Biggleswade Scouts in WW1

Biggleswade Scout Troop and Band 1914 PNL-150127-114232001
Biggleswade Scout Troop and Band 1914 PNL-150127-114232001

Peter Sutherst, Bedfordshire County Scouts Archivist, has kindly written to us with some history regarding local Scouts in the First World War, not long after the foundation of the movement.

The story of Biggleswade Scouts in the First World War is one of courage, bravery and loyalty tinged with some sadness. Formed in 1909 with 14 members and one leader, the Scout Troop had grown to 49 members and four adults at the outset of the war complete with an enthusiastic drum and bugle band which regularly marched through the town.

Scouts Firemans Badge instruction Biggleswade Town Hall 1918 PNL-150127-114244001

Scouts Firemans Badge instruction Biggleswade Town Hall 1918 PNL-150127-114244001

Using Mafeking hero Baden-Powell’s handbook Scouting for Boys, these lads were trained to be ready for anything. They became skilful at first aid, tracking, signalling, ambulance and cycling as well as earning camping and cooking awards. The highest honour was to become a King’s Scout. In 1914 seventeen-year-old Tom Barratt was awarded this accolade. He went on to become Detective Chief Superintendent Barratt of Scotland Yard and helped to solve many high profile murders. By 1915 the troop had 15 King’s Scouts to their credit.

Early in 1915 Imperial Scout Headquarters, as it was called, issued instructions for a War Work badge. In Biggleswade this involved the Scouts in guarding bridges and delivering messages on their bicycles to the army Garrison in the town. They were allowed to wear their familiar slouch hat, brown shirt and neckerchief while on National Duty.

Later, the Scouts learned how to fight fires with instructions at the town hall by fire brigade staff. The Ministry of War mobilised the Scouts to help cultivate vegetables and encourage self-sufficiency with a Gardener Badge for the successful ones.

Bob Willson, a founder member of the troop, had the distinction of winning a Military Medal for bravery in war-time France. Although badly wounded, he led a line of the Bedfordshire Regiment in a successful attack on enemy positions.

At the end of the war, the troop armed forces Roll of Honour listed 50 Scouts who had joined the conflict. Sadly, three died on active service including teenager Rob Waterfield who was killed in France. He was one of an estimated 10,000 UK Scouts who perished during the war.

Photographs courtesy of Gerry Pope and volume one of the History of Scouting in Biggleswade.