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29th Allerton Boy Scouts
It was inevitable that a Boy Scout troop would be organised in our neighbourhood, given the number of children living and being born there. I think it got the title 29th Allerton Boy scout troop because the scout hall was at number 29 Allerton road. The scout hall was built using volunteers and when it was complete all kinds of things were organised, in particular Bob A Job Week and a week long camp in the Millwoods.
The idea of having a week long camp in the Millwoods was born in early spring so planning could take place. The camp would be set up a short distance from the witches circle because the woods were less dense there, a stream of running water meandered close by and it was close to where the scout masters van could be parked so carrying all the camping gear was less of a chore.
The whole troop would be involved in this camp, all us boys were placed in little groups and named after birds. There were the eagles, the hawks, the owls and the wrens. Now everybody wanted to be in the eagles or the hawks. They were mighty birds of prey. The owl however slept all day and just twit to wooed all night, while the wren was the smallest of birds and just twittered away as it flew from bramble bush to bramble bush. So nobody wanted to be in the owl or wren group. The scout master with the help of his assistant sorted us out. The scoutmaster son would lead the eagles and he was allowed to select his mates to join him in eagle group. The assistant scoutmaster’s son would lead the hawks and was allowed to select his mates to be in hawks group. The rest of us were lined up in single file then had to march up to the scout master who pointed his finger at each of us as we approached him waving us to his left or right saying owl, wren, owl, wren. The owl and wren groups were formed. Four groups equalled a troop so the 29th Allerton Boy Scouts were organised.
The first thing we had to do was have our Bob A Job Week to raise funds for our summer camp and to help out in the community. The eagles got the job of painting the scout hall walls and the scout master chucked in a pound. The hawks got to clear up the building rubbish and weed around the outside of the scout hall and the assistant scoutmaster chucked in ten bob. The wrens and owls went in pairs around the houses asking if any jobs needed doing for a bob. The people living in the pension flats told us we had a cheek asking for a shilling to help out, why we should do things for them for nought they had said. Six members of the owls and wrens got a job cleaning up a mans back yard. They did the maths; six times a shilling each equalled six bob. They worked all day long with only a short break for a drink of water for lunch. When they finished they surveyed the yard with pride. The grass was cut, some old junk was stacked neatly in a pile and the coal shed walls were white washed. The owls and wrens were proud of what they’d done. The man came out and gave them a glass of lemonade, that’s one glass between them, and handed over a bob. ‘It should be six bob mister.’ They exclaimed. ‘You said bob a job and you did a job, were do think I’m gonna get five bob more from? He replied. The week past quickly it was time to meet and count the money out. The eagles had one pound two shillings, the scout masters son had donated his two shillings pocket money to go with his dad’s pound note. The hawks had sixteen shillings, ten bob from the assistant scout master and a shilling from each of the troop. The owls and the wrens had nine shillings and sixpence; the sixpence had been found outside the post office and put with the nine bob they had earned washing two cars, cleaning up a yard, trimming three privet hedges, sweeping two footpaths and cutting a lawn with a pair of scissors. The eagles won the best troop award and earned their hard work badges. The hawks were given a pat on the back and the owls and wrens were asked to work harder next bob a job week.
The time for the summer camp was getting near so the eagles and the hawks got to practice putting up tents and making fires while the owls and the wrens practiced peeling potatoes, turnips and Swedes and washing up pots and pans. Revenge for the inequality was sweet for the owls and the wrens you see the last thing we did at each scout meeting was to have a friendly game of British Bulldog. The eagles and the hawks lined up on one side of the hall and the owls and the wrens at the other. The scout master would blow his whistle and we would charge to the middle of the room and try to get passed each other to claim the opposite wall. When we met in the middle an elbow, a knee or head butt would be used to knock down the opposition instead of simply wrestling them to the ground. The owls and the wrens always won but got the job of cleaning up the scout hall before going home and were denied their badge for being best British Bulldog players.
