William Balfour Gourlay

Cambridge District Scout Archive

William (Bill) Balfour Gourlay, William Balfour-Gourlay, W B Gourlay was Cambridge ADC Cubs from c. 1932 – c. 1952.  The records are incomplete for 15 years during this span but his tenure is assumed to be continuous.  He is only occasionally called ‘Bill’ in Scouting records, more usually being identified by his surname. ‘Bill’ was quoted and used by botanists.

Despite this significant stint in the role little is recorded of his Scouting activities.  It is not known with which Group, if any, he first became engaged in Scouting in Cambridge.  He stands as an example of many long term leaders at both Group and District level whose work is not recorded in any but peripheral notes. He is recorded as being Rover Scout leader for an early incarnation of the 30th Town Rovers (1928)

In 1952 he resigned his role as ADC Cubs for Cambridge and returned his warrant for the role, signed in 1925 by BP, claiming that as he was now 73 and 3 months he thought he should step aside for someone younger.

William Balfour Gourlay was a Medical doctor and amateur botanist.  He was from an old Scottish family – that is, the family can readily trace its lineage back based on the renown of the individuals.  At Trinity from 1899 he trained as a Doctor and practiced during the Great War in the RAMC, being in North Russia in 1919.  He became Captain and was awarded the MC. 

He returned to live in Newnham and was President of the Newnham Croft Social Club.  He went on several plant hunting expeditions with professional botanists and was described as ‘equally experienced’.

The term amateur probably reflects the fact that he was not employed in the role, and being of independent means had no need to seek employment. Following the war he did not practice as a Doctor.  He became a fellow of the Linnaean Society and his finds and work are in several major collections. Below 1946, standing for at the Council elections.

He tentatively offered up his WW2 service for the requested report from IHQ. He was in the ARP service, nominally warden but later excused duties as he took up Fire Guard work acting as area captain for Newnham. He was also in the Home Guard from October 1942.


He is reported (as W B Gourlay) as showing Lantern slides on India and China to Scouts in the old Albert Institute in 1926 on  the occasion of its opening as the new Cambridge Scout Association HQ.  Some of his trips abroad occurred during his tenure as ADC.

He camped with the 5th (Perse) Cambridge in the 1920’s, the notes describing him as ‘instructing’ (see below).

Balfour Gourlay is seen below at as ADC C at a leaders training day at Abington in 1932 with Miss Neame, Assistant HQ Commissioner Cubs.

A J Covell album Cambridgeshire Collection

Ken Drake (of the 19th Cambridge) adds  ‘Incidentally we recall Balfour Gourlay who loved taking Scouts round Christ’s Pieces identifying trees – it has an African Bean Tree which he loved telling us about.’  Feb 2019

W Balfour Gourlay died on the 12th July 1966. The headline pictures is of an African Bean Tree.

William Balfour Gourlay left a legacy of which £464.10 (the balance remaining) was paid to Abington Fund in 1984.

JWR Archivist Feb 2019