The History of the 5th from 1936 to 1996
The Minutes of the Church Meeting of New Malden Congregational Church held in July 1935 contain the following paragraph "Agreed that approval be given for the formation of a Company of The Boys' Brigade".
The background to this momentous decision was the recent move into the district of a certain Wilfred Colverson, hereafter for the sake of brevity referred to as the Skipper. The Skipper had joined the 1st Southfields Company as a Boy in 1925 and had been commissioned as a lieutenant in that Company in 1930. Subsequently he had attended the first Brigade Officers Training course at Bolobo, Edgware in 1934. He married in, 1935 and spent part of the honeymoon, to his new wife's consternation, in investigating camp sites on the Isle of Wight. That the marriage lasted more than 50 years is a tribute to Eileen's stamina and forbearance and the 5th owes a great deal to her.
The need for a Company in New Malden had been advocated for some time by R.G.J. Booth, the Battalion Secretary and a close friend of the Minister of the Church, the Revd. Herbert Baldwin. Padre Baldwin was invited to serve as Chaplain at the Battalion Camp and returned fired with enthusiasm for the project.
It was decided to make a start in the autumn of 1935 and 2000 handbills were distributed in the district inviting Boys of B.B. age to come to an inaugural meeting in October. Unfortunately a General Election intervened and the hall steward unwittingly booked the hall for a political party meeting for that night, not realising that the B.B. was really much more important to the future both of the country and of the Church. The result of this unfortunate hiatus was that only a handful of Boys arrived for the following, week. There were also remarkably few Boys of B.B. age in the Sunday school at that time and sadly the idea didn't really catch on.
Undeterred the Skipper decided to make a new start with the younger age group, of whom there was no lack in the Sunday School and the Life Boy Team started on 25th February 1936. Clem Rawling, an Old Boy of the 1st Malden Company, volunteered to help and within a few weeks Ernest Ashdown and Bert Whitmarsh were brought in and the Team rapidly increased in strength. Clem was unable to give much time owing to the claims of business but his wife Margery took his place and gave yeoman service as a Life Boy Leader. Another early recruit to the staff was Ken Gill, who was roped in during the summer months initially to coach the Boys at cricket and carried on to serve as an officer in the Company for many years.
By September of the following year, there were sufficient Life Boys of B.B. age ready to transfer, and the success of the Team had evoked interest in a number of older Boys, many from Church families. The Company got off to a flying start, increasing to 23 Boys by the end of the session, of whom no fewer than 19 attended the first camp at Freshwater, thus starting the great camping tradition that has been the hall mark of the 5th all through its history. The Skipper had been the Battalion Camp Convenor for some years; perhaps he would be better described as a camp fanatic.
During those early days the staff received much personal encouragement from the Brigade Secretary, G. Stanley Smith, the son of the Founder, Sir William Smith. Stanley wrote several letters of encouragement, spent an evening at the Company parade night and attended one of the early Company displays.
A special mention should be made of the Company football team. During its first season it played 22 matches and drew one, the other 21 being lost. But a full team turned out undismayed for every match.
A feature of the early days were the squad teas; each squad in turn being invited to Saturday tea at the Skipper's house with an evening of games to follow, the most popular being "tip-it", with two teams on opposite side of the table trying to discover the whereabouts of a nut hidden in the hands of the opposing side.
A parents' Christmas Party was held in that first session starting a tradition that went on for many years, with fathers reliving their youth in competition with their sons and the sons waiting on their parents with refreshments.
In February, 1938 the Company was for formally enrolled as the 5th Thames Valley Company. It had taken two and a half years of patient effort, but the lusty infant was destined to go on for 50 years. The Company was now in uniform and appeared in public at the first Church Parade on March 27th, attended its first Battalion Church Parade the following month, and visited the London District Albert Hall Display in May. The first Company Display followed on May 17th with R.G.J. Booth, now Company President, in the Chair and Percy Long, the Battalion President, as Inspecting Officer.
In the Battalion Sports that first session the Company came third, another portent of things to come. In July the Company Colour was dedicated, the gift of Mrs Lunn and family in memory of David Lunn, who many yeas earlier had hoped to start a B.B. Company in the Church. Looking back it seems astonishing how many of the traditions of the 5th had their foundations laid in those two sessions before the War intervened.
The first wartime session started in great uncertainty, but the absence of air raids enabled almost normal activities to be resumed and a full Company programme was soon going ahead, the only noticeable difference being the addition to the uniform of a gas mask. Numbers rose to 42 Boys and plans were made for a camp at Christchurch. Regretfully these had to be abandoned when daylight raids began in July.
