A very special reunion took place on Thursday at the Beech Hill House Hotel, when nine Queen’s Scouts met up just over 50 years after receiving their Queen’s Badges.
Among them was David Hill, who was one of the driving forces behind the reunion, together with his brother-in-law, Blyth Latimer.
“It was really about us all being awarded the Queen’s Scout Badge back in 1963,” said David.
“We had all joined the Scouts probably back in the late 1950s and spent about five years learning about Scouting and becoming proficient in our Scouting practice,” said David.
“It took that long to get your Queen’s Badge because you had to become proficient and do your basic Scouting qualifications, including your Tenderfoot Badge, which hopefully, you got after about six weeks, then your second Class Badge and then your First Class Bar and these took time, because we only tended to meet once a week on a Friday evening, and there was always an hour spent on Scouting work and learning basic Scouting proficiencies.
“So it did take five years but at the end of those five years we were awarded our Queen’s Scout Badge,” said David.
We owe it all to our Scoutmasters really, although we all played our part, but the Scoutmasters guided us. They taught us what was right and what was wrongDavid Hill, Queen’s Scout
The unique thing about Fourth Londonderry Scout Troop was that it was not affiliated to any church, so it was open to all denominations and groups in society, and became popular with those based at HMS Sea Eagle. In the very early days the independent troop had quite a number of sons of British and American servicemen in the ranks and was even based in Sea Eagle, where they had the use of a Nissan hut before being granted access to the gymnasium there.
That lasted until the troop managed to get their own hall which was down a lane behind the Victoria Hall in the Waterside, but it is long since demolished. It cost the princely sum of £7,000, built with a 75 per cent loan from government offices and a loan from the Honourable The Irish Society. Both men recall a lot of fund raising by the boys, but also by their parents.
Blyth Latimer: “Eleven of us got the Badge that year and we were presented with it by Sir Basil McFarland, Lord Lieutenant of the County Borough of Londonderry, so it was a very big event for our Troop and the local community as well.
“Lining up to get our badge felt rather special. We were the Fourth Londonderry Scout Group and we felt we were the best troop in the city and it was all a very good feeling,” he said.
David: “Up until we got the badge only one or two a year received it, it was quite small numbers, certainly, so this was quite a unique event for the city for 11 young men to present for the Queen’s Scout Badge.”
It was a very proud moment for the Scoutmasters as well. At the time Fourth Londonderry was headed up by Bertie Faulkner, the Senior Scoutmaster, who founded the Troop back in 1956 or thereabouts. He was assisted in those days by Hugh Lindsay and Noel Bogle as well as Bertie Dixon and various other leaders who entered and left the troop. Sadly for the ‘old boys’ two of the 11 Queen’s Badge recipients were not at the event as they had died, namely Terry Kirkland, who had joined the RAF as a navigator and was killed in a flying accident in 1974 and Nigel Bryson, who died only last year.
Although they celebrated their 50th anniversary a little more than a year after receiving their medals, it was not due to the boys being spread far and wide; indeed, according to David, it was a comparatively easy exercise to get everyone together.
“Sometimes when you are 50 years on from an event, people disappear to all four corners of the world, but Blyth lives in Luton and he married my sister way back, so I have always kept in touch with him. One of my best friends was another of the Queen’s Scouts on that day and the only person that we couldn’t immediately trace was Brian Ringland, who had gone to university and then gone to England to work; but we actually tracked him down to Monaghan and we got hold of him through Linked-In the social media site,” said David.
Understandably enough, many of the 11 have maintained their links to Scouting either through their own sons being members or by going on to become officers in their own right, as David explained.
Blyth has three sons who were all in a troop in Luton, while Blyth became chairman of the Group Scout troop there for seven or eight years.
“Others we spoke to on Thursday, and Trevor Blair in particular, he went on to be District Commissioner. He held all sorts of posts within Scouting and he is still involved. Dougie Hogg is still involved. He is a group Scout leader in Ballymena and Noel Bogle is still involved as well as a leader,” said Blyth.
Asked if there was still a great pride in what they had achieved as young men, David said: “At the time we felt our Troop was the best in the city and probably the best in Northern Ireland, or even the UK. There were many, many competitions in those days among the troops and as time progressed, we seemed to win all of them and I think there was a degree of jealously among the other troops.”
“We were very strong in depth of numbers, there is no doubt about that,” said Bylth, mirroring David’s broad smile.
“We had six Patrols with about 10 in each so we had a large Troop. Bertie had his hands full keeping us in order, but he was very good. All the leaders were very good and took us to all sorts of summer camps. We went twice to Jersey, the Isle of Man, Powerscourt in Dublin, Switzerland. They were really good camps. We also went to Dunfanaghy as well,” he said with obvious fondness.
“We owe it all to our Scoutmasters really, although we all played our part, but the Scoutmasters guided us. They taught us what was right and what was wrong,” said David, with just the hint of a smile that makes you wonder what rapscallious behaviour will never make it onto paper...
It can’t have been all that bad though, as two of the Scoutmasters were brave enough to attend Thursday’s reunion; Bertie Faulkner and Hugh Lindsay.
Asked how the Scouting movement had impacted on the boys’ lives, David said: “We have all grown up and had successful careers and became responsible citizens, and that is down in part to the skills we learned like team working and taking responsibility. When we went off to summer camp we were divided out into Patrols and we had a fairly strict regime, in that we had to be up by 8am and by 10am each Patrol had to have everyone up, washed, fed and their tents and equipment ready for inspection. That was a lot of a 16-year-old Patrol leader, but it was a terrific grounding in life skills, in mixing with people...”
Blyth added: “And it also gave us a great love and appreciation of the great outdoors and of being outside.”