Smoking and Scouts

Cambridge District Scout Archives

BP smoked a pipe but gave up early in his life.  Whilst he enjoyed the pipe he did not wish to hamper his fitness.  His attitudes to smoking are clear from Scouting for Boys (reproduced below).  Not one to attempt to sway opinion by direct assault he attempted to alter practice for the next generation.  Scouters could make their own mind on the matter but he hoped that they were not fools.

from Scouting for Boys

In the aftermath of Mafeking BPs fame was such that his name and image came to be placed on cigarette cards and cigarette cases.  Permission for use of images was not deemed necessary at this time.

BP’s Scouting Games includes one night game in which a ‘Convict’ is traced by the smell of tobacco. He writes ‘ The Convict must not, of course, be a Scout, for, if he were, he could not smoke and give himself away like that.’

Cambridge Archives: Scouters

1922    C T Wood’s album       A number of leaders are shown smoking or holding pipes throughout the span of this album (c 1917 – 1930) but neither cigarette nor cigar are seen.  In an album of c 400 largely informal photographs no scouters are smoking cigarettes. 

This may reflect Scouters smoking habits or the smoking habits that Scouters were willing to be recorded.

Pipe smoking was seen as being healthier than cigarettes.   Pipe smokers were portrayed as people of maturity and deliberation.  The act of smoking a pipe does not lend itself to the intemperate needs of ‘a quick drag’ and gives pause to sentences which allow or imply considered thought, as does the use of the pipe to physically punctuate the points raised.

From The Scouter 1931 Re whistling the following assumes a pipe ‘Also, for me, it (whistling) forms a a substitute for smoking, for- like a pipe to a smoker – it gives satisfaction to me and annoyance to everyone else.’

C T Wood with pipe 1927

I have located few, I was able to say only two, pictures of a Cambridge Scouter with a cigarette.

1927 7th Cambridge
From 12th Cambridge scrapbook, Cambridgeshire Collection 1930’s

An invitation to Old Scouts to gather in Cambridge in 1935 was ‘devoted to a Smoking Concert, to which we hope old Scouts will contribute items.  It is hoped that many Scouters and Rovers will be present to meet former members of their Troops and Groups.  During the evening a suggestion for the formation of a Local Old Scout Branch will be discussed.’ The term Smoking Concert was dated if not yet defunct and implied male only discussion whilst listening to music. In Cambridge and Oxford it remained as a term for a review.

The picture below, like most smoking Scouters, appears to be on a Leaders/ Rovers camp or adults only moment. The ‘need a drag’ pose is in contrast to pictures of the studied pipe smokers who are almost always not engaged in another activity.

A J Covell’s album Cambridgeshire Collection 1930’s

The following lines are from a verse penned c 1942 in the Evercircular letter of the 23rd Crew on Active Service. It suggests that pipes were ubiquitous amongst leaders and indeed the function of ‘a brief space’ is a role that pipes and smoking in general served; ‘I am smoking – don’t ask me to do anything for a bit’.

The Evercircular letters provide several references to smoking, not least the occasions when a pack of Players (good quality cigarettes) could be obtained and the Padre’s difficulty in keeping his pipe filled ‘but the mixtures are sometimes very strange’. The DC, Howard Mallett, as a guest writer, comments ‘or we are wondering where to buy the next packet of ‘no cigarettes’ or no tobacco’. The Evercircular letters also provide a reference to ‘the fug of the den’, which may suggest smoke alongside closed windows and drying clothes. One final reference from this source is a line in a poem which refers to ‘Fred’s State Express smoke’ with the postscript that this was poetic licence and that they were really Players.

See Evercircular Letters

The highest proportion of smokers was in 1948 when around 82% of men smoked in the UK of whom 65% smoked manufactured cigarettes.

At least one very long standing Cambridge Scouter was a near chain smoker. The photographs do not show him smoking, but he was hospitalized late in life with lung cancer.

Cambridge Archive: Scouts

1922 Our Scout Column (local press) reports the presentation of a tobacco pouch to SM L H Armstrong with gold initials.

1922 The Cambridge Chronicle column ‘Scout News’ reported that members of a certain troop (no names, no numbers) had been seen smoking in public. Three of six or seven were the offenders. The author suggested that the Scout master talk to the boys as it reflects rather badly on the Scout Movement as a whole.

1925 University Rover Scouts Annual Dinner – item on accounts ‘Cigarettes 8/9’. Older guests will have been in attendance.

1933 University Rovers recorded of their own camp fire that it was ‘marred only by the fact that during the camp several Rovers had been seen smoking.’

1939 13th Cambridge ‘Complaint about P/L Frost smoking at concert (He apologised)’

1944 13th Cambridge CoH mentions ‘an ash tray for Bunny’. Bunny Bennett was a leader, but the need suggests either he was the only smoker or had a reputation for inappropriate disposal of his dottles or butts.

1946 13th Cambridge records. Arthur Thurlow of the 13th attended the Victory Celebrations in June 1946. Part of the instructions for the event stated ‘no smoking’.

1950 The Scouter of October 1950 carried this advertisement, which the advertiser was ready to pay for and ‘The Scouter’ willing to accept. Scouters, if not Scouts, were a suitable target.

1950’s A 7th Cambridge Scout tells a story of being chased through thistles and thorns on camp. The (untold) reason was an attempt to stop the Scout from smoking which he did, if several years later. Smoking in any form was always prohibited for Scouts. From the same source comes a tale of a Scout who had never been caught smoking having the foresight to rig up an early warning sisal telephone system between tents. He was exposed when a full packet fell from his pocket during a game of British Bulldog.

1957 7th Senior Scouts presented a ‘table cigarette lighter’ to a departing scouter. Not confirmation of smoking, it being a standard piece of household equipment often given as a gift, but indicative of the general expectation. Later that year we have some who ‘stayed on the bank and risked catching lung cancer’.


Mackrow GSL 12th Cambridge


7th Cambridge Senior Scouts The Boudoir was the Patrol Corner/ Crew Den.

1966    St Georges Day parade                       It is ‘particularly requested that Scouts should not smoke in the street and Scouters are asked to assist in setting an example.’  ‘Scouts’ in 1966 included Rovers/ Venture Scouts up to the age of 20.

1929 23rd Cambridge camp

Graham Steed of the 12th relates the following, genuine, tale. ‘The 12th Rover Crew was known as “Wood Smoke” Rover Crew a reference to the fact that some of them “would smoke”.’ 

The following postcard was sent to a Scout Leader of the 44th whilst on camp by a parent in 1957.


The following is the one and only reference I have come across concerning this subset of tobacco use. In 1936 two Rovers on an extended journey met DC Capt Harland who showed them over his snuff mill – the oldest in the world. They ‘took away some samples’.

Chewing Tobacco

Since 1907 this has not been widespread in Britain outside mining regions and no references appear in local archives. (A note added following a search from North America.)

JWR Archivist Mar 2019