The Scouts Defence Corps

Cambridge District Scout Archive

1915 was a time when the outcome of what came to be known as the First World War was uncertain.  Fears of an invasion of Britain were still great and hopes of a short war were declining.  The flow of volunteers ‘to the Colours’ had not yet diminished to the point where conscription was required and Scouts were given the option of preparing themselves for active service.

The Scout Defence Corp and the Red Feather League were introduced in 1915 to train with small arms for defence in this time of war. Scouts choose to become a member of the Corps and achieved the Red Feather on completing the musketry requirements. This was the only period in Scouting when the focus was on the martial element of shooting.  Members of this voluntary group had to be sixteen. 

BP wrote in January 1915 ‘The Scout Defence Corps is a temporary Measure designed to give some of the elder Scouts the opportunity of preparing themselves. It is not part of the regular policy of the movement.’

CC Box 2 12th Cambridge

The Co founders and coordinators of the Cambridge Red Feather Brigade were SM John Murrish of the 12th and SM Copplestone of the 6th. John Murrish later received his own Red Feather.

Patrol Leader Mackrow, later SL of the 12th Cambridge, was one of 28 Scouts who joined the Cambridge Scout Defence Corp, twelve of whom won the feather.  Two left the Troop, two went coast watching in Devon, two left the District, two went to Dunkirk, two joined the RAMC, four joined the navy and one the Territorial’s.

A full list of those who achieved the Red Feather can be found in the Scout News, Cambridge Journal of April 16th 1915.

‘Went to Dunkirk’ refers to a Scout staffed recreation centre for soldiers in Dunkirk. It was an unofficial action and shortly after the event the Local Association put in a requirement that anyone engaging in such activities acting as Scouts should request permission from the District. It was implicitly, but strongly, not appreciated that the Scouting name be co opted for this venture.

The numbers in the Defence Corps were never high; the numbers of Scouts over 16 rapidly diminished, as they always have, and even within Scouting there were other ways of ‘doing ones bit’ as the reference to coast watching shows.

Scout Defence Corps and Red Feather Brigade

Undated cuttings of the era

Scouting Activities

General scouting activities did continue as the following extract from The Scout 1917 illustrates. The 1917 Rally was a major success involving many Scouts and is possibly indicative of a wish to return to gentler pursuits.

BP’s report on the Cambridge Rally 1917

JWR Archivist Feb 2019