Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Boys Brigade

A proud post now with something for you also! lol

At Boys Brigade displays in Largs on Friday and Saturday my two sons were awarded best boy trophies for P2 and P6. My youngest is in the Anchor Boys (which we used to call the Robins in the 1970s and 80s when I was in the BB in Plymouth in England, and Carrickfergus in Ulster), whilst my eldest has now been promoted from Junior Section to Company Section. Founded in Scotland, the organisation is now worldwide, largely the same from country to country, though with some regional differences. I received a comment to a Twitter post from Australian based genie Rosemary Kopittke where she mentioned that the Junior Section down under is referred to as "Number 1 section", for example, and here in Scotland, boys seem to be promoted to the Company Section a year earlier than the equivalent in Northern Ireland.

But apart from a quick plug to show off my boys, I thought I'd take the opportunity to provide a quick potted history of the BB - so here goes!

The Boys’ Brigade ( was a Christian youth movement founded in 1883 by Sir William Alexander Smith, a Thurso born man who had previously relocated to Glasgow from the north following the death of his father. A Church of Scotland Sunday School teacher and member of the 1st Lanarkshire Royal Volunteers, Smith had the idea of creating an organisation that combined the best of both worlds, with the initial purpose of achieving “the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom amongst Boys and the promotion of habits of Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness”. The first Boys’ Brigade company, 1st Glasgow, was founded on October 4th 1883 at the Free Church Mission Hall on the city’s North Woodside Road, and the idea of the movement soon spread like wildfire across the UK and Ireland within the next decade.

Boys initially wore the standard military inspired BB uniform, which included a white haversack, brown leather belt with brass buckle, and a pill-box cap, and progressed through military style ranks. As a former member of the BB myself in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, the uniform I wore was almost identical, the sole difference being the wearing of a blue forage cap instead of the pill box cap, which was abandoned in the 1960s. The uniform has since undergone a radical change, with Company section kids now wearing a blue shirt and tie, no jacket, no haversack etc. Officers wore Glengarry hats, which is still the standard issue today.

The emblem of the BB was initially an anchor carrying the motto “Sure & Stedfast” (taken from a biblical verse found at Hebrews 6:19), though following its merger with the Boys’ Life Brigade in 1926, a red cross was added, which remains the symbol today. The organisation’s routine was to meet for physical activity, temperance lessons, badge work, religious instruction and drill, which included the carrying of dummy rifles, though this was abandoned following the Life Boys’ objections to the symbolism of weapons. Once a year members would go to an annual camp, providing an opportunity for the boys to remain in contact during the summer break, a tradition that is still the highlight of the year for most companies.

Notable members of the Boys Brigade in the past have included Manchester United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson, television presenter Jonathan Ross and singer Sir Cliff Richard, whilst businessman Sir Alan Sugar was a member of a Jewish based equivalent organisation called the Jewish Lads Brigade.

I don't know if they still do it, but after each evening's session in Company Section we had to sing a vespers hymn:

Great God who knowest all our needs
Bless thou our watch and guard our sleep
Forgive our sins of thought and deed
And in thy peace thy servants keep.

We thank thee for the day that's done
We trust thee for the day to be
Thy love we learn in Christ thy son
Oh may we all his glory see.

Not sure if we used words like thy and thou because we were singing some old Presbyterian number or because we were still living in the 17th century in Ulster! Some things certainly have not changed - I found myself yesterday belting out "Will your anchor hold in the storms of life" at my youngest's display!

I have no belief in a God, but by God, I have a belief in the BB! A great organisation which has given me some great memories in the past, including camps in Thurso, London, France and Switzerland, and which is brilliantly providing as much fun for my kids today.

Do any readers have any BB memories to share?!



Anonymous said...

I was also in the Boys' Brigade (note the apostrophe!) on Tyneside in the 1960s, attached to a Presbyterian church, with a high proportion of Scottish people, or those of Scottish descent.

We also used to sing the vesper hymn you refer to, but for us the first line was changed to 'Great God who knowest each boy's need' which actually rhymes better with 'deed'. I say 'we', but in fact I was the Company pianist, so never actually sang the hymn. The command 'Pianist take post' would be given by the Company captain, and I would march to the piano, play the hymn, and march back again.

Chris Paton said...

Reminds me that when we had to fall in, the first command was "Marker take post" - the marker was the squad leader of the first squad, once in place the other squad leaders would then fall in line behind him, and the rest of he company then had the command "Company, fall in"!


Richy said...

I've been in the BB pretty much all my life, and am still involved as a leader in the Junior Section in Cambuslang.

Our company will be celebrating its centenary later this year, and we had a meeting on Sunday to start planning our celebrations. We started compiling a list of current and former members and officers, for a celebratory dinner, and the number of names we came up with - off the top of our heads - was staggering.

Makes you realise just what an impact the organisation has had, and still continues to have.

Chris Paton said...

Congrats on your centenary Richy! If you want to send me some details, I'll happily put a note in the next issue of Discover my Past Scotland to ask any former members to get in touch, if that might help. I'm at

Hope the dinner goes well!