In memory of Frank Bentley, who embodied 3rd Chalkwell Bay and remained a true Scout to the very end. Frank “Went Home” in September 2010.
To Kathleen, my wife, for many years of support. This Booklet is also Dedicated to all those Members and Friends of the 3rd Chalkwell Bay Group who have shaped and maintained the standards and traditions of the Group. You, the reader, are cordially invited to continue and to add your contribution to the well being and history of this web-footed Fraternity known affectionately as the ‘3rd C.B.’
Sometime: Second (APL) of the Seals
Chairman and President of the Guzzlers Association
Group Secretary and dogsbody supreme
Hon. Group Scout Leader
By the Chairman of the Group Executive Committee
How quickly the time passes and the memory of events fades into a mist of fact and fiction. The lives we live today are tomorrows history, and will become obscure to people looking back unless someone takes the trouble
to record the story.
Our author is almost unique in being associated with the 3rd C.B. from the beginning and has drawn on his extensive personal knowledge to record its history. This, of course, is only the first 57 years which makes such interesting reading, and gives a sense of the vitality and continuity of the Movement through bad times and good.
Sadly so many of the characters are no longer with us and the old buildings have gone, but they all have a secure place in history by Franks efforts.
This booklet, if read at all, will mostly be perused by new members out of sheer curiosity, by old members for nostalgic reasons, and other good folk who had nothing better to do – or because it was raining outside at the time. For whatever reason I am glad you did open the cover page because the rest of these pages are aimed at letting you know the nature and origins of this motley mob, and hopefully to raise a titter about the 3rd C.B. This booklet amounts to a number of yarns from the past and present, and records our history in general terms.
Our history is patterned in three phases:-
Firstly, the pre-war years when the group was young and building the framework for the future.
Secondly, the war years, which amounted to a big hiccup for a while and rather stunted our growth. Nevertheless, those left behind kept things alive and kicking and provided a platform for the returning members to build upon.
Thirdly. the post-war period, is the longest, of which you form a part.
Over these periods of time the 3rd C.B. has so far been second to none in Sea Scouting in Essex… and of course I am a little biased, and you must forgive me when I venture to sing the praises of the group.
I must however hasten to add that we never rushed around with halos all the time, we were like all organisations, not perfect. We were known to deviate from strict Scouting principles on occasion, and whilst we did not actually break the Rules and Regulations, we probably bent a few.., for the good of Sea Scouting of course.
Those who are just joining us will find that we are an organisation which is, and has always been completely self-supporting. It owns its own shore-side headquarters, a large fleet of boats (over 20 at this point in time), together with first class operational facilities that can hardly be bettered.
We are a large collection of bods, with a long waiting list of ‘erbs wishing to join our motley family. It is perhaps rare these days for youth organisations to have this situation; for the 3rd C.B. it is normal practice.
We have of course had times when certain age groups were in decline, this being due firstly to the days of conscription when members went off to the forces just when they were in a position to become Scouters, and latterly, because the same age groups move away because of career possibilities and university education.
For all that, we have survived and coped with these setbacks.
Well now, that is enough to give you an insight into the group and . . . perhaps whet your appetite to read on and see for yourself just how it all happened – WELCOME ABOARD!
In The Beginning
Unlike Adam and Eve who had quite a dramatic start to say the least, the 3rd C.B. in an oddball fashion just drifted into becoming a crew of Wet Bobs. We just had to be a little different even in those far off days, and I will tell you why. We were in fact the offspring of the 1st Chalkwell Bay Troop based on Crowstone Church in Westcliff. This troop before the war was both large and prosperous, and what’s more had the best Scout marching band in Essex. Their troop scarf was the colour of old gold.
To continue, in 1930/31 a young if well rounded young man, a Mr Peter Daws, belonged to that troop and being enthusiastic and full of ideas he decided with one or two other like souls to run their own show. To be different, they opted to become a highland (Scots) troop and took to wearing kilts, and stalking haggis’s in the undergrowth of Chalkwell Park. Of course they were serious about this venture and even, to the dismay of the locals, formed a bagpipe band. Obviously one cannot keep quiet about that.
Well, the Scout bosses in London evidently got to know about the goings on of this bagpipe blowing clan of Sassenachs, and their lordships in the manner of Roman Emperors gave a stern ‘thumbs down’ and firmly halted the headlong rush of this English tribe into the annals of Scottish clan history. The troop was wound up, but the old members still met annually for a re-union dinner in London.. . they are known as the Chanters Association. Sorry about that diversion, let’s get back to the story of the 3rd C.B.
Our hero (sorry Founder) Peter Daws was not to be outdone, he still wanted to direct his energies into something different. He suffered a blinding flash of genius and realised that amongst the members there was the making of a flotilla (that’s a laugh) of craft capable of mounting a sea-borne attack on Canvey Island. There could be no alternative but to launch forth yet another troop in the guise of Sea Scouts and to venture into the unknown perils of Wet Bobbery – St’ewth, what next! I near you cry. I must however venture a mark of caution, because much like another portly Dickensian gent (a Mr Pickwick) our intrepid hero and his crew were devoid of hard cash. However, pockets were emptied for the first time in our history, and the necessary bits of gear bought. The 3rd C.B. was momentarily in the black and heading for fame and fortune as a Sea Scout troop.
