The Rover Scout Crew
By R. Philip Smith ("Cunning Hand"), Scribe.
15 September 1942 saw the arrival of the first British N.C.Os. at Oflag IIIC, a camp formerly used by French and Yugoslavian officers, situated a mile or two from the village of Hohenfels in Upper Bavaria. Within a couple of weeks, upwards of 2,000 had been assembled within its hospitable strands of barbed wire. The significance of their presence was that they were unwilling to work for the Germans, if for anyone at all. It was certain therefore that time would hang heavily on the hands of practically everyone.
Almost immediately on arrival people commenced, more or less deliberately, to sort themselves into smaller communities, with some connecting bond or link, such as common association with a certain county or district. One of the first gatherings of this kind was of those who had been connected with the Scout Movement. This assembly was due largely to the initiative of Ivan C. Stevens, an Australian warrant officer, of whom it may truly be said that Scouting is the salt of his existence. Significantly of no home address, Steve always directed that one should later get into touch with him through Scout H.Q., Victoria. Possibly Police H.Q. would do the job much more quickly!
This preliminary meeting of 2 October 1942 was sufficiently well attended to warrant the calling of a general meeting on 8 October 1942. At this meeting it was decided to form a Rover Scout Crew in Oflag IIIC. At this meeting, too, Steve was elected R.S.L., and held that position without question ever afterwards. Life as a prisoner of war is not a bed of roses all the way. Periods of optimism alternate with periods of black despair, one's faith in human nature sometimes rocks to its base, but in fine periods, as in squalls, through the fits of depression and the "blues", Steve, with the faithful co-operation of a gallant few, kept the flag of Scouting flying throughout.
Other first holders of office were:
Keeper of the Log
Three Patrols were formed "Bulldogs", Rover Mate Harry Robinson; "Nomads", Rover Mate Charlie Rutter; "Owls", Rover Mate Bill Barber.
Official records of the early activities of the Crew are unfortunately not available, as the first minute book, up to 27 January 1943, was lost.
The title that the Crew should adopt received serious consideration, and on 19 October 1942 that of the 'Richard Coeur-de-Lion' Rover Scout Crew was formally decided on. The decision was influenced primarily by the fact that the bellicose English monarch of that name was himself a captive for a while in Bavaria. He owed his release to the voice of his faithful Blondin. We, however, had no illusions as to the charm of our "Blondie's" voice releasing us from durance vile. Raised as it was on the slightest provocation, it was rather of the type that causes strong men to shudder and flee. Following the adoption of the Crew title, suggestions were sketched by various members for an appropriate emblem. The very fine effort of Eric Bown was selected. Badges cast from silver paper by Stan Chester and later embroidered scarf badges of the same design form an excellent souvenir for members.
The greatest problem facing the Crew at its inception was that of accommodation. Meetings were held in vacant huts, at the end of the canteen (never to be used as such), and anywhere else where an hour or two's quiet could be arranged. Finally, however, palatial quarters were secured in what had been the harness room of a long, disused stable building, the latter ultimately being turned into the camp school, and also containing the camp library. This room, about 30 feet by 16 feet, was gradually improved out of recognition, and ultimately became a very presentable headquarters. In the course of time it blossomed out in coats of the three Scout colours, the predominating motif being the Scout green. Sketches taken from B-P's works were copied on to a white upper frieze, and added a very topical finish to the Den; these were executed by Charlie Rutter. Lockers, arm-chairs, tables, almost all conjured by the Crew "Chips" (Ken Crabtree) out of Red Cross boxes from Canada, combined to make it the most comfortable room in camp. Such photos adorning the walls, as were available, ranged in subjects from Scotland to Egypt and Australia, a fair indication of the far-scattered places from which the members of the Crew were drawn. Social activities were well catered for with a table-tennis outfit, several card tables, chess, etc. A full account of the creation of the den forms a separate feature in the present publication.
Accommodation for study of a serious nature being extremely limited in the camp, it was ultimately decided to throw the Den open to the camp as a quiet room. A member of the Crew was on duty daily, his duties being those of cleaning up, lighting and tending the fire during the winter months, and of general supervision. Many expressions of gratitude for this service were expressed to the Crew by men, who in the quiet seclusion of the den, were able to concentrate on work that it would have been useless to attempt in the often turbulent atmosphere of a hut.
