Scout Staff and Stick

Cambridge District Scout Archives

Scouting for Boys recommended that Scouts should carry “a strong stick, about as high as your nose, marked in feet and inches for measuring”.  The staff was later made part of the uniform and height became a standard 5 ft. 6 ins. (c. 168cm).   Patrol Leaders carried a white pennant on their staffs, showing a silhouette of their Patrol animal.

1943 The Scouter       ‘Stave is the plural of the musical term staff’ – so Staff and staffs – but the term ‘stave’ is freely used in The Scouter and elsewhere.

In 1909 Headquarters published a list of equipment that could be obtained for as little as 1/10½ (that is less than ten pence).  Amongst these was a staff which could be had ‘by all country boys for the trouble of cutting it.  Town boys can buy a broom handle for 2d.’ (about one pence).

(For a very clear set of ‘broomstick’ staffs see people/ BP in Cambridge/ BP in Cambridge 1911/ and view BP and Girl guides.)

Clearly this bit of the uniform was not always carried.  In 1917 B-P was deploring the habit of parading without the staff.  In 1921 he wrote ‘I will not inspect Scouts at Rallies who have not their staffs with them.’  He believed that it was a distinctive feature of the uniform.

From HQ Gazette       

  • April 1917       Away with the broomstick, natural staff is the thing, broomsticks are open to ridicule
  • Jan 1921          Describes a sling to carry staff on a hike

In 1930 BP wrote in The Scouter ‘We also rejoice in the freedom of bare legs and bare feet and we put our staffs to one side – in camp’.

In 1932 the local Grafton Street Gazette (District newsletter) had two adjacent notifications

  • Guard of Honour for Princess Helena Victoria                       ‘Staffs must be carried’
  • Representative Party at Great Saint Mary’s Armistice Service         (No Staffs)

1938 POR states

  • ‘Every Scout including a Sea Scout, should be equipped with a natural wood staff, marked in feet and inches, to be carried on all appropriate occasions.’       The ‘natural’ again suggests broomsticks were not an option.
  • Deep sea scouts ‘will not’ carry staffs.

In March 1942 The Scouter acknowledged that the staff was awkward to carry and could be carried slung. The undated picture below, probably 1930’s, shows a sling of thin cord over the shoulder.

They were unwieldy in many situations.  This sketch from 1952 recognises this and suggests that staffs be bundled together and sent with Troop equipment.

Often staffs were stored in the meeting room between being used and became communal property as was recognised in the 1963 Scoutmasters Guide A – Z  ‘The Scout staff is now a piece of Troop, rather than personal equipment’

Staffs in use

Saluting guides assumed that a staff would be carried; implying the salute when not carrying a staff was the less usual option.

‘Hand salutes used only when Scouts are not carrying staffs.’ POR 1919

Quarter stick work was an option for the Master at Arms badge.

They were clearly useful on a camp or hike when most equipment could be constructed with wood and rope.

The photograph is taken from an article on the difference between Town and Country Troops in The Scouter 1930.

It shows hedgerow cut staffs in a town setting.  The staffs look freshly hewn, a little thin and one definitely not straight enough. Maybe the Patrol required new props when the photo call came.

Cambridge  Archives

References to the use of staffs in Cambridge are few outside parades and the exhibition events at rallies. 

1911 Cambridge Scout Rally

Patrol flags are all very evident
Stacked staves

1911    George V carried out a review on 4 July 1911 in Windsor Great Park. Some 30,000 scouts the largest gathering of boys that England had ever seen.    ‘Then followed the most spectacular point of the rally. The whole circles of scouts rushed forward, shouting their patrol calls. Then, at a predetermined line, they stopped. B.P. called for three cheers for the king; up went a forest of hats on staffs and a chorus of’ “God Save the King”. This was indeed a great day for B.P. and the Scouts.’       WTT

And we had our staffs. At first the broomsticks, later as we caught “White Fox’s” woodcraft ideas rough staffs, on which we carvers our patrol animals, and various Indian signs.’  WTT

‘Claud Walker said once that staffs, (I think he was speaking of pre-1914), cost 2d. I quote now from a notice by the D.C. “Charlie” Wood, of 1922 “Urgent. The District Commissioner wishes to announce that after the end of this month- (October 1922) all scouts in the Cambridge and District area must carry Scout Staffs as prescribed by Headquarters Regulations and must be drilled in the use of them. An ordinary broomstick (price 4d) is quite sufficient to comply with the Regulations, as long as it is marked in feet and inches, or scouts may cut their own staff from a growing tree as long as they have secured the owner’s permission.”              WTT  Archaeology 1978

1914    5th Cambridge Display of exercise with staffs

1917    BP at Sheep Green      A very tall flagstaff from lashed Scout staves  (5th Cambridge)

1920    District Minutes          ‘Mr Long brought up the question of scout staves which few troops now carry.’

This rule, taken from a Cambridge Annual Report, is repeated many times over the years.