By the start of the next session evening parades were impossible and all activities were switched to Sunday afternoons with drill parade followed by 1st Aid and signaling, then changing to P.T. and gym. and finishing with Bible Class. For some months these Sunday afternoon parades were held at Beverley School as the Church Hall had been requisitioned as a rest centre for bombed out families. When the school was damaged by bombs, the Company moved back, being allowed to resume use of the large hall when not in use as a rest centre. In December, 1940, two Boys aged 16 years volunteered to join the Forces. one was turned down when his parents intervened but the other, William Anderson, succeeded in passing for 18 years of age and joined the R.A.F., finishing his war service as a warrant officer. As time went on, many of the older Boys became involved in fire watching and other A.R.P. duties, while some joined the Home Guard and a few were called up for the Armed Forces. Amazingly all came through unscathed.
In the summer of 1941, the two remaining officers were called up. It was a crisis that had been looming for some time and the staff had prepared for it. Padre Baldwin took over as nominal Captain and the actual running of the Company was left in the hands of Staff Sgt. James Ingram as Chief of Staff, Colour Sgt. Basil Bedford as Adjutant and Staff Sgt. Eddie Marsh in charge of P..T. They were supported by a remarkable team of N.C.Os, Sgts. Gordon Couston, Doug. Fresein and Ray Stroud, and Corporals Eric Packman and Ron Steers. The survival of the Company was largely due to the efforts of these fellows and the timely arrival in New Malden of Jack Underwood , an officer of long experience in the 74th and 16th London Companies, who had been bombed out of his home in Dulwich and offered the use of a house in Bodley Road. Jack was able to take over as Captain in October 1941 and remained at the wheel until May, 1946.
The Minute Book for Staff meetings for the remaining sessions of the War reveal that a full programme of activities was maintained in spite of occasional difficulties with hall availability, enemy action and the call-up of senior N.C.Os. Charles Thorpe a pre-War officer who had been away from the district for two years, returned in 1943 to help with the signaling class, Eddie Marsh had become a Warrant Officer, and a new generation of N.C.Os. were taking over responsibilities, Peter Heath, Ronald Ingram, Bernard Bedford and Fred Harrison. Bernard Bedford had joined in 1941 having been literally pressganged by being held over the horse trough in Cavendish Road until he wisely agreed to join. Little did the pressgang realise the full implications of that incident; it was the start of 45 years of faithful service as N.C.O., lieutenant, captain and Company president. The 5th probably owes more to the solid reliability and calm judgment of Bernard than to any other individual.
A few snippets from the minute book are worth quoting:-
“An inventory was to be made of all Company equipment. All possible equipment was to be retrieved from Boys who had left the Company."
"It was agreed that all Boys should take P.T. unless having obtained permission not to do so."
"It was agreed to build up a fund for post-war activity, as the money would be of greater use and comparative value at such time as when the officers away on service returned and the Company resumed under more favourable conditions."
"A target of £25 was set for B.B. Week."
"Use of a cupboard at the Church Hall had been obtained for storing equipment."
"The meeting was brought to a close earlier than intended, having been interrupted by enemy action."
"One pound was agreed as a suitable sum to contribute from the Company to the Church towards the sending of Christmas parcels to Old Boys in the Forces."
"The Company had been invited to take part in a pyramid item to be done by the Battalion in the Albert Hall Display. It was agreed to enter at least 12 Boys for this."
"A statement of the Company's account showed a balance in hand of £8. 8s. ld., and in addition there was a reserve fund of £20. 10s. Od."
"It was suggested and approved that a loan of approximately £5 should be made to the new G.L.B. Company connected with the Church, to be repaid at such time as might be considered convenient."
"It was suggested that the seniors and officers (also the Captain's wife) should at some future date have an evening out, visiting a show and having supper at an appropriate place. The idea was unanimously approved."
What expenditure of blood and toil and tears and sweat lies behind those terse comments on those years of hardship, danger and uncertainty.
In 1943 the Company took part in the Brigade's Diamond Jubilee celebrations; three N.C.Os. were in the Guard of Honour at the Albert Hall, ten Boys attended the Church Service at St. Martins in-the-Fields and Sgt. Peter Heath was one of the Guard of Honour inspected by the King at Windsor Castle.
The only year when it was found impossible to arrange camp was 1940. From 1941 - 45, the London District arranged for a standing camp to be held on the playing fields of Eton over a period of four weeks and each year the 5th sent a contingent. The Battalion camp at Freshwater was resumed in 1946.
In December 1945, Ken Gill returned from service in the R.A.F. and the Skipper in April 1946. Jack Underwood insisted that the Skipper should resume as Captain and immediately stood down. For five difficult years Jack had held the Company together and the 5th owes him a great debt.
During that first post-War session the staff was augmented by the return from active service of Basil Bedford, the first Boy on the Company roll, and the following year by the return of Gordon Couston and Ron Steers. Bert Whitmarsh came back as Leader-in-Charge of the Life Boy Team and Derek White joined as a Life Boy Leader, becoming a lieutenant in the Company two years later. Numbers steadily increased and several Boys joined from the Children's Homes in Kingston Road.
One of the recruits in 1946 was one Reg. Ward, whose early service was distinguished by the frequency with which he resigned from the Company, usually to rejoin the following week. On one occasion, profoundly dissatisfied, nay disgusted, with the Company's poor showing in the Battalion Squad Drill Competition, (we had come third) he publicly took off his uniform in Church Street, Kingston, and left it on the pavement. Next evening Reg. called at the Skipper's house to confess that he "had lost his uniform on the way home", unaware that the Skipper had discovered it the previous night neatly folded in a pile on the pavement. Reg. survived these early indiscretions to become a Sgt. and a King's Badge winner and an Old Boy who year after year has returned to help on the Camp Staff.
At Christmas 1947, the B.B. and G.L.B. Companies combined to put on a concert of songs, sketches and monologues. It was a great success but rehearsals took up a disproportionate amount of time in the Company programme and the experiment was never repeated. Perhaps one benefit was to bring the Company to the attention of the Church folk in a more favourable light than some of its activities. There were periodic complaints of damaged lights and windows and the staff had some difficulty in getting recognition for the idea that if you had a youth organisation in the Church, you must be prepared for the inevitable wear and tear and occasional accidental damage. One exploit that fortunately escaped the attention of the diaconate was when the stonework was under repair and Brian Lake climbed the scaffolding and ladders to the top of the steeple. Brian subsequently went cattle ranching in Australia and produced a sizeable family before his untimely death.
In 1948 the Company again appeared in the Albert Hall this time in a Battalion P.T. item trained by Basil Bedford. One of those who took part was "Wilf" Wilkin, a recruit of the previous year, who only a few weeks before the Display was badly scalded in an accident at school. When the Skipper visited him in hospital, Wilf was sitting up in bed swathed in bandages trying to practice his P.T. exercises to make sure that he wouldn't miss his opportunity to take part. No Boy ever served with greater enthusiasm or worked harder for his Queen's Badge and it was the memories of his happy day in the 5th that sustained him 35 years later during the long months of his fight against cancer. The Company's wreath at his funeral bore the inscription "To Wilf, one of the great sergeants".
Another stoic of this period was Harry Grey who broke his leg in a motorcycle accident soon after starting work. For six weeks or so his friends, notably Alan Teal, pushed Harry in a wheelchair all the way from his home in Motspur Park to Bible Class and Parade Night.
A stoic of a different kind was a pest who shall be nameless. His own contemporaries eventually wearied of his disruptive behavior and one snowy gym night broke the ice in the horse trough and immersed him in it. He staggered back into the hall looking distinctly blue, but after a brisk rub down by the staff, he recovered sufficiently to walk home. The inevitable sequel was the arrival half an hour later of an irate parent. The ill-disguised amusement of the Boys was hardly helpful to the situation and it took diplomacy of a high order to calm him down.
The Company played a notable part in the Battalion Camp which for the six years after the War was held at Freshwater and in 1949 the 5th held the first four places in the Tent Competition out of 36 tents. The four redoubtable tent commanders were John Harrison, Stewart Couston, Norman Lake and Ray Pitt. It was at these camps that the Company earned its nickname of The Mad Fifth, due no doubt to the tremendous enthusiasm that they put into every activity they engaged in. One of the regular features of these camps was the "day out" when each Company explored the countryside in various directions and in various ways. The 5th scorned the motorised transport indulged in by some of their softer rivals and succeeded in covering prodigious distances on foot, setting up in 1951 a record of 27 miles from Freshwater to Carisbrooke and back.
One of the difficulties which had to be faced with these post-war camps was the continuation of food rationing. Each Boy's ration book had to be collected and taken to the local Food Office where the relevant coupons were extracted and a bulk permit issued for limited quantities of various items of diet. One year the advance party arrived to find a milk famine on the Isle of Wight. A phone call home resulted in two days of frantic activity buying up tinned and powdered milk and even baby foods, and the crisis was averted. The food shortage was highlighted by the theft overnight of two large joints of beef from the cookhouse. Dinner next day was entirely vegetarian.
The site at Freshwater was barely large enough to cope with the numbers involved in a Battalion Camp. Eventually the field ran out of space for disposal pits. Every night a procession of officers were to be seen carrying latrine buckets down the road to the nearest manhole while others with hurricane lamps diverted the traffic. It was an eerie scene.
In 1949 the staff was further strengthened by the return from National Service of Bernard Bedford, Fred Harrison and Ron Ingram; Derek White became a lieutenant, to be followed in 1952 by Neville Bedford. These were vintage years - the Company had grown to a strength of 50 Boys and for the next decade numbers never fell below this mark. To compare with the present day it should be remembered that the records for the Life Boy Team were kept separately and the Team strength was between 30 and 40 through out this period, making a total with staff of over one hundred.
At the start of the 1950/51 session second hand drums and bugles were acquired and Eddie Marsh started to train the band which first appeared in public in July 1951. A major task was the repainting of the bass drum which had been obtained from the Salvation Army. It took many nights of patient scraping to chip off the blood and fire insignia and to repaint with the B.B. Anchor and the Company title. It was about this time that the Battalion noticed that the Company had acquired the habit of marching at ten paces to the minute faster than the regulation 120 paces laid down in the drill book. How this had happened no one seemed to know; maybe it had something to do with keeping up the pressure.
In May 1951 a B.B. relay run from five extremities of the British Isles was organised to celebrate the Festival of Britain. The final leg ended at Buckingham Palace where H.M. King George VI received the runners. In the Guard of Honour of King's Badge N.C.Os. was Sgt. Norman Lake of the 5th.
In 1952 the Battalion General Efficiency trophy was held for the first time, along with the football cricket and Swimming trophies. A fierce rivalry developed with the 9th Thames Valley at Kingston and for some years many of the Battalion trophies alternated between the two Companies.
This year also saw the first London District trophy won by the 5th. The Cross Country Run on Epsom Downs was won by a team consisting of Michael and Alan Reeves, John Godden, Alan Whyte and David Gill, first out of 85 teams with Michael first home. This triumph was repeated the following year and for several sessions the Company was supreme in athletics.
The 1952 Camp was at Weymouth on the Bristol Battalion site. The site was superbly equipped with electric light and many mod cons but it was something of a problem camp. The skipper had been elected Battalion President and was the Camp C.O. He found he had to spend more time than he felt justified in settling squabbles between officers and rival Companies and, with such large numbers, a disproportionate amount of time on administration. Bernard and Derek were the unfortunate bog wallahs that year and found themselves faced with a perilous climb to the top of a tanker to empty buckets unpleasantly full. The danger was that the camp was tending to be organized more for the interests of the staff than of the Boys. The upshot was a decision to organize a Company Camp in future years, a dream that had for long been in the mind of the Skipper.
A start was made in building up a stock of equipment from jumble sales and other sources and a site was found at Lyme Regis on the Grammar School playing fields. The site itself was superb, the only snag being its height above sea level and the steep uphill climb from the town and the beach. Cooking was over trench fires with a wood-stoked boiler and two ancient paraffin stoves in a tin roofed hut. The weather that week in 1953 was perfect and all in all it was a Camp to remember.
1953 was also Coronation Year and the Company took part in an open-air display in Beverley Park. The 5th regularly participated in the annual Malden Youth Week, and the band was pressed into service to lead the procession of decorated floats and to lead the Church Parade of youth organizations. These years also saw a succession of noteworthy Battalion Displays alternately at the Baths Halls in Kingston and Wimbledon.
In 1953 the Rev. George Hewitt became Minister of the Church and Chaplain of the Company. An Old B.B. Boy himself, he was heart and soul behind the Company, and during his ministry the Church and the Company became integrated much more closely. The 5th seemed to be more successful than most B.B. companies in holding on to its senior Boys and these were taking their place increasingly in the Church membership and in the Church organizations. The object for which the Company was formed was at last being fulfilled.
The Bible Class had always been at the heart of the Company programme and in the early 1950's an approach was made by the G.L.B. officers to make the Class a joint effort. The change was made with astonishing ease, the Boys were convinced that they were extending to the girls a great privilege, while the girls accepted the B.B. Hymnal and the discipline of sitting in squads. The quality of the singing improved immeasurably. It was probably the first integrated effort of its kind in the two Brigades and it paved the way for a much closer co-operation with the Junior Family Church and eventual integration.
The Company Display was perhaps the highlight of the year's work. Under Fred Harrison's skilled and experienced supervision the gym work attained a high standard, as did the 1st Aid under Bernard Bedford assisted for many years by Margaret Hodge. The signalling class was an alternative attraction with Brian Butler and Ron Steers providing the expertise. The football XI flourished under Stewart Couston's management, being the proud winners of the Battalion Shield for several seasons. A success was scored by David Gill in a Stedfast Magazine essay competition and he was presented by the Editor with a cricket bat autographed by the Test Team.
The Company's Summer Camp improved year by year, attaining a very high standard that brought appreciative reports from inspecting officers. Lyme Regis, Charmouth, Shanklin, Oxwich, Dartmouth, Freshwater, Southwold, Swanage and Deal, were all subjected in turn to invasion by the 5th, most of the sites being used for two successive years before moving to the next. Shanklin will be remembered for the Skipper's decision, anxious to give the Company training in tent craft, to effect a wholesale removal of the Camp to the other end of the field. Lyme Regis proved to be a very damp site when the coastal mist enshrouded the field for days at a time. One year the approach lane became so waterlogged that a causeway, Bernard's famous Burma Road, had to be constructed with rocks and bricks to enable lorries to reach the site and to enable the beleaguered campers to get out.
Each Camp has its own story to tell but the traditions established go on from year to year. The Skipper's Walk in the middle of the week became an annual feature, looked forward to with some trepidation but always looked back upon with enjoyment and some satisfaction. The route was usually circuitous, overgrown and at times almost impassable and the one guaranteed feature was Mud. The Skipper's Ordnance maps were alleged to date from pre-1914, but somehow or another we always arrived back in camp at the end of the day safe and sound if exhausted. In later years a length of climbing rope was always taken on these expeditions and sometimes it was indispensable.
Tent inspection and table inspection was rigorous; the slightest hint of waste paper lying about, even a minute piece of silver paper, resulted in a camp broom. The tent trophy had to be won, and won by hard work and intensive effort. One tent commander who should have known better, managed to purloin an extra set of blankets which were carefully folded and kept for tent inspection each morning, the blankets in use being smuggled away to the store tent. For three successive mornings it worked until the Skipper's eagle eye detected the extra bedding. That tent did not win the trophy.
Friday evening in Camp became noted for what became a ritual. Final decisions on promotion were made during Camp and on the last evening the successful candidates were summoned to the Skipper's tent to be apprised of their new responsibilities. Each year the new lance-corporals were told that in any other Company they would be corporals, the new corporals were told they were the equivalent of sergeants elsewhere, while the rank of sergeant in the 5th was quite beyond compare. The Boys of the 5th believed it and acted accordingly. For many years every N.C.O. in the 5th had to take the N.C.Os. Proficiency Certificate afresh each year and he was expected to attain a higher mark each year. Esprit de-corps was the name of the game. If a particular challenge had to be put to the Company, the Skipper invariably addressed the assembled ranks as "Gentlemen of the 5th". Immediately every Boy grew an inch taller
No Boy was ever peremptorily sacked, however much he might deserve it. Instead he was made to make the choice himself, either he must knuckle down and conform to the expected standards of the 5th, or he must himself decide to leave. The choice and the responsibility were his. The method was effective, one way or the other. More than one of those who opted out subsequently played a worthy part in the life of the Church.
In 1955 the Battalion attempted its most ambitious show - a full length revue entitled "The Happy Wanderers" based on the Stedfast cartoon characters of Ron and Don. These two were taken on a world tour of the B.B. in different countries, each Company undertaking a scene. The 5th did a Pacific Islands scene with cannibals condemning Ron and Don to the pot, to be rescued by Boys of the Cook Islands Companies. The 5th also shared a windjammer scene with the 11th. Gordon Couston helped to train the Choir and Terry Taylor held the whole show together with an outstanding performance as the Herald.
The Life Boy Team was now in the charge of Ray Barnes and was flourishing, with a band of helpers who included Ruth and Charles Naylor, Marion Couston, Josephine Rowling and Pam Vincent. Year by year the Team was sending a band of recruits into the Company ranks. A succession of Life Boy holidays was arranged which did much to hold the interest of the younger Boys.
A Parents' and Friends' Association was started with Ken Gill as Chairman and active support from Wyn and Jim Bedford and a band of devoted helpers. Although it failed to attract the parents in large numbers several most successful events were organized and the Company funds benefitted to the tune of some hundreds of pounds. The financial stability of the 5th owes much to its successive treasurers, notably Harold Bedford during the war years, Ken Gill, Derek Jeal, Jim Bedford, Ken Bedford and in later years Jean Bedford.
New officers were now taking up office as some of the older ones retired. Ken Bedford, Eric Lovett, Richard Rawling and Brian Haynes became lieutenants, and later Alan Vincent who, after some years with the Life Boy Team, took up work with the Company.
There is no truth in the allegation that the Skipper used to write up the Minutes the night before a Staff meeting. It originated from his practice of noting down the questions to be discussed on the left hand page and the possible courses of action to be considered on the right hand page. That the staff normally agreed with the suggested solutions was purely coincidental.
In 1957, the Company's first offspring saw the light in the shape of the 21st Mid-Surrey Company at Bookham. Eddie Marsh became the first Captain and Gordon Couston an Instructor. Two others of the original staff were to become closely associated with the 5th, Len Kay and David Shipley, who have given yeoman service over many years in the joint Camps which started in 1958 and went on for some twenty years. Doris Marsh came to Camp with Eddie and presided over the cookhouse with great devotion right up to the time of her last illness. One of the first Boys of the 21st, Bill Barker, later became Captain of the Company and in recent years has brought the 1st Trowbridge Company to Camp with the 5th Other Companies to be associated with the 5th in this way have been the 5th London, the 1st Heswall and the 3rd Bournemouth Companies.
An Old Boys' Reunion was held in February, 1959 at the Royal Oak. 39 Old Boys and Staff attended.
About this time the Company was asked to take into its care the Union flag which had flown over Baden-Powell's headquarters at the siege of Mafeking during the Boer War. It was a very large flag which could only be displayed on special occasions and after a few years it was decided to hand the relic to the 4th Malden Air Scouts, who regularly paraded at the Church and had, of course, a much closer link with Baden Powell. The flag was formally handed over by the Skipper to the Scoutmaster Harold Etheridge at the opening of the Scouts' new headquarters in Gloster Road.
A new development in the Company's activities was lightweight camping and expeditions were organised to give Boys the opportunity of working for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. David Willis was the first Boy to gain the coveted Gold Award and was invited to Buckingham Palace to receive it at the hands of the Duke.
A feature of the 1960 Camp at Oxwich Bay in South Wales was the visit of Isaac Stober, Captain of the 3rd Wynberg Company in South Africa. He was on a four month training bursary and was attached to the 5th during this stay. He was a remarkable man who had suffered for his faith and the whole Company learned a great deal from him. One of the N.C.Os. was inspired to give to Isaac his B.B. Bible to be passed on to a South African Boy. Some years later two Boys from South Africa were billeted with the 5th for a few days before going on to an International Camp. One of the two proudly showed his B.B. Bible to the Skipper. Inside was the original presentation label "Awarded for Perfect Attendance" and signed by the Skipper. “Cast your bread upon the waters ..” A Camp Flag was sent out to Isaac Stober after his return for use by South African Companies. Isaac was the first of several overseas visitors to be associated with the 5th in this way.
In the following year the Company took an active part in the Appeal for new Headquarters of the Brigade, and at the launching of the Appeal, Sgt. Robert Taylor was one of the Lord Mayor'& Guard of Honour at the Mansion House.
The 1961 Camp at Oxwich was notorious for the worst gale the 5th has ever experienced. Three marquees and several tents were flattened in the night, but in driving rain the next day repairs were carried out and all the canvas re-erected by teatime. The return journey was marked by the failure of the G.W.R. to ensure that the coaches reserved for the 5th were kept free for them to board at Swansea. The spirited protests of the staff led an irate inspector to arrange for the railway police to arrest them at the next stop. Fortunately the friendly guard did not relish the prospect of controlling a party of rebellious Boys deprived of their officers and he dissuaded the police from action.
In 1963 the Battalion boundaries in the London District were redrawn to coincide with the new London Boroughs. The sad result was that the mellifluous title Thames Valley became the somewhat inelegant Kingston and Merton. During the inaugural debates the Skipper insisted that the distinctive Company numbers must be retained wherever possible. The bard of Stratford might well ask “What’s in a name" but to the Skipper the title 5th had become Sacrosanct.
