6th Laindon Scout Troop
My memories (1979 to 1988) followed by Mark's comments plus a little bit of history kindly supplied by leader Ernie Easterby.
My first experience of Cubs and Scouts was in 1979 when our son Mark became a new recruit in Simba Pack. Cub meetings took place in the wooden hall at the side of St Nicholas Church, close to Pound Lane. At that time, leaders were Jim Springate (Arkala) and Pam Sergeant. In summer, meetings took place in the field behind the church. Camping trips took place at Kingston Ridge and I have a vivid memory of a weekend camp at Brentwood when the leaders were dressed in a ‘space’ theme. One wore a long striped ‘Dr Who’ scarf and I remember Pam being dressed as “Daft Ada” (Darth Vader). Parents were invited along on Sunday afternoon, which was hot, sunny and dry. A water fight ensued using squeezy bottles and wet sponges. As the dry earth became wet, it started to splash around until all Cubs and leaders were covered in a black sloppy gunge. What a sight! Some were so black that you could only see the whites of their eyes. But such fun! Exhausted but happy, I’m sure they all headed straight for a soak in the bath upon arriving home.
In 1982 Mark moved up to 6th Laindon Scouts. The leader at that time was Ernie Easterby, who recently told me a little of the troop’s history.
6th Laindon had been formed from the amalgamation of 2nd Laindon and 4th Laindon Scout Troops some years earlier. Harry Rossiter mentions the Manor Mission where he belonged to 3rd Laindon Scout Troop with its own brass band which was formed in 1934. (see comments beneath Ian Mott’s article “Tolworthy Butchers”). In 1937 the 2nd Laindon Scouts formed an arch of staves for newly weds Albert Gregory and Florence Hope to walk through after their wedding at St Nicholas Church on 11th September. Albert had been a former member. For details and photograph, see article: “Memories” by Sheila Hardy née Gregory).
Mark: “We never had staves! We missed out! I think we had a bashed up bugle, which nobody knew how to play!”
Former leaders had been:- Reg Boatwright (prior to 1977), George Reynolds (Skip) and Clive Oxley (Bosson). Ernie (Coxswain), joined as a helper around 1978, went on to become assistant leader and was later appointed as leader. Helpers included Brian Fowler (caretaker of Chowdhary School), the wives of the leaders and various parents.
In the early part of the eighties, the Scout Troop attempted to buy the hall for their Scout Hut, but without success. For a short while, meetings were held at the Paddocks but unfortunately at that time proved unsuitable. Eventually they moved to Chowdhary School, which proved to be a very suitable and successful venue.
Back to my own memories of the group. They were a great bunch and we enjoyed being involved. The boys were able to take part in many activities, some of which might otherwise not have been available to them. Archery (in the field near St Nicholas Church), rock climbing at Tunbridge Wells, Kent and canoeing on a river in Thetford Forest, Norfolk. Basic scouting such as erecting tents, cooking and first aid were valuable skills learned along the way. At age 14 a scout became a ‘6er’ and responsible for a group of younger boys.
Various activities took place during the year including walking ‘The Scout Marathon”. This involved a ‘6er’ and two younger scouts setting out on Friday, carrying their camping gear, food and clothes and walking to a set destination. Finding somewhere to camp overnight, firstly obtaining the permission of the owner of course. Setting up camp, cooking all meals and returning home late on Sunday afternoon.
Mark took part in three of these. One year he camped in the grounds of a mental hospital where they had to completely fend for themselves as planned.
Mark: “It wasn’t a mental hospital; it was a home for children with special needs. I think it was located near Braintree. We were having difficulty finding somewhere to camp, when we came across a long driveway that led to a large country house with impressive grounds. We thought we’d hit the jackpot when we noticed there was an adventure playground! Permission to camp was obtained from the adult who answered the door, but we were told that we were absolutely not allowed to use the playground. Some of the children from the home came to see us in the evening. They were nice kids, but one of them was very intense, telling us all kinds of implausible tales, including that he had been a cook in the army. He made us feel uneasy and were glad when he left”.
Another year, they camped in the grounds of a pub where they had an extra supper, when after closing time, the landlord brought them out a plate of chips.
