If anyone put the Boy Scout Movement fairly and squarely on the map of Charlton Kings, it was Mr. F.J. FRY, at that time headmaster of the Council School. He never took rank in the movement, he was seldom seen on parade with the troop, but his presence was always felt. He was the Secretary, the impetus, the drive and power that started things and kept them going. As soon as the movement was founded, in l9lO, he saw immediately the value its influence could be to the insular, growing, English boy, and he spared no energy to get it started here in the village. That in my opinion was the true conception of the 7th CHELTENHAM TROOP, BOY SCOUTS.
And if the Boss placed the movement on the map of the village, surely it was Mr. E.J.FEAR who nailed it home; nailed it so soundly that even now, some seventy years afterwards it is still going as strong as ever it did.
Of course their work was not always simultaneous, indeed, Mr. Fear did not join the troop till 1914. In the early days when the Secretary was getting the basis of the troop in order, Mr FEAR was not even a member of the troop!
His years of preparation had yet to come but eventually the complementary gifts of the two men produced the stuff of which the 7th Cheltenham Troop is made and many who have passed through the troop have made it a youth movement, the value and durability of which the village can be justly proud.
The Secretary had done his preparation work well. To begin with, he had got together an enthusiastic and generous Committee. Fitting out a brandnew troop of Scouts demands a capital outlay quite outside the normal budgeting of a boy of the village. On more than one occasion I knew the committee members to advance the cash until the boys could refund it. Capt McBEAN became the Chairman and Mr SHARPE the Hon. Treasurer. There was also Major RUSSELL, Major DUDGEON, and later the Revd BOOTH. The one lady on the committee at the time was Mrs GRIFFITHS, whose loyalty and generosity to the troop earned her the name of the Troop’s Fairy Godmother.
At the beginning Mr H. ADDIS was invited to act as Scoutmaster. He was an assistant master at the school and just about then as Assistant S.M. they appointed Mr. H. FRY. So when these officers had received their warrants, the 7th Cheltenham was in business, so to speak.
The Troop started early in 1910. It nearly missed being somebody’s valentine, if that doesn’t sound too frivolous. What I mean was, the inaugural meeting was on Feb. 15th. This gave the troop plenty of preparatory time before August if a camp was to be contemplated in the first year. But at that time the camp, I felt, was more a wish than a reality. There was little experience in the troop and I could see less among the officers. In fact in our group of officers, at the moment, I felt that the thought of camp was considered with some apprehension.
The whole country, having been pre-occupied with a war, felt it was now time to do something about the country’s youth and its leisure hours. What I think B.P, really invented was a new supplementary system of education. Peace was in the air and for the first time strong political bodies were supporting it. So scouting was stressed by the Chief as a movement of education and peace, never as a preparation for war.
Little of interest happened during the first summer. Troops were forming around us and a troop of CHELTENHAM COLLEGE day boys was formed by Mr. L. BARNARD, who seemed to be forming a CHELTENHAM GROUP and at the time was acting as Secretary. He frequently appeared at the 7th CHELTENHAM meetings; and when in the early summer he said that they considered having a camp at Deerhurst and would the 7th join them? it turned out that at this stage a union would suit both troops well. A small camp was usually a poor one and as both troops could not have been shorter on experience, perhaps this was the best way to collect it. Then, troops tended to acquire camp equipment as they grew older. This of course lessened the initial outlay on each camp, so at this stage both troops could do with any assistance that was available.
The 7th had three bell-tents that they could contribute which had been bought as part-worn government stock, and beyond that, little else. But it shows how much those in charge trusted their own equipment – they had also hired a small marquee. I must admit that its main object was to be a small common mess. They wished the maximum time spent on “training” and I suppose they did not consider the production and presentation of meals training. But that marquee served us a purpose we never could have envisaged!
I have been on many camps since then and much of all camps must show some similarity to others. But one thing stood out about the DEERHURST camp – the weather. We had ideal weather most of the day but round about tea time, on most days, heavy and beautiful cumulus built up over Wales, sailed majestically east, and then drifted leisurely up the river. We were certain to catch one, I thought – and we did. It hit us after midnight about three days before we struck camp.
For a while it was intense, the rain, hail, and dramatic lighting having a quite awe-inspiring effect and as the thunder rolled through the valley, one had the sense of living in titanic power. The awe-inspiring effect almost developed fear as the whole scene was violently and spasmodically lighted with dazzling lightning. And then we found the old tents could not stand the deluge. Tent after tent began to let in water and both boys and their belongings were getting saturated. A short conference was held, the result of which was that all the Troop was crammed, beds and bodies, into the marquee. There they would be warm, safe, and dry; but I was certain there would be little sleep.
The S.M. and I stood at the door of the marquee and watched the storm. It was spectacular and we were both a bit absorbed when we were struck by some form of action in the distance where the end of our lines were –near No 3 tent. It was a flickering light in the shadow, as if someone was working in the dark. The S.M. turned to the troop in the marquee and after a quick check said “That’s someone of No 3 Tent, its Smith. What’s he doing out there now? Get him in with the rest.”
On the face of it, it appeared somewhere the 7th Chelt. discipline had broken. If this was a touch of mutiny, it was quite out of keeping with BENJI SMITH. I thought I knew. You have never met BENJI. I introduced you to his father, remember? the Plymouth Brethren friend of mine who had been a shepherd. Benji was one of his younger sons. He had left school and was apprenticed to Mr LEWIS in Cudnall as a shoemaker. While in camp Benji had suggested he should bring his tools and be responsible for ‘running repairs’. Somewhere here I felt certain lay the explanation of the dancing light.
I pulled on the mackintosh cape, grabbed a stave, and plunged into a dark, pulsating, night and made through the drenching rain towards the flickering light on the opposite ridge. It was only about 80 yards to go – but what a trip!
However, after what felt like a truly homeric struggle against the elements, I stopped in front of an old army bell-tent, a mass of torn, saturated, dirty canvas. In the centre sat a small boy intently concentrating on an uncongenial piece of tent repairing, while the storm continued to rage as a dramatic background all along the valley.
The weak part of the old tent had let Benji down. The dolly which holds the centre pole into its socket was saturated and worn and torn, and Ben wished to mend it so that it could dry and be in use again as quickly as possible. Until this was accomplished everything was subordinate to the one idea. But his S.M. had other ideas.
So I collected Benji and we collected his tools and we set out along the muddy track to the bright lights of the marquee. As I trudged along by his side, I wondered at the single-mindedness of so young a craftsman, and felt slightly humiliated. He had given his word to be responsible for minor repairs and he was not being allowed to honour his word. Again I found my impish imagination wondering whether St Paul at such an early age faced his troublesome problems in such a determined and resolute manner — because he too was a tent-maker, wasn’t he?
When the writer was approached to produce for us a history of the 7th Chelt. B.P. Scouts, he declined because so many records turned out so similar, merely the names of those running the troop showing a difference. By recounting an accepted selection of troop anecdotes, he hopes, not only to produce most of the troop history, but also much of the troop spirit.