This was in 1931, and in breaking away from the 1st C.B., we took nothing except half of their old gold scarf. We added a black half to it, thus establishing the scarf which we have worn to this day.
The Skipper decided to move from Crowstone Church to the Crowstone Institute which is at the bottom of Electric Avenue, Westcliff. We were firmly established and on our way. Before I go on, I must mention a certain benefactor, a Miss Olive Dowsett, who greatly helped the troop in those early days at this hall. She became to be known as our fairy Godmother – the name was not for her ears, of course. Miss I)owsett was on the outside a very stern and tough lady, but inwardly quite the opposite and with a very soft Spot for us. We should never forget her contribution to our well-being and success in the early days of the troop.
In those days our shore boating station was at Pykes Beach, next to the old Westcliff Jetty, now alas demolished. A lookout platform was erected here, on top of a former telegraph pole, a mast and yardarm were also constructed, plus a canvas ‘dodger’ . . . in all, making a first class coastguard lookout post.
At weekends, ‘colours’ were announced to the waiting world, by use of bugle and bosun’s pipe, viz at 8am and 8pm. This meant that the locals in the immediate area were not only reminded of the time, but were in no doubt that the 3rd were open for business, although their slumbers might have been slightly curtailed! Our moorings were off the Jetty but, unfortunately, after the war were taken over by the Sea Cadets. We then moved to the Old Town… but more about that later.
The scene was thus set. I will now unfold to you what happened in the following years – the pace quickens.
Peter Daws our Founder, as you may have already surmised, was a born organiser; some have remarked that he should have been in showbiz.
He had a great sense of humour and occasion, and a plummy accent to boot, and though he had a light hearted approach to life, he nevertheless operated a firm discipline afloat. In his company one was never far from a good belly laugh – often at his own expense. A typical incident happened when we were bringing the ketch ‘Alexandra’, a converted R.N.L.I. lifeboat, through the Havengore swingbridge at Foulness. It was about 6am one fine summer morning. Peter anchored the boat near the bridge, blew the foghorn and shouted to the bridge master Mr Cork to lift the bridge. Mr Cork, aroused form his slumbers, came out in his nightshirt and bellowed back: “Can’t come through … not enough water over the bar”. That worthy promptly went back to bed. A slightly florid Peter Daws yanked the dinghy painter, muttering something ominous and with a view to verbally sorting out old Corky . . . and jumped straight down into the cockleshell. With the fast running tide, the dinghy was not quite there, and Peter went straight down to Davy Jones locker – his cap floated away as he surfaced with his Sherlock Holmes type pipe still firmly clenched between his teeth. After a welcome gulp of air but still looking a shade pale of purple, his plump face split into one of his inane grins and he said: ‘Come on in lads, the water’s fine”. Most of us did just that. Afterwards breakfast tasted like a banquet … old Corky snored on but we got back to Westcliff in time for the regatta.
Yes, reader, we finally got through the bridge with apologies from the bridge master although both he, and we, knew he was right all the time. The boat looked like a floating Chinese laundry as all Skip’s clothing was hung out to dry. He being clad only in an old tattered oilskin.
The troop soon reached its maximum number, and as a result, we made two troops up, known as Nelson and Rodney respectively. Each troop had eight patrols, and they by name have survived until the present time. Patrol Leaders were usually aged about 16-18 years and were a power in the land. Promotion was obviously slow, and your young five-foot-two author, only managed to make Second (APL).
We also had a large bugle band, much of it borrowed from the 1st C.B. and the remains of the Highland band. The instruments were however to disappear during the war years.
The structure of the Troop in those days differed slightly from that of today. In addition to the patrol system, boys also were placed in Watches, and operated like a Navy ship’s company. Port and Starboard watches were also divided into Divisions: Red Division became the ‘Seaman’s’ branch, White became the ‘Signals’ branch, and Blue dabbled in engineering and pioneering subjects. Troop therefore fell in ‘by patrols’ or by ‘watches’ and suitable instruction followed. Woggles were worn on our scarves and were in the colour of your watch – you made your own turkshead knot. The engineers sometimes sported a burnished metal nut but these got a trifle heavy. Black caps were worn during the winter months, and on May 1st, we used to put white linen covers on them. White shirts or Navy singlets were donned as summer rig. Caps were usually worn afloat. You were considered dressed if you wore your cap! It was the practice of the Troop to have a strong nautical bias in its training programme most proficiency badges were the salt stained variety such as Oarsman, Cox’n, Pilot, etc.
Wide games were very popular, and Peter Daws often related them to topical happenings of those times e.g. guarding local premises against attack from such as the I.R.A., or an Air Raid Precaution exercise, or coast watching for smugglers or spies. One of our favourite stunts was to construct a breeches buoy over the upper reaches of Leigh Creek to Two Tree Island – usually by the old cattle crossing. The Engineering Watch plus sonic signallers would take all the gear from the Den on the trekcart and construct the breeches buoy; meanwhile the Seamans Branch plus signallers would carry out their exercise afloat, finally picking up the Engineers, and returning all to Bell Wharf. The trekcart was towed, and that oddity was kept afloat by the use of airtight five gallon oil drums.
