A history of

3rd Whitton (St Edmunds) Scout Group

The parish of St Edmund opened in a small way in 1934, following the building up of Whitton from its original hamlet around the northern end of Nelson Road to the layout of housing and shopping centre known today.

The parish was in the hands of the Society of St Edmund, an Order based in the USA. In the UK was another parish based in Essex, and a Travelling Mission also based in Essex. The first parish priest was Fr Cheray – a Frenchman a most marvelous Parish Priest, loved and admired by all who knew him. The original parish small hall was the first home of St Edmunds Scouts.

The Troop began in February 1938, so it had eighteen months, including two summers, to find its feet before Scouters and badge examiners went to fight and most activities were left in the hands of the patrol leaders.

The Scout Troop was set up by Thomas Aloysius Bligh, was the first Group Scoutmaster and had previously been a Warranted Scouter in St Joseph’s Roehampton Group. The Society of St Vincent de Paul sponsored the Group. The St Edmunds troop included Thomas Andrew Bligh as Assistant Scoutmaster. Charlie Hand and George Hart joined in the early months of the founding of St Edmunds Scouts and were also Assistant Scoutmasters. David Johnstone was Rover Scout leader. We began with two patrols, owls and woodpigeons; bulldogs came next.

The age structure of  Scouts was different in the 30s when most boys stayed in the troop until they were 16, or joined the Rover Scouts and continued to their early 20’s. The patrol leaders would be about 15 or 16 and so were of considerable help to the Scouters.

We were given our Colours very soon, and they were carried proudly into Westminster Cathedral for the St George’s Day parade.

1938

Tom Bligh (jnr) was working in the Westminster Bank in Windsor, and discovered that a director of the bank had an estate in Burnham Beeches where he had set aside a field for use by scouts; he had laid on piped water and a supply of wood. This was the site of our first camp.

The camp site was in a pyckle field which sloped down to a belt of woods, which have since disappeared, the land being absorbed into a large ploughed field. From Windsor station we pulled our trek cart, made by Mr Blakiston, whose son Terry was in the Troop, and Mr Dixon, who had served in the cavalry under General Baden Powell.

The camp which was highly successful. It cost 10 shillings (50p) and we made a small profit.

1939

St Edmunds School opened in 1939. The site had originally been an orchard, and the Troop was fortunate that it could camp there at weekends, and spend time and energy in removing the old withered fruit trees.

In August 1939 the Troop held a two week summer camp at Broadstone Warren, a Scout Association site in Ashdown Forest, near East Grinstead. Although this was the 2nd summer camp, it was already considered by the participants to be an annual camp!

Charlie Hand celebrated his twenty-first birthday there; somebody sent him a box of twenty-one kippers, so we all had kippers for breakfast.

From Broadstone Warren we went by train to Gatwick to visit the Royal Air Force. In the squat control ‘tower’ we saw a Spitfire pilot practising navigation in a Link trainer. That visit brought us back into contact with current affairs, and the Scouters realized that war was imminent.

It must be remembers that this was 60 years ago and cars were very few and TV only available to just a few London homes. The troop and all its equipment were taken to the camp site in a large furniture van. At the middle weekend Tom Bligh (jnr) telephoned his father in Whitton. His first question was “What about the War?” – as we had no radio and seen no newspapers Tom  replied: “What war?”. Ignorance was bliss!

We were due to return home on Sunday 27th August and were prepared to strike camp during the day, when the furniture van which had taken us to camp, as was the practice in those days, came to collect us. At about 8am as the usual preparations for breakfast were under way, we were surprised to see the van appear. The driver went immediately to Torn Bligh and said something like “My van’s being requisitioned at 12 noon! If you want me to take you home we must leave immediately!” Tom explained that it would take a little while to strike the tents and pack everything up but this cut no ice with our visitor who was adamant  that we just had to shove all our equipment, kit and boys into the van so that he could be on the road in 15 minutes. The gravity of the situation now understood, tents were struck and bundled into the van, unfolded. Personal kit, cooking equipment, food and all the other paraphernalia of a camp of about twenty boys and the boys themselves were loaded into the vehicle and hurried back to Whitton.

All the way back, men were painting white lines in the middle of the roads (in advance of the blackout), where they have been ever since.

Those parents who had been informed met a rather scruffv, unwashed, hungry band of slightly bewildered scouts and scouters. A week later war was declared.

1939-45

The Troop continued throughout the war although the Scouters were called up and so eventually, were quite a number of the Scouts. Very early on the Twickenham Scout Troops were asked to make themselves available to help in the war effort and District Commissioner Montv Garrett was concerned to make sure we played our part. One of the tasks we were asked to do was the erection of Morrison shelters, designed to provide protection inside houses from air raids. They consisted of four steel corner posts, joined together by angled iron. The top was a sheet of steel about 8ft x 5ft which was bolted to the frame. A strong wire mesh was added to the sides and ends. The shelters were erected so that they could be used as tables as well, usually in one comer of the room but taking up most of the space available. In many cases there were no men available to make up these shelters and teams of four older scouts would do the job. there was no Health and Safety executive in those days. We actually became very proficient and could erect one of these shelters in under 15 minutes. The shelter were very effective and saved many lives.

We earned quite a lot of money for the Troop by collecting newspapers, which unfortunately soon had fewer and fewer pages. In those days a lot of food was sold wrapped in newspaper, so the shopkeepers in Whitton High Street were glad to see us. Led by Mr George Rutzler, they ran an appeal for the parish when the church was destroyed by an oil bomb.