The Den was open from Monday to Friday, both days inclusive, from 0900 to 1600 hours. This service commenced from 20 June 1943.
From the commencement, the Crew endeavoured to take as full a share as possible in the corporate life of the camp, and many of its duties, particularly the more onerous and thankless ones, were undertaken by Crew members. Throughout the life of the Crew, a large percentage of its number was employed in full or part-time occupations in the camp service. These included hospital and M.I. room service, library duties, and performances both on and behind the stage at both camp theatres. Ephemeral jobs were plentiful, such as the painting out of the camp M.I. room. This was done in June 1943 and again in June 1944. Collections of reading material, toilet gear, etc., for new camps were also undertaken. Another duty performed in conjunction with Toc H, was the supplying of the hospital, library, etc., with firewood. In rainy weather this was a tiring and unpleasant fatigue, entailing a back-breaking toil from the surrounding woods through an ocean of thick mud. In frosty weather, with a covering of snow on the ground, the parties set out with sledges and ropes and the expedition was a most joyous one; the sledge, loaded to breaking point, careering with very little persuasion over the icy road and through the snow-laden conifers which surrounded the camp on every side. Under these circumstances, therefore, the wood party formed a very welcome change from the monotony of camp life.
A very close friendship was maintained with Toe H during the whole of our stay in Stalag 383, as the camp was subsequently entitled. Their meetings were held in the Rover Den and it was always open to them for social activities apart from meetings, at the same time as for ourselves, while the Crew library was always at the disposal of Toe H members. With them we co-operated in most jobs of camp service.
The first big effort in which we combined was the running of a raffle for the Camp Welfare Fund. On this latter all camp amenities were for a while dependent; no income of "lager-geld" was possible, as the camp was of course comprised of non-workers. When cigarettes commenced to be available, they rapidly became in effect the camp currency. Every week several thousand were collected, a series of prizes, instituted, and a percentage deducted for the Welfare Fund. This entailed at least two days full work for several members of the Crew and Toc H, the preparation of tickets, checking of numbers, and subsequent refiling of numbers, being a tedious and protracted operation. The draw for the winning numbers was subsequently made on the stage of the camp theatre during the interval at one of the performances.
In a community which often seriously, and always humorously, professed to refuse to recognize the possibility of any disinterested action, it is pleasing to record that this is one of the very few collections or services of this nature in the camp with which the word "racket" was never associated. It is gratifying to receive some form of recognition of the genuineness of our pretensions from that most cynical and disillusioned of mortals, the long-term prisoner of war.
To revert to Scouting activities proper, it may be said that membership was usually in the forties, though a considerably larger number attended at meetings from time to time. (By the end, this number was nearly doubled, owing to the transfer en bloc of the Vila Rover Crew from Moosburg.) Attendances at meetings fluctuated considerably, owing to the number of members who were in employment in various spheres of camp usefulness. On joining the Crew everyone was required to pass, or repass, the Tenderfoot Tests, whereupon, if a former Scout, he reaffirmed the Promise; if a newcomer to the Movement, he was invested.
A few months after the Crew's formation, the camp received its first visit from Mr. Erik Berg, in his capacity as a representative of the Y.M.C.A. During his stay, he paid a visit to the Den, and we were delighted to learn that he was himself a Rover Scout in his homeland of Sweden. He took a particular interest in the Crew from this visit onwards, and no history of it could be complete without a very full and sincere expression of our gratitude to him for all his efforts on our behalf, and an acknowledgment of the very considerable debt we owe to him for the way he endeavoured to further our interests in every way possible. On many of his visits he brought personal messages of goodwill from H.R.H. The Crown Prince of Sweden, and on one occasion a hefty book from the pen of one of Sweden's most famous authors, as a gift from His Highness. He also conveyed messages of greeting from the headquarters of the Movement in Sweden. The camp, no less than ourselves, was fully alive to the debt it owed to Erik Berg for his efforts on its behalf. It was able to display its gratitude on the occasion of a visit he paid us on his birthday in September 1943 when a very full programme was arranged in his honour. Tea was partaken of with the Crew, a description being given elsewhere in this booklet. It was with very real pleasure that we learned that he had asked to be admitted to the Crew, and on the occasion of his visit to the camp on 5 June 1944 with Mr. Hugo Cedergren, we were privileged to enrol them both as members of the Crew. A description of this event is also given elsewhere.
