1st Guernsey Scout Headquarters – New Place, Vauvert
The Scout HQ was housed in an old nineteenth century school building at the top of a slope – where New Place rises up from Vauvert, an area of St Peter Port, town and harbour, Isle de Guernsey. C.I.
I remember the first time I went there in 1946 at the age of ten - waiting outside with a bunch of my pals as Mr Ralls unlocked the iron gates which were set in-between granite columns.
Inside these gates the building itself was fronted by a yard which was made smaller by the presence of a lean-to. The lean-to occupied the right-hand side of the yard and butted up against the wall of a neighbouring building.
Mr Ralls let us in to the headquarters via the lean-to and we passed through a sort of Aladdin’s Cave containing piled up boats in various stages of repair before entering into the ground floor of the main building by a side door.
Half of the ground floor was occupied by the Scout Room. This room was beautifully fitted out with bench lockers for each of the patrols and boasted a column which took the place of a ships’ mast. It was from this column that the Union Flag was broken at the start of each meeting.
On the right-hand side of the room was a beautifully made wooden partition, glazed in its upper half, separating the room from a well-equipped gymnasium. The gymnasium was rarely used in the six years that I was in the troop.
There was a floor above and this was accessed by an outside flight of steps and through a door at the rear of the building. Nearly the whole of this upper floor was occupied by one large room – containing two full-sized snooker tables, two table-tennis tables, a small snooker table, and (at the far end) a stage on which was set table and chairs with a large selection of illustrated magazines about the Second World War.
In the corner, on the right, were two small rooms, one above the other - constructed in varnished wood. These rooms contained scouting memorabilia, and one was used as a Court of Honour Room, where Scouters and Patrol Leaders met to discuss the running of the troop.
As far as I know, the whole of the fitting out and maintenance of this building and the Troop’s fleet of eight boats, had been carried out by Mr George Ralls. Mr Ralls devoted much of his life to this work, and as a manager of a department of Leales Ltd in Bordage so he had ready access to carpentry tools, and possibly to materials. Mr Ralls regularly spent two or three hours working in the HQ before going onto his day job, and achieved what I have heard described as the finest Scout HQ in the British Isles.
The weekly troop meetings were the core of our scouting activities. The meetings started with the breaking of the flag, where the troop would stand in their patrols on three sides of a square whilst the duty patrol leader pulled on the flag halyards to break out the flag on its flagstaff.
This was always a tense moment as the duty patrol leader would have packed the flag himself, and it was always a worry that something would snag and the flag break would end in him having to lower the flag and refurl it.
The meetings themselves were run by Mr Bridle who would give out any notices and lead the activities. The activities were a mix of training and games (sometimes both at the same time) a good example of this being the game of Port and Starboard.
This game involved imagining you were on a boat heading North. As the Scouter called out Port, Starboard, Bow, Stern, East, West etc the Scouts rushed in the appropriate direction – with the last one to the wall being ‘knocked out’ until only one Scout was left.
We also played the traditional Kim’s game – which involved memorising a mix of items on a tray which had briefly been revealed to the group. Other rougher games were played including Hopakicky and British Bulldog – both of which involved a fair amount of rough and tumble.
Of course, being a Sea Scout Troop, we also did a lot of knot tying. For this a thick rope was stretched across the room. Three-foot lengths of thinner rope were then suspended from this, and using this tool we learned our basic eight knots for our Tenderfoot Badge, and more knots for our Second- and First-Class Badges. Much of our training for our Tenderfoot Badges was carried out by the Patrol Leader with his Patrol.
Meetings, conducted by Mr Stan Bridle (supported at times by a younger assistant, Mr Ken Ozard, and by Mr Cave) ended with a formal parade, which included a brief prayer and the lowering of the flag.
Mr Bridle had a mild and pleasant manner – earning him a high level of respect and good behaviour, whilst Mr Cave (a former Naval man) brought a rather brisker discipline to meetings when he was present. However, for much of the time Mr Bridle ran the troop single-handed.
Mr Ralls was always there in the background but had little contact with the Scouts - his main role being to open and close the building along with maintaining and developing the fabric and fittings of the building. His life’s work!
In addition to, and apart from, the formal weekly meeting we went to the HQ building two or three more evenings a week. This was to enjoy the facilities housed on the floor above.
Table tennis was a great attraction, as was the quarter sized billiard table. I also spent a lot of time going through the World War Two illustrated magazines. As I had been in Guernsey through the occupation I had only a very limited idea of what had happened in the outside world during those years. These magazines helped to fill in the gap in my knowledge.
And, of course, as we grew older we also attended the building for training towards the various Scouting Badges – helping us to progress towards our First-Class and Queen’s Scout Awards.
Scouting in the Summer
Throughout the summer we took advantage of the long evenings for two main activities - out on the cliffs and in our fleet of boats.
During the summer our main troop meetings were held in a quarry off the cliff path below Calais Lane to the South of Fermain Bay. The quarry providing us with a small grassy area on which we could assemble and also several little hollows or dens in the bushes which we used for our patrol areas.
Our outside main troop meetings were briefer and less formal, and we spent most of our time either in the patrol areas lighting cooking fires or playing wide games. These games would take us as far as the Pepper Pot on the headland to the north of Fermain or southward to the Pine Forest and involved much stalking and ambushing and crawling through bushes. As we were in shorts, we normally went home with out knees bloodied by bramble scratches. Our favoured weapons were bracken stalks, which we hurled at each other with great vigour, fortunately avoiding doing any serious injury.
