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Wartime Memories

1st KNOTTINGLEY SCOUT TROOP

This story has been transcribed from the 1st Knottingley Scout Troop log-book, compiled by Scout Master J H Willoughby, and is reproduced by kind permission of Joan Haigh.

The Troop had been formed in 1909 at Christ Church by the Rev. Glover, and members were the choir boys and Sunday School scholars. Scout Master was D. Robinson and Assistant J Robinson. HQ was a hut in the old vicarage grounds.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 the District Commissioner gave an address asking all ranks to be patriotic, and most members of the Troop volunteer for service and are given a real send off by the Troop. The local association magazine “The Haversack” is very popular and lists all old scouts who enlisted. Most senior boys join the Special Police and sea scouts volunteer for coastguard duty. News from the coast: P Jackson and J Branford are awarded the Cornwell Badge and J Taylor was awarded a Gilt Cross for meritorious work in assisting to rescue men from a trawler wrecked on the coast where he was serving. He was also selected to act as bodyguard at Buckingham Palace during presentation of orders and medals, and also received his own. After the armistice is signed in November 1918 the sea scouts begin to be released from the coast and return to the Troop.

In August 1919 the troop arranged a week’s camp at Bridlington. So they cycled across the Yorkshire Wolds whilst the baggage and tents went by pony and dray. Leaving Knottingley on a Saturday morning at 8 a.m. they reached Market Weighton and set up camp for the night. The following day, Sunday, they arrived at Driffield by lunch, and reached their destination of Bridlington at 5.30 pm where tents were pitched. Events were to prove difficult as the weather was wretched with nothing but rain.

Monday:
They were up with the lark taking a dip in the sea before breakfast.

Tuesday:
Visited by the District Commissioner for Hull District.

Wednesday:
Entertained by Mrs J Bagley to tea and pictures.

Thursday:
Weather still bad so Scoutmaster decided to leave for home next day.

Friday:
Troop leaves for home; tents and small boys sent home by train to Ferrybridge; Assistant Scoutmaster J H Willoughby was left in charge of transport; reached Driffield by night time and after pony was stabled, lodgings were found.

Saturday:
Journey resumed and by tea-time they reached Market Weighton; Assistant Scoutmaster decided to stay here overnight.

Sunday:
Arrived home to a rousing reception from the Troop.

The Troop had taken part in the Peace Celebrations in July and won first prize with their decorated cart. Probably because of the disastrous week in Bridlington, Assistant Scoutmaster J H Willoughby suggested that next year’s camp should be a visit to the battlefields; everybody was excited and fell in with the idea. So with sleeves rolled up they set about raising money by holding jumble sales, whist drives, dances and concerts. Strict training was undertaken with route marches in full pack, and the niece of the Scoutmaster gave them lessons in the French language. In May of 1920 Scoutmaster R Jackson was promoted to District Scout Master, and Assistant Scout Master J H Willoughby filled his place as Scout Master. This is a diary account of this camp in July 1920:

scouts going to france.jpg (57893 bytes)

The Scouts Prepare to Leave for France

Tuesday:
The great day arrives, the Troops visit to the battlefields. 20 scouts and 3 officers leave Knottingley on Tuesday night to a fine send off by parents and friends. Arrived at Doncaster station and found they could not get down to London before the midnight mail train, so they spent the evening at the pictures.

Wednesday:
Left Doncaster about 1 a.m. Most of the Troop had a good sleep on the train. Arrived at Kings Cross about breakfast time and breakfast was partaken in a YMCA hostel. After a good wash and brush down the Troop march across London to French Consulate to have their passports stamped. Boys were very impressed with their first view of London. Arrived at French Consulate to find a large queue waiting for passports. Troop falls in rear and waits patiently for their turn. Imagine their surprise when the office opened and an official came and told the Scouters to collect all the Troop passports and take them straight inside. The French Consul inquired which part of France we were visiting and then made us a fine offer; if the Troop would play him a tune on their bugle band he would reduce the cost of vizaing the passports by half. The offer was accepted and we give him a real tune.

