Chapter 18: Scouts Again

Throughout all my time at Blythswood (1940 – 1960) I used to run the Boy Scout troop there. We used to have three or four patrols and used to meet every Friday afternoon. Several members of the staff aided me in this, chiefly Arthur August who had been a student under me at Healdtown and a most active Boy Scout as well.

The St Laurens Church after the Rotterdam Blitz, May 1940.About 1950 a former Hollander named Sliep came to Umtata, where he and his brother started a business. He had been a Scout in Rotterdam and, when the Germans in 1940 had bombarded the place and destroyed practically every building in it he and some others risked their lives in continuing to run a troop of Boy Scouts although this had been prohibited by the Germans and was punishable by death.

He told of how he and others had been much encouraged by the great interest taken by British Scout HQ in the Dutch movement, how they used to listen to the BBC broadcast at certain times of the day and night when messages and instructions were given to the Rotterdam scouts.

Frequently they were able to reply by using a mobile radio installation which listened all through day and night and ‘talked back’ at certain times, all being done in codes which were frequently altered. He told me how he and other scouts would meet in spaces under the ruins of bombed-out buildings and practise and learn from the instructions sent by HQ in London, so that they could become skilled enough to pass the tests for their Scout badges.

Frequently they were chased by German soldiers but always managed to escape through the labyrinth of spaces and corridors in the ‘underworld’ of wrecked Rotterdam. It was a wonderful story and showed up their courage and dedication to the ideals of the Scout Movement.

Thus it came as no surprise that Scout HQ in Johannesburg soon asked Mr Sliep to take over as Divisional Commissioner for African Scouts in the Transkei. He organised us into three ‘Districts’, Southern, Central and Northern Transkei, and asked three of us seniors in Scouting to act as District Commissioners, me to take the Southern District.

I found this a very interesting and rewarding post, especially as I travelled throughout my District, inspecting and encouraging existing troops and starting many troops when asked to do so by local committees. I took our dear old Morris car along many ‘roads’ and tracks that all but shook her to death! But it was well worth it, just to see how many Black men and women were keen of the Scout movement and thus started troops, even when there was no money nor any Scout equipment to use.

Some years later the Slieps were moved elsewhere, so I was asked to become Divisional Commissioner for the whole of the Transkei. This I was willing and proud to do.

I was able to find some good men for District Commissioners, which was a great encouragement to me. My biggest difficulty was, however, to find a place for a Scout HQ in Umtata and for a Divisional Secretary to run the HQ and to answer letters from the central Scout HQ.

Meanwhile, in order to increase interest among the troops, I started the idea of an annual Scout Jamboree in Umtata. We invited all the District Commissioners and all the Scouters of the Division to bring their troops, or a patrol from each troop, to this Jamboree for a week end, in order to demonstrate Scout efficiency and to take part in various competitions.

Somebody presented the Scout Movement in Umtata with a silver cup to be given to the most efficient troop. This was to be a floating trophy so I arranged for a number of small silver cups, about the size of an egg cup, to be given to the winners to keep, and arraged for the name of the troop to be engraved on it, with the date.

I loved the Scouts and the scouting, as it was something very useful and sane in a time when I was just about being driven mad by the new rules and regulations, not to mention ‘visitations’ of the many minions of the new Department of Bantu Education.

They used to roll up in a fleet of ‘official’ cars at any time, which always meant that I had to leave my teaching and other work to take these persons around the institution and answer their usually asinine questions without losing my temper.

They might have been very good ‘officials’ but they knew nothing about our work. Moreover, I was always expected to entertain them to tea or coffee!

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