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Scouting For Boys

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from the daily journal of William McBride

31 July, 1916, afternoon

On train to Poole! Ferry crossing uneventful; weather fine. Sat on outside deck in sun and practiced Observation. Some funny characters. No fellow Scouts so far in my car or on platforms; suppose so few were invited there may be no others coming by this train.

Did my Good Turn helping two ladies with their cases.

31 July, night

Met by C.M. at train station - he is acting as "sergeant", coordinating arrivals. B-P not to arrive until tomorrow p.m. We shall show him a well-made camp! We are to row over to Brownsea at dawn. Met about half the other Scouts - the others lodging elsewhere tonight. Such a confusion of salutes as we tried to keep track of who saw whom first, in what order.

1 August, 1916, quiet hour

In my tent, Brownsea main camp. A mess at the boats this morning: two last-minute additions, with a letter for C.M.. The boats were full up and C.M. had to stick them as cargo in his, and they've made the numbers uneven - we were to be four patrols of six. They seem to be utter tenderfoots - the short one had his uniform neckerchief in his pocket, and had to keep nudging the taller one to salute. I can just imagine that letter. "My son is keen to try out Scouting, please make him welcome at your little camp, signed, Lord High-Muck-a-muck, P.S. His friend too." When every other Scout here is from First Patrol in his Troop!


The short one is a Hun! Did my Good Turn helping him with his neckerchief (he still didn't have it right) and heard his accent when he thanked me. Of course I am a friend to Scouts of all nations, but what is a Hun doing here with us?

1 August, night

Have met B-P! We formed up as patrols and all saluted as he stepped out of boat. B-P saluted back and said a few words. Tried to commit to memory. "Camping builds health and practical manliness."

I am No. 3 in Krakens, other patrols are Tigeresques, Elephantines, and Strafing Hawks. Our call is a sort of hiss. Tent would be perfect for six, is tight for eight. More to write but must save candle.

2 August, 1916, quiet hour

Up at dawn! Splendid to be here in outdoors. Heard curlew and lark although did not spot either.

Immed. after breakfast prepared our lunch. D.S. had never heard of hay-box cooker, did not believe it would work! D.S. is our No. 7 and is a Scot, not another Hun. J.T. (No.4) swears his accent pure Glaswegian and he should know but says he's never seen him in any Troop there.

And what would a Scot be doing with a Hun? They def. know each other, they keep whispering to each other very rudely. Last night they skived off from cooking saying they had to deliver a message to B-P. Offered to run it over myself (Good Turn) and A.H. just tapped his forehead. Who on earth could be sending a message - that couldn't be trusted to paper - to B-P via a couple of tenderfoots?

D.S. at least helped wash up. A.H. just sat there until D.S. handed him a drying-cloth. Bad luck to have a shirker in our patrol. Tomorrow we start games between the patrols and we must have every Scout do his part.

2 August, night

All went down to the shore this p.m. to bathe. Swimming races with a few other fellows - I am all right but W.L. (our No. 5) is like a fish. Was a jolly good time. D.S. did not even undress but just sat on the shore and loafed. A.H. paddled briefly then joined him. Fear they will be dead weight in the games.

3 August, 1916, waiting turn for spear-throwing

Started off with relay races along the shore. A.H. and D.S. sat out to even numbers. Perhaps should have drawn straws to be fair, but D.S. waved off, said they "weren't here for this". (What are they here for?) Tigeresques won half their legs and the whole thing as well. T6/SH2/E1/K0. Tigeresques now trouncing us at spear, hear their No. 2 bowled for Harrow. (Tigeresques all public school boys.)

3 August, quiet hour

T11/E4/SH4/K3. Made a poor show at the spear. W.L. and R.W. both better but their turn to "sit out", points not counted. Ours from A.H. and D.S., of all things.