By 1965 the vintage years were over. Bernard Chart had succeeded George Hewitt as Chaplain and he gave the Company his full support, but the claims of business and for some officers, removal from the district had seriously depleted the staff. A number of senior Boys reached the age limit at the same time as several of the next age group moved with their parents. The Haynes report on the re-organization of the B.B. programme and training had been adopted and this entailed a reappraisal of much of the Company's programme.
The Skipper had been in the driving seat for 28 years and was clearly no longer the athletic youngster who had personally joined in all the activities in the early days. On return from the Gwithian Camp, an exhausting ten hour journey by coach, he was laid low for a month and wisely decided it was time to hand over to a younger man. The staff unanimously backed the choice of Alan Vincent, who brought to the task initiative and organising qualities of a high order. Through five patient years he nursed the Company back to full health and activity and the 5th owes him a great debt. Many of the present staff first joined the Company under his leadership.
The Skipper continued as a lieutenant for a couple of sessions and then sought a less active role as Company Treasurer until he finally retired to Ewhurst. He has continued to accept the invitation to come to Camp each year.
During Alan's Captaincy Gerald Walker, London Secretary and later Development Secretary to the Brigade, took up residence in Worcester Park joined our Church and became an officer in the 5th. His wealth of experience has been of tremendous value to the Company. Also for a few years during the mid-60s the Byrnes brothers from Australia were members of the Company.
Alan Vincent was succeeded by Jack Hedditch, new to the B.B. but no stranger to discipline. A retired R.S.M. of the Welsh Guards with experience of the King's College School O.T.C., he also brought the unique distinction of a Yeoman of the Queen's Bodyguard. Michael Rees was now the Chaplain and his enthusiasm inspired another vintage period.
The 40th Anniversary dinner and reunion was held at the school during Jack's captaincy, as was the Company's one and only Camp at Deal. The field was a good one but was next door to a hutted camp much used for parties of problem children from Inner London. Some of these waged an unceasing war on the 5th's water supply, stealing the tap union and even biting through the hosepipe.
By contrast the site on Southwold Common has proved to be indisputably the best the 5th has ever used and to which it has returned time and again. A Southwold innovation was the "wide game", a form of mildly innocuous internecine warfare played in the dark, the latter being an essential ingredient. The only recorded casualty was the Boy who fell into a slime filled dyke. He was fished out none the worse but the smell was pretty horrible. At Deal the only suitable place for the wide game was the extensive and empty beach at Kingsdown, where the contestants hid behind banks of shingle. One local resident mistook them for illegal immigrants landing by night and was on his way to notify the police when he met a group of the staff who were able to put him right.
Jack Hedditch was succeeded by Bernard Bedford who capped a long and unbroken career of service to the Company with a distinguished five years as Captain. Bernard's camping record bids fair to emulate the Skipper's and his business acumen has been mainly responsible for the very successful effort to build up the stock of camp equipment, partly with the object of reducing increasingly heavy expenditure each year on hire charges, and also to enable the Company to plan its future camps without having to rely on standing camps already erected and equipped. Almost the only item now having to be hired is the marquee, and the Company can guarantee a fully equipped site for other companies to “follow on” , thus providing a useful source of income and helping to keep costs down.
Bernard's son David, for long an incorrigible scapegrace in the ranks, became an officer and decided to train for ordination in the Ministry of the Church, thus following in the footsteps of another Old Boy, the Revd. Canon John Poulton, who was a Boy in the Company from 1937 to 1940.
Developments of recent years have included the formation of the Anchor Boys, for 5 - 8 year olds, the assimilation of the Bible Class into the Junior Family Church and the merging of the B.B. and G.B. bands. The 5th now has a Company Secretary, an appointment long overdue, in the person of Oliver Smart, one of our staunchest supporters for 50 years.
We have come to our sixtieth anniversary and although smaller in numbers the Company continues to progress. During this decade we mourned the death of our founder “Skipper” Colverson, followed soon after by that of his son-in-law Richard Rowling, a former Officer. Gerald Walker, who for many years was an Officer with the Company, was appointed Brigade Secretary in 1987 and on retirement from that office Edith and he moved to Stubbington near Fareham, where sadly he died a few years ago.
We have been well blessed with leaders during the past sixty years and when Paul Bedford commenced training for the ministry he handed on the Captaincy to Graham Whybra. As a former captain Paul was supported at his ordination and induction at Coventry by three of his predecessors (including our founder), his successor as captain and by a number of former members of the Company. Graham (who this year celebrated thirty years of Brigade membership) led the Company for five busy years. He combined his leadership with leading and instructing our Band which for many years has included members of our Girls' Brigade Company. The Band's successes under his leadership, ably assisted by Lesley Hersey, include the Junior Band Championship of 1976, four winners of the District's individual drum competitions and this year's drum team competition won by Neil McRory and a member of the 46th London Company.