The middle of summer finally came around so off to the Millwoods we went. Tents, pots and pans our bags with a change of clothes were piled into the scoutmaster van. He drove away with the things while the troop marched with the assistant scoutmaster from the scout hall to the Millwoods. We made a great procession marching in twos in our uniforms led by the scoutmaster’s son carrying a flagpole waving the Union Jack and the assistant scoutmaster’s son waving the pole that held the Boy Scout flag. Down then turning into and on into the Millwoods we went. This was going to be a great week you could fel it in the air. The sun shone, the sky was blue, the grass was green, butterflies flitted here and there, and we didn’t have a care in the world.
At we arrived at the camp sight. The eagles and the hawks helped unload the van and carry the gear into the wood while the owls and the wrens cleared the sight. We collected all the loose sticks and broken tree branches and piled them in heap. Then we dug two deep holes and wrapped some Hessian cloth around them. We left the soil in a heap with a shovel. The holes were the toilets and after each use you piled some soil in. Five tents went up, three side by side and tow opposite. A little flag was put at the entrance to four tents showing which one was eagles, hawks, owls and wrens. The other tent was for the scoutmaster and his assistant. We cut down a small tree, stripped it of its branches then put a little pulley at the thin end and the thick end in the ground. This was our flag pole. Next a fire was organised to cook our meals on. The eagles and the hawks got to practice fire lighting so they could earn their fire lighting badge. The owls and the wrens got to gather wood, peel potatoes, turnips and Swedes to earn their cooking badge.
Evening came round and so did the gnats. They bit us on our arms our shins, necks and faces so we sat in the smoke from the camp fire to chase them away. The smoke made us cough, burned our eyes, made us stink of fire but it kept the gnats away. The scout masters assistant got out a guitar. We sang Old Macdonald had a farm, campfires burning, in the stores and lots of other songs. Just as bedtime came around we told ghost stories; stories of witches, gnomes and goblins who inhabited the Millwoods and of dreadful beasts that roamed the woods at night. It was time to go to sleep.
The scoutmaster and his assistant made sure we took our uniforms off, wrapped a blanket round us and lay down on the floor of the tent using our bags as pillows to go to sleep. There was much sniggering, giggling and laughing and threats from one or another that if someone didn’t shut up they would be dead meat. Tent flaps would open and be fanned then closed again as the eagles, hawks, owls and wrens competed with each other to hear who could break wind the loudest or create the biggest stink. Eventually quietness fell on the camp. It was a peaceful uneventful first night in the Millwoods
Morning came early, with the sun shining through the trees, a million birds singing as many songs and the scout master calling ‘get up boy’s time to break the flag’. It was only we all wondered what kind of joke this was. We stumbled from our tents and to our horror we had to have a wash. Bowls of cold stream water were lined up on trestles and the scoutmaster said this would make men of us. We wondered at his advice our dads washed and shaved each morning in hot water and they were men. We did as we were told like good boy scouts do and washed, dressed then hauled the carefully folded flag to the top of the flag pole then pulled the little string to make the flag flutter in the morning breeze. The scoutmaster’s son got to do the flag breaking while the rest of the eagles, hawks, owls and wren got to salute and sing God Save the Queen.
On this day we were going to build a tree house so we got to work. We cut logs and lashed then together then selected a suitable elm tree to erect our piece of work. The eagles got to climb the tree and earn their adventure badges, the hawks got to splice ropes to haul the platform up into the branches and earn their rope splicing badges, the owls and the wrens had to watch the proceedings, there was no badge for looking on. The platform was in place and corner sticks were put in place and strands of rope were wrapped around. A rope ladder was made. The owls and the wrens got to collect all the wood to make the slats while the eagles and the hawks put it together and earned their ladder making badges. Evening came around the tree house was complete. Six of us at a time could climb up and stand on the platform and take a look around. The view was filtered through the tree tops, fields of corn growing green could be seen to the west and a country lane with a hawthorn hedge to the east. To the north some cows chewed their cuds in a field and to the south tree tops spread as far as the eye could see. This was a good summer’s eve.