One occasion I well remember was on a wet drizzling Sunday afternoon. As usual we did our ‘damp duty’ to get the thing up before the boats arrived. In those days Leigh Creek was deserted and the lads stripped off in time-honoured fashion to do the work, and to keep their clothing dry. Well, to continue, the troop boats were espied coming round the bend in the creek, which was a welcome sight, until we noticed a sprinkling of damsels sitting demurely in the stern of the leading boat. The sight of some thirty posteriors disappearing over the sea wall must have been a daunting sight. However, the signallers frantically saved the day and the boats held off until our heroes were adequately covered.
Another wet pastime was ‘ditch-crawling’ exploring the salt-marshes and Rills in dinghies, and collecting driftwood and bits of old wrecks as fuel for the Den fires. Sometimes, full-size operations were carried out which involved towing large pieces of timber. Very often we used the wood to make logs etc which we delivered to old folk in the Old Town for fuel. In those days everyone had open fires and central heating had yet to be discovered.
Another typical wide game was to protect important places and one dark Saturday night found the Seal patrol defending the Chalkwell Avenue Railway Bridge from an anticipated bomb attack. Other dauntless patrols were similarly engaged. All were obliged to wear a blanket rolled like a bandolier (guerrilla style) and to carry a haversack stuffed with iron rations which usually consisted of R. Whites lemonade and chocolate … one needed sustenance. We also blacked our faces from the content on one of the insides of the Den chimneys. The patrol was staked out and brave mutterings were made as to the damage to be done to the attackers; this helped boost ones morale . . . the night was very dark you know!
The sequel you ask? Well, our terrorist, looking very much like Peter Royal, alighted unseen from a slow-moving goods train that was puffing its smokey way up the embankment. By the time the smoke and noise had cleared, that worthy had placed his outsize firework on the bridge. . . and had lit the blue touch paper. The only damage done was to the said P. Royal Esq who quickly found himself flat on his face with some eight boys sitting on him demanding immediate surrender. We felt that the result was a draw.
Perhaps our favourite wide game was the periodical invasion of Oyster Creek on Canvey Island. The 1st Canvey Sea Scouts were a large bunch of hombres, and it was usually our aim to sail up at dead of night and to capture a flag displayed outside their hut (Pennells Den) or to put a floating pole barrier across the creek. Loss of ones woollen arm ban meant that you were ‘dead’ and no longer in the scrap.
These were used by both sides when engaged in close combat. More enjoyable were the bags of soot or flour thrown by the participants. The 3rd nearly always won the skirmish. However, one night we failed miserably and I will recount the terrible tale. The thirty foot Gig ‘Dragon’ lead into the creek and we all gingerly followed in the inky black darkness when suddenly we were all illuminated by a searchlight… cranked evidently by a hand-operated dynamo, invented especially for the occasion by the islanders. The helmsman was of course temporarily blinded and in no time at all, we were on the putty, and receiving direct hits from the enemy and liberally covered in soot – and when that ran out – mud! To make matters even worse, our flagship, the barge yacht ‘Sunbeam’ had gone aground off Canvey Point. On board were all the big ‘eats’ for the traditional after-battle feast, and all our reserve ammunition. We didn’t live this show down for ages. However all ended well and our hosts fed and watered us in time-honoured fashion. Our return to Leigh on the following tide resembled a damp Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow!
In those days Commandos were unknown but Peter Daws thought up ideas that were the hallmark of such raids, such as blackened faces, muffled rowlocks, the advantage of surprise, ‘Quiet in the boat’ and subdued light signalling etc.
The skipper was keen on service to others and the following are examples:-
THE R.N.L.I. boathouse at the Pierhead. Every weekend two Scouts reported for duty, and generally helped visitors, cleaned and polished as required. The carrot was of course, the free lunch at the Solarium Restaurant.
THE PILOT CUTTERS at Gravesend were another duty, and two Scouts were signed on at weekends as ‘temporary crew’. The food was simple, but there was always plenty of it.
THE CHAPMAN LIGHTHOUSE off Canvey was also a place to visit, particularly the two keepers, whom we got to know well. The Lighthouse was over 100 years old when it was demolished in the 1970’s.
The 3rd was always hungry and would do a lot for a tree feed. Times change little it seems. Lastly in 1938 there was the time of the Munich crisis when war seemed inevitable. Peter Daws’s mind as usual ran riot, and he thought it a good idea to Be Prepared. He in fact organised a coastguard course at the Pierhead Station, which was attended by the older members of the Troop. The Scouts were taught visual signalling (Flag and Light) and also local pilotage some five miles either side of the Pier. Signal speeds were to Merchant Navy standards. This training turned out to be valuable, and I will tell you about it later on in this booklet.
In those days there were no Venture Scouts, and one stayed in the Troop until 18 years of age, after this you joined the Rover Crew – which had no upper limit – just imagine grandpa in shorts.., the mind boggles at the thought, but ’twas true.
The Rover Crew did a lot of good work, particularly helping to instruct the Troop members. They were a Brotherhood, and a team we still need to be thankful for. It was the crew who obtained the lease of Old Leigh Station, our first Den, thus establishing our presence in the Old Town, and our boating station for the years to come.
TROOP NIGHTS were in principle similar to the present day, with instruction and games (yes British Bulldogs was the favourite tussle), Drill, and of course, investitures. We always had a canteen run by helpful mums, with, in those days our all time favourite – bread pudding.., what ever happened to that delicacy?