My turn with book soon - B-P brought album of leaf pressings. We each have ten minutes to identify, list geographic origin, note which natural and which fabricated, for as many as possible. Then C.M. will read off answers and score us. Krakens as last place patrol have honor of going first, today.


Four more points for Krakens. Restored a bit of my lost spear-honor. D.S. got zero correct - not even maple or oak! How is that possible? (A.H. seems to feel same way, is scolding D.S: "You live in a botanical garden!" D.S. just grinning back, shrugging. (Live in a botanical garden??)) Did my Good Turn walking D.S. around the camp, pointing out plants. (Mostly rhododendrons and pines here.)

3 August, late night

Campfire tonight, many yarns from B-P. O, to adventure in Africa! Patrols competed in afternoon to see who could gather most tinder and firewood, Hawks won.

4 August, 1916, quiet hour

Fire-starting races this morning - bow drill, flint & steel, matches but had to build fire strong enough to burn through small cord. J.T. and I not counted. T15/SH12/K7*/E6 (*no one else scored leaf points yet). A.H. and D.S. useless again, could barely strike match. A.H. muttering in German, D.S. laughing at him.

Reading back, last few entries rather full of A.H. and D.S., and not my pals here (J.T., W.L., R.W.). There is just something about the way they are together, the way D.S. will turn to ask for something and A.H. is already handing it to him. I don't have that ease with anyone in my Troop (or anyone else). Sometimes I wonder, if the War hadn't ended and I had joined up like I planned, what kind of comradeship I might have had with my unit. Scouting is jolly & has helped me in many good habits of mind and character, but how much greater the glory to fight for one's country! And to come home a hero, truly a man. When I come home from camp Father says it is time to settle on a trade. I don't

4 August, night

After quiet hour, C.M. gathered patrols and announced that he and B-P had hidden 3 doz. brass buttons within 10 minutes of camp, worth a point apiece. Some boys immed. took off running, to scout farther out. One of Elephantines had bright idea to examine one of C.M.'s fresh tracks, and I went to campfire site, to look for B-P's where he stood telling yarns. Found a clear one and a match near his tent; was able to follow about thirty paces before they vanished. Crushed grass nearby as from someone sitting, and then - a bare-foot track! Followed another ten paces, looking for overturned rocks or other signs of disturbance where button might be hidden, and had just spotted some scuffed leaves when No. 3 Tigeresque shot past me and started pawing through leaves! He had followed me, seen me stop, and snatched my prize almost out of my fingertips, had cheek to thank me as he ran off. Cast around but could not find B-P's tracks away, searched without luck until C.M. called that last button found.

Tigeresques had 17 of them, two or three each; W.L and R.W. said they'd each had one grabbed away like I had. Our No. 1 and 2 had found one sifting through the campfire ash, and J.T. found one in a bird's nest. The Elephantines had 11 and the Hawks 6. Plus the E's picked up six points for leaf book during quiet hour. T32/E23/SH18/K9. D.S. and A.H. had wandered around without the first idea of how to start looking. "If we'd had tracer ants," D.S. started grumbling, until A.H. elbowed him. I've heard of tracer ants in pulps about the Secret Service Bureau - would certainly like some, and glasses that can see through solid objects, and frogs that blow up into instant rafts, but idle wishing is for fools. Whole patrol took D.S. and A.H. about and tried to show them basics of spooring (both wrinkled noses at the word, and said they thought it meant clart; we explained it meant any tracks or signs). Heard D.S. teasing A.H. afterwards, "would think with all that hunting, you'd know all this," and A.H. explaining that they'd had trackers and beaters. A.H. is (was?) German aristocrat??

5 August 1916, night

No quiet hour today - spent the whole day mapping the island. Points to patrols for every correct detail - trails, cottages, lakes, castle, hilltops with approx. elevation, overall shape and dimensions. D.S. turns out to have a fine hand at sketching and a keen eye for distances - after the first few times he guessed and we paced it off and it agreed, we just sent him up trees (for longer sight-lines) and took his observations. Meanwhile W.L. & R.W. walked round the whole shore, and our leader and R.F. went and scouted the castle in particular. We got points for nearly everything and best overall and are now T42/E35/SH32/K27. Tired!

