"For great occasions, such as visits from the District Comissioner, there was a Grand Salute. 'The Brownies form a circle and squat on their heels...with both hands on the ground beneath their feet. When the important person comes in they howl very gently all together . "Tu-whit-to-who-oo-ooo. Tu-whit-to-who-oo-ooo, " the second time raising the voice and gradually rising to a standing position. "Tu-whit-to-who-oo-ooo." The third time it is louder and the forefinger on the right hand is placed to the lips and made to revolve, the noise getting louder and louder until it ends in a shriek, a leap in the air, and a clap of the hands. The clap comes as the feet reach the ground... then the Brownies are absolutely silent and raise their hands to the full salute."
No, I'm not putting 'that' picture up again, it's here if you want to see it and who knows what we'd have done if the Queen had walked in, but the District Commissioner was near enough to God for us to be completely over-awed, and it's all coming back to me yet again thanks to Janie Hampton's wonderful book How the Girl Guides Won the War. I've been reading and enjoying this for the last few months but felt I really should wheel it out for your delectation on today of all days. Olave and Robert Baden Powell's shared birthday, 22nd February, Thinking Day.
With little in common but being 'madly in love' and sharing their birthdays, Olave soon knew what was in store when Robert took her camping in the Atlas mountains in Algeria for their honeymoon. A spot of cooking over a fire and scrubbing out the pans with earth and dried grass followed, presumably to fulfill the potential he had recognised
'a cheery and bright playmate and a woman who could be trained up to help with the Guide movement.'
Despite strangely looking forward to the romantic idea of going to camp and sleeping in a Bell Tent and digging mysterious things called Lats, I was a bit of a failed Girl Guide and having read this book I can now see why. By the time I was due to 'walk' (not 'fly' and get that set of wings, a source of lifelong humiliation) up to guides from Brownies in 1965 things had become a little staid, and Janie Hampton explains the listlessness that I and many others may have felt for the whole thing at the time.
For all my Brownie devotion to the cult of the toadstool and my Very Important Role as Sixer of the Gnomes in the 1st Mitcham pack ( and this being me I still have some of the badges) and having to sing that song every Wednesday evening... Here we come the laughing gnomes, helping mothers in our homes ...ahem.. and leading my six out the wrong way to dance around the toadstools because I didn't know my left hand from my right, and then messing up the joining of the big circle because we were all dancing in the wrong direction... well despite all this allegiance I never really bonded with Guides. It was probably all to do with starting without wings and somehow ending up as a Robin, then we moved from Mitcham across to Wallington and I quickly threw in the towel. I can't think why but I then had a major resurgence of interest when I was sixteen and realised that joining the Rangers meant access to the Venture Scouts, and there was me, back in the Guiding movement in Cheam and with a strangely renewed enthusiasm.
Had this been wartime though I'd have been in there like a shot because by all accounts this was when the Guides really did come into their own, and it has been a real revelation to read quite how those principles of guiding established by Baden Powell came to the fore. The uniform of a Guide a sign that Good Deeds were imminent and that a sensible, well-ordered girl was at hand always ready to proffer calm, organised assistance as required. During the First World War this ranged from setting up feeding stations for returning soldiers to organising sports days for the wounded ...yes really, a one legged soldier valiantly translated the triple jump into the triple hop for the occasion. And here's power to the girls.. the Guides considered by far the more reliable by the War Office, replaced the Boy Scouts as messengers for MI5 carrying top secret counter-espionage memoranda around London.
During the Second World War Guides throughout Europe were working in increasingly dangerous situations and doubtless without a signed letter of consent from their parents and CRB checks on everyone with whom they came into contact. In the UK the Guides role was initially confined to helping with the evacuation of children but in Poland the Guides were not beyond a bit of covert Nazi sabotage or more risky intelligence work, and several were tortured and executed as a consequence.
There's a great deal more here too but a book that I have really enjoyed, not only for the social history of the Guiding movement but for all those little reminders about life as a Brownie. How about the second class test, tweaked slightly by 1961 when I would have done it because I feel sure I had to master the envelope corner in the bed-making module, but just look how useful it all made us
- Know the history of the Union Jack ( upsidedown at your peril)
- Tie four complicated knots (remember the reef knot behind your back?)
- Make a useful article with a hem and decorative tacking (see, that's where it all started)
- Sew on two types of buttons (er...are there two types?)
- Understand the importance of clean teeth
- Skip twenty times backwards (been using that all my life ever since)
- Catch a ball six times
- Lay a table for dinner.
So Happy Thinking Day everyone and come on then, what six were you in... can you still remember the song... did you go to Brownie Revels and eat burnt baked beans... did you fly up to Guides (if so I'm jealous) .. and in case there are any District Commissioners hovering, well let's just do it shall we...
Tu-whit-to-who-oo-ooo... Tu-whit-to-who-oo-ooo... Tu-whit-to-who-oo-ooo.