Scout Scarves: A Cambridge history

Cambridge District Scout Archives

Baden-Powell’s first description of the ideal outfit for Scouts was barely uniform.  It was a practical set of clothing for the outdoors and included a coloured handkerchief tied loosely around the neck.  He wanted nothing showy but that the colour of the neckerchief should be the colour of the patrol.  By 1911 this had changed to the colour of the Troop, which should be of one colour.


The original scarves were likely to be square, as were handkerchiefs or neckerchiefs but this is not specified.  The triangular cut came later, presumably to save material, produce a better fall and for multicoloured scarves a better display.  The date of this transition is unknown but both square and triangular scarves were for sale from Scout Shops in 1932, the square at nearly twice the cost of the triangular.  Ken North of the 13th recalls a wide game in 1925 when he was required to fold his square scarf along the diagonal seam to hide the red.   During WW2 stocks of square scarves from ‘dead’ Troops were cut as triangles and Ken took his 13th square and refashioned it into two triangular scarves for the 13th. The 12th specifically state ‘triangular’ in 1942, possibly at a point of change or economy.

Cambridge Scouters recall wearing square scarves in 1960; by 1969 only triangular scarves were for sale in the Scout Shop Catalogue.


Before the advent of formal colour charts for ordering premade scarves it was difficult to describe colours accurately.  Some lists tried.  Even in this page the colours are what are available on the scarf generator and only approximate the real shades.

The colour descriptions in lists may reflect the specific shades of material donated in the early days (as below) or a general colour that may be most available from scrap bags, dyeing or shops.  Heliotrope or silver grey are quite specific; dark blue and khaki possibly more readily available.

In Cambridge many shades of pale blue have been used, possibly from the initial inclusion of Cambridge blue in the scarf – sky blue, light blue, Saxe blue and occasionally Cambridge blue.  

Descriptions can change when no other alteration in the Troop or Group has occurred.  Thus ‘brown’ became ‘chocolate’ for the 2nd  Cambridge, ‘maroon’ became ‘red’ for the 17th Cambridge District in the 1920’s and ‘scarlet’ and ‘red’ are used for the 53rd Cambridge in the 1930’s. 

Maroon became red

In 1935 the 11th formally requested that their scarf previously known as yellow was in future to be recognised as orange.  In all these instances the description altered, the intended colour probably did not. Dyes do fade but a uniform fading across a troop would be unusual. The purchase of ‘2 doz. scarves fadeless’ for £1/10/4 is recorded in 1927 by the 7th.

Single colours

Most early uniforms had scarves of a single colour as specified in teh 1911 POR.  Early uniforms listed different shirt colours; grey, khaki, dark blue, blue and green were listed in Cambridge in 1912.  Occasionally the colour of the shorts were also specified.  A single colour scarf was easier to make and against a contrasting shirt gave a fair number of mixes.  However, the duplication of combinations within the District is apparent in later lists.  This is more so in the villages where mixing of Troops would be infrequent, or access to shops limited.  Several used the same colour for shirt and scarf, the 1st Cambridge District used dark green on dark green shirts and others khaki on khaki.  POR of 1910 defined shirt colours.

In 1932 the new 55th Cambridge purchased two green scarves at 11½d each and light blue with a scout green border at 1/3 for the Scouts.  It is not clear who wore the plain scarves.

Multiple colours

Bi-coloured scarves steadily become more frequent.  5th Cambridge District moved from heliotrope to heliotrope and grey between 1910 and 1911, possibly to stretch the original supply of material.  One troop is recorded as having a two coloured scarf in 1910; by 1912 five troops had dual colours.

In early 1924, before Cubs and Scouts united in Groups, the colours were

1 colour2 colours3 colours
Scouts (town)981
Scouts (country)73
Cubs (town)91
Cubs (country)12

Of these 11 were the single colour green (shades not specified) 2 were light blue and 5 included light blue. Cambridge blue is rarely mentioned but may be inferred.

Origins of colours

The cost of material for a scarf was a factor.  In an article from the Head Quarters magazine of 1909 it was demonstrated that a Scout Uniform could be gathered for a minimum of 1/10½d  (one shilling, ten and a half pence) of which the hat was a shilling.  The scarf was 2½d of the remaining 10½d cost.  If material was donated then it was welcome, whatever the colour.