6 August, 1916, night

War today. Each patrol given three flags, thirty minutes to place them, plan defense. Could get points by describing locations of enemy flags to B-P or C.M., or of course big points for flags themselves. We had numbers pinned to our shirts front and back, could be "shot" if our number called out.

The whole "war story" would use up my last remaining candle. Much sneaking, running, double-crossing. We kept safe two flags by putting them in tree-tops - D.S. really seems to have no fear climbing, even when branches snapping underfoot. (A.H., on ground, looked scared enough for both, gripped D.S.'s hands when down.) Odd thing happened in early afternoon, when I got "shot" in a field in "no man's land" between us and Tigeresques and was "dead" for an hour. Sun v. warm and, lying where I fell, actually dozed off for awhile. (Still tired from criss-crossing island yesterday.) Had strange dream, red poppies blowing in wind, and white crosses in all directions. Woke up and was time to rejoin war, did eventually get a Tigeresque flag! T's lost all three, but raided hard and got three, and - candle. T51/SH44/E41/K36.

7 August, 1916, late morning

The island church has no vicar at present, so B-P said a few words and led us in silent prayer. Thought about crosses in my dream yesterday. Have neglected my Good Turns and maybe my duty to God - six fine dawns and six golden sunsets on this island and had not thanked God except for grace at meals.

Quiet games today.

7 August, before dinner

D.S. some kind of savant at knots. D.S. can tie many knots blindfolded faster than any of the rest of us can tie them with our eyes open. D.S. can also send and read Semaphore faster than C.M. (B-P declined to compete.) D.S. and A.H. both outstanding at Kim's Game - I am best in Belfast Troop and better than most boys here but we played three rounds and they each had four-five items over me every time. C.M. set us a quiz to name every boy here, their Troop, school, and anything else, and I admit I have not done well to get to know every Scout here but they knew things I would have said no one has mentioned. (My school.) T's and SH's finally scored for leaf book (five and eight) or else we might have taken lead! Have nearly caught up, are now T58/SH55/K54/E43. But who are these fellows?? NOT just tenderfoots.

7 August, night

Hard to be cheerful as a Scout ought. B-P spoke at campfire tonight about the unwritten Scout Law, "a Scout is not a fool", and health, and smoking, and continence. And D.S. laughed. Laughed. At B-P! I've heard boys snicker before, at the mention of self-abuse, because they are weak and nervous. But D.S. was scoffing. To his credit, he silenced himself immediately after it burst out, and B-P didn't remark it, just went on. But for a moment I thought he might take back all those points D.S. won us today. Laughing at our Chief Scout. I had started to admire D.S. Felt disloyal, disobedient by proxy.

B-P told more yarns from Mafeking. Reminded us that tomorrow is last day of games, and hinted that everyone in winning patrol, and anyone with outstanding individual performance, would be recruited as "tactical agents" for Britain. Could I - would I want to

After the fire, as patrols heading back to tents, Tigeresque No. 1 came up with an ugly expression. Said he didn't intend to be beaten by a Hun, and he didn't much like having a Hun here learning our scouting tricks and getting wind of British plans. (B-P hadn't actually said in as many words where we'd be spying, but was pretty clear he meant Africa.) He told A.H. he'd better sit out tomorrow or he'd be sorry, and shoved his shoulder. Thought they'd come to blows, and wondered if we'd better break it up, but A.H. just - frowned at him a little, like he was puzzled. No. 1 sneered and said maybe he could claim a tummy-ache, and here, he would help, and swung at his gut. A.H. is one of the shortest fellows here, and No. 1 one of tallest - not fair play - but A.H. just sort of stepped to the side, and No. 1 went sprawling into the dust. Didn't see A.H. trip him, but he must have done. D.S. exchanged speaking glances with A.H. over No. 1 between them trying to fumble his way to his feet (and having an oddly hard time doing so) until eventually they agreed on whatever they were communing about and A.H. stepped around No. 1 and followed D.S. back to our tent. Had been ashamed of our odd extras and now was on their behalf. No. 1 was in Uniform!

