1st Orkney – The Stronsay Boy Scouts Group

Records of a Bygone Age By Ian Cooper

As many of us will remember from history lessons at school, Lord Robert Baden Powell was the founder of the Boy Scouts, a movement that has grown from its beginnings in 1907 with a camp for 20 boys being held on Brownsea Island near Poole, in Dorset, to an organisation with somewhere around 500,000 members in the UK and in excess of 30 million world wide, these latest numbers including girls as well as boys.

The movement expanded rapidly from its humble beginnings, reaching as far as Orkney by 1915 when the first troops were formed in the county. Information is fairly sketchy about the formation of these troops but in an article in ‘The Orkney Herald’ of 21st of April 1915 there is a report (shown below) of a display given by the Stronsay troop on 16th of April that year so it would seem the troop must have been formed sometime before that.

The distinction of being first led to the Stronsay group being designated “1st Orkney Scouts” with Kirkwall becoming “2nd Orkney “soon after and a number of other areas and islands joining up in the months that followed.

One of the main driving forces in starting up the Stronsay Scouts was James Sinclair Gorie, was who born at Clestrain in Stronsay in 1879 and was brought up there before serving as a soldier in the Boer War in South Africa, afterwards remaining there for some time, firstly as part of the newly formed South African Police Force.

During his time there he met Lord Baden-Powell, who had also fought in the war, and was instrumental in setting up the new Police Force there, and Jim was very impressed with Baden-Powell’s ideas on scouting and fieldcraft. These impressions he conveyed by letter and also carried back home to Stronsay with him when on leave and, as the Boy Scouts movement gathered momentum, it was Jim Gorie who, although by now enrolled with the South African Union forces and fighting in France and Flanders in the Great War did much to encourage leaders and boys in Stronsay to join this new movement.

As a footnote to this, Jim Gorie spent much of his adult life in South Africa but returned to Hazelbank in Stronsay to retire.Not long after the outbreak of the Second World War,Mr Gorie was appointed commanding officer of the newly formed Local Defence Volunteers in Stronsay (later to become The Home Guard) until he moved to Kirkwall in October 1941. This would have been the third war in which he had played an active part.

There seems to be little information about the Scouts then until, in the ‘Orcadian’ of July 1925, there is a report of the Scouts’ annual camp. This was held over a few days in a field at Samson’s Lane in Stronsay where troops from Kirkwall, Sanday and Stronsay spent some nights ‘under canvas’. It appears that the Stronsay Scouts had only recently reformed after a break and were now under the command of Captain George W G Sutherland, of Mount Pleasant, who had himself been in South Africa at the same time as Lord Baden-Powell and Jim Gorie, assisted by Scoutmaster W Munro of Hazelbank. Numerous activities were held and judged during the camp, with the three troops competing for the ‘Orkney flag’, which was awarded to what was judged to be the best troop at the camp. The criteria the troops were judged against included personal and camp tidiness,ambulance and first aid competence,signalling ability and a number of sporting events including flat races, long jump and shot putt. There was even a flat race for the troop leaders, where George Sutherland apparently showed the other leaders a clean pair of heels! A dance was held in the evening of their last day of the camp where individual prizes were presented to competitors and the Sanday troop was awarded the much coveted County Flag for the best overall performance.

Mrs Nana Peace, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday, recalls that her brother Willie Rendall was in the Scouts around this time and looked very smart in his uniform. On leaving the Scouts he was allowed to keep his kilt, which was part of the uniform at that time. He had little notion to wear the kilt again so, in seeing all the material in the kilt, her mother unpicked it all and made a skirt each of Nana and her sister Maggie out of the cloth! She said she loved the skirt and wore it regularly for some time.

Moving into the 1930s, the Scouts continued to flourish, with up to 30 boys in the Stronsay troop taking part in all kinds of field work and activities and also putting on displays and concerts for the local folk. Oliver Stewart, an Irishman who had married a Stronsay lass and was Customs Officer in the island, was the enthusiastic leader of the Scouts for a number of years ably assisted by local man Peter Lennie and teacher John D Mackay.

With the outbreak of war in 1939, Mr Stewart was called away to serve elsewhere and the Stronsay Scouts came to a stop for the duration of the war. It seems that, after the end of the war in 1945, few boys were interested in reforming and no leader could be found to take on this responsibility. Sadly, to date the Stronsay Scouts have never reformed but who knows what the future may bring and we may yet see “1st Orkney Scouts” to the fore once more.

I only discovered recently that my late father Sam Cooper had been a Scout in the mid 1920s and had the distinction of winning the under 13s shot putt competition as well as coming second (along with Peter Jackson ) in the three legged race during the Stronsay camp of 1925.

My late father in law Bob Chalmers was also a Scout, this time in the late 1930s something he enjoyed very much, and he passed on some of this information to me, particularly the involvement of Jim Gorie in the formation of the Scouts.

When we were clearing out Bob Chalmers’ house after he passed away, his daughter came across a small compass attached to a 1937 thrupenny bit and wondered if this could have had something to do with his involvement in the Scouts. Has anyone seen something similar to this, or have any idea of what this would have been, or what significance it had? His family would love to know.

If anyone has any more information about the Stronsay Scouts or photos of any of them I would be delighted to hear of it.

Many thanks to the Stronsay Limpet for permission to republish this article.

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2 replies »

  1. My grandfather was Captain George Sutherland and I have recently come across so e photographs of the Stronsay scouts in the 1920’s which may be of interest to you.
    Ken Sutherland

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