War Service Scouts in Cambridge

Cambridge District Scout Archive

War Service Scouts were formed in March 1942 and transferred to Senior Scouts in 1945. Between 1942 and 1945 Annual Census forms requested details.

‘Following a County Commissioner Conference in 1942 the Chief Scout decided as a war time measure, to introduce a special section of Scouting for boys between fifteen and eighteen known as War Service Patrols.  The Section was open to Scouts and Rovers as well as newcomers and was designed to make them feel that they were in line with those in the Service Sponsored Cadet Corps.  A programme of activities was built up to prepare their members for war service.

This initiative followed the National government registration of 16 and 17 year old boys and girls announced in January 1942.

Before investiture a boy had to pass an initial test and the subsequent training covered the following: campaigning; health and endurance training, including unarmed combat; exploring including mapping and compass work; observation and reporting; communications, including signalling; the scouts Civil Defence Badge and its subjects; Air Raid precautions including First Aid and Anti Gas training: simple training in drill and the use of weapons; any existing badge tests he desired to take.

The Scouts was expected to undertake some form of practical war service work such as helping with a Scout Troop or Cub Pack, Civil Defence messenger work, fire fighting, salvage work or some other form of service…’

From B-P’s Scouts and Official History

This was far from the first Scouting involvement in War Service during this war but did recognise a need that had not been fulfilled by the 1939 Civil Defence Proficiency Badge.  This had, itself, been added to the existing National Service Badge. 

Patrol names such as ‘Edwards VC’ and ‘Tobruk Patrol’ were floated in The Scouter.  No names are known from Cambridge War Service Patrols. In total 50,000 Scouts across the country participated as War Service Scouts. 

War Service Scouts ‘will cease as such after December 31st 1945 and will become known as Senior Scouts’.  Although Senior Scouts were not formally incorporated until October 1946 Units existed and by July 1945 they were deemed to be beyond the experimental stage.  The Scouter July 1945.

Cambridge Archives

  1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
Scouts 362 344 336 380 452
Sea Scouts 41 102 44 65 86
Air Scouts 17 34 38 45 62
Rovers 70 80 91 86 86
Sea Rovers       1 12
War Service 32 19 6 0

The 60th Cambridge (Leys school) was relocated to Pitlochry, Scotland and ran a War Service Scout section or patrol. No clear numbers are available and are not included in the figures above, but 4 No. were quoted in 1942 alongside Air Scouts, Scouts and Rovers.

Percentage over fifteen year olds

Figures by age are not available for 1942.  In 1943 nearly a quarter of the over fifteen year Scouts in Cambridge District were part of this temporary Section.  In 1943 figures for 14 – 20 years old and the 1944  and 1945 figures for 15 – 20 years old give:-

194314 – 20194415 – 20194515 – 20
War Service Scouts1924%69%00%

War Service Scouts by Group from the Census returns

  1942 1943 1944 1945
7th 5      
12th 8 5    
13th 7 6 3  
23rd     1  
26th 7 5    
29th/42nd   1 1  
54th 3      
64th 2 2 1  

Cambridge Archives

1942 March W T Thurbon wrote, in the Evercircular Letters, of interviewing 16 and 17 year old for the ARP. This appears to be in the aftermath of the Government decision (see above). In this he did mention having only 28 17 year old Scouts in the County at this point. John Covell, also in the Evercircular, over egged his discomfort at the War Service Scouts anticipating Cubs setting out for the Jungle (here the days Cubs spent in the countryside not the jungles of the Far East) with Tommy Guns, and the tenderfoot learning the use of the bayonet not the staff. His view that ‘those who desire military training were probably already in the ATC or similar‘.

1942                Cambridge Rally for Chief Scout (in the event cancelled) ‘War Scouts should wear their armlets.’

1942 W T Thurbon wrote in the Narvik Patrol Evercircular to 23rd Rover Crew members in the forces (I am) ‘busy forming patrols of the War Service Scouts (young commandos).’ ‘Young Bennett of the 13th is acting as adviser to them and we already have over 50.’

1942 He wrote in the Dunkirk Patrol Evercircular ‘WSS is flourishing in Cambridge. Skipper Cann is in his element – about 60 scouts have enrolled and training is in full swing – incidentally, John, don’t worry we did the same thing in the last war – and afterwards did our very best to forget all about war’

1942                Plans for co-operation with Home Guard were noted in District Minutes and in June 3 War Service Scout camped with the HG.

1942                ‘War Service Patrols 1 & 2 registered (both Technical School) and WSP in 11th, 12th, 13th, 26th, 54th, 64th     Numbers given were 7th/10, 11th/6, 12th/15, 13th/6, 26th/10, 54th/6, 64th/1  totalling 54                  AGM    These early returns do not match the formal census returns.

1942    Rex Hazelwood           IHQ  Commissioner, involved in Post War Scouting and War Service Scouts, was to attend Cambridge and his involvement in both ‘was a reason to attend his visit’.

1942                Mr Bennett’s ‘Company of the Home Guard was anxious to help WS Patrols’ District Minutes

1943                On 26th and 27th June 1943 a camp for 21 War Service Scouts held a camp in Hemingford Grey.  It was a ‘sporting weekend’ with Scouts attending from the 13th, 64th, 54th, 29th/42nd, and 12th Cambridge along with 61st Huntingdon.

The 1943 AGM reported that the war Service Patrols had been very active ‘helping in harvest and training in fieldcraft and assault courses.’  Also midnight hikes, ‘Commando’ raids, and lectures on Sten and Lewis guns and training for the initial test (on the guns?)

1944 August WSS camp at Harston. ‘The XIII was represented’ 13th Cambridge log

1944                Sept     District discussed the ‘advisability of continuing the WSS in view of small numbers now remaining.’

1944                Oct      ‘Only troop now interested 13th’.  No evening meetings, occasional camps.

1945                No War Service Scouts were listed in Cambridge in 1945, no clear transfer to Senior Scout Patrols has been identified but the 13th were one of the very first to start a Senior Scouts Patrol in 1944.

From 13th Scouts Troop logs April 1942 – 1944

At the beginning of 1942 a Senior Patrol had been formed. By April we have a record of P/L Martin being in London to represent WSS. The WSS met on different nights from the troop meetings. Two cycled 50 miles to a training camp with night manoeuvres and ‘very hard training’ the next day after which they cycled back.. Some meetings were at District HQ and from 28th September they were under the guidance of Rex Hazlewood ‘wise and clever WSS Commissioner’ and Travelling Commissioner for 3 days. In December hey were at the Leys for rifle shooting

Sometimes labelled the War Service Patrol the log also records telegraph school, mapping, navigation, but these are incidental records and not the main focus of these troop logs. In late 1944 the Senior Patrol again becomes mentioned.

60th Cambridge (Leys) Pitlochry Scotland. 1940 – 1946 The overlap in War time activities are shown by these records. The 60th ran a War Service Patrol alongside ‘Land’ Scouts and Air Scouts. A CCF patrol also existed for a time to extend their skills. The War Service Patrol in particular worked alongside the Home Guard. The school also had a Home Guard unit.

JWR Archivist Feb 2019