The owls and the wrens got to peel potatoes and carrots and put them in pans with water then place them on the fire to cook. When the cooking was finished they got to dish dinner up for the eagles and the hawks so they could earn their serving dinner badge. The truth was the eagles and the hawks were tired they had worked hard building the tree house. When the owls and the wrens finished washing the pots and pans the eagles and the hawks had just enough strength to build the camp fire up ready for our nightly sing a long. The assistant scoutmaster got his guitar and we sang Old McDonald had a farm, Camp fires burning and some other songs, the same ones we sang the night before. The sun finally sank into the earth at about eleven o’clock and the gnats came out to feed on us so we sat in the smoke of the fire and told ghost stories, stories of witches, goblins and gnomes who inhabited the woods and of the monster from the stinking black swamp that lay just a hundred yards away from our tents. The monster was big, had horns coming from its head, breath that stank like hell itself and walked on four hair covered feet. What’s more it came out in the middle of summer nights when the moon was full and stars twinkled in the sky. The scoutmaster cut the story short and told us it was time for bed. As we entered our tents we looked up into the last of the twilight and could see a full moon on the rise. Some of the brave eagle boys made whoo hoo sounds and most, but not all of us laughed. We snuggled on the floor of our tents with the blanket wrapped around us and placed our heads on our bags. The curses could be heard from tent to tent as the tent flaps were opened to let out someone’s stink. Finally all was quiet; the moon was high in the night sky and shadows danced across the tents in the moonlight. At there was a whisper from the eagle’s tent. ‘Hey something’s outside our tent. Is that you Freddie? Stop mucking about you’ll frighten the owls and the wrens.’ A muffled call came from the hawk’s tent. ‘It’s not Freddie. He’s here with us. Can you see anything?’ ‘No.’ came a hushed reply.’ There was dead silence, every boy was awake. Then a rustling sound could be heard, a sound of twig breaking. ‘Stop messing around Johnny.’ Came a shout from the hawk’s tent. There was no reply just a strange sighing noise, then the sound of running water followed by a distinct plop, plop splat sound. Every boy held their breath, their hearts beat hard, and terror was setting in. A shout broke the tension it was the scoutmaster calling from his tent. ‘Go to sleep and stop messing about or you won’t earn your find the treasure badge in the morning.’ Every Boy Scout turned over, all four tents were quiet but the thought of the monster from the black swamp was in everyone head. A stink permeated the air then the plop, plop splat sound came again and a shadow moved across the hawk’s tent. The boys froze, the shadow was gruesome, a terrible sight. A huge head with horns and the stink was awful. ‘Freddie if you keep this up we’re gonna bash your brains in stop messing about.’ Came a load voice. ‘It’s not me. It must be Johnny.’ Freddie called out. The shadow moved growing a huge body to go with the horned head. One of the hawks threw his blanket back and slowly lifted the side of the tent and looked out. ‘Did the monster from the black swamp have four hairy legs and sink like hell?’ He asked. The rest of the hawks replied ‘Yes.’ The eagles called out ‘Yes.’ ‘Then the monster is between our tents run, get out of the tents,’ Screamed Freddie as he leapt into the night.
The hawks ran in all directions, the eagles ran one behind the other yelling for their mums, the owls and the wrens jumped sleepily out of their tents and milled around in a group yelling. ‘Help it’s the black swamp monster.’ The scoutmaster and his assistant came at the run shouting out. ‘What’s the matter boys? What’s going on?’
The night air suddenly rang out with a great cry of ‘MOO, MOO.’ The scoutmaster and his assistant stood still, the owls and the wrens stood still, the eagles stood still and half the hawks stood still. They all looked terrified at first then sighed a sigh of relief a cow stood between the eagles and hawks tents looked at them all and bellowed MOO, MOO once again then lifted its tail and they heard plop, plop splat and smelt a stink. The scoutmaster chased the cow away and sent some of the eagles to round up the missing hawk boys who ran off into the Millwoods.
