W T Thurbon

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Silver Wolf

25th June 1903 – 30th November 1993

William (Bill) Thomas Thurbon (WTT) was the son of an Undertakers foreman and lived at 49 Sturton St. (c 1911).  His early Scouting History is unclear but he was with the very important 23rd Cambridge Rover Crew as a leader by 1928.  The Crew started in 1925, it is not clear if Bill was a founding member – his notes on the crew are general not personal.

Fred Feary (SW)/ H Wise / W Thurbon c. 1923 with the 23rd Cambridge

He is recorded as holding the posts of

  • ASM                 23rd Cambridge (St Matthew’s)          1928 – 1933
  • ARSL                23rd                  1928 – 1933
  • RSL                  23rd                  1934 – 1945
  • Secretary         23rd
  • District Badge Secretary         1933 – 1942
  • DRSL                                        1932? and 1938 – 1945
  • District Secretary                    1940 – 1951
  • Warrant Secretary                  -1968-
  • Ass. County Secretary             1953 – 1966    (alongside Prof Patrick Duff SW)
  • District            Vice President            around 1984

He described himself as having a fussy mind and many pieces of analysis from the District census and badge records remain in the archives.  He passed made transcripts of many records and collated notebooks for his own use. These passed down eventually to Johnn Chambers who passed them on at his death tto the District. He was a dapper man.

When his role of Badge Secretary was taken over by Ken North, Ken made a point of stating that he would not be putting this extra work into the role.

He married Alice, later recorded as Lady CM of 11th Cambridge and had two children, Michael and Lesley. 

From 1920 he had worked in St John’s College Office and rose to the top role of Bursar’s Clerk in 1955, a job he held for 23 years until his retirement.  He was still engaged within the College as voluntary assistant to the archivist at the age of 80.  It is of note that the prominent Scouter Harold Pettit worked at St John’s and Ken North (SW) in the kitchens as Chief Kitchen Clerk.


Just young enough to be called up in WW2 Bill anticipated registration on 12th April 1941, aged 38, but reported in the Evercircular letters in August that he is ‘reserved until Christmas’ and later that it was deemed St John’s College could not function without his presence. He had taken on two offices at this point.  He later failed his medical and remained at St. John’s for the rest of his working life.   

Bill was engaged in many elements of war work – he became Anti Gas officer, which became Civil Defence Officer and Air Raid warden.  This was also described as Fire Watching, which may have been a work based expectation outside his role as ARP warden.  He also gained certificates in first aid and was engaged in teaching first aid to undergraduates, land girls and Rovers, and manning ARP clearing stations.  He became Commandant for the Colleges Red Cross detachment.

Within Scouting alongside the roles listed above he was the core coordinator of the ‘Evercircular Letters’ that ran between members of the 23rd and 13th Rovers who were in the forces.  He appears to have been moderator, sending post cards asking for subject lines to be moderated or chasing up contributions.  His bill for postage for an unknown period was £1/11/11 –at ½d. each this is 766 postcards, or 383 letters at 1d. each.  WTT developed a handwriting style that was increasingly illegible, probably as he took on more tasks – this cannot have been the case at work where he was engaged in producing records due to be retained for centuries.  An increasing number of his more detailed pieces were typewritten.  He frequently acted as host to those returning on leave. 

In 1940 he appears to have stepped in to act as secretary and manage the accounts for the 55th, if no more, a group that folded shortly afterwards.

It is probably not co-incidental that he was awarded the Medal of Merit in 1944.

Post war Bill appears to have stepped away from direct leadership roles in 1945.  He was the compiler of many of the ‘???Query’ / Alert patrol competitions that ran for many years after the war. One requirement in 1974 was ‘to write a recognizable description of one of us’.  Thus we have “Mr William Thurbon, or Bill as he is more often called is about 5 feet and 4 inches in height. He weighs 10 stones and 4 pounds and is of medium build.  His shoes are 7½ and his cap is size 7⅛.  His face is pinkish and slightly chubby.  His ears are fairly large and are positioned fairly flat against his head.  He has grey hair (he is going slightly bald) and blue/grey/greenish eyes.  He wears horn rimmed bifocals all the time.  He is 71 but he never looks it.  He reminds me of a small energetic owl.”

Bill wrote to The Scouter commenting on the information in POR (1956) and contributed to at least two major works on the history of St John’s College.  He compiled the 1954 Annual Quiz in the Scouter (alongside his daughter Lesley).

He also contributed to the Collectors Digest on children’s literature (a piece on Sexton Blake in particular referencing Scoutmaster Chums No. 319) and to War-gamers Newsletter (1974).

In 1978 he wrote and delivered a speech on ‘The Archaeology of Scouting’ to Cambridge Scout Fellowship, an important source document for this archive. See http://www.rabbitmail.co.uk/cam_scouts_hist/history/arch.html

Many obituaries of local Scouters were compiled by Bill; some are the only source of information and are copied in full on these pages.  A similar Obituary has not survived for WTT.

  • Medal of Merit                       1944
  • Silver Acorn                            1960/61
  • Silver Wolf                              1973    after 46 years service as a Scout

Bill had a penchant for finishing his articles with quotations which he would leave unattributed.  Never obscure but often at the edge of memory – perhaps they were better known 60 years ago.  He finished his ‘Archaeology’ with

“Those are the times we shall dream about, And we’ll call them the good old days”

He asked for donation to Abington for trees when died 30/11/1993

JWR Archivist Dec 2022

From c 1923 with the 23rd