Though endeavouring from the commencement to fulfil as far as possible the functions of a Rover Crew proper, it will be readily understood that circumstances over which we had no control precluded the possibility of the fulfilment of all its activities. The most attractive side of the Scout programme is its insistence on the joys of the open air, the open road, and the open stream. Inability to indulge one's tastes in these directions necessarily robbed any programme of its most appealing aspect. The hike, of however humble a nature, was most rigorously frowned upon by the Detaining Power. He even went to the extreme length of erecting formidable barbed wire entaglements for the express purpose of discouraging any efforts in such a direction.
For preparation of programmes, therefore, we were restricted solely to activities of the parlour variety. This would militate sorely against the attractiveness of Rover programmes under the best of conditions, but in a prisoner-of-war camp was even more difficult an obstacle to surmount. The long term prisoner is a captious critic at the best, and the Rover Council were often hard pushed to devise a programme that was likely to attract. Talks were perforce the mainstay of the programme as time went on. It was fortunate that in the Crew itself were Scouters from very widely scattered portions of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and from very different walks of life. Much of interest could be learned therefore from one another.
At the commencement Crew programmes were run on very conventional lines, with discussions of the Scout Laws, readings from Rovering to Success, and kindred subjects. As these tended to pall with familiarity, recourse was had to speakers from the camp generally as their capabilities, etc., became known. It was endeavoured as far as possible to ensure that these talks were informative as well as entertaining, in order to further the aims of the Movement to create good citizens. In this regard we must pay full tribute to a series of talks given by one of our own stalwarts, Harry Robinson. Himself a member of the N.A.L.G.O., Harry gave a comprehensive series of talks on Local Government, followed up by a series on Central Government. The former series culminated in a Mock Council Meeting, which, we were informed, was a very good counterpart of the real thing, while it certainly provided one of the most amusing evenings the Crew ever put over. A later Mock Parliament was equally instructive and amusing.
Debates were arranged from time to time, and a very fair average of speaking was maintained. Owing to the efforts of "Auld Reekie", seconded by Bob Pierce, a consistently high standard of heckling was maintained throughout. The practice of inviting a guest chairman was followed in every case in order that benefit might be obtained from his criticisms, caustic or otherwise. One of them was kind enough to suggest that wordcraft, as well as woodcraft, appeared to be Scouting's forte.
Quizzes, spelling bees, impromptu Speeches, were made avail of to lend a lighter and more entertaining touch to the programme.
For some time, it was the practice to hold a Guest Night once a month, the programme including a guest speaker, and an entertainment for which the Duty Patrol was responsible. After a few months, however, this was allowed to lapse, and was never revived.
Enthusiasm for such practical forms of Scoutcraft as were possible was very spasmodic, and it was necessary to utilize it to its fullest advantage while it lasted.
First Aid featured prominently on earlier programmes, but the formation in the camp of a St. John Ambulance Brigade, which soon organized regular classes of instruction, resulted in all those interested in this most important branch of Scouting attending its courses. In March 1943 "Blondie" Gitings and Frank Colbridge were the first two members to obtain a certificate. Several more qualified as time went on, and the above-mentioned two, with others, qualified a year or so later for the Voucher. All members of the brigade did duties in turn at football matches, and performances at the theatre. A First Aid team was entered by the Crew for a proposed Camp First Aid Competition, which failed however to materialize.
In November 1942 was inaugurated a Scouters' Circle, which met on Sunday afternoons to discuss problems of interest to a Scouter. It was attended by active Scouters from the British Isles, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Egypt. A very wide field of experience was therefore covered, and a valuable interchange of ideas was the result. With certain vicissitudes, this Circle continued till the following June.
