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Boys Scouts on Imperial Service

Memories of a Scout Pioneer
Lancaster Guardian January 1985

AS LONSDALE District Scout Council celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, there is one man in Lancaster who remembers his part in the founding of the city's very first troop.

Mr. William Thompson, 89, of Whinfell Drive, Scotforth - last Chief Constable of Lancaster, before the merger into the Lancashire Constabulary, is the sole remaining member of the group of eight friends who started the First 4th Wesleyan Patrol, entirely out of their own enthusiasm.
“It was way back in 1908, when the eight of us attended the Sunday School class at the Wesleyan schoolroom, on Sulyard Street”, said Mr. Thompson who at the time was 13.

“Some of us had been reading in boys’ papers about this new activity which was springing up throughout the country named “Scouting”. “After much discussion, we decided to have a go and, as luck would have it, there were eight of us - the number recommended by the Scouts' guidelines.” “The next problem was equipment. Money was not plentiful at that time, so we set about raising the necessary funds ourselves, by running errands and so on.”
Only able to afford the basic stave and Baden-Powell style hat, the patrol inevitably had to endure much staring and non-complimentary remarks from their contemporaries as they marched behind their leader as he carried the patrol pennant. “We were a really motley crew, but of course, we didn't think so,” said Mr. Thompson.

Realising that they needed a scoutmaster, the youngsters approached their Sunday School teacher, Mr. Fryers who took up the post until the patrol's first event, a trek through Quernmore Valley. After another scoutmaster, the patrol struck lucky with Mr. Robert Wright, an industrial chemist.

Troop anomaly
“He quickly organised us and set us up on the right lines”, said Mr. Thompson. “He gave us talks on natural and local history, organised outdoor activities and commenced liaison with other patrols which were then beginning to appear.” It was only with the introduction of Mr. Wright that the patrol realised they had to be registered with the national Scout headquarters, leading to the anomaly that, although they were the first Scout troop in Lancaster, their title became the 4th Wesleyan Patrol.

The eight friends enjoyed many years of activities, including the annual camp at Black Dyke Farm, Silverdale, before the outbreak of the Great War.

Of the original group, two, Herbert Dobson and Robert Bowker were killed on the Somme, another died in hospital, and Mr. Thompson was seriously injured at the third battle of Ypres.

“When we came back, another generation had taken over the 4th Wesleyans”, said Mr. Thompson, whose career in the police, which began in Lancaster in 1920, took him away from the Scouting world.

Of the other members of the original eight Mr. Thompson remembers Herbert Shenton, Walter Butterworth, Sam Spears and George Lowry going their separate ways, while he went on to become Chief Constable of Clitheroe for four years, before coming back to Lancaster as Chief Constable for 10 years, retiring in 1947.

Although now defunct, the First 4th Wesleyan Patrol continued for many years under the guidance of Mr. Wright. “Scores of middle-aged men round about Lancaster owe much to the devotion and example which he gave”, said Mr. Thompson.

Of Scouting these days, Mr. Thompson said: “They have expanded and introduced new methods and ideas and have a lot more equipment than we had - but basically, there's not much difference in the activities.”

And of the Girl Guides and the Cubs, both of which were introduced long after Mr. Thompson left his patrol – “They are all doing wonderful work.”

© 2010 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum