The Boys Brigade in the Vale
In the 2-3 decades immediately following the Second World War many Vale teenage boys spent at least a few years as members of a Boys Brigade company. You could join at 12 and had to leave at 18 years of age, which were key years in a teenagers “rights of passage”. Being a member of the Boys Brigade, or a “BB” as they were and still are usually referred to, was and is an excellent way to broaden your experiences at a stage in your life when you most want to, to absorb an enduring set of values, and last but not least to make many lifelong friendships.
As Hugh Hutchinson’s article below tells, there were a number of different companies in the Vale in the post-war era, each one attached to a Church of Scotland Church. There were Church parades and if you wanted to play in any of the football teams – which nearly everyone did - you had to be a regular attender at the Bible Class on a Sunday morning. There was a rudimentary uniform as the pictures show, but it was worn over a boy’s everyday clothes, and there were no oaths to Queen and Country. Since the Boys Brigade had been founded in Glasgow, its roots and practices were working class rather than middle class, but then again so were the vast majority of its members in the Vale as everywhere else.
In the Vale every company had its own strengths and characteristics, of which they were proud. It’s also true that, partly because the population of the Vale shifted as new housing estates opened in the 1940s and 1950s, the strength of the companies waxed and waned over the years. One advantage of this was that nearly every company got its turn of being “the best in the Vale” at something. There were many Battalion-wide competitions at which each company was tested – as Hugh points out the Vale companies belonged to the Lennox Battalion, which covered Dumbarton, Helensburgh and the Vale of Leven. The views of the officers probably diverged quite sharply from the views of the boys about the two most prominent Battalion competitions.
To the officers, the Battalion Drill competition, held each year in the Burgh Hall in Dumbarton, was probably the most important measure of their skills amongst their peers. In many companies the boys must have been a “sair fecht” to the officers. In the Vale, the 1st and 2nd Alexandria companies were for many years the best at drill, although there were some Dumbarton companies which were regularly as good as them and sometimes better. The boys of the 1st Jamestown, on the other hand, seemed to take a perverse delight in coming last and they were certainly very good at it (coming last). In spite of the best endeavours of the drill officer they remained stubbornly undrillable – a sort of Dad’s Army to the 1st and 2nd Alexandria’s Brigade of Guards.
Football, however, was a different matter and this was without any doubt the boys’ favourite competition. As the Haldane Housing Estate grew, so did the size of the 1st Jamestown Company. In its peak years it could probably have fielded 3 teams which would have won the Battalion football cup – the Lennox Trophy. In every company there were good players who went on to play at higher levels, the best known being Ian McColl, captain not only of Scotland and Rangers, but also of 2nd Alexandria, as he made his way up the footballing ladder.
Outside of these two trophies, companies had other strengths. The best dances were held by 1st Bonhill in the Bonhill South Hall and 2nd Alexandria, whose dances were in the Church Hall in Church Street, both venues now long gone, of course. Bands included Bobby Darroch, Cannons Band with John Cannon on Saxophone, Jim Cannon on trumpet and Willie Hamilton on the drums, and the local pop group The Apaches. Many a happy Vale marriage started off at these dances.
The other big feature was the two-week Annual Camp. This took place every summer, usually during July. Some companies specialised in camping “under canvas”, while others varied tents with church or school halls. Locations also varied: places such as Scarborough, Morecambe, Bangor in County Down, Kilchattan and Ettrick Bays on Bute and Fraserburgh were visited. Weird and wonderful were the host of tales from these camps. It’s quite possible that one or two of them might even be true - although it’s taken 40 years or so for the true ones to come out. Most of the boys loved the annual camps and there were probably some boys who joined particular companies just because they had good annual camps i.e. they went to fun places and had a good cook. The camps were the first time that most boys had been away from their families and they were a considerable responsibility for the officers who were in charge of the annual camps. It is to their considerable credit that the camps are so fondly remembered by so many people.
In addition to these much-remembered highlights there were lots of other activities to take part in on a Friday night, most with a badge to work towards such as first aid, way-faring and gymnastics. As soon as the Duke of Edinburgh Awards were introduced, they were included in the Boys Brigade curriculum and many local boys started working for their “Duke of Edinburgh”. With all these activities for the boys to take part in, many companies ran classes and /or football training on other nights of the week. For a time in the late 1950s, 1st Jamestown even took over a former office block in Levenbank Works which opened on Monday – Wednesday evenings for games, boxing and football training; it even had a “shop” which sold soft drinks, crisps etc.
For the vast majority of boys their experience of the BBs was a very positive one – good fun, lots to do, good friendship made; the word “bored” wasn’t in anyone’s vocabulary. What more could a boy want? Happy days indeed.
The Boys Brigade Movement in the Vale of Leven
By Hugh Hutchinson
Captain, 1st Vale of Leven Boys Brigade Company
The Boys Brigade movement was founded by William Smith in Glasgow in 1883. Some three years later one of the first Boys Brigade Companies in the Vale, the 1st Bonhill, was formed by a Mr A Smollett Young in Bonhill Parish Church Hall. In the same year the 1st Alexandria (Bank Street Church Hall) and 2nd Alexandria (Alexandria Parish Church Hall) Companies were also formed. The 1st Renton was formed the following year. (Renton Parish Church).
