• How the Girl Guides Won the War by Janie Hampton

    This is a hardback book whose cover shows a Girl Guide being tossed in a blanket. Along with much of the other guiding pursuits documented in the book, I find it hard to believe it would be allowed in today’s regulated, registered, risk-averse world. The CRB checks and bureaucratic paperworks would have strangled Scouting and Guiding altogether!
    Janie Hampton has done a lot of research for this book. It covers the birth of Scouting and Guiding, its early growth and its establishment across the world, before coming to the main theme of Guides’ activities during the second World War. I was surprised to learn that in those days of leaving school at thirteen or fourteen, many girls remained Guides until their twenties and learned skills that would help them to find work. Guide and Ranger packs were based in factories and other places of work, and badges such as laundress and needlewoman were balanced by Farmer, Electrician, Cyclist, Surveyor, Telegraphist and Braille. Later Geologist, Fire Brigade, Boatswain, Signaller and Rifle Shot were added.
    During World War 1, Guides aged 14-16 worked carrying counter-espionage material for MI5. They replaced Scouts doing this work who had proved 'very troublesome', and were paid ten shillings per fifty hour week. Something else that wouldn't be allowed today!

    The author's start point for the wartime phase of Guiding is the Pax Ting (Peace Parliament), a gathering in August 1939 in Hungary, where 5,800 Guides from 32 countries camped for two weeks. They just got home before the world was torn apart and some of them had to escape, while others became part of underground movements in occupied nations.

    The book covers wartime Guiding activities in the UK (welcoming Kindertransport children, running a children’s home for Glasgow evacuees, delivering messages during raids, running nurseries and schools, raising money for ambulances and much more). It also has chapters on Guides in other countries (Poland, China, Holland and others). She gives a lot of detail of the Guides and Brownies in Weihsien Camp in China, where Eric Liddell died, and where schoolchildren as young as seven were imprisoned. Guiding principles seem to have provided a framework for a stable society , which helped to keep morale high when food and clothing were very scarce.

    I was surprised that there is no mention of the Guides imprisoned in Singapore and Malaya, whose stories I read when visiting Singapore. Maybe they will appear in another volume.

    The last wartime chapter is about the Relief and Rehabilitation Unit. Staffed by Guides and Rangers, who travelled in June 1944 via the Mediterranean, into Greece and back across Europe. They ran refugee camps, helped Belsen victims, ran prisons, cared for German Prisoners, and fed starving people in Holland. The last volunteers returned to the UK in 1952.

    The book is written in easy style and is an eye-opener in terms of the capability and initiative of young people, the latitude they were given once trained, and what they could achieve, given Guiding’s framework of rules for living. Not bad for an organisation described as ‘foolish and pernicious’ by the Spectator in 1909 .

    Classification – three Mushroom Heads


    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Auld_Yin's Avatar
      Auld_Yin -
      I have to say that I never did any time in the Girl Guides - don't think I met the joining criteria! Excellent review boldnotold and one that has generated some discussion on the thread, so have a look here and if you wish, join in