Another area in which scouts helped the war effort was the picking of fruit and vegetables on farms. We joined a Middlesex County Scout Association camp at Evesham in the summer of 1940 or 41 where we picked tons of plums. We were allowed to eat as much as we liked and discovered that when we were fed up with the plums we could eat an apple from the next orchard and get back the taste for plums.

The Scout Group was always much involved with Parish activities, especially with the Summer Fair or Garden Fete as it was then called, and with war efforts such as the collection of waste paper. This was something which happened again many years later when many dads helped us to raise money in the same way. During the war many of who joined the services found that our scout training came in useful.

There was no camping in grim 1940, but by the summer of 1941 the restrictions on using tents had been eased. Eric Newman, Bernard Bligh, Stan Lavery and Peter Alum cycled to Chard in Somerset, not far from the sea for summer camp.

A couple of years after the Chard camping trip Eric Newman was on his way to the 14th Army in Burma. Stan Lavery, one of whose parents was American, chose the option of joining the United States Army. Peter Alum, after the war, joined the Southern Rhodesia Constabulary and rose to be Commissioner of Police in the very troubled years before the country became Zimbabwe. Jack Saunders, one of the original patrol leaders, was killed in the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, and was buried in one of the war cemeteries there. At the time Bernard Bligh was in the comparative safety of the tunnels under Dover Castle, decoding signals, before going to a destroyer on the arctic convoy route. The only other death during the war of 3rd Whitton Scouts occurred as a result of an accident whilst cleaning his revolver. Not all scouts went into the armed forces: Francis O’Shea’s registration number ended in a zero, so he had to become a coal miner.

Leadership for Scout troops was obviously a problem because young men were called up for the forces or for war work of some sort. Older scouts took on some of the responsibilities but it was still necessary to have warranted leaders. In our case the assistant priest, Fr.Oliva Langlois SSE took over and became the Scoutmaster, as the Scout Leader was then called. This was an important contribution because it kept the Troop alive after Tom Bligh (jnr) and others joined the Forces. Fr. Langlois, an American, was unfamiliar with Scouting and it was quite a task for him to take on this responsibility but such was the atmosphere during the war that he no doubt wanted to help in any way he could.

1945-50

From 1946 onwards, for about 11 years, Jim Kirby was the Group Scoutmaster and he was another person who did much for the Group. In the aftermath of the war he was a steady hand at the tiller and gave great encouragement to the younger men who came forward as they returned to civilian life. At about this time the Rover Crew was re­established and met in a concrete air raid shelter - no longer required for its original purpose - and situated in the gardens of the original presbytery.

In about 1947 the Summer Camp was held at Heythrop House, near Chipping Norton, a novitiate where Bernard Bligh was studying. The furniture van which picked us up in August 1939 was was from Ballard’s, a Twickenham removal company. Eight years later in 1947 the same driver, in a Ballard’s van took the troop to camp at Chipping Norton. The lovely house was set in large grounds which put the front gate more than 2 miles from the house! It was an ideal camp site, set by a lake with all the requirements for Scout activities and games at hand. On this occasion we had a patrol of the newly formed Senior Scouts who were halfway between the Troop and the Rover Crew. The house was ultimately sold to a bank as a training centre and Heythrop College moved to the London area.

From 1947 to 1950 Tom Bligh ran the 3rd Whitton Rover Crew – happy days they were, and the closing of the Rover Scouts by HQ was considered to be the worst mistake they made.

In probably the following year summer camp was at Henfield in Sussex, a local District site. It worked out well in spite of one boy being hit in the eye with a missile. The summons “Skip! Nevett’s got an arrow in his eye!” conjured up an image of a King Harold look-alike, lying on his back with the offending arrow sticking straight up. It wasn’t quite like this - although Brian did have to go to hospital, it didn’t put him off Scouting because he later became Scout Leader. Further excitement occurred when some of the older boys were swimming in a nearby lake and one was able to help another who had got into difficulties.

By 1948, Eric Newman was Scoutmaster and started the Senior Scout Troop. The Assistant Scoutmasters were Denis Baldwin, a sheet metal worker, and John Knight who built aircraft. Bernard worked at a desk for the London County Council. Bernard Bligh and then Jim Kirby were Group Scoutmasters.

In 1949, summer camp was at Beaumont College, Old Windsor.

1950’s

In 1950 we camped just outside Boulogne for ten days at a cost of £5.50 each. The Bishop came to visit us, Tony Sharp had his appendix removed there and was left behind in hospital. We had a great time, but a very rough return Channel crossing left most of the campers with mixed memories.

The Troop celebrated the Festival of Britain in 1951 by running a flower show in the school playground. The priest who had made us welcome in France camped with us at Broadstone Warren that year. By this time two former patrol leaders became Assistant Scoutmasters, Brian Nevett who was graduating in Chemistry and Peter Cracknell who was an engineer. Once we camped at Crickhowell in Wales, and another time behind the slipper chapel at Walsingham.

The Crusade of Rescue asked us to start a Cub Pack in their home at Hatton Cross, so Bernard Bligh went off to do this, and Brian Nevett became Scoutmaster in Whitton. By this time he had a doctorate, and the brain drain later attracted him away to the United States. On Coronation Day Brian and Bernard manned a depot for programme sellers in Hyde Park. We spent the previous night guarding half a ton of programmes until fifty Scouts arrived to sell them. During the night we gave shelter to a thousand copies of the Daily Mail which were all sold before dawn to people desperate for protection against the all-night and all-day rain. People kept waking them to ask “Have you heard that they’ve climbed Everest?”