On a change over of Scribes in August 1943 it was discovered that the minute book containing records of Crew meetings up to 27 January 1943 had been lost. An attempt to follow the Crew history up to this date is therefore necessarily fragmentary.
November 1942. Elections in November saw the election of E. Mills as Scribe, John Eldon as R.M. of the Bulldogs, and Joe Duckworth R.M. of the Nomads, other appointments remaining unchanged. During the month the R.S.L. communicated to I.H.Q. the fact of the Crew's formation, his letter subsequently being published in England. The Scouters' Circle commenced at the end of this month.
December 1942 was noteworthy for the fact that on the 16th of that month the Crew received its first visit from Erik Berg, on which occasion he took photographs of the Den.
January 1943. During this month a Memorial Service to commemorate the second anniversary of the death of B-P. was conducted in the Den by R.M. John Eldon. The Camp lost the first of its members through death in the person of S/Sgt. Edwards, the Crew assisting in the preparations for his funeral.
February 1943 saw the presentation of a new Union Jack to the Crew by two of its members, A. Moss and F. Colbridge; this was later removed by our temporary hosts.
An interesting feature was a talk by a guest speaker on Borstal Institutes.
March 1943. The Crew received a further visit from Erik Berg, during which he presented us with a book, entitled The Earth is Ours, from H.R.H. the Crown Prince of Sweden. The chief talk during the month was on "Rehabilitation after the War", by Capt. Foote, the Canadian Padre.
April 1943. Notice was received from I.H.Q. in connection with the proposed memorial to the late Chief Scout. The result was the forwarding in a few weeks time of £130 as a donation from Crew members. This sum was augmented in the course of time by further amounts. During the month an entertaining talk was given by Brian Hodgkinson, a Canadian pilot of a Spitfire, on "Behind the mike in Winnipeg".
May 1943. The Crew accepted a challenge from Toc H to a debate. The subject, in order to give full rein to their gifts for the frivolous of the Crew speakers, Phil Smith and Busty Woodiwiss, was selected as "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all". The Crew speakers chose to speak against the motion. Having cheerfully accepted the challenge, the Crew lamentably failed to turn up in force to support their elected champions, who fought a losing battle throughout, emerging from the contest defeated but not disgraced. Further elections this month saw the following changes: A.R.S.L., C. Rutter; Q.M., K. Crabtree; Keeper of the Log, Phil. Smith.
June 1943 saw a further visit from Erik Berg, bringing with him photos of the Crew, and letters of greeting from Scout H.Q. in Sweden. During this month the Den was completely renovated and thrown open during the day as a camp quiet room. At the end, the camp M.I. room was also painted out by volunteers from the Crew. Ken Crabtree made the first of several pairs of crutches for patients in the camp hospital. Following a discussion between Steve and Charlie Rutter, the R.S.L. issued the first weekly Scout Bulletin for the camp.
July 1943. We welcomed a Cypriot Rover, Safter Souleiman, our first member of non-British stock. His cheerful disposition and his ready command of the English language, rendered him extremely popular, and it was ever regretted that he had perforce to pass a very considerable amount of his days in the camp hospital before his repatriation in January 1945. It was intended during this month to hold a carnival in camp, in which the Crew decided to participate in an exhibit emphasizing the international aspect of Scouting, but the Detaining Power finally refused to sanction the holding of the suggested festival.
August 1943. The Crew wound up a aeries of talks given by Harry Robinson on local government by staging a Mock Council- Different committees were formed among the Crew, each presenting a report on its own activities. The evening was enlivened by the presence of "Mac", the Chief Man of Confidence in camp, who was irrepressible as the "disgruntled member". The whole session was uproariously funny, but unfortunately no detailed record of the meeting was taken. Early this month, E. Mills ("Cowboy") resigned the post of Scribe, and P. Smith was elected to fill his place. Another visit was paid by Erik Berg.
September 1943. On the 10th of this month, after approximately a year's existence, the Crew held an Extraordinary General Meeting, for the purpose of stocktaking and consideration of future policy. The R.S.L. reviewed the year's progress, and enumerated the objects the Crew had endeavoured to keep before it:
1. To keep alive the spirit of Scouting.
2. To further the interests of the Movement by:
(a) Interchange of ideas on Scouting subjects through practice and discussion.