1920    ‘REMARKS ON SOME BADGE TESTS. Tenderfoot. Some people have not yet realised that all Scouts must pass an examination in the uses of the Scout Staff, before they get their Tenderfoot.’                   Reveille

1921 Our Scout

‘Our Scout Column’, Cambridge Chronicle 11/5/1921

1922    Chief scout at Cambridge Rally where there was a display, ‘one in the uses of a scout staff’                                 Ken North

1922 7th Cambridge (County School) Court of Honour ‘Natural ash staves must be carried by the troop’.

1922 7th Cambridge accounts ’12 ash staves – 14/6′ These were sold on 1/3 each, a profit of 6d.

1924    All Scouts must carry staffs    Reminder from Vol 2, No.2 of District Newsletter

C T Wood’s album  No.312  Opening of Village College

1929 23rd Wolf Cubs (or small Scouts) blackberrying

1920’s 9th Cambridge A 5’6” staff with the first six inches and every foot marked with a ring

1931    ‘Dusty and I had a couple of Bivouac sheets which buttoned along the top and used our staffs as poles’   Ken North 

1930’s Raft of 12th Cambridge constructed with a patrols worth of staff’s.

1930’s A rare inspection with staff’s

1937 The 12th Cambridge contingent at the 1937 Jamboree have robust straight staff’s, those with patrol pennants appearing to be longer. A 5′ and 5’6” lengths was sometimes quoted.

1939 Germany 60th Cambridge (Leys)

1941 ‘Charlie gave each boy a staff of his own.’ 13th Cambridge log

1942    Cambridgeshire Rally for Chief Scout ‘Scout staffs should not be brought unless required for displays.’             District Minutes

1947 The District Committee, in a review of uniform probably at HQ request, unanimously agreed that the staff should come under the heading of optional articles.

1957    54th Cambridge           Court of Honour          Skipper suggested that ‘Patrol Boxes be up to date and that all Scouts have staffs’.     The 54th purchased staves from London and sold them on.  It would appear that they were stored in the den – ‘scouters will provide staff clips.’

1972 The blank form certificates in use in 1972 show a scout in the new uniform walking with a shoulder height staff. Elsewhere in the montage is a scout working with bamboo lengths in a pioneering task. See Awards, Badges and Insignia/ Scout Certificates

1979    28th Cambridge           Flooding of the Avon   Scout Staves and rope were used to mark a safe path out of the water as we moved kit and Scouts to safety.

11th/9th SL in 1979

Thumb sticks

The first Provisional rules for Rovers in 1918 stated that’ a ‘thumb’ stick or alpenstock (4 ft 6 ins or 5 ft in length) can be carried in place of a staff’.

From an advert in The Scout 1932
C T Wood’s album 1922 BP Queens’ College

In 1946 Senior Scouts were also given the option of a thumbstick in place of a staff.  This is an intermediate step between the Scout staff and the leader’s walking stick and would appear to be as much a marker of rank as a useful aid to walking.   In two line drawings of the era the thumbstick is depicted being carried, in one attached to a rucksack and in POR of 1952 over the shoulder on a cord.

Rare picture of thumbstick in use on camp c late 1930’s – late 1940’s

Walking stick

Leaders were occasionally depicted as carrying a walking stick, rarely using it other than at rest.  They are usually only seen in formal photographs. In the 1919 POR they are listed as uniform for leaders ‘Ceremonial and Parade’.

1938 POR states ‘a walking stick or thumb stick may be carried on appropriate occasions instead of a staff’.                   (It reads as if all three were an option for leaders)

1952 POR states that for ladies a stick or thumbstick are optional

Post WW2: Walking sticks and thumb sticks 12th Cambridge

The End

1966    The Advance Party Report recommended that “With the exception of a knife, no present optional items of uniform (e.g. staff, thumb stick, haversack…) may in future be worn”.


Carrying a staff was and remains in popular memory a marker of a Scout.  They had many uses in the field.  As uniform they were perhaps never sufficiently useful in town to overcome their disadvantages.  As an occasional tool they remain worth the carry.

The Scout staff is an ephemeral piece of kit and the Cambridge District Collection does not hold an example.  They are not readily datable.  The collection does hold a Peewit Patrol flag.

The examples above date from pre 1992 when the 4th closed and are marked in Imperial feet and inches, which may suggest a date nearer 1970’s or just a traditionalist owner. They currently reside at the 13th Cambridge

JWR Archivist Feb 2019