Mark: “Yeah, that pub saved us because a member of our team forgot to buy food. It was the one and only task he had been assigned, and we’d given him money to do so. We didn’t discover that he had failed to purchase our provisions until the day of the Marathon, at which stage the only place we found selling food along the route (near the Essex show grounds) was a farm shop. Our hapless team member insisted on buying pork sausages, which we then carried unrefrigerated for the rest of the day. When we got to the pub, my other team members wouldn’t quit larking around, so I had to put the tent up single-handed. Luckily those old Scout Shop Romany ridge tents were brilliantly designed, with the fly sheet going up first, making it possible for one person to pitch them, although awkwardly. When it came to cooking the sausages, we had no oil, so we ended up scraping charred offerings off the frying pan. We were very grateful when the pub landlord came out with a huge bowl of un-sold chips!“
The third year, they resorted to camping in somebody’s garden where the owner spoiled them with tea and jam on toast the next morning. Well, resourcefulness is part of being a scout!
Mark: “I participated in more than three Marathons. I believe that there were both district and county events. There was a time where we camped at a farmhouse down on the A127, and another time where all the teams ended up camping in the grounds of a very large house, that had an empty swimming pool. It was total bedlam. Let’s just say that on that occasion many of the kids (not 6th Laindon, mind you) were less than respectful of the owner’s property, thereby breaking the sixth and seventh lines of the Scout Law “A Scout makes good use of time and is careful of possessions and property” and “A Scout has self-respect and respect for others”. We also camped by some houses next to a windmill, and the owner let us in for a look (this might have been the place where we were given tea, jam and toast).”
On that last occasion, one of the younger boys in Mark’s group decided camping wasn’t for him and on the way home said his gear was too heavy, refused to carry it and didn’t even want to walk. Mark ended up carrying both backpacks while the younger boy trailed behind. I am not sure who was most relieved to reach home.
Mark: “I don’t remember that bit, but it was probably true. However, you have reminded me that we also did the Essex Way race. Well I did it once…OK… I nearly completed the Half Essex Way, dropping out three miles from the end. I was in a team that included Ian Bygrave and a couple of other kids. The half Essex Way is 33 miles long, so one had to pack as lightly as possible. Our youngest team member turned up with a sports bag, a heavy coat and a two-litre coke bottle filled with water (at his mother’s insistence). Ian and I took turns carrying his things, but he dropped out at the first checkpoint. Ian became ill along the way and had to drop out around the halfway point. I, with two others (either remaining members of my own team or possibly two teams joined together – I don’t recall) plodded along, determined to finish. But unfortunately, my remaining two companions dropped out at the final checkpoint, just three miles from the finish. I was exhausted, but I knew I could stumble on for another three miles, but I wasn’t allowed to continue because we had to travel in groups. I was embarrassed about that. Ernie and the senior members of our troop had really worked up a good reputation, completing the full 60 mile route several times, always ridiculously fast!”
Camping trips further a field included walking ‘The Three Peaks of Snowdon’ in North Wales over an Easter weekend.
Other events I remember were a Saturday in Chelmsford where scout groups had to spend the day with a balloon tied to them. The aim was not to be spotted by members of other scout groups.
Another weekend they took part in an activity with certain requirements. One was that the group had to complete the event while carrying a full size dummy on a stretcher. Thanks to Ernie’s quick thinking, Mark tied a rubber band onto a baby’s dummy, which he kept in his pocket. During the event, they met another group who were carrying a real stretcher with a home-made dummy on it. As they went to cross a style, the dummy fell from the stretcher and its stuffing fell out all over the ground. They had to scoop it up as best they could to continue. They asked Mark’s group “where is your dummy on a stretcher?” Mark replied “in my pocket” which left them looking completely puzzled.
Mark: “Oh yes, I remember that. It was ace!”
Summer camp usually took place in the lovely settings of Thetford Forest. They built bivouacs, pit ovens and did night raids on each other’s tents. They erected a zip slide through the trees and learned to kayak. On the last Friday, we joined them for ‘Entertainments Evening’. First, there was a fish and chip supper around the campfire and then the entertainment began. Many dressed up and did a ‘turn’, some of which were extremely good and the evening went far too quickly, as usual when enjoying yourself.
