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Scouting in Normandy in the 1950s

Recollections from Derek George Crooke

I guess it was about 1950, when I was eight, that I joined the cubs. Cyril Dyson was our Akela and Mr and Mrs Boxall were Bagheera and Baloo. We were the wolf cub pack, eager, inquisitive, adventurous, and sometimes a little unruly but keen to learn. I wore the uniform, learnt the laws and dib, dib, dibed; dob, dob,dobed, promising to do my best, to do my duty to God and the Queen, to help other people at all times, and to obey the Law of the Pack.

We learnt to tie knots of increasing complexity, and spliced the ends of ropes. We built campfires and made twists from flour and water. These were spread with margarine to be eaten warm, swilled down with smoky tea brewed in a dixie and drunk from large enamel mugs. We gained a proficiency badge for each skill mastered.

There were also vigorous games e.g. "British Bulldog", with no health and safety restrictions. In the summer there was swimming in the pool. It was the memory of Cyril Dyson shouting at me to keep moving my arms in the breaststroke, in order to stay afloat, that may have saved my life. A few weeks later at Southsea, seeing boys standing waste deep in the water I summoned up courage to jump off the side of the sea wall into the sea crashing against it. I did not realise the tide was on the turn, nor did I know that the boys were standing on the submerged breakwater so I went down and down, turning as I did so. I recalled Cyril's voice and moved my arms as hard as I could until I broke surface, only to go down again. Fortunately the third time I popped up someone pulled me out coughing up seawater.

Thus prepared we went on our first camp to Tilford, just a few of us, with the scouts. The site was near the shallow fast flowing and icy-cold river. We were very impressed by the senior scouts who built a ropewalk across it. We went trekking and explored the woods, identifying the wildlife and competing to collect the greatest number of leaves and flowers from different plants. We peeled spuds, scoured dixies and ate everything given to us. In the evenings we sat round the campfire to sing "Ging gang gooly" and "Riding along on the crest of a wave" in our own little Gang Show. Then to bed slipping between hairy ex R.A.F. blankets held together with large blanket pins, placed on a rubber-backed ground sheet on the short grass. A lot of wriggling and I eventually found a position where, curled up, the bumps and holes didn't bother so much.

The move to the scouts came in June 1953 as soon as I was eleven. Soon after, sadly, we switched from the broad brimmed "Mounty" hats to the green beret. Caradoc Williams was the Scoutmaster, a very educated man of great integrity who led by example and in my view raised standards in the troop. Cyril Dyson as A.S.M joined him when Cyril's son, Robin, moved from the cubs to the scouts.

We studied to gain proficiency badges too and for some we had external trainers. I remember going to Mr Govey's house in Station Road to learn about fire extinguishers and their various uses. Mrs Govey always gave us tea and cake. We joined working parties to level the ground at the scout hut by removing the large tufts of grass. I used Dad's mattock, which was an ideal tool for the job. Once a year during "Bob a Job Week" we knocked on doors seeking to do helpful tasks e.g. Mowing lawns, cleaning windows, polishing shoes etc. for the minimum fee of one shilling. We always hoped for more and many of our neighbours were generous.

We went camping for two weeks each summer bumping along on our kit bags in the back of Jim Chant's lorry. My first big camp was at Seatown by Chideock in Dorset where we climbed the Golden Cap, the highest cliff on the south coast, and dived through the high waves on the shingle beach where we also looked for fossils.

Robert Watson's father was the Group Scoutmaster when we joined and Cyril White was the Scoutmaster to be replaced by Caradoc Williams when I moved from cubs to scouts.

I particularly remember the camp at West Wittering. I was woken up by voices one night at about 10 pm and heard Bernard say, "Derek knows how to do it". I was hauled out of bed and presented with a rabbit that they had killed when it ran out of the last patch of corn, as the combine harvester circled in an adjacent field. I was asked very nicely to skin it, which, with much grunting and tugging, I did, feeling very proud. I don't recall being given any of the cooked rabbit to eat!

I suppose the highlight of my time in the Scouts was as a member of a young team with Michael Bassett, Denis Blundell and Andy Tuck, which won the Harvey Totem pole, but skinning the rabbit was a very close second!

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