9 August, 1916, evening

Back in Poole lodging for the night, train tomorrow.

C.M. woke us up at 2 am yesterday, 8 August, said we were fighting the flag war again, but this time we were doing it in the dark, until sunrise. No candles, torches, lanterns. The moon was just past the first quarter and had set while we slept, so all we had was starlight. It felt unreal, trying to step silently, breathe silently. In the deep dark, under the pines, trying to step soundlessly on the carpet of fallen needles, felt like I could be the only man left alive, just me in the wilderness. Or all of Tigeresque could be just a few paces away, but invisible. Heart pounded. Mouth was dry. Anticipated being "shot" again, but seemed, somehow in the dark, like maybe this was a real war, and I might be shot for real.

And who would miss me, if I were? Or avenge me? Where is my D.S. ready to take up my quarrel? (I have no doubt, if No. 1 had succeeded in knocking down A.H., D.S. would have pummelled him without hesitation.)

Duty before all, of course, and I eventually got moving again on my mission, but - I really should not like to be shot as a spy! Dawn entirely different when counting on night for concealment, thought "not yet!" at grey sky, another quarter-hour and I might have made it to SH flag. No one went after the Elephantine flags and they captured two and walked away with the game. And Tigers and Hawks tied now. T64/SH64/K60/E58. (Haha: when C.M. called a halt, one of T flags missing. They didn't have it, but no one claimed it. Then A.H. said "excuse me, what is that" and pulled it out of T No. 1's pocket! C.M. gave Kraken the points for it and read No. 1 quite the lecture about cheating - he claimed he had not but then clammed up and stared daggers at A.H. around C.M.'s shoulder.)

C.M. sent us back to bed for a rest then got us up for a late breakfast and the last game. He explained it was to be a race, run in four parts, working only with our partners and not the rest of our patrol. First, one would go ahead, following a paper trail like hares-and-hounds, picking up paper as he went and leaving instead trail signs for his partner to follow. In the second part, they would switch. In the third and fourth parts one then the other would be blindfolded with his partner leading him. B-P had made three paths; one pair from each patrol would use each path, but mixed up between four heats, so that we were racing our opponents, not our allies. We could see at the trading-off points if we were leading or trailing. Our unlucky thirteenth pair would have to run alone, against the clock, which is always harder.

J.T. and I were placed in the second heat, running against T. No. 5&6 and E. No. 1&2. We decided he would lead first. Great fun, running along spotting his twigs and stones and arrows! I was the first follower into the first exchange, and ran through without pausing into my turn leaving signs. Tricky, to decide on the run how many to place. Lost some time doubling back, adding marks. T. No. 6 had come in ahead of me to second exchange, and T. No. 5 was ahead of J.T. I had my neckerchief ready to go as a blindfold and tied it on as J.T. ran up.

Have never before been so glad to not be a blind man! Was worse than the woods in the dark, floundering along behind J.T. never sure if my next step was going to twist my ankle in a rabbit-hole or slam my face into a tree. (Both happened, fortunately ankle fine, face barely scraped.) J.T. kept dragging me along by the arm trying to speed me up, and then I would trip and we'd have to sort ourselves out. Still, came in to third exchange ahead of Ts. And then J.T. was so impossibly slow when it was his turn blindfolded! I tried putting myself square in front of him, his hands on my shoulders, but he kept treading on my heels. Somehow staggered our way to finish-line, through final obstacles. (A dry gully where water must sometimes run down to sea, and a sort of trellis-tunnel lashed together from oars from the rowboats.) Could not believe we'd come first.