All but one hawk boy was found, the leader, the assistant scoutmasters’ son was nowhere to be found. ‘I know where he’ll be.’ Said the assistant scoutmaster. He took the keys to the scoutmasters van and drove away into the night. The leader of the hawks was sitting at home drinking a cup of tea trying his best to tell his mum how the Millwood Beast, the monster from the stinking black swamp had attacked the camp. He told of the carnage, boys running left and right, being trampled under hairy legs and gored by horns and gnashing teeth. How he had run to get help and his mum should call the police. His dad got home and walked inside the house. ‘What are you doing sitting here drinking tea? Get into the van I’m taking you back to camp right now. ‘He said. ‘Has the monster gone? The brave leader asked his dad. ‘Monster! It was a bloody cow. And you, you had to run all the way home while the other scouts are all tucked up in their tents. Now get going.’ The two of them got back to camp at sun up. it was. The scoutmaster was getting everyone to have a wash and brush their teeth in the freezing stream water to make men of them. The scoutmaster’s son had his chin on his chest he didn’t want to look at the other eagles, hawks, owls and wrens and he was really embarrassed when he heard some of them singing. ‘And this little piggy went wee, wee all the way home to his mummy.’ He threatened to bash a few of the wrens if they didn’t shut up then normality returned to the camp. The eagles and the hawks gathered twigs and sticks to get the breakfast fire going while the owls and wrens had to shovel the plop, plop, splats the cow had left behind. There wasn’t any badge for shovelling cow dung up. But the eagles and the hawks got one for making the best porridge even though it could have been used to fill and make watertight the hole in the side of the Titanic.
It was another sunny day and after lunch a treasure hunt was organised. The scoutmaster and his assistant had hidden some penny bars of chocolate, jelly babies and liquorice allsorts around the camp and at the edge of the woods. The eagles went first, the hawks next, followed by the owls and the wrens. Whichever group came back with the most treasure got their treasure hunting badge. We all looked everywhere we could think off, in little hollows in fallen trees, under bushes, in the forks of trees, inside rabbit burrows and in among the exposed roots of the trees that lined the meandering stream. When we had found what we thought was all the treasures the scoutmaster said. ‘One sixpenny bar of chocolate had been hid and the finder would get light duties for the rest of the week.’ The assistant scoutmasters son asked to be excused he was tired after last night’s escapade but was told he had to join in. After an hour without finding either hide nor hare of the chocolate bar we decided to give up, call it quits and take a rest. The scoutmaster told us scouts never give up no matter what, the quest for the chocolate bar would make men of us. A team effort was called for so the eagles, hawks owls and wrens made a line shoulder to shoulder and scoured the woods.
We climbed a little ridge and on the other side it went steeply down to a little stream. Along its banks were thousands of stinging nettles, growing in impenetrably thick clumps with dark green leaves and purple flower heads waving gently in the afternoon breeze. We knew there wouldn’t be a sixpenny chocolate bar hidden there. Suddenly there was a shout. ‘Help me I’m slipping.’ Came a cry from the assistant scout masters son. We all looked in his direction just in time to see him rolling over and over into the stinging nettles below. We gasped. He screamed. The damage was done. The nettles stung his knees, arms, hands, face and ears. We grabbed a stick of wood each and beat the nettles back then dragged him back up to the top of the ridge. He was shaking like a jelly fish, his face hands and knees swelling up and covered with a red and white patchy rash. The scout master and his assistant came running, yelling. ‘Get some dock leaves, quick lots of dock leaves, all you can find.’ We all looked around and there next to the clumps of nettles stood dozens of dock leaves. They were the natural antidote to stinging nettles. We collected arm fulls and the scout master and his assistant rubbed them over the hawk leader’s rash. He stopped crying but still shook. He was in shock. He was put into the scoutmasters van and the assistant scoutmaster drove him to hospital. The eagles, what was left of the hawks, the owls and the wrens asked if getting the dock leaves qualified us for a first aid badge. Tea time came around. The owls and the wrens peeled potatoes, carrots, turnips and Swedes while the eagles and the leaderless hawks gathered sticks and twigs for the camp fire. As we started to eat the assistant scout master returned with his son. We tried not to laugh, the leader of the mighty birds of prey called hawks, looked like a duck with bandages wrapped round his face, elbows and knees. A count of the treasures found that afternoon showed the wrens had won by one liquorice allsorts. But the scout master and his assistant thought it would be nice to give the treasure hunters badge to the hawks in sympathy for their leader having fallen into the nettle patch. We sat in the smoke from the fire as the sun went down to fool the gnats. The assistant scoutmaster got his guitar and we sang Old MacDonald Had a Farm, Camp Fires Burning, In The Stores and all the other songs we sang the night before and the night before that. Ghost and monster stories were banned, tonight was going to a quiet night. A night to gaze at the milky way, the moon beaming down on the Millwoods and listening to the rustle of the leaves on the branches of the trees being gently swayed by the breeze.