During the peak years of the Boys Brigade within the Vale, eight companies were formed. 1st Alexandria, 2nd Alexandria, 3rd Alexandria, 4th Alexandria, 1st Bonhill, 2nd Bonhill, 1st Jamestown and 1st Renton. All the companies belonged to the Lennox Battalion along with companies from Dumbarton and the Helensburgh areas.
Over the past year I have managed to gather some material on only three of the companies. (1st Bonhill, 2nd Alexandria and 1st Jamestown)
Although, a copy of a letter from William Smith to Mr A Smollett Young exists today confirming the formation of the Company in 1886 very little information has come to light. It appears that the company disbanded and re-established a few times over the years. The company was re-established for the last time in 1954 under the Captaincy of Thomas Snoddy (The Skipper). The company excelled at football, gymnastics and sports. Local sporting legend Lachie Stewart was a member of the company at that time. The Company was governed by both Bonhill Parish Church and Bonhill South Church.
Annual Parade of Bonhill Boy's Brigade in the 1950s. Click to view larger version.
In 1958 a split occurred. The 1st Bonhill was transferred to the Bonhill South Church and a new 2nd Bonhill Company was formed in the Bonhill Parish Church. Unfortunately, 2nd Bonhill disbanded a few years later. The 1st Bonhill transferred to the Bonhill Parish Church when both Churches amalgamated in the early 1970’s. Captain Snoddy retired in 1977 with David Mason taking over as Captain.
Annual Parade of Bonhill Boy's Brigade in the early 1960s. Click to view larger version.
Gymnastics continued to be a major activity for the company with outdoor pursuits becoming a key activity. Captain Mason retired in 1997. Long-time serving officer Hugh Hutchinson took over as Captain. Expedition and Duke of Edinburgh Award work were key elements at this time. Unfortunately, lack of leaders in the three remaining companies in the Vale (1st Bonhill, 1st Jamestown and 1st Renton) saw the amalgamation of the three companies into 1st Vale of Leven in 2001 under Captain Hugh Hutchinson. A strong company exists today, lead by Captain Hutchinson. (See 1st Vale of Leven Boys Brigade Company on Facebook)
Annual Parade of Bonhill Boy's Brigade in 1967. Click to view larger version.
Left, Lachie Stewart conducting the inspection of the 1st Bonhill Co. in 1971 after winning his gold medal at the 1970 Commonwealth Games. Right, the Lennox Batalion Parade in the 1980s.
Click these images for larger version.
Display and Trophy Winners 1993 (left) and 1994 (right). Click these images for larger version.
Records indicate that 1st Jamestown (Jamestown Parish Church Hall) was formed in 1925. Over the years the company became a major force within the Vale of Leven. The company saw ten Captains lead the way over its 77 years before amalgamation with 1st Bonhill and 1st Renton in 2002 (Rev M McGregor, A Wilson, T H Buckland, R N Wilson, J S Collins, W V Paterson, W McRae, E Scotland, J M Cameron MBE and J Crawford).
The company became the top company within the Vale under the leadership of Captain Murdoch Cameron especially during the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. The company offered a wide range of activities including canoeing, judo, band, expedition work, physical training, gymnastics and a wide range of sports and annual camps.
In 1996 Captain Cameron was awarded the MBE for his services to the Boys Brigade in Dunbartonshire (including 30 years as a Captain)
1st Jamestown Battalion Football League Winners 1947
1st Jamestown Company Officers 1983 (Left) and Captain Murdoch calls it a day - 1993 (Right). Click these images to view larger version.
The company was one of the first to be formed in the Vale in 1886. (Alexandria Parish Church). The company soon became the leading player with the largest number of members during the golden years of the Boys Brigade in the Vale of Leven (1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’ and 1950’s). The company lost its lead role to 1st Jamestown in the 1960’s. The company specialised in gymnastics during its heyday and many large summer camps were enjoyed.
In the company’s Jubilee Year of 1936 a wooden box was filled with Boy’s Brigade items and a scroll signed by every boy and staff member (71) including Captain D Mooney, Rev C R Munro and Sgt John McCulloch (aged 16). This scroll was addressed to the boys and officers on the company in the centenary year of 1986. This box was locked and remained locked until 1986. It was opened by John McCulloch (long serving officer in the 2nd Alexandria and the Lennox Battalion) in 1986. Unfortunately, the company disbanded with the decline in Church membership and Church amalgamation.
The image (left) above is of a NCO's proficiency certificate and the one on the right is the centenary scroll that was locked away 50 years before. Click these images to view larger versions.
1st Vale of Leven
In 2001 only three companies were still operating. (1st Bonhill, 1st Jamestown and 1st Renton.) Due to lack of leaders it was decided to merge the three companies into one new company. (1st Vale of Leven) This new company was formed on 1st September 2001. The 1st Vale of Leven has over 80 members at this time. The Anchor Boys (age 5 to 7) meet in Bonhill Church Hall on a Tuesday evening at 6.15pm. The Junior Section (age 7 to 10) meeting in Bonhill Church Hall on a Friday evening at 6.30pm. The Company and Senior Section (age 10 to 18) meet in the BB Hall in Smollett Street in Alexandria on a Friday evening at 7.45pm.
Activities include expedition work, the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, the Boys Brigade badge scheme leading to the Queen’s Badge, badminton, table tennis, football, hobbies, outings to Scotland football games, M&D theme park, paint balling, river rafting, lazer planet, weekends at outdoor centres and weekends in Glencoe.