Cambridge District Scout Archive
Following the Armistice the ‘British League of Help for the Devastated Areas of France’ encouraged the adoption of areas by British Towns. This organisation was founded in London on 30 June 1920, largely due to the efforts of Lady Bathurst. It agreed an intention not to rebuild the devastated areas, for funds for that were to come from the French Government and reparations paid by Germany, but to provide practical help. By 1922 ninety seven associations were reported.
Vermand was ‘adopted’ by the Borough of Cambridge following the Great War and in 1921 the Cambridge District Scouts were involved in fund raising. The invitation, in the District Archives, assumes knowledge of the involvement.
On March 21st 1921 ‘Scoutmaster’ the non de plume of SM Hutchinson organised a talk on the adoption at Tennis Court Road HQ of the 11th. The 11th later held a sale of work and exhibition to raise funds.
From the History of the 13th Cambridge we have ‘A play “The Fortune Teller” was produced by Bill Stigwood, and an exhibition and sale of work for the St. George’s Day 1921 – to assist the “Vermand” Belgian Relief Fund, was presided over by Mr. E. H. Church, President of the local Scout Association.’
Vermand is a small French commune to the west of Saint-Quentin in the Aisne department in Hauts-de-France in northern France. Vermand was on the front line and generally in German held territory and the village and countryside devastated.
The reason for Cambridge supporting this particular commune is unclear. A small communal cemetery was used for 40 Commonwealth dead but none of these are recognisably associated with Cambridge.
The poet Ivor Gurney wrote ‘Near Vermand’ he first verse of which is –
Lying flat on my belly shivering in clutch frost,
There was time to watch the stars, we had dug in;
Looking eastward over the low ridge; March scurried its blast,
At our senses, no use either dying or struggling.
Low woods to left, Cotswold spinnies if ever,
Showed through snow flurries and the clearer star weather.
And nothing but chill and wonder lived in mind; nothing
But loathing and fine beauty, and wet clothing.
Here were thoughts. Cold smothering, and fire-desiring,
A day to follow like this or in digging or wiring
JWR Archivist Apr 2019