Our cooking usually involved the frying up of eggs and bacon, and we experimented with dampers and twists. We also tried making primitive ovens, but I cannot remember that they were very successful.
The other great activity throughout the summer was boating, in the Harbour and around the coast line. Our fleet of up to eight boats was moored in the Town Harbour, but most of our activities in the Junior Troop were confined to the Whaler or the Surfboat.
The Whaler was propelled by eight oars, four each side, and apart from learning to row in this vessel, we learned to raise the oars vertically when coming alongside and back-water for fast manoeuvring. As we progressed in skill, we also took turns at steering the boat and taking command, and once we were trained to a sufficient level, and when the weather was fair, we would row out of the harbour, with Mr Ralls sitting proudly in the stern in full Scouters Uniform, down as far as Fermain and back.
We may have used the smaller boats for getting out to the larger ones, and we may have used a smaller four oared boat occasionally, but lack of Scouters meant that we usually went out in a larger boat, so we were more easily supervised for Safety.
Mr Bridle was helped at times by Mr Cave and Dave Ozard, while Mr Ralls mainly restricted himself to care of the boats.
It occurs to me now that getting the boats into the water must have been a major operation. The smaller ones were kept through the winter at the Scout HQ in New Place, while I suppose the larger ones were kept on the Castle Emplacement. Once again, Mr Ralls must have been involved in a great deal of work which we did not appreciate at the time.
I started going along to Scout meetings at the age of ten or eleven with a small group of pals. Alan and Michael LeMoignon (who lived not far away at Valnord Hill) and John Ogier (who lived just across the road) were the pals I initially attended meetings with – although they dropped out after a while. I was surprised years later to find that Michael had become the local Police Chief.
Another of the LeMoignon’s was Ronnie, who was later to become a States Deputy. Even back then Ronnie was a very robust and forthright character, being very difficult to budge in games of British Bulldog. I also recall that my first Patrol Leader was Derek Prout, but I remember little of him.
My particular friends at that time, and as we progressed into the Senior Troop, were David Kreckeler his cousin, Bill Exley, John Lihou, Tony LeGallez (usually known as Ginger for his bright copper-coloured hair) and Bernie Girauld.
Bernie was of French origin, and spoke the language fluently – this was a great asset on our trip through France to Switzerland in 1952. Bernie was large and very strong, and although he did not say a lot, he was a very dependable character.
Dave Kreckeler came to the fore when we started to do a few runs from the HQ. He quickly outshone the rest of us and went onto become the Islands’ leading distance runner of his generation, setting records - some of which still stand today.
This little group of pals met regularly at weekends over several years, exploring the bays and cliffs and in winter trying to cover all the Island’s lanes on our cycles. Even though the Island is small, with only 3 miles from the East coast line to the West at Vazon, there are 300 Miles of lanes for our Visitors to get lost in.
From the age of fifteen we joined the Senior Troop. This was developed in 1950 by ASM Roger Brehaut, who encouraged his Elizabeth College friend, Nicholas (Prof) LePoidevin to join the Troop.
With Nick as one leader of Drake Patrol and David Kreckeler as leader of Cook, the Troop developed a busy schedule of proficiency badge work and other activities.
There were difficulties in finding examiners on the Island. However, despite this, three of us (Nick LePoidevin, Dave Kreckeler and myself) all achieved Queens’ Scout status by 1952. The Senior Scout Log Book and Court of Honour Book still survive, and show that we were often involved in scouting activities several days a week.
Apart from badge work our main focus at the time was preparation for a visit to the Festival of Britain in 1951. For this we took the mailboat to Southampton then cycled up to London, where we stayed with scouting contacts in Morden. From here we had four days out in London, visiting the Festival of Britain, the Houses of Parliament (which included going up Big Ben to see the clock mechanism). In the City we visited Lloyds and the Stock Exchange and climbed the Monument, near where the fire of London started and Tower Bridge.
Over a three day weekend we did a thirty mile hike through the Surrey countryside, taking our chance to do a good long hike in English conditions. We also visited the Scout Training Ground, and manged to fit in some free time to visit relatives or go for a swim in the local baths. We then spent three more days cycling back, travelling southwards to the coast and west to Southampton to get the boat back to Guernsey.
In October we greatly missed ASM Brehaut, who had gone off to pursue his studies at Bristol University. Fortunately Mr Cave took his place and kept things going for much of the period up to Christmas 1951. In 1952, however, the Patrol Leaders increasingly took over the running of the Senior Troop with ASM Brehaut helping out when he was on University vacation.
The mix was as before, badge work being mingled with wide games, and, from May onwards, a lot of time being spent in the smaller boats learning the finer points of boat handling.
At this time there was also much preparation for the Expedition to Switzerland - which saw the Senior Troop travelling by train from Carteret to Switzerland and back between July 28 th and August 21 st 1952. This expedition was led by GSM Ralls and ASM Brehaut and comprised of six seniors and one junior. This was a major event for all who went, and there is an account in a separate log book.
Thanks are due to all those involved in the running of the troop over may years. In particular a huge debt of gratitude is owed to the memory of Mr Ralls - for his indefatigable work on the basic infrastructure of Headquarters and the fleet of boats, and also to Mr Bridle for his patient and good-humoured running of the Junior Troop.
The Senior Troop of 1950 and 1954 was relatively short-lived, but again grateful thanks to ASM Brehaut who was its main inspiration, and to Nick LePoidevin, who supported him in providing the Seniors with a strong core of badge work. The expeditions to the Festival of Britain and to Switzerland were high points of those years both for the Senior Troop and all of the individuals involved. // Memories from Bill Hill // Dec. 19th /2018
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