The Troop then marched towards Tower Bridge Station, but finding the distant too far they take their first underground tube ride. The boys are impressed by the lifts, escalators and tube trains. Arriving at Tower Bridge Station the train is caught to Dover. On arriving at Dover the Troop marches down to the quayside to make enquiries about catching the steamer. Troop unable to cross that day so they are marched back into Dover where the 1st Dover Troop loan their scout room for the night and are taken there by District Scout Master R Jackson.  Scout Master J H Willoughby and the Scout Master 1st Dover Troop stay on the quayside to act as Guard of Honour to a boat load of Belgian and French scouts arriving for the jamboree to be held at Wembley. Both Scout Masters have a busy time answering questions as several of the boys could speak English.  In the meantime tea was prepared in the Dover scout room, then all the boys were allowed out until bed time. The evening was spent at theatres or cinemas then everybody turned in for a good nights rest.

Thursday:
Up with the lark and after a good wash and breakfast the boys tidied the scout room up and extended hearty greetings to the Dover Troop.  The Troop then marched down to the beach and enjoyed a real game at rugby football. Dinner time saw the Troop through the custom offices and on board the ‘Maid of Orleans’ and soon they were sailing away towards Calais. Sing songs and other amusements were indulged in to keep the boys from feeling sea sick. Scouters change all the boy’s money into French on board and soon the boy’s pockets were full of Franc notes. Only one boy is sea sick but is soon relieved when he sees the French coast. Calais is reached and the Troop on landing are assisted by an English Sg Major who directed the Troop the best way to get through the French Customs Office, and also loads the Troops kit into his motor and takes them to Calais railway station. The Troop then marched across Calais with their bugle band and with their Troop colours flying. Crowds of people lined the street to watch them, wondering whatever was the matter. The boys are in excellent spirits and enjoy jokes with the French people. Troop arrives at the station to find they have an hour or two to spare before the train leaves. So, the whole Troop makes a raid on the post office, and cards are sent home to tell their parents they have arrived in France. The train is then caught for Hazebrook which was a railhead during the war. The town still in ruins and billets are hard to find. It is night before a suitable place is found in a dance hall behind an Estaminet. [tavern] Madam soon supplies the Troop with supper: coffee, bread and cheese. Food is a bit strange to the lads, but with being hungry soon get it down. Beds are made on the floor and after a good nights rest slightly disturbed by rats, the Troop awakes in real good humour.

Knottingley Scouts in France

The Scouts in France

Friday:
After a real good cold shower Scout Master J H Willoughby assists Madam to prepare breakfast. Bacon had been brought from Dover and Madam manages to secure 2 eggs each (26). After a real good feed the Troop leaves for the station. Madam is thanked for her kindness and then the Troop caught the train for Bailuel their next destination. The Troop are greatly interested during the train journey as they are passing through the war area. Towns and villages are all in ruins and only temporary houses of wood are up for inhabitants. The Troop arrives at Bailuel and the Scouters decide to make this the HQ during the tour. Billets are secured in an old wartime YMCA, now under French control. Sleeping accommodation found on the theatre stage and tea provided by the staff in charge. After tea, hearing that a soldier’s camp is just outside of the town the Scouters decide to visit it.  So the Troop marches down and at the same time as the Troop arrives there, so does the Brigadier General in charge. He is delighted to meet the Troop and makes a brief inspection of them. He then grants permission to the boys to roam about the camp. The soldiers are delighted to see the lads and soon everybody is friends. The Scouters arrange with the Brigadier General to hire an army lorry and two drivers for the remainder of the tour. Arrangements are made for them to be at the Troops billet next morning.

Saturday:
Everybody up early and after a real hot bath provided by the caretaker, after a good tip, the boys enjoy a good breakfast with even tea for 26.  After breakfast the lorry arrives and the Troop set off for the war sectors. Scout Master J H Willoughby, who had served out in France during the war, acted as guide. The first sector taken was Plug/Play? Street Wood, Messiner Ridge and Kemmel Hill, all well known places during the war. Scout Master explains all the places to the lads. Trenches and dug outs are shown and the two different lines: English – German. A halt is made at Kemmel Hill at an Estaminet owned by a Scotchman who had married a Belgian girl. Here the boys spent an enjoyable time whilst the Scouters climbed Kemmel Hill. All in the lorry again and back to their billet for tea. After tea, as the local Dramatic Society were holding a concert in the theatre the boys remove their kit and assist in preparing the seats etc. As the French concert was not a long one the Troop are asked to assist them  A concert party is soon formed with some of the boys and Scouters, and give a splendid concert which all the French people enjoyed. All the wartime songs were sung and soon the Troop had won the hearts of the inhabitants and everything pointed to having a friendly visit.

