Scout ARP Messengers

Cambridge District Scout Archives

This review of the 1939 Census gives details of the Cambridge ARP Messengers of WW2.  In doing so it incidentally highlights the perceived role of Scouting and other Youth organisations in a time of crisis by the civil authorities.  To a lesser extent the recording of individual clerks reflects another range of attitudes.

As the following letter demonstrates the planning was nearly two months ahead of the formal Declaration of War. Many Civil Defence precautions had been initiated the previous year during the Munich Crisis. The lower age of 14 was later altered to 16 by IHQ.

1939 Census

The Census was completed on 29th September 1939, after the declaration of War.  It was used to issue ration cards and the ID Cards that everyone was required to carry and as such was very complete. Records of those born less than a hundred years ago and not known to be dead are not currently available (c. 10%).  Some of those who acted as messengers may therefore be omitted from this review.

The individual household compilers of the Census and those who transferred the details may have filtered out many of the nuances of the volunteer roles.  There was clearly no formal set of descriptions for roles and the many variations from each household return can be seen in transcribed records.  The amount of detail carried over also alters between clerks and as some sets are short of entries for ARP Messengers and many or all other roles these results should therefore be seen as indicative not absolute.

These records have been scanned.  ‘Scan’ here means quick review of each page, not a line by line check.  The sheer number of records, the variable handwriting and the marginal gain to the overall report did not warrant a more thorough analysis.

No records of continued Scout involvement in this role after this early date have yet been located.

ARP Boy Scout Messenger

A chance reference in Capturing Cambridge listed an inhabitant of Cottenham as ARP Boy Scout Messenger.

  • Ronald William Haynes          ARP Boy Scout Messenger                              14/1/23

 A scan of the records around 100,000 entries for Cambridge (not the surrounding areas) gives only five specifically labelled ‘Scout’:

  • Raymond J Motley      Scout Messenger Service Auxiliary Fire —(missing) 17/12/22
  • Kenneth Snelson         Boy Scout Messenger Corps                                       25/2/24
  • Maurice A C Wade     ARP Scout Messenger (+ A R Defence Cadet Corp)   29/3/23
  • Victor Peck                  Scout Messenger Service        (brother of)                 27/12/19
  • Albert Peck                  Scout Messenger Service        (brother of)                 3/12/20

The entry for Raymond Motley is Auxiliary Fire Service, not ARP, although a considerable number of later amendments do exist in the records and this may be a misreading by the transcribing clerk.

A 1940, before they moved t Scotland, an entry in the Leys magazine Scout report states briefly ‘McKnight is an ARP Messenger‘. Although the Leys took boarders some were local boys.

A 1941 report from the large and active 12th Cambridge records ‘In the Troop 10 Senior Scouts are in the Messenger Service, 5 in the Air Training Corps and 2 are Fire Watchers’ which gives a very clear notion of the greater numbers involved and an indication that the service carried on beyond the initial anxieties of 1939.

Messenger Service

Sixty four (64) other examples of ARP Messengers/ Messenger Corps/ Messenger Boy/ variations without the identification ‘Scout’ have also been located. An entry in the 11th Cambridge archives states that there were 90 ‘Scout’ messengers in Cambridge but this was not enough.

The assumption is that, for some at least, the ‘Scout’ part of the title was omitted by parent or transcribing clerk.  It is possible that the individual messenger, although volunteering as a Scout, had transferred, as many did, to a directly active service and no longer claimed the title.  Such transfers caused a great deal of concern within Scouting but, as the DC at the time remarked, this was an appropriate response in the circumstances.

The following have been identified as Scouts from other sources:

  • Donald Frank Elsden ARP Messenger Donald was a Scout, probably with the 12th Cambridge which met behind the Portland Arms, his home, above the old stables. He was was called up in August 1939 ‘just before his 20th birthday’ (b 18/8/1919) and presumably awaiting formal joining instructions as the Census was nominally completed on the 29th September. (Information via Lois Elsden his daughter 31/5/2021) A gap between call up and joining up of several weeks was not unusual.
  • Kenneth A Taylor ARP Messenger Kenneth was living at 5 Primrose Street, Cambridge in 1939. A ‘K-A Taylor of 6 Primrose Road’ is listed as SM Senior Scouts 12th Cambridge in a post war list of leaders of unclear date. There is no Primrose Road in Cambridge.