(b) Carrying out in theory and practice as much as possible to interest and train Scouters and potential Scouters, realizing the need for efficient Scout Leaders in greater numbers on return to the homelands.
(c) Putting into practice the Rover motto of "Service" in the camp.
(d) Providing interesting and instructive pastimes for members of the Group.
(e) Interesting non-Scouts in the Movement, and disseminating Scouting ideals.
At this meeting it was decided to run a course for Scouters, as far as possible along Gilwell lines. A newcomer to the Crew, Ern Pettitt, an enthusiastic Scouter from Eastbourne, volunteered to run this course, and did so with much success for several weeks. It was decided to discontinue quarterly elections, and to elect the most suitable for each particular office, which he was to hold till he resigned or was thrown out. A proposal to hold some form of "bun-fight" to celebrate the anniversary of the Crew's founding was carried, and John Corke was elected Grand Caterer in Chief. A description of the celebration appears elsewhere.
October 1943 brought us to a full-dress discussion on "Emigration", guest speakers being Captain Foote, who spoke for Canada, and Jimmy O'Dell, who went to Australia from England under the Fairbridge Scheme and who spoke on that aspect of the subject. Other speakers were: Phil Smith, Steve, Charlie Rutter and Tom Vallis. The minutes of the meeting are reproduced in order to give some idea of this type of meeting.
November 1943. The most interesting meeting was that of the 19th relating the "Cruise of the Nomad", as it was put on by members of that Patrol. The minutes of this meeting are likewise reproduced elsewhere.
December 1943. The Crew closed the old year by a debate on a subject suggested by a letter from I.H.Q. from Colonel Watson, the motion reading "That in the opinion of this Crew, a change is desirable in the Scout Organization to meet the charge of the education authorities that Scouting fails to attract after the age of 14 to 15 years". It is considered worth while to reproduce the minutes of this meeting also.
Christmas saw a special programme of its own, though the Camp Fire that had been arranged for Boxing Day was cancelled at the last minute when it was discovered that a musical programme was being held in the room adjoining. Several members of the Crew spent the whole of the day in the Den, including the Christmas dinner ceremony.
January 1944 saw an attempt to brighten the programme, more speakers were introduced from without. It was decided to split the programme into two; the first portion should consist of a talk, or what-not of general interest, followed by a break for cocoa, when would follow a Scouting session, in which one of the Crew would relate a Scouting experience, or discourse on some topic of Scout interest. Later in the year, with the arrival of a Wood Badge Paper from England, it was the practice to take one of the questions in turn and discuss it at this session, a member of the Crew having already been detailed to prepare a short address to lead off the discussion. In this way, the handicap of having no Scouting literature available for those members contemplating taking the Wood Badge Course was mitigated by a general pooling of ideas. During the month, the third anniversary of B-P's death was commemorated as before by a short service conducted by John Eldon. During the month the main talks were on "Toc H" and "Growth of the moral impulse", both of them incidentally by Toc H members.
February 1944 saw a quiz conducted in his inimitable style by John Corke, and a debate to the effect that "The present war would be of benefit to posterity", speakers being C. Rutter and J. Corke, for; and H. Robinson and R. Pierce, against. On the 24th of this month official meetings of any kind were banned by the S.B.M.O. owing to the seriousness of a "flu" epidemic that struck the camp at this juncture, as well as other parts of Europe. A great number of people were smitten, but the malady was fortunately of such a mild character that it was countered by a stay in bed of three or four days.
March 1944. Meetings recommenced on the 31st of this month, with a philosophical discourse by Captain The Rev. Father Grant, the resident R.C. padre.
April 1944 gave us an interesting address by a guest speaker on "Law for the Layman", and an innovation in entertainment, arranged by John Corke. This programme was comprised of speeches of an impromptu nature in impersonation of a character drawn from a hat, and furnished another most amusing evening. This month also Harry Robinson summed up the whole of his series of talks on local government. Crew membership cards were received from Sweden through Erik Berg.