Mark: “We sang our own version of The Quartermaster’s Stores, changing the verses to feature members of the troop, such as “There was Mark, Mark eating leaves and bark, in the stores, in the stores…”. Action songs like Alice The Camel and Aunt Monica (our version was possibly called Aunt Jemima), and modified army marching songs such as “6th Laindon, we are the best, because we beat all the rest. Sound off, one two. Sound off, three four. Sound off, one two, three four!” Another favourite was “The cow kicked Fred in the head”, which has the simple lyrics “The cow kicked Fred in the head in the barn. The doctor said it would do no harm, so we all kicked Fred in the head in the barn. Second verse, same as the first, but a little bit louder and a little bit worse…” We were not a quiet bunch!”
Occasional weekend camps took place. I remember one at Down in Kent. We arrived to join them on the Sunday afternoon and learned that the wife of one of the helpers had done all the cooking in a washing machine! A Baby Burco boiler, converted for the purpose. She had cooked stewed steak for the main course and we had arrived just in time to be offered a portion of the dessert. We happily accepted and sat in the field eating the best ‘Spotted Dick’ we had ever tasted.
Mark: “Oh yes, that’s right. That was early on, when I was in the cubs. Let’s just say I got a bit distressed trying to sleep without a pillow, and went out (in tears) to Clive’s tent to ask if he had one. No surprise as to what the answer was (he was very kindly about it though). I did get used to it eventually!”
“Something we did once every summer camp was a night manoeuvre. We’d be woken up an hour or so after going to bed, split into teams, and were sent out on a mission. The most memorable of these was when we were in Down. I’m a bit sketchy on the premise, but we were either British airmen or British agents who had parachuted into mainland Europe during World War II. We had to get from point A to point B without being discovered by the Nazis and this was to be achieved by using a disguise. We had to pretend to be women (possibly milkmaids – I vaguely remember that each team had to carry a bucket), wearing dresses and badly applied makeup. There were a number of checkpoints along the route where we had to present our papers. It was the job of the checkpoint guards to try to get us to break out of character, and therefore reveal our true identities. One of the checkpoints was situated outside a pub, and we just so happened to arrive there around closing time. You can imagine the kind of reaction we got from patrons leaving the pub! It was a hoot!”
Mark left the Troop in 1987, aged 16. Venture Scouts were the next step, a group of older boys who have to organise and run the group themselves. Some of the boys got together for a few weeks but unfortunately didn’t progress very far.
Mark: “The Venture Scouts included boys and girls. We did do a few things like camping at Kingston Ridge (spending the evening at the Crown pub), and I think we went ice-skating too. However, nobody seemed that interested in doing anything apart from hang around and chat, and meetings were always indecisive. We lacked a good leader, like Ernie!”
The 6th Laindon Troop disbanded around ten years ago (2002), owing to a number of reasons and it was then incorporated into the 8th Basildon Scout Troop. Ernie is no longer a leader but is still involved as a helper. A keen all rounder for many years, he ran the London Marathon about 20 times, a fine example that the world of scouting and outdoor pursuits is a great life.
Mark: “Another thing we did was look after the war graves at St Nicholas church. Shortly before Remembrance Sunday a group of us would volunteer to cut the grass, weed, and generally tidy up the graves. It was a humbling and thought provoking experience, and I think of it every remembrance day.”
I well remember the homecomings when Mark was almost unrecognisable after a week at camp. He’d be caked in dirt from the camp site, totally exhausted and like ‘a bear with a sore head’. I ignored his grumbling and moans of aches, pains and tiredness, gave him his tea, ran him a hot bath and then ushered him to bed. After about 12 hours of solid sleep, he would wake up with a smile and say ‘Hello Mum’ and I knew I had my son back. Then I’d enjoy hearing his adventures of the past week.
Mark: “The first time I came back from summer camp was the one and only time I’ve ever suffered hallucinations! I remember sitting in the living room, feeling disconcerted because I could see smoke floating around everywhere. I asked Mum and Dad if they could see it too, which of course they couldn’t, concluding that it was because I was exhausted. The smoke went away when I woke up the next day. I guess my brain had become accustomed to the constant presence of camp fire smoke, and assumed it was still there!“
Thanks to 6th Laindon, Mark has never lost his love of camping and life in the outdoors. He went backpacking across the world in his twenties. Today, he lives in Canada with his wife Hazel where there are some fantastic locations for their camping trips. No more ‘bear with a sore head’ – just bears!