Trails worn in by use, so winning time in third was better than ours, fourth better yet. At the end of all that, we were T69/K67/SH66/E61, and had resigned ourselves to losing to Tigeresques. They had played well, apart from the button-snatching, which we were all still a bit sore about, and the quarrel between their No. 1 and A.H. And we knew there was no way D.S. and A.H. could score us three more points with their race time - the patrol had tried our best to teach them a few trail signs, after C.M. explained the game, but they'd no practice. No. 1 was already laughing, saying we'd better be prepared to wait a long time.

And then we saw them. They burst from the trees onto the sand, running. Not just jogging, but really running. D.S., blindfolded, had A.H. by the elbow, and A.H. was muttering constantly, couldn't make out what. The sand was uneven and I thought for sure D.S. must slow or stumble, but he didn't.

They got to the oar-tunnel and A.H. put D.S.'s hand on the first cross-piece and dove under. It was a sort of series of A's, joined on the sides, where you had to go under the crossbars - I'd seen a pair of Hawks try to go through the upper triangles and they'd gotten so tangled they'd nearly knocked the thing down. When I'd gone through with J.T., I'd shoved him in ahead of me, so he wouldn't have my heels in his face. I'd hated that crawl - J.T. kicking sand in my eyes, and an itch between my shoulder-blades like I might be shot any moment, like I'd felt in the dark. D.S. waited until A.H. popped out and shouted "go", and then squirmed through practically on his belly, snake-fast. A.H. grabbed his hand and pulled him up as he came out, and then they were running towards the gully.

It would have made a fine running jump, running alone, just far enough to challenge. Of course with a blindfolded partner we'd all had to clamber down and back up, although T. No. 3 had jarred his ankle rather badly jumping down blind.

A.H. was muttering again to D.S. I expected them to slow down, of course, before they pitched in headlong, but instead I saw D.S. let go A.H.'s arm, and burst forward. A split-second before he did it, I knew what he would do, but couldn't believe it, and then A.H. yelled "JUMP!" and D.S. - jumped. Soared across the gap kicking, landed far forward of the edge already tucking into a roll. Somersaulted twice, by which time A.H. had joined him, not needing to somersault, and had him up by the arm and sprinting for the finish line.

They'd beaten the second-best time by over a minute.

Whole patrol was pounding them on the backs before D.S. even removed his blindfold - we had our three points and victory! Everyone was whooping and cheering. Except T. No. 1, who pouted and whined to B-P. Said it "wasn't fair", that A.H. and D.S. had known each other before the camp and everyone else was new to their partner and obviously they had an advantage of trust.

I don't think I could have made that jump, blind, if B-P himself had been leading me. My mind might have been sworn to the duty but I don't think I could have made my body follow it. Was it an advantage, that D.S. could? Of course. Just as it is an advantage to be clever, or to have studied a thing. B-P said as much. Then he added, slowly, "I always aim for the highest degree of sportsmanship, and I will not be argued into changing my mind," and the funny thing is, he was looking right at D.S. and A.H. when he said it and not at No. 1 at all. A.H. gave him a little nod, and B-P turned and led us back to camp without another word.

D.S. kept rubbing his knee during dinner, and A.H. frowning at him - perhaps the jump catching up with him. Still, was shocked when D.S. said they might not come to our final campfire. "But - the closing ceremony," W.L. protested. "But, we are done here," A.H. shrugged back. D.S. put his hand on his arm, though, and they talked at each other silently until A.H. shrugged again and said "Or we will."

More a bonfire than campfire. B-P led us in the Ingonyama, the chant of the Zulus, and Zing-a-zing-bom-bom, and other songs, and we did a war dance, and B-P gave us all a brass badge, with a special border around ours for winning, and said he'd be proud to have any of our help in Africa. We were all in high spirits all the way back to the tent, except A.H. and D.S. - I thought maybe they were sad B-P hadn't had extra badges for them. (But could not bring myself to offer mine, as Good a Turn it might have been.) After a little while in the tent A.H. excused himself, and awhile longer D.S., and I realized A.H. hadn't come back yet.

