Preserving our Scouting history for future generations

Very pleased that Scouts Scotland have appointed me to curate the national collection of archives and objects held by Scottish Headquarters. Having had a good rummage there is some fabulous stuff that tells the history of scouting in Scotland in great detail. Complete archive records remain largely intact and a few gems relating to key people in the early years of Scouting.

So we intend to form a National Collections Working Group to take this work forward and are looking for people with appropriate expertise and particularly some of our younger members who have an interest in history or are thinking about a career in the heritage sector. Get in touch if you are interested.

Some nice examples from the collection are the prints of the National Conference held at Callender in 1922 and Dunblane in 1917 – BP is sitting in the middle of the assembly with his wife Olave seated beside him.


Jamborees, badges and the new generation…


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Just back from a great week at Wings Jamboree in Windsor great Park. 7000 Scouts and Guides from across the world representing 42 countries made for a great week. Lots of the Scouts we took were young and this was their first taste of international Scouting. I took a big box of old badges with us and they all had a pile to get started on badge swapping…..some of them looked at me oddly to begin with but by day two they were experts. One of the nice things of course is that they then meet and talk to other Scouts. Some of us less young Scouts enjoy this too of course but have more particular tastes. Inevitably I have a liking for old Scout badges, particularly Scottish ones, and have been collecting old Scottish District badges.

At Wings I met a nice SL from Dorset who had a box of incredible vintage badges given to him by someone – I was able to tell him quite a bit about what he had and that these were actually very valuable indeed ! I hope he holds on to them – they were from someone local to the area and it would be nice to see them passed on. His little girl looked a Scout in the making too…


I did get a few nice items from him and also from a lovely older couple who were selling badges to kids. On asking if they had any older stuff they produced a folder of stuff that got me more than a bit excited. I picked up some great Scottish badges, including the Isle of Arran District page at the top of the post, and the Angus badge below complete with pictish design – fab.

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Also delighted to find an old Glasgow badge – I think it is the first generation of Glasgow badges- my father and grandfather were both Glasgow Scouts so thats a nice find.

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One which is very very cool is an early felt scout badge. I think it is a First Class badge (correction – its a tenderfoot badge) dating from between 1909 and 1929. Something of that vintage is rather lovely to own – I wonder who it belonged to….

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James Anderson Cooper – an early and gallant Scout


James Anderson Cooper - Scout VC - 1910

James Anderson Cooper, was born 14th Sept 1899  in Bothwellhaugh, Lanarkshire which was a mining village near Motherwell and Hamilton. James was a Scout in No 3 troop (Palace Colliery) Motherwell (1st Bothwellhaugh). His granddaughter  Elaine Wernsing told me that he was very proud to be a Scout throughout his life until his death in 1977. Scouting was booming at this time with 1200 Boy Scouts in the County of Lanarkshire with 45 Scoutmasters.

Certificate - James Anderson Cooper - Scout VC 1910 - First in Scotland.

James was awarded the Silver medal for “saving the life of a child from drowning in the River Calder on 20th February 1910″ on 27th April 1910. His act of bravery would have gone unnoticed if it had not been seen by a fellow Scout whose elder brother was a Scout master. James, a non swimmer, jumped into the river to rescue five year old Hugh Graham, and on saving his life took him home to his parents. Soaked to the skin he hid his wet Sunday clothes for fear of reprisal from his parents !

James Anderson Cooper -  1st Scout VCin Scotland - 1910 & Medal from Mr & Mrs Graham in gratitude for saving their son's life.


James was awarded the Silver medal and certificate signed by BP by a Col Ralston of the 6th Cameronians in St Andrews Church, Motherwell. As one of 7 children sending him to London was not possible, but in 1911 Lord Newlands learned of his deed and funded his trip to the Windsor Parade where he met King George V and Baden Powell. For a young lad from Lanarkshire this must have been quite an expedition and quite an experience. When BP visited Lanarkshire, James was present as part of the honour guard in Motherwell. He was a bit of a Scouting celebrity as one of the earliest Scottish recipients of  the Silver Medal, and at such a young age.

Papa (James Anderson Cooper born 1899) with Mr Kerr (Scoutmaster) and Hugh Graham the boy he saved from drowning 20th Feb 1910

This photo shows five year old Hugh, James and his Scoutmaster Kerr proudly wearing his medal and complete with Scout stave. James A Jeffrey later recounted his appreciation in verse, published in the 1910 – 11 Lanarkshire Christmas and New Year Annual describing James as “the little hero boy”.


But the story did not end there.

James Anderson Cooper (70 yrs) and Hugh Graham (65yrs) in 1970 at scene of rescue - Bothwell Bridge

In 1970 both men were re-united for a press piece recounting that day recorded above (James is on the left).

Papa with Chief Scout, Bothwell Castle 1970s

He remained a Scout for the rest of his life and regularly attended local events. In the 1970’s he met then Chief Scout Sir William Gladstone (below).