The troop camped occasionally at weekends, but often this took the form of boat camp-ing which was very popular. One could camp on saltmarsh or under the lee of a sea wall. There was never any shortage of driftwood for fires etc. These excursions often included trips across to Egypt or St Mary’s Bays, also Yantlet Creek (no oil refinery then).
RAY DAYS were as now with a days sailing, football on the Ray Sands and swimming etc. Well, I am sure you have experienced this old tradition; if you haven’t make sure you go the next time one is organised.
T. S. ‘IMPLACABLE’ was the highlight of the year . . . two weeks aboard this old wooden wall’, a ship of Nelson’s time. She was moored off Gosport in Portsmouth Harbour. and operated a fleet of small sailing and pulling boats. ‘Implacable’ was finally taken out into the Channel after the war and sank by the Royal Navy, evidently with difficulty. Another ‘wooden wall’, the ‘FOUDROYANT’ also lay in the harbour, and she still exists, but more about her later in this book.
I hope by now that you have gained a rough idea of the goings on of the original troop and you agree that things have not changed too much over the past 50 odd years. We also had a Cub Pack, which ran on the usual cub lines. Cubs were not involved in any way with water activities, and indeed the Scout Movement was extremely strict about this. The Group as were all Scout troops at that time, strictly ‘stag’ and had no involvement with the Guide Movement which was the policy in those far off days. The Cub Pack however was our nursery’, and most cubs joined the troop, and stayed with us. I would point out that the 3rd C.B. has always been an ‘open group’; that is to say – we were not affiliated to any other organisation, and thus we have always been able to recruit from anywhere, and anybody who wanted to become a Sea Scout.
In concluding this chapter, you will have noted that since 1931, the 3rd C.B. after an odd start had established itself and indeed grown to be the largest group in the Southend area. I mention the size of the group in the context of those days, when 36 was the optimum number for a Scout Troop. We had in fact grown to 80 and it was one of the reasons for dividing into two troops at the time. This option however was not very popular, and like the post-war double troop, it was not too long before we had amalgamated – after all there has only ever been one ‘3rd C.B.’ in spirit. Long may that attitude reign.
In this chapter I have only highlighted a few events and personalities. Of course there were many incidents and characters that might have been included, but space dictates otherwise . .. and we must press on.
The War Years
War broke out in September 1939, and rather upset our particular going concern. The 3rd C.B. was nevertheless ready to do its bit. Peter Daws duly presented himself in person at the Lobster Smack Inn at Canvey Island, where the Port of London Authority had set up an organisation known as the RIVER EMERGENCY SERVICE. Says he: ‘I have a group of trained Sea Scout signallers whom you cannot do without’ . . . Well – words to that effect. Said they: ‘Right – you’re on’ … or words to that effect.
And so it came to pass that Peter Daws was promoted to Signals Officer and told to round up his flock of would-be heroes – the unknown stalwarts of the 3rd C.B. If Hitler had known about this closely guarded secret I am sure he would have consulted his astrologers much earlier and thus shortened the war. Ah well.
As you may remember from Chapter One, P.L.’s and Seconds had been trained to do this job. We were in fact the youngest ‘combat’ force in the U.K. at the time.
Scouts took a further refresher signals course on the ‘Discovery’ in London, then returned to Hole haven or Cliffe Fort in Kent for duty. Training was to a high standard and relay signal courses were organised to improve speeds and even at table one would ask for the salt by tapping Morse code on the table. It was brilliant, don’t you think?
The rig worn was Naval bell-bottomed trousers, Sea Scout jersey, navy blue donkey or bridge jacket, Matelots hat and a white ‘Discovery’ scarf, tied with the ‘Discovery’ knot. This is the knot we still use today.., now you know why.
The Scouts were assigned to vessels attached to the Station . . . a hut (like the old Den) with a signal tower. They also manned the latter. The vessels were commandeered yachts, fishing boats, a London tug and other odds and ends. All vessels were manned with a machine gun, and had special buoys which were used for mine spotting (mines were dropped by German planes into the estuary at night). The crews used to watch during air raids from the Ack-Ack gun barges moored in the estuary. Other duties involved monitoring shipping and keeping vessels, especially sailing barges, off the Blyth Sands which were heavily mined. Scouts were present when the Shellhaven Oil Tanks were bombed. One crew was commended by the Admiralty for its part during and after the raid the signalman was P. L. Eric (Ginger) Lowen… this happened during the Battle of Britain in 1940. The crew were involved in fire fighting.
1941 saw the decline in the size of the Troop and Rover Crew. All the Scouters had by this time departed for the armed forces, mainly to the Royal and Merchant Navies. A few Scouts were still on station in the former River Emergency Service which had just been taken over by the Navy as an auxiliary service.
These Scouts had seen a great deal of active service, and indeed the Battle of Britain had largely been fought over their heads, including as already mentioned the bombing of the oil refineries and Canvey. They did stalwart work during the Dunkirk period in dealing with the requirements of hundreds of small and other craft fleeing from the Continent, also policing the estuary. It was a twenty-four hour service in all weathers.