Not sure if I should write about this part. But cannot get my head clear.

The camp custom is to wait, of course, when someone has stepped out - not to put too fine a point on it, it is nicer to have the latrine to oneself, if one might be "rearing". So for D.S. to go was iffy, and for me to go after him was over the line. I could not have named, to myself in that moment, the reason I did it, and I am still not sure I could now - only that the question of his trajectory held a sort of magnetic attraction for me. No one was at latrine, but I saw D.S. slipping off further into woods, and I followed.

With the moon still up, the woods were entirely different than the hostile dark that early morning. I stepped silently on the needles until I saw A.H. leaning against a tree in a bit of a clearing, and D.S. approaching him. Stopped short, just close enough that the touch of breeze carried their words to me.

"Brooding?" D.S. asked, but like a hello, like he didn't really need to ask why A.H. had come out here.

"Maybe waiting for you," A.H. answered, like of course it wasn't a surprise D.S. had followed him.

"You're sad about Baden-Powell's answer," D.S. suggested.

"Barlow will be. But, no, I'm sad about these boys."

"They're older than you," D.S. pointed out. A.H. snorted. "No, okay," D.S. agreed, and sighed.

He was standing in front of A.H., and I saw him reach out and put his hand on the side of A.H.'s face. "Take your mind off it?" he asked, and then he leaned down and kissed him.

I've seen friends, back home, kiss their sweethearts. And I knew that there were men who - . But I didn't think they - .

They kissed, in the moonlight, and I felt utterly hot with embarrassment, like I surely must be lit up like a campfire with it for them to see. I wanted to flee, but was afraid they would hear me. And I wanted to see D.S. kissed him, for awhile, and then I saw him drop down to his knees, still right there in front of A.H., and then I did flee, before I saw something I'd only heard of in whispered jokes.

(But was unmistakeable. His hand, on his flies, before I turned away, and A.H.'s hand in his hair - )

I blundered my way back to the latrine and stood there, breathing heavily. Wondered if I should report them to C.M., or B-P, expose what they were doing. I knew it wasn't right. But I thought of the Tigeresques, and how they would sneer, and spit, and I did not. Not a Good Turn, I don't think. But - they were in my patrol, still, that night. So I did not go to C.M., and when they came back to the tent, later, I turned my back and pretended to be already asleep.

Avoided them as we broke up camp this morning (practicing hiding our traces, although we could hardly disguise a week's heavy use of certain areas) and we rowed back in separate boats, and by the time we had our oars stowed and everything ship-shape they had already saluted B-P and were walking towards train station.

This morning, as we swept ground until no scraps remained, I heard D.S. asking J.T. if he thought he'd go to Africa, and J.T. saying he thought he would.

I think I will not. I fear I am a coward, but - when I ask what duty I am called to do, I think I would like to be a Scoutmaster, some day. Of course B-P is spy and Scoutmaster both, but, I don't know. Maybe if I hadn't followed D.S. Felt like a cloth had been whisked off the world, to reveal a whole lot of funny objects underneath, and then dropped back down so it was all bumps and lumps again, before I figured out what anything was. Like the worst Kim's Game of my life. I like to know what is what. I might make a good soldier, still, but I think not a spy.

10 August, 1916, ferry back to Belfast

Train arrived just in time to catch last crossing of the day. Dozed off on train - very energetic last few days - and dreamed of poppies again. This time, as the wind caught them, they blew away.

Keep thinking about A.H. and D.S. Would like to have something like that, some day. Not the part in the woods!! But the jump, the way D.S. flew across like A.H. was piloting him, like he would catch him on the other side. I would like to have someone like that. Never did find out who they were, or how they met. Failure of Observation, I guess.

Did my Good Turn giving man in front of me three pence for ferry when he was shy.