As per the wishes of his family, an account of his heroism and the family photographs will be placed in the Scottish Scouting Archive, and the Archive at Gilwell.

A remarkable man.


With much thanks to his granddaughter Elaine Wernsing, granddaughter of James Cooper, for bringing this story to my attention and providing the background information and photographs.





The Camp Blanket – woolly history…

The camp blanket is a phenomena particular to Scouting which is global in its adoption. Some have suggested its origin owes much to the native Americans – Scouting was certainly inspired in this respect through people like Ernest T Seton. 


It is a tradition to document your Scouting life, be nostalgic certainly and also a functional item for a cold night !  It is a woolly scrapbook, and as such can become a valuable historic document. Some people might call it folk art which is a great Scouting tradition – and blankets are customised greatly. Some were embroidered, incorporated kneckerchiefs, passed from one generation to another and generally cherished. 


I have one of course, in fact I have two. My first is filled up and to be honest was a cheap planket and a bit itchy… It took me a year to find a replacement on ebay  – lovely colour, tight weave and perfect size.  Our very talented Beaver Leader Claire converted into a poncho for me and a whole new set of badges is ready to go on – another heirloom.


They have become collectors items of course – and I hope not just to allow someone to pillage the badges sewn on – that would be like removing photos from an album.


My fellow Scouters (we are of an age I suspect) also have them and they arouse a great deal of interest from Scouts – many of our kids have picked up on the tradition. There are many variations of course  – jumpers and jackets are also used – and I recall a scout of ours sewing badges onto a spare pair of boxers (he managed to sew the front to the back….)


Regional Manager and fellow history buff of SE Region Alan Willoughby showed me some wonderful material from their archive recently in Edinburgh  – some really important stuff. A wonderful couple of jackets – cum camp blankets were to be seen  – amazing objects of social history and a glimpse into the life of a Scout departed.


This one caught my eye because of the connections to my hometown. I have a Stirling badge akin to this on my uniform but had not before seen the other version which I take to be an earlier version – badges seemed to be made to a higher quality then didnt they ?



Norman McLaren – Film pioneer and Stirling Scout

2014 is the centenary of the birth of one of Scotland’s famous sons. Norman McLaren was born in Stirling, attending Glasgow of School of Art. He is still considered a pioneer in film, animation and sound, winning an Oscar in 1952 for his film ‘Neighbours’. I was looking at a photographic exhibition in the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum this weekend and noticed an earl picture of McLaren below, taken when he was a Wolf Cub.


Image courtesy of the Smith Museum and Art Gallery

Given that he lived in Albert Place, his local Scout Group would have been the 1st Stirling and this is substantiated by the light blue kneckie worn by the wolf cubs. The Cub mistresses look very dapper and the leader at the back is holding a totem pole. BP encouraged the wolf cubs to make these and examples were published in the Scout magazine. McLaren is seated front row, right hand side.

Gone Home

It has become traditional over the past century for scouts who pass away to have been described as “gone home” this is shown using the native american tracking sign below.



My wife’s grandfather went home last night. I have blogged about him before but he was one of the pioneers – a scout and rover scout at the 4th Leith in Edinburgh. David Gosman attended the Rover Moot at Monzie in 1939, and like many young men found himself transported to the other side of the planet where he lived and worked in the north of India, helping to fly equipment into the Chinese fighting the Japanese.


He told me that his training as a scout helped him cope with this, and later when his wife died at a young age he knew how to cook and fend for himself. Scouting was important to him and I think he was delighted when his granddaughter married a scouter. Before dementia took its toll he recounted to me tales about camping in Fife via the steam train, using a trek cart and the brotherhood of scouting he felt throughout his life – he remained a local lad and many of his scouting friends remained around him.

I liked him a great deal and wished I had known him in his younger days – a scout in life and deed.

The book that was nearly lost.

Jack Simpson was my predecessor as Group Scout Leader at the 7th Stirling –  he was a lifelong scout and sadly passed away over ten years ago. His wife knew I was interested in ‘old stuff’ and appeared at the scout hall one night with a cardboard box that was full of paper and books. Her kindness saved something remarkable that was nearly 100 years old and was very nearly lost. She had been clearing out the garden shed and found the box – it was remarkably not damp.

There was some interesting stuff relating to our group in the 1970’s but it was a brown envelope at the bottom of the box that was most interesting. In the envelope was a small black volume – an incredible find.


It was the minute book from the establishment of scouting in Stirling – the “Stirling Division Minute Book”. This remarkable volume tracks and records the development of scouting from 1909 to 1919. 


ImageA wonderful archive document, we decided it deserved long term protection and we deposited the volume with Stirling Council Archives. For me this little paragraph was great – it quietly notes the formation of Troop No.7 at Auchenbowie House….cool.