Sunday:
The Troop indulged in a quiet day. The Roman Catholic Church was visited and several English cemeteries, which were very carefully attended to, each grave having a small headstone and a large cross in the centre. The day wound up with a visit to the soldiers camp.

Monday:
Saw the Troop, after breakfast, on board the lorry to another sector. This time the Scout Master took the Ypres area. The route taken was the same as thousands of British Tommies had taken during the war. To the Scouters it was a remembrance of old times and memories to the lads. A vivid revelation of what the war areas were usually like. In front of Ypres the ground was exactly as it was during the war: mud, shells and cases, bombs, tanks snatched in action, and barbed wire all remind the lads what their fathers and brothers had to go through. Ypres was partly rebuilt but the Scout Master explained how it was during the war and pointed out places of renown.  Whilst they were looking round a Belgian Troop out trekking arrive. Although none of them could speak English we managed to greet each other. They are real pleased to see us and though speaking French we are able to explain a little about our tour. They had trekked from Bruges and seem to be enjoying it. Several English people were met in Ypres visiting the graves of their relatives who had fallen during the war.  Tea was served in the YMCA in the Square facing the old Cloth Hall still in ruins. The Troop then hurried back as they were giving a concert in the soldier’s canteen for the troops. The Tommies enjoy the concert and then the Troop is invited to supper in the NCO’s mess. A real good meal was partaken of and a social evening concluded a glorious day.

Tuesday:
Saw the Troop again paying a visit to another sector. This time the Bassei Salient? Familiar to English troops during the war, such places as Armentines, Lens, Loos, La Basse were visited. Dinner was taken in an old YMCA hut in La Basse, now used as a school. Afterwards the Troop were shown over the old English trenches then taken over No Mans Land to see the German ones. A most interesting day was spent wandering about viewing places of interest. The Troop then returned through Bethune back to their billets tired out all ready for bed.

Wednesday:
This day was a lazy day and everybody took advantage of it and rested. The afternoon was spent in rehearsing for a concert the Troop was giving in aid of the staff of their billet who had attended to their wants during their stay in Bailuel. The concert was advertised about the town and down in the soldiers camp. The concert proved a huge success, 250 people being present including officers and men from the camp and nearly all the French inhabitants including the Mayor and Chief of Police. It was a splendid night and the lads were encored time after time. The Scouters took this opportunity of thanking everybody who had given assistance. The total proceeds 250 francs were handed over to the staff and after three good cheers the pleasant evening ended.

Thursday:
The boys awoke to find it raining heavily and being their last day in Bailuel visits were paid to all friends to say good-bye. Dinner time saw the Troop on board the train on their way back home. The night was spent in Calais, accommodation being found in the YMCA, and the evening was spent in buying presents for home and a visit to a cinema.

Friday:
Boys were up early to take their final look round before catching the boat back to Dover. Soon they were leaving ‘La Belle France’ behind and were heading for the White Cliffs of Dover. The Troop on arrival at Dover caught the boat-train direct to London. The boys created a pleasant scene marching across London wearing German tin helmets and carrying shell cases they had brought back from the battlefields. Lunch was served at the YMCA and then after a real good wash and brush up a quick tour of London was made. Visits were made to the National Art Gallery, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and other places of interest. The night was spent in the YMCA. Here everybody had a good nights rest, being their first night rest between sheets since the commencement of this tour.

Knottingley Scouts return home

The Scouts on their return home

Saturday:
After breakfast the Troop was soon on its way homeward. Most of the day spent in travelling and home was reached just after tea. The boys were welcomed home by their parents and friends and thus ended one of the most thrilling tours any Troop could wish to have. After such a tour it took a few days for the Troop to settle down any. But soon they were hard at work again raising money for a Scout Hut. The Troop managed to secure an old Army Hut and the winter was spent in fitting the hut up and on usual scout routine.

Transcribed from the 1st Knottingley Scout Troop log-book, compiled by Scout Master J H Willoughby, and reproduced by kind permission of Joan Haigh.

[Wartime Contents]



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