1st Finchley Air Scouts
The Air Scout branch of the Scouts began officially on 31st January 1941 following approval by the Council to provide an opportunity to develop aeronautical skills. This built on the earlier programme opportunities that existed such as the Airman’s Badge and later (1917), with the advent of flying in the war; a scheme that helped Scouts learn the basics of aeronautical engineering.
By 1941 however the outbreak of the Second World War provided the much needed boost to the movement and created the incentive to found the Air Scouts branch. A number of high profile events and camps were held to promote the new branch and its link with the Royal Air Force, which benefitted the fledgling RAF as it provided young people with the technical knowledge about aircraft for those who were too young to join the Air Training Corps.
In March 1941 Eric Poupard, the acting Group Scoutmaster of the 4th Finchley, represented the District at a meeting with representatives from the Finchley Air Training Corp. They had a number of boys who wanted to join the ATC but were too young and suggested that the District opened an Air Scout Troop that was attached to the Squadron.
The District response was that a District Troop could be formed but this would be run by Scouters from the 4th Finchley and form part of the Group. This was later thought to be unworkable and other suggestions as to how to progress were made, but the lack of leaders was a major obstacle. It was finally decided that the boys in question be put in touch with Groups close to their homes and become members, but they would also meet together weekly with the ATC for training in aeronautical skills.
This was not perfect as there were some boys that went to the ATC but not Scouts although there was an average of between 20 and 24 boys who were doing both. In the end it was felt that more should be done despite the leader issues and costs involved in setting up a new Troop, including special equipment for Air Scouts.
On the 15th March 1942, a year after Air Scouts were first talked about in Finchley, the District Commissioner gave the go ahead for a District Troop and the inaugural meeting took place the following Sunday at the Camping Ground. Cyril Allen, who had played a major role in promoting the Air Scouts, became the Leader, with assistance from Don Alvarez.
Among those present at that meeting were Derek Day (4th) Ray Robins (12th) Derek Parsons (11th), John Taylor (11th) Alan Dyke (13th), Norman Franklin (13th) and the following recruits: Owen Wraight, Ron Millen, Tom Briggs, Ron Hall, Peter Crawley and Ken Mather.
The first Patrols were formed in May 1942 – Kestrels, Merlins and Skuas. The first investitures took place on 31st May 1942 and as part of the ceremony Don Alvarez started the custom of each new Scout carving his mark on the Troop staff.
Over the Bank Holiday weekend in August the Troop held their first camp.
During December 35 members, including guests, attended a Christmas party. There was plenty of food and frivolity which was enjoyed by all.
From the 28th December to 6th January 1943 a National Air Scout exhibition was held in Dorland Hall, London (now a branch of Massimo Dutti). Cyril Allen had been on the organising committee and was secretary of the sub-committee which arranged the badge stall. Twelve members of the Group were there all week and attractions included competitions, demonstrations and talks by ‘Ace’ pilots. The Chief Scout even put in an appearance. During the week the 15th Finchley were kind enough to put up the 12th Cambridge Air Scouts at their headquarters ‘Utopia’, and when a Troop from Burton arrived unexpectedly the 2nd Finchley provided accommodation at their HQ.
By 1943 the Group was properly registered as a new Group and during the first half of the year they continued to thrive. They received good press coverage and the census figures recorded 32 Air Scouts with one Leader (Cyril Allen).
Ray Robins, one of the first boys to become an Air Scout having transferred from the 12th Finchley, became a King’s Scout – the first from the Troop.
In July the Group held a Garden Party at their Headquarters in Hendon which included entertainment provided by the 2nd Finchley (81st North London) and the 11th Finchley.
In August 1943 the Troop led by Cyril Allen (Skipper A) held their summer camp at Wellington College in Crowthorne, Berkshire. They were joined by 3 Patrols from the 91st North London (St Peter’s) in Muswell Hill, led by Eric Whittlestone (Skipper W), their GSM, who was at one time the District Commissioner for Finchley, and a Patrol from the 20th Hammersmith (St Paul’s School). Other leaders and helpers included ASM Walter L Allinson, King’s Scouts Ian Smith, Ray Robins and John Keary, and Troop Leaders David Smith and G F M Mayo.
After returning home the two Skippers produced a light hearted report as a souvenir for all the boys. There is reference to a day’s hike when each Patrol was equipped with rations and directed to find “Caesar’s Camp”, some four miles out, cook their dinner, and return at tea time with a report of their journey. Apparently some Patrols did not realise that the camp was fictitious and spent ages wandering around looking for battlements, while others covered nearly 15 miles. Other activities are mentioned but there is a clear message from the leaders that they hoped that they had instilled good campcraft, cooking, tidiness, personal cleanliness and a good Scouty spirit, and that the high standards set by their Founder BP would be maintained.
By the end of the year the Group were meeting on Monday evenings at Avenue House, Church End (now called Stephens House) but also had a Den available for patrol meetings at the Headquarters of the ATC 263 Squadron in Hendon Lane. They also had a new Assistant Scoutmasters in Ronald Whant and Ivor Hewett, who had both previously been Scouts with the 11th Finchley.