In past years we have camped with 21st Mid-Surrey led by Eddie Marsh, 5th London (Alan Watts), 6th London (Joe Joslin) and 1st Trowbridge (Bill and Steve Barker). The cookhouse was kept spotlessly clean by David Shipley and to see him cleaning the ovens each day was an education in itself! During the Southwold Camp in 1981 on the evening of the royal wedding, an outstanding Retreat was celebrated by six buglers belonging to our own Company and the 5th and 6th London Companies.
During 1983 the Company celebrated the Brigade's Centenary by going on an expedition to Snowdonia; Graham Whybra remembers that well as he came down Snowdon backwards leading a boy who was rather overcome by the experience! He handed on the captaincy to Rodney Hersey, another member of our Company who in turn handed it on to Barry Kelly in 1993 when David Shakesby was our chaplain.
Bruce Stuart became our chaplain in 1993 and while the aim and ethos of the Brigade remain as laid down by the Founder, Sir William Smith, today's challenge to all youth organisations (uniformed and non-uniformed) has meant that the programme of Company evenings needs constant updating. The boy of today is aware of the latest technology and is no longer satisfied with the well-known evenings of former years of drill and gym; with the minibus we are able to take the boys out occasionally for an evening's outing, and they enjoy canoeing, sailing, dry skiing, golf and other activities.
As we pass through the last decade of the 20th century we think of those who have built up our Company during the past 60 years - our Founder Captain Wilf ("Skipper") Colverson and his successors Alan Vincent, Jack Hedditch, Bernard Bedford, Paul Bedford, Graham Whybra, Rodney Hersey and Barry Kelly. Particularly we are well served by our current president Bernard Bedford and vice-president Basil Bedford, number one on the Roll when the Company was founded in 1936.
Mrs. Joy Smith has announced her retirement as leader of the Anchor Boys; for many years she has led this group of young boys and we owe her a great debt of gratitude for all she has done for the Company, including occasional assistance with the Junior Section.
We were constantly involved with London District under Gerald Walker and Richard Davies and the lighting at the Albert Hall displays was exclusively organised by Andy Millard, Rod Hersey and their helpers in recent years we have taken part in sponsored swims with our G.B. Company in ad of the Star & Garter Home at Richmond and other charities and have raised thousands of pounds. We were happy that Simon Weston was present on one of these occasions.
Down the years several members have trained for the ministry and we thank God for their service - the late Canon John Poulton, the Revds. Stephen Bailey, David Bedford, Paul Bedford, Arum Kumar and Lay Reader Derek White. Several former members also serve as lay preachers in their local churches.
The demand on officers and helpers increases and our thanks are due to them for the self-sacrifice and devotion they give to ensure the smooth running of the Company. We thank God for those who continue to come forward and give their time and talents to this end.
Looking back over sixty years of striving, with some success, one outstanding fact is the number of Boys who, joining the Company at an early age and progressing through the ranks, have become Church Members and have taken their place in supporting and helping the Company and other of the Church's organizations both at Malden and with other fellowships elsewhere. Apart from those mentioned earlier the names of Jim Ewing, Michael Taviner not to mention, Andrew Millard and Rodney Hersey (both with years of service with the band and as leader of the Junior Section) stand out in our fellowship. The 5th have always been well served by a succession of helpers and assistants who, although not members of the Brigade have, nevertheless, given patient guidance and help to generations of Boys during the weekly meetings and at Camp; this tradition lives on.
The Company's motto, devised in the 1940's by the Skipper in execrable Latin was “Quintus Tamesis Semper in Excelsis”, loosely translated as “5th Thames Valley, always striving for the best and the highest". In the words of the Company Hymn adopted in the first session -
"Father who hast made us brothers
Binding us to set us free,
All Thy gifts of strength and gladness
We will give again to Thee.
Jesus, who like us didst labour,
Humbly with Thy holy hands,
Take our daily work and lift it
Nearer to Thine own demands.
Take our dreams and make them splendid,
Send Thy light upon our face,
So that other men may wonder,
Find our streets a holy place.
Holy Spirit, Who dost send us
Every honest thought and joy,
Rule the hearts of men among us,
Take the hopes of every Boy.