Scouters in National Service

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Military Service or National Service has occurred twice since 1908.  The effect on Scouting in Cambridge is marked. Between 1916 and 1920 it was known as Military Service, between 1939 and 1960 it was known as National Service.

National Service did not necessarily imply forced conscription.  During the Great War, which ran from 1914 to 1918, conscription started after two years of voluntary enlistment. After 1916 many entered into the service of their choice ahead of ‘call up papers’, or waited ready to do ‘their bit’ when wanted.

1916 – 1920

Many Scout Troops struggled during the Great War and most of the Cambridge District Troops (those outside the town boundary) closed.  Troops within the Town boundary relied heavily on the few remaining students. Women stepped into roles that were previously generally expected to be filled by men. Little is recorded in the Cambridge District Scout Archive during this period but see also

  • Local History/ Order of Woodcraft Chivalry
  • Structure/ Sections/ Lady Scouters

1939 – 1945

During the Second World War all men between 18 and 41 could be called up and from 1941 women between 20 and 30.  After the war the ages for men fell to between 18 and 30.

Not all National Service was Active Service, a term which implied the Armed Forces.  Both women and men were ‘called up’ for work on the land, hospitals and in forestry.  From 1943 work in the mines was included.  The terms Active Service and War Service are both used alongside National Service in a list of Cambridge Scouters compiled during the war. 

Reserved Occupations were those that were needed ‘at home’ and jobs in such as ship building and engineering exempted the workers from conscription.  After the war those who worked in Coal Mining, Farming or the Merchant Navy were exempt.  Those claiming to be Conscientious Objectors were required to go before a Tribunal and some were placed in non combatant roles. 

1945 – 1960/ 1963

This period following the Second World War effectively concerned those born between 1927 and 1939.  The ages for men fell to between 18 and 30.  National Service broke the flow of Scouters from Group and Crew.  At this time when the average age of Scouters was far lower than today the period of conscription was another issue to be overcome.  Whilst the total of those who stepped out of leadership roles on call up was relatively low, about 5%, the number who did not become leaders ahead of call up is, certainly, higher.

The last Servicemen were called up in 1960 and demobbed in 1963.  

1956    ‘Look Wide’ and ‘Scouts of Tomorrow’                       Both these Boy Scout Association publications discuss the necessity of briefing Scouts ahead of their National Service.  A form RS (Record of Service) ‘should be provided for the Services’ and ‘it is unfair to let him go without them’.  Scouter lead pre National Service courses were recommended, an ‘afternoon and evening would probably suffice’.  The serviceman’s own Group was obliged to keep in touch with him during his service and it was encouraged to put him in contact with a local Scout unit.

Cambridge Archives

1918    ‘It was agreed on the proposal of the DSM that a certificate of scouting service should be given to scouts joining His Majesties Forces.’             District Minutes

The following snippets do not tell a coherent story.  Definitions in later formal records are not the same as looser definitions of National Service gathered for earlier annual reports.  Many details of serving Scouts and Scouters were lost with the closure of groups during the war.

1940                Some Scouters who moved into Cambridge dislocated by the war looked for opportunities to continue Scouting.   D Peacock, Rover Mate Westminster Crew, joined the 60th and an ASM from the 1st City of London Group was with the 12th.  It is not recorded why they moved.

1940                District Secretary, S Roper, had volunteered for service H M Forces and altered the Committee to his potential call up.  The next month he was accepted into the RAF.

1940    AGM    ‘All Rovers closed down and the majority of the members were on service in the armed forces’

9/40                 Dist Min          A discussion…on difficulty of dealing with evacuees    DC mentioned that at present there was 56 Scouters in the District.  In Sept 1939 there were 104.  It was possible that a further 14 Scouters would be called up shortly.

1940                Ken North ‘55 Years in Scouting’        ‘As it happened I had my medical exam in July 1940 at Dunkirk time, when virtually everyone was passed as fit, even then I was only CIII grade, the lowest pass.  I received my Mobilisation papers on Christmas Day to report on 3rd January 1941 at Kidderminister, Worcs to the Royal Army Pay Corps’. Ken was later invalided out as his lifelong poor health deteriorated.

‘I was not able to practice any Scouting during my time in the forces as our hours were long and duties erratic.  I was attached to a lone patrol of the 23rd Rovers who wrote in a book of our experiences and posted it to the next member’.  This ‘”folded up” when Dusty was posted overseas’.

‘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 later talks of ‘producing his Scout Identity Card’ on visiting a local scout camp site.  He was invalided out in June 1943 after spells in hospital.

1941                Postage for circulars to the Forces from Cambridge District £1/10/½

1941                Scouter listed as away on service in ‘Munitions’, alongside Navy and RAF

1941                63 Scouters are on Full time National Service           Annual Report

c. 1940/41 Card index of the changing addresses of Scouters in the Services (incomplete). Some change many times often, with unit addresses rather than locations, suggesting that in the early years it was difficult for most to find a Scout Group elsewhere.

c. 1940 List of Cambridge Scouters on Active Service or War service

1942                RSL 20th Croydon (Evacuated) acting SM 13th            Scout Section Min book

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.’                                                                                              District Minutes

1943                Gnr. Horner RA           working with 29th/42nd                        District Minutes

1943    AGM    Pre war Scouter: Scout ratios 1:8, 1943 ratios 1:20

1943                War Service Scouts camp –  Scouters were listed as working with two Troops 13th Cambridge and 20th Croydon, similarly 61st Hunts and 12th Croydon

1944                Sapper Cunliffe RA working with the 19th Cambridge           District Minutes

1945                From the Collection of War Service details initiated by IHQ in 1945

Numbers in Service           (Navy, Army, RAF, Merchant Navy, Women’s services)

  • Scouts              475 ?   including  uncertain returns from 9th and 11th
  • Scouters          52
  • Rovers             101

1946    March ‘So far we have not felt much relief from the return of men from the services as the younger scouters to whom we must look for a resumption of active work are only just beginning to get released.’            AGM report

1947    AGM    ‘The branch (Rovers) is still affected by the calling up of young men of Rover age’

1950    The Link 12th newsletter         ‘Most of the Rover Scouts in our Scout Group are in the process of doing their National Service’.

…planning a reunion at Xmas’. (‘50 and ‘51)

1950    IHQ circular on briefing of Scouts joining Services and Civil Defence  District Minutes

1951    The Link 12th newsletter        The 12th gained Admiralty recognition ‘which makes it possible for them (the boys) to do National Service in the Navy’.  The Navy generally did not take servicemen for less than three years. The period of National Service was two years at this time.

1951    The Link 12th newsletter         Trev Baker has finished his two years with the RAF and is now ‘back in industrial harness’ again at his old job at Pye Ltd.

1945 – 1953    Analysis of figures by W T Thubon in 1953 revealed that 5% of leaders left to go to their National Service during these years.

 1965               The Precentor The College, Ely to W T Thurbon Warrant Sec.  ‘Nothing against him….he was in the RAF and not seen around here’

JWR Archivist Feb 2019