Village Life In Wartime - The Guides

Another memoir of her life in Rolleston by Mrs Mary J Baxter

Before living in Rolleston, I had belonged to ‘The Girl’s Brigade’ and enjoyed their activities. When I learned about the Guide Company in the village, I longed to join them. Their meetings were held in the church schoolroom and because of this, my mother decided that if I joined, I would have to go to church and this was something she could not allow. She and my father attended the Chapel in the village and she felt that Church and Chapel were poles apart. So it seemed that the nearest contact would be to hear the exploits of the other girls.

There was not much to do, apart from knitting scarves and balaclava helmets and sea boot stockings for the forces, in the winter months. Due to the ‘blackout’ we could not play outside for there was no fun if you could not see anyone else. On moonlight nights, when visibility was better, we were not allowed out for fear of air raids. Occasionally, there would be a film, mainly of a propaganda nature, in the Commemoration Hall in the village but everyone went together to watch this.

Then it appeared that my friend Ruth, who also went to chapel, was interested in joining the Guides too and soon the problems were resolved. If Ruth’s parents did not object, then it must be alright for me to join. So at last, my parents gave their consent and Ruth and I went to our first meeting which despite the war, and the blackout was held in the Church Hall. There were other problems to be overcome such as uniforms and subscriptions but this did not worry us in the least as we walked to the village together.

At this time Miss Tweed was Captain and Marjorie Watson Lieutenant, later when Miss Tweed married, Marjorie took over. Marjorie later married and became Mrs Sharp and I kept in touch with her until she died a few years ago.

We knew quite a lot of the other guides and were placed in different patrols. Mine was the Pansy Patrol, a cause of teasing by my brothers but this did not deter my enthusiasm.

It would be at least four weeks before we could be enrolled and during this time, we had to learn the Guide Law and Promise and how to do certain other things including being able to tie certain knots. I found this extremely difficult for my fingers seemed to have changed to thumbs and left me with a tangled mass of rapidly disintegrating string. The guide who was trying to teach me was in despair but eventually I was able to tie all except one , the dreaded bowline. I watched each stage of the process carefully but when it was my turn, I was unable to tie the knot as the string was by then in shreds and I was given up as hopeless. As string was in short supply I was unable to replace this and felt guilty.

On the way home, I confided my problem to Ruth who said she would help me and the following weekend she arrived with a length of almost new string. With her help, I soon learned to tie the bowline sufficiently well to pass the test and now our enrolment could take place.

It was an important occasion, our second hand uniforms were pressed neatly, and shoes polished. The District Commissioner who was due to inspect us that week performed the ceremony. All went well as, at last, the Guide badge was pinned on our ties and we were part of our patrols.

Over the weeks we worked hard to obtain badges for various subjects although this could be difficult because of wartime shortages. As winter drew near, we had to make sure the blackout in the schoolroom was secure and no glimmer of light could be seen from outside. We enjoyed country dancing to a wind up gramophone and marched vigorously to military band music. That is until the music began to slow down and someone had to wind up the gramophone hurriedly. At the end of the evening, we would carefully make our way along the path to the road, then closing our eyes for a few minutes to adjust to the darkness, make our way home. We looked forward to moonlit nights although this was a mixed blessing as enemy planes would find it easier to find their targets. Sometimes Ruth would tell me ghostly stories until one night as we passed a gap in the hedge we saw a pale shape coming through it towards us. It was only a farmer who had been to check on his animals but there were no more ghost stories after that.

February 22nd is ‘Thinking Day’ for scouts and guides and I remember going to Burton Town Hall to meet the Chief Guide which to us at the time, was quite an occasion.

Most of us had worked hard for our badges and someone said we ought to try for the First Aid Badge. But there was no one to teach us said our leader, I went home and told my father who had taught first aid at the Boys Brigade and had certificates of competence in the subject.

“Tell your Captain, I will teach you and I know someone who will examine you later”, he said.

So it was that for several weeks we learned about bandaging, taking great delight in bandaging each other and how to immobilise limbs and stop bleeding. At the end of the course, my father was pleased when we all passed and were able to add another badge to our collection.

Another activity was going for a short hike and learning how to light a fire for which we collected dry sticks and carefully cut a patch of turf which could be replaced later to hide evidence of our activity.

Occasionally there would be a church parade and reluctantly our parents allowed us to attend once or twice - though they were glad this did not happen very often.

Like everything during the war years, few of us had money to spare but we made our own fun and enjoyment. Being a guide in those years was something we can look back on with pleasure.

Ruth and I stayed with the Guides until after the war when Ruth’s father came home from serving in the Royal Air Force and took his family back to London.

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Last updated: 26 August 2008