The Boy Scouts Are Carrying On
This was the slogan of the Scout Movement during the Second World War (1939 – 1945). By the end of 1940 over 53,000 Scouts had trained to undertake over hundred and seventy National War Service jobs. The Scouts were proud of its record and commissioned a booklet entitled They Were Prepared and a film Men of Tomorrow in 1941 to tell the story of their efforts.
These badges and armbands were issued to Scouts undertaking official war work as described below.
On the 1 September 1939 Operation Pied Piper began. This was the code name of a mass evacuation of civilians, particularly children, from areas thought to be at risk from air raids. During the War over 3.5 million people in the UK were relocated. The Government had been planning the evacuation scheme and had approached civilian organisations to assist with the programme. Older Scouts were used to help organise groups of children, carry luggage and offer comfort were necessary.
The members of some Cub Packs and Scout Troops were evacuated on mass as the programme was organised geographically. Leaders tried their best to keep the Packs and Troops going to offer the children some continuity.
Air Raid Precautions
Scouts were asked to help prepare the country for air raids, this included preparing for the government imposed blackout. Teams of Scouts helped by painting white lines on the edge of roads making them more visible in the dark.
Teams of Scouts could be booked to help put up air raid shelters. There were two main types of shelters, Anderson shelters which could be dug and built in the garden and Morrison shelters erected inside the house. By the end of 1941 over 500,000 Morrison shelters had been issued to households across the UK.
During the Blitz Scouts supported civilian organisations included the Air Raid Warden’s Service, fire and ambulance services. Scouts worked in very dangerous conditions as fire watchers, stretcher bearers, carrying messages, supporting evacuation of hospitals during air raids and carrying out first aid. These were all tasks which Scout training would support.
The bravery of many Scouts was recognised through the Scouts gallantry award scheme. These included John Flinn of Sheffield, a local newspaper wrote up a report of his actions
In a hail of shrapnel, Flinn took charge of a woman who had been rescued from a demolished house, and wheeled her on a grocer’s barrow to a first-aid post. Flinn wore a saucepan on his head to protect himself during the air raid.
John was awarded the Gilt Cross, the fourth highest gallantry award for facing ‘moderate risk’ in the course of his duties. He was a Patrol Leader with 36th Sheffield (St John’s Ranmoor) Scout Group, when he won the award.
Not all Scouts undertaking this kind of work survived. One such case was 17 year old Frank Davis of 11th Bermondsey and Rotherhithe (St James’) Scout Group. Frank died on 8 December 1940 at Trinity Church, Dockhead, London. He was awarded the Bronze Cross for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty as an Air Raid Warden having rescued a fellow Scout Messenger he was killed by enemy action. Explore the Gallantry Roll of Honour to see if any Scouts from your area received awards for action during the Second World War.
In 1940 the Home Guard was formed from volunteers who weren’t eligible for active service due to age, health or their occupation. Their role was to slow down the enemy advance in case of invasion. Scouts helped teach skills such as tracking, first aid and bushcraft to this newly formed force.
Working the land
The Dig for Victory campaign was introduced to encourage people to convert land for food production to help increase the amount of home produced food limiting the reliance on imported goods. Scouts helped maintain plots of land including this war garden set up in the grounds of a hospital.
Scouts also carried out other tasks such as working with the Women’s Timber Corp to fell wood for the war effort. They also helped collect plants which could be used for medical purposes including sphagnum moss which has antiseptic properties and could be used in wound dressings.
Scouts also carried out a range of other jobs including supporting other civilian services with provision like service cafes for those in the armed forces. Fulham District Scouts worked with the YMCA to serve refreshments from this van.
Campaigns such as the collection of waste paper and scrap metal to raise funds to support the war effort were also attractive to Scouts wanting to do their bit.
With so many adults called up to do war service many Patrol Leaders stepped into their leaders role to ensure Scouting carried on. A special certificate was issued to those who took on this responsibility.
Visit our learning resources for an activity exploring the badges Scouts during the Second World War could earn.