crews and a Deep Sea Scout Crew), Malta, Persia, Palestine, Sudan and Aden.  An all ranks Crew from Canada is also named. (See Local History/WW1 WW2/ The Forces Bulletin).  It is of note that these ‘Crews in Exile’ were in areas that remained as static bases for long periods of time.

From the Ever Circular letters between Cambridge Rovers (23rd and 13th) dispersed by the war we have a few references to Rover Crew forming amongst Scouts who were coincidently deployed together.  ‘Nobby found a Crew in Aden’.  (See Evercircular letters)

From a 1944 Middle East Rover Scout Newsletter (not archives) three crews were listed in Iraq in February 1944, one in Habbaniyah and two in Basrah. A 1st Baghdad (Service) Crew is started in May 1944 with an Allenby and a Lawrence patrol. Eric Cooper and Nobby Clark are listed as ‘mates’; Nobby is far too common a name and nickname to do more than record the fact – we cannot absolutely connect him with the Cambridge ‘Clark’. Other Crew mentioned as publishing newsletters are 1st Adriatric, an International Crew in North Africa, 2nd Gib (Service) Crew and ‘The Tripoli scouter’.

RAF Museum, London, has details of the 3rd Ceylon (Services) Rover Crew formed on 29th June 1944. Twelve were present of which two ‘though having no past experience expressed a desire to see something of the work of a crew’. The BBC ‘WW2 Peoples War’ recollections one of which was of a Crew was formed in El Gedida in Jan 1944.

British Forces remained deployed throughout the world after 1945.  The static bases and a more regular role facilitated the growth of leisure activities for the troops.  This job was often delegated to the Forces chaplains.

In 1946 the Leys school Rover Crew recorded ‘we say goodbye to Rover Lucas who goes to RA Catterick and will join the Service Rover Crew there.’

The Rover Crew named in Bamboo Thumbsticks (India and further East) were largely based in temporary military establishments. Following the war most crew and the overseeing organization disbanded having ‘served its purpose’, and Crew once more centred on permanent establishments.

1947 Field Commissioner for Cambridge, D A Dudley, mentions the possible involvement of members of a crew from ‘Watton drome’ in a District competition. Watton was an active RAF and USAF base in SW Norfolk.

In 1954 the names of three Rovers currently based at RAF Duxford were forwarded to County Sec Patrick Duff. It was proposed that they worked at Whittlesford.

Scouts in the Forces

Not named as a ‘crew’ the 11th Cambridge invited five Scouts or Scouters who had been billeted on West Road to join them in a camp c 1939/1941. The 11th met in West Road and would have been quite visible.

Arthur Thurlow’s Tale

The following tale is told through the scrapbook of Arthur Thurlow, Kings Scout and Rover of the 13th Cambridge, who joined the RAF in 1946.  No commentary is attached to these pieces of personal memorabilia.  Arthur attended the Whitsun 1946 Peace Rally at Gilwell before his ‘call up’ and was with the 13th Cambridge at Summer Camp.

Arthur Tenderfoot 1939

November 1946 the Chaplain was asking permission for Members of the Yatersbury Station Rover Crew to return late. Both Yatesbury and Melksham (below) taught Radar and Radio operators and were largely technical training schools.

Nov 1946

A standard Membership Card for the Melksham All Services Rover Scout Crew

Part of BAOR (British Army on the Rhine) this Zonal Rally from March 1948 lists a Lt Colonel as Camp Chief and both a Major and a Captain as Camp Staff. The host Crew was O2B Rover Crew.

The Boy Scouts Association British Scouts in Germany

The reference to Broadcast Service suggests that it was transmitted to bases throughout the BAOR.

In March 1948 he is buying Scout posters, his address being Instrument Section, Band (or Rand), RAF Gutersloh, BAOR

Little can be deduced after this date; a civilian Rover Moot in Croydon in 1950 and an indirect link to the Forest School which might suggest that he became a teacher after he was demobbed. Clearly he kept strong enough links to the 13th Cambridge to donate this scrapbook.

Local Groups

In the two Cambridge Groups most closely associated with military bases, the 32nd (RAF later RE Waterbeach) and 56th Long Stanton (RAF Oakington), from the period 1954 to an unspecified date possibly around 1968 between 50 and 60% of the leaders had addresses on the bases. In the case of the 56th the village/ base mix was initially heavily weighted to the RAF personnel but the GSM were always village based and increasingly leaders came from the village.

JWR Archivist Feb 2020