Those who served at Holehaven and Cliffe Ford included Skipper Peter Daws, Messrs. Peter West, Lowen, Frank and Stan Bentley, Boulton, Snow and Campbell all of whom were in the Navy by 1941/2.
Meanwhile, hack at the Den (Old Leigh Railway Station) P. L. Ron Bentley found himself senior bod of a handful of Scouts. He promoted himself acting Scoutmaster, and appointed his father Secretary and Treasurer (and one man group committee) and carried on regardless until he went to sea in the London tug SUN XVIII on Channel convoy duty. All boats had long since been rendered useless by the army. The seafront was festooned with barbed wire, and anti-invasion obstructions resulting in no boatwork for the lads. Nearly all the children in the area had been evacuated to the Midlands including one very young Master Nigel Baker who ended up at the little country town of Stamford, Lincolnshire, where he got a little bombed! But to continue, the troop dwindled to a mere handful of willing souls whose main interest was in the collection of salvage (paper. metal, etc). This resulted in the raising of a considerable sum of money, which was ready and available for handing over to the post war troop. Sometime in 1942 a new Group Scoutmaster arrived in the shape of Fred Burden, an ex-Chief Petty Officer who carried on and kept things alive and was ready to welcome back the returning 3rd C.B. service men who were to carry on and re-establish the Group.
Finally. I must mention the members of the Rover Crew who were kept in touch by the production of a periodical War Bulletin. This was compiled by the Rover Leader Norman Nelmes. Norman was fed information from all and sundry both at home and in the Forces. A copy of War Bulletin No. 4 is included in this booklet (Appendix 5). I have produced it in full, because it gives an insight into those stirring times which should, I feel, be remembered. Well, this concludes the ancient history – the next chapter is more your concern, even though to the youngest reader it probably is a bit ‘old hat’.
In 1946 many of the returning Servicemen re-joined the Group, now as Scouters in that the P.L.s and older boys of the pre-war Group were by now young men, keen to continue where they left off some six years earlier. There was no problem as the pre-war gang had set strong traditions and it was natural for many to take up again with the 3rd C.B.
These worthies included Derek Thompson (Scoutmaster) his brother Keith (ASM), The Author (Rover Leader), his brother Ron (ASM), Phil Hawkes (ASM), Peter West (ASM) and Peter Royal (ASM). Peter Daws became District Commissioner for Sea Scouts, and Secretary to the Group. He was in due course to become our first President. The Group Scoutmaster was Fred Burden, who had held the fort during the war years. and remained until 1950. With this galaxy of talent the Troop was soon hack to full strength. As to boats, a motley fleet of craft was got together on the proverbial shoestring; they were:32ft Naval sailing Cutter ‘Frank Bay’, bought with by a donation from the late Frank Garon; 25ft Army Longboat, and probably the fastest pulling boat on the shore at the time; 22ft Belgian sailing lifeboat ‘Bell Bay’; Peter Royal’s sailing Flattie ‘Little Audrey’; Phil Hawkes sailing dinghy ‘Christine’ plus an odd assortment of leaking trot boats such as ‘Menace’ and ‘Mudlark’ etc.
The Troop still had the same patrols as before the war, and still met on Friday’s at Electric Avenue. Our boating station was now in the Old Town, and based at Old Leigh Station, now our first ‘DEN’. As a headquarters the station was unique especially as the railway line was very busy and the old steam trains thundered through (L.M.S. railway) all day and half the night. The former station boasted three waiting rooms known respectively as the Foc’sle, Wardroom and Messdeck. We also had a tiny galley, and a long-defunct men’s convenience. The latter was used for storage purposes, and a former baggage store became the workshop and Bosun’s store. The main station entrance was dubbed the quarterdeck where the Red Ensign was flown. Finally a tubular steel railing was erected a yard or so in from the platform edge in order to keep us in, and the trains out. The steel and fittings were borrowed from the remains of the sea defences still in existence on the mud flats – it was a long term ‘loan’ from the Ministry of Defence. The Den was gas lit and gas fired . . . heat also being supplied by two coal fired grates in the waiting rooms. We enjoyed mains water. As to gas lighting, the mantles were designed only for railway use, and could not be purchased elsewhere. Because of vibration the mantles did not last long. However the signal box opposite had gas secondary lighting, and the signalmen maintained a large stock of mantles, most of which for yonx years were put to good use by the 3rd C.B. . . . one gross at a time. As to fuel, it was an unwritten law that in the event of an engine stopping at our ‘distant’ signal, the driver would be asked for a bit of coal. We usually got the large lumps, which were then stacked for winter use in the now defunct gents urinal stalls. We also had most of the railway sleepers from the level crossing when it was periodically repaired.
When we finally gave up the old station, (its demolition was required for the widening of New Road, and the need to electrify the line) we realised that since 1936 we had enjoyed FREE coal, water, timber, gas mantles, and even Rates. Somehow the Authorities had forgotten to ask us. Our Rent hat only been £5 per annum under L.M.S. rule, and £20 under British Rail. It was the biggest rail bargain of the century. All in all the 3rd C.B. did very nicely, thank you.
At one time the old station had its own cabaret show. It came to my knowledge, actually from a Scouting colleague who stayed at the Den one weekend, that he was advised that if he watched a certain upper room at the SMACK pub opposite – after eleven o’clock he would see the barmaid doing a strip act! The mind boggles. Of course the troops were read the riot act and all manner of punishments hinted at. Anyhow the show stopped probably due to a tip from the Old Town mafia, and once again the Den reverted to its usual quiet serenity… somehow that is an understatement!