The sample does give an age range for ARP Messengers, largely being born between 27/12/19 and 13/6/1923, that is between 16 and 20; most between 16 and 18.  Six fall significantly outside this age range, being older, born between 1891 and 1917.  The only two specifically labelled ARP Night Messengers were born in 1906 and 1910.

A partial review of South Cambridgeshire has identified two (2) ARP messengers. This does no more than identify that it was not a ‘town only’ role. Neither have been identified as scouts.

Youth Organisations

ARP Messengers were locally recruited from Boy Scouts and a number of other youth organisations, notably the Boys Brigade; however, no other youth organisation is mentioned as messengers.  The only other pre war youth organisation mentioned in the records is the Girl Guide Cadet Corps, the one entry being

  • Jean ? J B Spangler (nee Bannerman)            5/7/17

The role of this organisation is not clear from this entry.  No girls are recorded as messengers in any role.  Guides are recorded as messengers elsewhere in Britain.

Cadet services attached to ARP and elsewhere are occasionally mentioned, but the roles are War Time specific and the organization unclear.  Neither Scouts nor Scouters were listed as a voluntary organization available for emergencies.  The pre Service ACF, SCC and ATC were very rarely listed – there is one entry ‘Junior OTC (Perse)’.

The lack of identified Scoutmasters or other Youth organisation leaders in these lists of War time volunteer roles suggests that they were not routinely entered in the books whatever was entered on the individual household forms.  One SM has been identified by researchers as GSM 26th (Zion) but was not listed as such in the census. 

  • Horace G F Cann (b. 24.2.1902) was recorded as ‘ARP Messenger Service’.  No indication is given as to whether he held an oversight role for Boy Scout Messengers or was himself an active messenger. 

Other Voluntary Roles

As at least thirty different bodies were listed this suggests that equal worth was given to the ARP Messengers although they were generally under 18.  Scouting in general was not seen as a Martial or Emergency Force to be recorded for further coordination.  See below for a partial list of other voluntary roles recorded.


We know of six ‘Scout’ Messengers and of sixty four others, two of whom we know were Scouts at the time of signing up, the title being dropped by parent of transcribing clerk. Others were very likely to have been scouts.  No other Youth organization is named and no girls as messengers.  The role was given worth being recorded alongside many other voluntary roles.  Scouting and Scouters were not recorded not being considered as existing or potential martial or emergency services.

JWR Archivist May 2021

Some Volunteer Roles

This is an incomplete list of some apparently different roles given (not just variations of name)

  • ARP      Warden
  • ARP      Messenger Service
  • ARP      Demolition and Rescue
  • ARP      Decontamination
  • ARP      Gas Mains/ Works
  • ARP      (Works or College)
  • ARP      Telephonist
  • ARP      First Aid
  • ARP      Explosives Unit
  • Massage Corps
  • Pacifist Service Corps
  • Women’s Legion
  • WVS
  • AFS/NFS (Auxiliary/ National Fire Service)
  • Special Constable
  • British Red Cross
  • St John’s Ambulance
  • Ambulance Driver
  • Observer Corps
  • Meat registration
  • Blood Transfusion
  • Rescue Squad
  • First Aid Party
  • Army Reserve
  • AA (Anti aircraft/ Automobile A?)
  • Retired/ Reserve ex Services
  • Stretcher Bearer
  • Civil Defence
  • Civil Defence Despatch rider
  • Nursing Register
  • Friendly Visitor
  • Evacuees / Billeting

Some are also listed as ‘Heavy Worker’, including one 18 year old ARP Messenger.  Despatch Riders differed from messengers by being older and presumably owning a motorbike.