 The 11th and 34th have a clear history of donation and adoption.

‘As I had just changed curtains in college I cut up the old ones (orange material) to make the Troop its scarves.  Later I heard that the troop (which struggled on after we went down in ’29) combined with the 11th and the Troop adopted our orange scarf, now the official shade.’                                                                                                   18/ vi/46 Jack Moakes

‘Before the troop (11th) adopted the whole orange scarf from the 34th it was orange and black’.  In the careful drawing of the ‘old colours’ alongside this note, from a history of the 11th Cambridge in 1946, the front and back depictions of the scarf are at odds.  It is not known which colour sat on which shoulder.

Some Troop scarf colours were associated with their sponsors.  The 5th Cambridge, (Perse School – 1908) originally had bright green scarves but switched to (Perse) purple by 1911.

The 6th Cambridge (Higher Grade) adopted school colours of chocolate and light blue in 1912 ; another early example of two colours in a scarf.

In 1913 the 17th Cambridge ‘Catholic’ troop had ‘gold and silver’. The Scout News column in the Cambridge Journal specifically records ‘Gold and Silver are colours of the Holy Father.’

The 28th Cambridge (St John’s) has the colours scout green and black.  St John’s symbol is an Eagle, the Eagle patrol colours are green and black.  The connection is possibly coincidental.

In 1944 the following is recorded in the District Minute book; ‘QM asked if there was any control of Group Scarves.  The DC said he had been consulted about the colour of the 27th.  Miss Long said she understood the pack had chosen red as its colour owing to the reference to the first syllable of its name CHERRYhinton’.

The control of scarf colours and the proliferation of scarf changes, temporary scarves and new groups during the Second World War lead to the Quartermaster Ken North to draw attention to the difficulty of similarity of scarves.

The 60th Cambridge (Leys School) had different colours for the junior and senior troops, the senior troop replicating the School colours of two blues.   This is identical to the colours of the 12th Cambridge which in 1938 was described as ‘halves’.  The cut of the 60th scarf is not specified. The 12th added a Fleur de lys in Gold thread for Scouts and Rovers.

Changes of Scarf colours

Scarf colours are occasionally altered by a standing troop.  It was more common in the very early troops.  The 6th Cambridge Higher Grade (Mayor of Cambridge’s Own) changed from yellow and black to the school colours in 1912.

The colours associated with a District number often alter as the groups allocated that number change; at least seven groups have held the 4th Cambridge number, four scarves are known.  The 1st Cambridge maintained the same scarf through many periods of abeyance, although it altered the shirt colour twice, the third shirt being blue on becoming Sea Scouts.  A later example is the adoption of new scarf colours by the 13th in 1916 about the time they took the title Notts Own.  It is not known why the colours changed.  The flag held at the time was in the original brown; the new colours have been retrained to this day.

In 1926 the 7th Cambridge Court of Honour proposed changing their half and half scarf to the opposite shoulder. The reasons were not recorded. This failing it was proposed that this should be so ‘on high days and holidays‘. This too failed. The proposal was repeated in 1927 ‘because of the tendancy of scarves to become faded in one particular place.’ Reversing a square scarf would hide the faded half. The motion was carrried 3 : 2.

In 1931 the 42nd Cambridge changed their scarf from Khaki to Scout Green with a 1” Gold Border.  This was shortly after the formation of the troop and they may have started with a basic or loaned scarf.  The later shift to emerald green with gold border before 1941 is not recorded but may just be misnaming of colours.  Colours fade.

The Second World War saw many alterations with amalgamation and supply difficulties.  In 1941, relatively early in the war, the 42nd amalgamated with the 29th and a composite scarf was chosen. The 42nd changed scarf colours from Emerald with a gold border to Royal Blue with a gold border.  After the war the Groups separated and the 42nd retained the new colours. 

29th Scarf                                 42nd Scarf                                War time and new 42nd Scarf

The 42nd pack ‘owing to difficulty of supplies intended to alter scarf to a green with a gold tip’. This pattern is very occasionally seen (see Sheffield archives) but this is the only known Cambridge example.

In the 1950’s the 44th scarf was described as ‘formerly brown with a gold flash’. Date unknown, gold flash unclear. By 1952 this had become a blue flash.