The Den was often the scene of after-dark activity. For instance when we needed to refit the whaler or other large craft it had to be done on the station platform. Unfortunately the Den entrances were not large enough to get the boats through. The answer was to get the signalman to open the level crossing gates after the last train had passed, thus allowing us to bring the boats along the rails on timber rollers and then manhandled up onto the platform. It is amazing what 50-boy power can do to a ton-and-a-half of boat. Of course we had about three hours to do the job before the first train puffed its way past en route to Fenchurch Street. Incidentally, we had the largest ‘staff’ on the network, even at Fenchurch Street Station… and never a strike. What a record!
We never got much sleep on these occasions as the small Den rooms were packed like sardines. The most coveted berth was on top of the old piano in the wardroom, but you could not afford to be a restless sleeper on it. Why we kept it is a mystery, because it was unplayable and only used for storing paint and cleaning materials in the bottom half. I wonder what fate finally befell it.
We only got into trouble once with the railway authority, that being when a new driver, running a Sunday special from the Midlands espied a red flag fluttering on the station as he belted round the bend by the Crooked Billet Pub. With a screech of brakes and amid a welter of steam, smoke and hot oil he ground to a halt by the quarterdeck. He was not amused when the grinning signalman opposite invited him to salute it. The result was that we were formally ticked of by the Line Manager and the old Red Duster was relegated to the innermost corner of the quarterdeck … after all a sea going establishment, even one like our two funnelled Stone Frigate simply MUST fly the flag. The signalman and we fell about over this incident – and naturally we hadn’t the nerve to ask THAT driver for coal!
Another phenomenon occasionally seen on the station platform was at meal times, mainly when we had a lot of overnight visitors. Cooking was done over a very long trench fire, and trestle tables were set up for the hungry ‘erberts. You can imagine the bemused looks of the passing train passengers, especially those who had failed to have breakfast . . . you could smell the bacon and burnt toast from the top of Leigh Hill. We must have looked like an open air version of McDonalds (but cheaper). What about young Nigel Baker? you may ask, well, he had returned from the far-flung parts of Lincolnshire and, would you believe, had become a big boy and promptly joined the Group. Not only did he join but his father came as well. Maurice Baker became my first Group Committee Chairman, a position he held until his death in 1972. We all owe him and that dedicated committee a huge thank you, because not only did they raise funds and kept us financially sound . . . more importantly they fought long and hard to keep us in existence in the Old Town, after the Group had to relinquish the Old Station, and a new Den found. They were crisis years for us. Our problems were compounded when, after building our new Den at the bottom of Leigh Hill, the Council decided to build the new footbridge across the railway over our site. The Committee’s resultant hard fought campaign resulted in our getting our present site at Victoria Wharf. Every Council member was lobbied, and with the assistance of Councillor Mussett who was Mayor at the time and a ‘children’s needs’ champion to boot. The full story is on Appendix I of this booklet.
The Group prospered and grew and once again in its history – in 1958 we formed two Troops … yes RODNEY Troop under Mike Cruiks and NELSON Troop, firstly under Nigel Baker, and afterwards under Cohn Sedgwick. Nigel was to take over the new Senior Scout Troop. The author had by then become Group Scoutmaster. Ron Cox became the Leader of the Rover Crew. Ron, who married Betty Smith, one of our former Cub Scouters, now lives in Anglesey, and is in fact the Commissioner for Sea Scouts for most of the seaboard areas of Wales. The Group Committee was to carry on until the late 1960’s when changes happened at H.Q. level, and Group Executive Committee took over. Some members served both committees in their long service to us. The new committee was and is responsible for how we spend our money, and has representatives from all group sections and parents – quite a formidable mob to be sure. Equally formidable was and still is, the SUPPORT Group – a bevy of Mums and Dads whose sole purpose in life is to raise funds. The Support Group is currently chaired by Mrs Pat Smith, whereas the Executive Committee is chaired by Mike Regan. We cannot praise too highly the work and worth of these committees, particularly the lay members. It would be nigh impossible to exist without them. IN 1988 Pat Smith received the Scout Movement’s Medal of Merit which is a rare achievement for a lay member and usually only given to warranted Scouters.
This leads me on to mention that during our history we have had only two Presidents. The first was Peter Daws our Founder, and in 1988, Mrs Rene Johnson (a Leigh Johnson of course). You will see all about our family tree when you read Appendix 4. In recent years the Senior Troop gave way to the Venture Unit, and this is currently led by Dick Mills. Also our Cub Pack is in the capable hands of Akela – Mrs Carol Blower – and her band of helpers. The Pack is still our very important Troop nursery. What about administrators you cry? Well, like all other organisations of note, we have our backroom types. Our sack of gold is carefully watched over by Alan Bryson our Treasurer (may he never abscond). As Secretary, I and others do our best to help him spend some of it, i.e. whenever we can dream up a good reason.
Last, but certainly not least of the back room brigade, are our four Trustees. They are responsible for our premises and assets, which you may have guessed, are considerable. They bear a great responsibility and currently they are Mr Ronald Parry, Mr John Cottrell, Mr John Hipsey and GSL Nigel Baker.