May 1944. Harry Robinson commenced a further series on Central Government. The month's programme also included a talk on Y.M.C.A. boys' clubs, and a debate on the proposed new Education Bill. For this debate, four new speakers were dragooned into taking part. An indoor games tournament was played, and won, against the Three Crowns Club. At the end of the month Bob Pierce resigned his position as Rover Mate, being succeeded by Ken Uphill. The camp medical inspection room was completely renovated by volunteers from the Crew.
June 1944. The 4th of this month witnessed the first investiture of a Rover Squire in Stalag 383, when Jim Smith was received into the Crew as a full member. Eighteen members were present in uniform. The following day was the visit of Messrs. Cedergren and Berg on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Y.M.C.A. The former was World-Vice-President of the Movement, and also a prominent member of the Scout Movement in Sweden. Both had expressed a wish to become members of our Crew, and were both received as such by the R.S.L. at a tea given to them by the Crew. A separate account of the day's events is given elsewhere.
The programme this month included an amusing evening entitled "I want to be an Actor" arranged by John Corke, and a talk on "Letters Patent" given by Padre Hunter, a new arrival in the camp.
This month also saw the influx of Bill Heydon to the Crew. An extremely enthusiastic and enterprising Sea Scout, it was not surprising that the new Patrol, the formation of which had been under discussion for some time, decided to compose itself of those interested in Sea Scouting, and to call themselves after the Albatross. Still less surprising was it that Bill Heydon became the first Rover Mate.
At the same time a sudden burst of enthusiasm for practical Scoutcraft swept the Crew, and a list of instructors and examiners in most subjects was compiled. It was decided that any Squires who wished to become Rover Scouts must reach First Class standard in as many subjects as was possible under our circumstances, some tests being specially adapted. A new meeting night was arranged for Wednesday, in addition to the ordinary Friday meeting. Not content with this, Patrols arranged for separate meetings of their own, the Albatrosses, having the most ground to cover, meeting on their own on an average three times a week.
An influx of new members was had about this time, several of them to partake of the instruction being offered to Sea Scouts.
Resignations as Rover Mates were tendered by "Naafi" Henson, after a long and excellent term of service, and by Ken Uphill. The latter was influenced solely by the fact that his patrol had been strengthened by the acquisition of a chap of much practical experience in the person of Vin Nash, who was elected to take his position, and was very soon in demand as an instructor and examiner in "Pioneering". Charlie Rutter relinquished the post of A.R.S.L. to take over R.M. of the Nomads.
In addition to two weekly meetings, and several separate patrol meetings, a course on First Aid was also commenced by A. E. ("Blanco") White, a newcomer to the Movement, but the most prominent First-Aider in the camp.
July 1944 was of course notable for the death of the Empire Chief Scout, Lord Somers. News was received during a Crew Meeting, and a minute's silence observed as a token of respect. A special Scout Bulletin was immediately issued to the camp, and on the following Sunday a Scouts' Own service was conducted by the R.S.L. in the Den.
During the month another investiture of a Rover Squire took place, that of Ned Needham. He had been one of our keenest members since joining the Crew some months previously, and it was with great regret that we bade him farewell a few days later. A pilot in the R.A.F., he left with the other members of the Air Force when they were moved to a Luft Camp after a stay of nearly two years in Stalag 383. A contributor of several articles to the Scout Bulletin, he was naturally particularly interested in the newly-formed air branch of the Movement, to which he intended to devote some of his leisure on his return to England.
The programme for this month included a session of impromptu speeches arranged by "Cunning Hand", and a talk on "Blood Transfusions" by Captain France, R.A.M.C., one of the camp's M.Os. Incidentally, this talk was the outcome of the R.S.L. volunteering to act as blood donor for a case in the camp hospital. A further outcome was the enrolling as blood donors of all members whose blood grouping was already known, no facilities existing in camp to ascertain grouping of those unaware of the category to which they belonged.
During the month the question of a souvenir publication was mooted. A brain child of John Corke's, midwives to assist in bringing it safely to birth were elected in Harry Robinson and Phil Smith.
Thanks to Kerry Single, email@example.com, for contributing the above.