At everyone woke up the tents were being buffeted by wind. Guy ropes were tightened, tent flaps tied shut. We battened down for summer storm. The sky light up bright as day then turned pitch black. Lightning struck. A distant rumble of thunder became a ground shaking bang and rain started to fall. Lightning struck again and again. Flash after flash lit up the woods. Trees fell with mighty crashes to the ground and rain came down in torrents. The tents leaked a little at first then the gale force winds ripped them apart. The eagles minus their leader, the hawks, the owls, the wrens and the scoutmaster’s assistant ran for home. The scoutmaster and his son ran for the van and drove home through that dreadful storm. There was a problem with the rain; it had swelled the meandering stream into a raging river which was too dangerous to cross. We had to go deeper into the Millwoods, so deep in fact we came out the other side. There were open fields of corn being lashed by sheets of rain; forked lightning hit the ground time and time again so we had to follow the tree line. The assistant scout master took charge asking us to follow him. We did. We came across a barbed wire fence so had to head back into the wood. After an hour we were back at what was left of our camp again. The eagles, less their leader who was now tucked up warm in his bed, the hawks, the owls and the wrens all guessed they weren’t going to get their orienteering badge.
The camp was salvaged and restored to some sort of order. Lengths of string were tied from tree to tree and wet clothes and blankets were hung from them to dry in the morning sunshine. The scoutmaster and his son returned and were amazed at the job we had done, why even the flag was flying from the flag pole, tents were back up and breakfast was being served, cooked to perfection by the owls and the wrens, while the eagles and hawks gathered wood, checked the washing on the lines and generally tidied up the place. The assistant scoutmaster’s son had removed his bandages to let the air get at his nettle stings. All was well. After breakfast six of us at a time climbed up to the platform the eagles and hawks had built and carved our initials into the wooden boards with our scout knives, the knives that had two blades, a screwdriver, a tin opener, a nail file, a cork screw and ten other bits attached to them. It was fun especially when one of the wrens found the sixpenny bar of chocolate sitting in the fork of the elm tree in full sunshine slowly melting and dripping down the trunk of the tree. We all dipped our fingers into it had a lick.
We broke camp, packed everything away into the scoutmasters van and marched back to the scout hall. Our uniforms crumpled, socks around our ankles, shoes full of mud, woggles skew whiff holding our blue and yellow stripped scarves in place around our necks and our caps battered about but on our heads. The scoutmaster son was first in line carrying the union jack and the assistant scoutmaster’s son carrying the scout flag was next then followed the eagles, hawks, owls and the wrens. It had been a great summer camp in the Millwoods. At the scout hall the eagles and hawks hung the tents over the fence to dry, made sure all the tent poles were ok and had a cup of tea. The owls and the wrens got to scrub the pots and pans, knives, forks and spoons, then dry them all and put them away in cupboards. There was no badge for pot bashing but the eagles and the hawks got a commendation for the good work they did drying, packing and sowing up a few little tears in the tents. One week later at our Friday night meeting we stood on parade all nice and clean wearing our freshly ironed shirts, shorts and socks, our highly polished shoes and our woggles nicely in place. The scoutmaster and his assistant inspected us and said how smart we looked, especially the eagles and the hawks with all the badges they had on the sleeves of their shirts, the owls and the wrens sniggered at them and said they looked like they were wearing their granny’s patch work quilt instead of a shirt. The penalty for their mirth was they got to clean up the scout hall.