So you see that we are well looked after. When I say ‘we’ I mean the group family who in 1988 number some 150 – a tribe no less.
As to our Scouting activities, these generally follow the pattern established over many years and the spirit, intentions and traditions have changed little. Badge courses, seamanship courses, weekend camps, Summer camps, Wide games, are still the order of the day. Ray days and cruises are still braved, and we mostly remember the sunny days and the good times shared. Above all, the several sections of the 3rd C.B. are taught the great game of Scouting as foreseen all those years ago by ‘BP’ – Lord Baden-Powell. He, not unlike our founder, Peter Daws, was full of ideas and foresight that have resulted in an international organisation that has stood the test of time, as indeed has this Group. To my younger readers I would suggest that you get a copy of B.P.’s book ‘Scouting for Boys’. is still good reading and will really tell you what Scouting is all about.
To get back to seafaring matters – the Group has always held Admiralty Recognition (we have been Unit No. 73 since the scheme was started). We are one of 100 groups in the U.K. to belong to this elite band which is competed for annually by way of an Admiralty Inspection. In 1955 we were the top group in the U.K.
We also have an adopted ship, currently H.M.S. London. Some of the Group have already been aboard for a trip. I am sure that your turn will come one day.
The Den is also a Recognised Training Centre for the Royal Yachting Association. I have mentioned these non-Scouting organisations so that you might understand the background and standing of the 3rd C.B.
In the past the Group were involved in Gang Shows, but these seem to have faded out in recent years. The largest show post-war was written and produced for all of the groups in Southend by Peter Daws and was held under a circus ‘Big Top’ at the Kursaal in the late I 950s. Who knows we may yet produce another writer/director and do another one. At this point in time I think it appropriate to mention the latest addition to the Group, namely the ‘Leigh Creek Guzzlers Association’. The Guzzlers were formed in 1982/3 with the idea of having a group for those that had been through the 3rd C.B. and secondly to assist the Group where possible. It is also a way of keeping in touch, as old members have moved on around the U.K. and abroad. All are sent a Newsletter and of course the ‘Courier’.
I now unfold another quite different and special chapter in our history. In 1980, the Group was suddenly to become no longer ‘stag’… no longer monastic; in that by a stroke of 3rd C.B. genius we formed a Sea Ranger Crew, and Angela Cruiks was appointed Skipper. Well, we were now no longer a monastery, and we were certainly not promoting a nunnery (not that we could aspire to such spiritual heights). So you see, we had really become a fully-fledged family at last. The Ranger crew was soon following in the footsteps of the troop, and full to overflowing, and moreover contributing by setting their own standards etc. This indeed was a far cry from the early days of Scouting when young ladies were taboo, and indeed the Guide Movement even operated separately, and fraternisation was frowned upon, policy wise.
Once again, the Group was in the forefront of change. There is of course no doubt that Rangers and Scouts can work well together. The crew has proved to be a credit to the 3rd C.B. Rangers participate in seamanship training, camps and cruises, and of course the many chores involved in maintaining and running a group such as ours.
All in all, a welcome addition . . . I wonder if the Rangers will aspire to becoming Guzzlers in due course, fancy being known as lady Guzzler . . . Granny won’t like it!
I hasten to enlighten readers that the term ‘Guzzler’ is derived from a 3rd C.B. initiation ritual, when one is invited to toast Davy Jones – strictly ‘orrible but non-alcoholic.
Summer camp has always been an annual event, and I have no doubt that one day Summer camp will be held on the moon – at least we won’t get washed out. However, to remind you of past camps and to revive memories etc, a list of all our previous camps is available here.
Visitors to 3rd C.B. over the years have been many, but one such instance has stood the test of time. Around 1966/7 we became known to a Troop of Sea Scouts who operated at a village near Northampton called Cogganhoe, and a visit was arranged. The outcome was that this troop kept coming for many years. The Troop no longer visits us in the same way, but their former Scouter has never stopped coming, nor his wife … I refer to Dave and Liz Packer. Dave is now an Assistant Scout leader with us.
You may not have heard about the Troop’s great contribution to the film industry! Well in the 1960’s we were invited to take part in the making of a film for children’s Saturday morning cinema and in fact became heroes of the silver screen. The film was called ‘Raiders of the River’, and was finally screened in America and the U.K. The short story is that some villains headed by an even more villainous bearded character stole some bullion (gold bars) from a London bank. They were seen by some Scouts who chased them around the East End Docks. The crooks finally escaped in an old motor torpedo boat and headed down the Thames with a view to escaping to the Continent. Of course they had not heard of the 3rd C.B. who had been tipped off by the London Scouts. Our heroes, without more ado, sailed off into the Estuary to head off the villains. But first, I must let you into a secret. You see, the 3rd C.B. crew first went to meet the film bods at Holehaven Creek on Canvey Island. The latter responded by treating one and all to a splendatious meal in the restaurant room of the Lobster Smack Pub at the Haven, where they were plied with pop and all manner of rich food. This was to be their undoing, because they were now to go into Sea Reach in a force five breeze and chase the robbers. Well, apart from an attack or two of Mal-de-Mer they nevertheless did their duty in true Nelson style. They really did give their all, and sailed straight across the bows of the torpedo boat forcing it to alter course and run straight onto the Putty off Thameshaven. To his genuine surprise the leader of the gang who weighed twenty stone, was catapulted off the bow straight into the oily mire of the mud bank. By this time the cameraman had been seasick – he too had given his all. Most of this had been un-rehearsed. Finally the bank robbers got ashore to the oil refinery, where they were chased all over the tanks until justice had been done in time-honoured fashion. David Capstick (now one of the Guzzlers) led this feat of derring-do luckily for the rest he never succumbed to terrors of maldemer. When it was all over everybody returned to the Lobster Smack for some more big eats! As for the 3rd C.B., we were the recipients of a handsome donation from the film company and in due course received free tickets to see the film locally, and the result of their handiwork.