Reactions to the new scarves are not given.    A note made during the Second World War concerning the 44th Cambridge whose colours were currently black states that the new colours would be Scout Green ‘when (the) position eases’. The 44th colours are listed as black in the c 1932 Group list and in 1937. It is not known why they planned to change.

The 13th pack was ‘temporarily: Navy, light blue inset border, flash of group colours’ (not shown here – See ‘Scout Shirts’) for some point in the war. In 1946 permission was requested by the 13th to use a stock of Deep Sea Rovers scarves from HMS Victorious of this description. Similarly ‘9th Pack temporarily: Navy, white border’.  The 25th, however, added a royal blue strip to a light blue scarf at this time.

Scouts received no uniform allowance during the war and rationing continued after the war.  Presumably they increasingly used what they could get.  The scout shop proposed a future policy on ordering special scarves in 1943.  What this was is not recorded. In 1943 District Minutes recorded ‘some Cub Masters are making their own scarves.’

In October 1948 a District Notice stated ‘During the difficult supply period the Executive Committee, as a temporary measure, gave permission for sections of certain Groups to use scarves other than those of the registered Group colours and design.  In view of the somewhat easier supply situation…consider the practice no longer necessary…’.  In ‘The Scouter’ of December 1948 the QM writes ‘We are assured of scarf material, even for particoloureds, to meet our needs’.  1949 District Minutes records with the issue of Coupons ‘Groups using more than one scarf can use the coupons to return to a single scarf as soon as possible’.

In March 1955 the 54th Scouts Group Council ‘decided to order 12 Scarves with white edges already fixed and use these in future’.  The reason for buying scarves of a single colour and adapting them may have been for reasons of cost, availability or a remnant of war time necessity as the scarf, red with a white border, hadn’t changed.

Descriptions of cut

As scarves moved beyond single colours the description of the arrangement was usually minimal.  Advertiser’s descriptions may have had an established meaning but local descriptions do not suggest a formal descriptive practice.

Often scarves were described by colour alone ‘orange and sky blue’ without the cut being mentioned; very occasionally they are described as ‘halved’.  Less helpful is ‘dark blue with gold’ that suggests something other than a half and half split. The R/L orientation is rarely mentioned.

Scarves described as having a ‘stripe’ were similarly unclear but a single strip of more expensive material or from a finite source may have resulted in the vertical or diagonal insert.

23rd Cambridge 1957

The term ‘diagonal’ found in some descriptions is clearer if it applies to a square scarf.  It still renders two options, a central strip on the diagonal or two equal triangles joined on the hypotenuse.  In a triangular scarf it is perhaps describing an edge strip creating a diagonal both on the rear triangle and the front roll.  The fronts were not rolled in early woggle-less scarves which were tied in a lose tie like knot, but the term ‘diagonal’ and the bordered scarves largely appear after the woggle becomes usual.  Whether square or triangular is, however, never stated.  The description ‘edges’ as seen above is clear but rare.

It may be that with the advent of the woggle and the ability to hold a scarf rolled that edge colours became popular.  The width of bands are rarely listed.

Badges and insignia

A number of scarves have gained additional badges and insignia.  None are  evident in the early Cambridge descriptions. 

In the 1920’s CUSAGC sported a leopard, later listed as a lion, and in the 1937 list a red martlet was sported by 41st.  The Sir John Cockcroft Venture Unit had a embroidered atom. The 13th were refused permission to wear a temporary badge for their 70th anniversary in 1980. Grantchester in South Cambridgeshire / Granta received permission to wear on owl badge on their green scarves in 1972. It was apparently connected to Lord Grantchester who was a supporter and rendered in a Greek style quite dissimilar to the Owl patrol badge and about 2″ across.

‘Patten’ retained by Scout Shop and located 2022

Currently the 11th/9th, 18th  and 26th  along with CUSAGC carry a motif on their scarves. 

Records from around 2011 request scarves to omit the Scout swoosh, a scout symbol of the era rendered in a muted form, to be omitted from the tip of the scarf. This request is not clearly associated with a group or groups with scarf badges or motifs.

Other Cambridge Scarves

The Seeonee Pack of Cub Masters designed a scarf in 1933, Maroon with a 1 inch gold border.