In January 1944 the Group started a second Troop in East Finchley and they met on Friday evenings at the Headquarters of the ATC 1825 Squadron at Park House. By the time of the census at the end of March there were 41 members.
In June the Church End Troop paid a visit to an RAF Station in the Home Counties while the East Finchley Troop made their first visit to the District Camping Ground to undertake a number of basic Scouting skills.
During the first week of July the Scouts and Guides of Finchley joined forces to promote themselves and allow the general public to get a better understanding of their activities. They opened their meetings to visitors and held a joint Rally on the 8th. In addition to this, on the preceding Saturday (1st), the Air Scouts held a Garden Party in the grounds of St Michael’s, Hendon Lane.
In August they joined forces again with the 91st North London and returned for the second time to Wellington College. Plenty of activities took place including hiking, pioneering and axemanship in addition to the open air swimming pool and junior cricket pitch being put to good use. Several boys learnt to swim while others managed to gain the Swimmer and Rescuer Badges. Catering however was undertaken by Mr and Mrs Proctor, parents of one of the Scouts. The District Commissioner Mr Harper-Smith was also in attendance during the first week and having made the journey in advance was able to manage some of the preliminary arrangements.
Towards the end of the year a Parents’ Committee was formed and a Senior Scout Club was started, at which air work and games were combined. The year concluded with the Group attending the 21st birthday concert of the 12th Finchley.
More to follow
Our First Christmas ‘Beano’. – Yes, we sat down, thirty five of us, in the Assembly Room at Headquarters, to a marvellous spread. How we got in or got out again afterwards we don’t know – and how Skipper made a fifty yard long table cloth do all round we still don’t know – anyway we didn’t see much of the table cloth because of the sandwiches, buns, jellies and blanc mancs.
Skipper presided, and the guests were Mr Whittlestone, Major Henderson, Mr Harper Smith, Colin and Derek, Miss Marion Henderson and Miss Valerie Robins.
After the fellows had gorged to capacity we had games, stunts and potted pantomime, ending with a sing song.
It was a great evening, the first time we had got together for a binge.
We cheered loud and long in praise of the two ladies who worked so hard preparing the tea, washing up, cutting bread and looking after us so well. Thank you, Mrs Robins and Mrs Parsons.
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Even at the age of 92 I can still remember my time as a Scout with the 91st North London (St Peter’s) Group. We met at St Peter’s School in Muswell Hill where Eric Whittlestone was both our Scoutmaster and the Head Teacher of the School.
In 1943 and 1944 our Summer Camps were held at Wellington College with the Finchley Air Scouts. The facilities were excellent and included a swimming pool. We all got on very well and I had a really wonderful time.
Prior to the 1943 camp the school suffered bomb damage and I went along to help Eric move some text books to the safety of his office. As a reward I was allowed to help get the tents ready for camp and subsequently allowed to travel to camp on the lorry, with the equipment, while the rest of the Troop went by train.
Bombing again featured prior to the 1944 camp. As our Group gathered in Colney Hatch Lane ready to depart it was necessary for us all to take cover while rockets were heard overhead. After the all clear we were finally able to set off in the lorry with all the equipment.
At the camp I shared a tent with David Beaumont, one of the Scouts from St Paul’s. This is particularly memorable because his Grandmother was the Dame of Sark. A couple of other memorable incidents from that year were firstly that one of the boys jumped from a treetop house and broke his leg. And, secondly that one day some of the Air Scouts skived off to the village to meet some girls which was later ridiculed at a camp fire when some of the others dressed as girls, who upon joining the proceedings approached the boys concerned, paying them a lot of attention and giving them plenty of cuddles.
Ronald Lovegrove – 91st North London (St Peter’s)
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Air Scouts Camp 10th -18th August 1943
10th – ‘I am QM in charge of stores, menu etc.’ ‘arrived at camp site about 2.00. Wellington College a huge place like a small town’ ‘I’m sharing a tent with St Paul’s ASM – George Mayo – a very decent chap’
11th – ‘Mr Allen and Mr Whittlestone are both good sports – but they leave too much to the PLs who are young’
12th – ‘games, tests and pioneering in full swing’ ‘A super camp fire at which George sang one or two good songs’
13th – ‘we are having very good meals’ ‘Night game – good fun’ ‘ Ray and Ian come to sleep in our tent as their one on an ant’s nest and have been bitten badly’
14th – ‘Hike today – 5 camp leaders going as a patrol –myself, George, Ray Robins, Ian Smith and David ‘Daphne’ Smith’ ‘Tea prepared by 2 skippers’
15th – ‘Parents came down – not mine – thank goodness – no point in it – nothing to do or see’
16th – ‘went swimming in the afternoon’ ‘He (Mr Allen) still doesn’t know who sewed up his pyjamas on Sunday – we did of course’
17th – ‘Many chaps built bivouac shelters – all very good’ ‘Night game Smugglers went well’
18th – ‘Quick journey home – sad to part – wish camp had been longer’
W L ‘Slim’ Allinson – 10th Finchley
Extracts from his personal diary (aged 17)