One yarn that I must tell is when the local scout hierarchy in 1958 decided to remove our title. They felt that as we bore the name of a Central Division Group, but were now operating in the West Division, that we should become the umpteerith Leigh. As you have already guessed, we value our 3rd C.B. name highly, and the atmosphere and language around the Den became very heated to say the least. Luckily we had some hardnosed types who were past masters at YE VERBALS. In the end and like all good stories the Goodies (us) triumphed, and to this day we are the only Leigh Group with a non-Leigh title. You must admit that the prospect of the title of 14th Leigh fair takes yer breath away.
Another first’ in our history is that Old Leigh Regatta was re-started by us in 1951. it happened thus; we had erected the new Den, but as the hut was secondhand the roof really needed replacing. Verily we needed some hard cash and quick. The Group Committee got together with the fishermen and hurriedly formed a workforce and programme for the first Regatta since 1926. The old Minute Book was produced, plus a little amount in the bank. The first meeting was held in the upstairs room of the ‘Crooked Billet’ but the floor sagged a bit, and we transferred to the room over ‘The Ship’. The reason for these venues seemingly was that it was traditional, and that the fishermen were more articulate after imbibing fortified liquor (medicinal of course). We made little money at this first regatta, but had a lot of fun and gained experience. Yes – we got our new roof.
Leigh Regatta has really taken off since those early days and become something of an institution. Its contribution to us, other Troops and Charities has been a great success. Long may it continue to support us, and we in the 3rd to support it. Whilst on watery subjects you will be interested to know that the Group has always provided examiners for Boat Charge Certificates, not only for ourselves but for others outside the group.
Another ad-hoc service over many years has been connected with local yachtsmen such as helping at re-fitting time, especially when the clubs used Victoria Wharf, and at times the use of the Den, including power lines for Black and Deckers etc. The group also has many friends among the Old Town community.
As to other achievements of individual effort, the Group has a fair record. In terms of Merit, Service and Gallantry and need no recording here, because you will for yourself see the names on the Den Honours Board which was provided by the Guzzlers Association in 1988. There is a space for you too one day.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this booklet, my story is aimed at introducing you to the history and goings on of the 3rd C.B. It is an informal collection of facts and yarns from the past, and to sketch a backcloth to what the group is doing at the present time.
The booklet must obviously remain unfinished, and I hope never completed because if that were to happen the 3rd C.B. would be no more. I am sure that you and those that follow will not allow that to happen. The next chapters will be for someone else. Why write the book now you might ask? Well that answer is simple. Some time ago the Founder Peter Daws discussed this notion, because much of the past has not been recorded and it was up to the ancients’ of the Group to do it. Peter was, however, to leave us in 1988 and the author deemed it time and right to put this story together. I hope you have enjoyed it.
Before I close this chapter 1 must refer to another member who through his life had put the 3rd C.B. high on his list of priorities. He was Peter Royal who also passed away in 1988. He was sometime Scout, Troopleader, Assistant Scoutmaster, Assistant District Commissioner (Sea Scouts), Purser of RRS ‘Discovery’ and the Tall ship yacht ‘Nordwind’, a leading member of the Sail Training Scheme and President of the Guzzlers Association. His continuous support and assistance in teaching seamanship together with the use of his boats, one of which is now in our ownership, has been outstanding.
Because of his generosity in bequeathing the group a substantial sum, the 3rd C.B. will always be financially stable. Peter Royal had a distinguished war record serving in fast coastal motor launches. He took part in the St. Nazaire and Lofoten Island commando raids, and was Mentioned in Despatches for the former. He also commanded and navigated one of these small vessels to the Far East during the war, which was a feat of seamanship in itself. We have been fortunate in knowing him. Peter had been an l-lonorary Scoutmaster of the group since the mid 1950’s.
This epistle has been mainly concerned with our history, traditions and service. In the latter context I would like to record that in 1989 the present Group Scout Leader Nigel Baker, and the Scout Leader of the Sea Scout troop Ian Johnson will have held those positions for some 25 years … which must be something of a record. Both officers joined the group at the age of eleven and come from families where all members have served the group unstintingly.
This prompts me to again mention that we are very much a family group, in that many sons, daughters and even grandsons of former members have, and are, passing through the 3rd C.B.
All that remains at this point in time is to wish you well in your ‘Wet-Bobbing’ endeavours, and if you are new to the 3rd C.B. that you too may add something that will be recorded in a future edition of this booklet.
We can look forward to the next 50-odd years, and whatever challenges that come our way.