A Cambridge Gang Show scarf was discussed by the District in 1970.  Initially Cambridge Blue with Cambridge and Cambridgeshire badges and GS (for Gang Show or Guides and Scouts) the final version was as pictured.  It was made by the wardrobe team/ Guide County commissioner at the time (Mrs. Andreyev) by potato print.  The Gang Show was awarded the National Gang Show scarf later that decade. 

National Beaver uniform was a Turquoise scarf with a maroon woggle. (1982 onward, 1983 in Cambridge) In 1991 POR added the option of the group scarf. The very earliest Wolf Cub scarf was a Nationwide uniform colour.

Monochrome photographs

Studying pictures of Scouts the nuances of even the best developed black and white photographs is insufficent to identify a group by the scarf. Colour is the most important feature on a  scarf.

Black and white photographs exist in the Cambridgeshire Collection with the scarf hand coloured.  CC 12th Cambridge Box 2 


Scarves were occasionally worn within lanyards and in some images doubled up within the lanyard.   The following photo show double and triple crossings.  It dates from a 1962  Pathe newsreel.  Many photos show lanyards hanging without intertwining around the scarf.

In the District Minutes of 1945 attention was drawn to Cubs wearing lanyards and sheath knives against POR. See also Lanyards and Whistles

Early Cambridge Scarf colours

All the  known colours in Cambridge throughout the years can be found on the Group pages by number; Cambridge 1st to 69th  and the early Cambridge District 1st to 21st.

Uniforms of Cambridge Town 1912 (Based inside the town boundaries)

                                                                        Scarf                            Shirt

  • 1st        Cambridge                              Cambridge Blue          Khaki
  • 2nd        Cambridge                              Chocolate                    Grey
  • 3rd        Cambridge                              Pink                             Dark Blue
  • 4th        Cambridge                              Black (1910)
  • 5th        Cambridge                              Purple                          Grey    (school colours)
  • 6th        Cambridge                              Chocolate/light blue   Grey    (school colours)
  • 7th        Cambridge                              Claret                          Blue
  • 8th        Cambridge                              Dark Blue                  Grey
  • 9th        Cambridge                              Dark Green               Grey
  • 10th      Cambridge                              Mauve                         Grey   
  • 11th      Cambridge                              Khaki                           Grey
  • 12th      Cambridge                              Light + Dark blue     Grey
  • 13th      Cambridge                              Brown                         Grey
  • 14th      Cambridge                              Red                              Green
  • 15th      Cambridge                              Silver Grey                  Khaki
  • 16th      Cambridge                              Red                              Grey

Uniforms of Cambridge District 1910 to 1913 as formed. (Outside the town boundaries)

  • 1st        Cambridge District                 Dark green                 Dark green
  • 2nd        Cambridge District                 Black/ white             Navy blue
  • 3rd        Cambridge District                 Grey                            Dark green
  • 4th        Cambridge District                 Red                              Khaki
  • 5th        Cambridge District                 Heliotrope                 Grey
  • 6th        Cambridge District                 Khaki                          Khaki
  • 7th        Cambridge District                 Khaki/ blue                Khaki                          
  • 8th        Cambridge District                 Red / grey                  Khaki
  • 9th        Cambridge District                 Khaki                           Khaki
  • 10th      Cambridge District                 Dark blue                    Khaki
  • 11th      Cambridge District                 Orange                         Khaki
  • 12th      Cambridge District                 Khaki                           Khaki  
  • 13th      Cambridge District                 Light blue/crimson  Dark blue

Late Cambridge Scarf Patterns

From Scout Shop scarf order forms in 2010 the proforma gave two standard options, triangular scarves with a border or half and half colours. Other forms could be ordered. One single colour scarf order remains from this random sample and most were with a border. Two colour swatches remain with the colours numbered alongside name.

Scarves with double borders occurred once , that is three colours, one with two variations of the order (black- scarlet- lemon and black- lemon- scarlet) but it is not clear why or who for. One order for two borders which differ on each half of the scarf is drawn out – over double the price of a plain scarf.

See also General History/ Uniform/ Scout Scarves/ Scout & Guide Scarves

JWR Archivist Feb 2019