A special guest
During a visit to the town, founder William Smith stopped to see a display by the 2nd South Shields Company of "Musical Dumb-Bell and Bar Drill exercises", by which he was so impressed that he invited them to perform at a display in London. The year-old company, under Captain J.D. Carmichael, made the trip, and performed in the Exeter Hall for the London Display.
The 2nd South Shields Company. The date of this image is not known, but it is thought to be the oldest photo the Battalion has.
In the Beginning
On the 4th October 1883, William Alexander Smith and two brothers - James R. Hill and John B. Hill - met 59 local boys and explained to them the concept of The Boys' Brigade, at the North Woodside Mission Hall in Glasgow. The key concepts of discipline and religion were quickly established, and before long more companies began to appear in the community. William Smith would later go on to help Baydon Powell found the Scouting movement, and was honoured with a knighthood for his work.
Sir W. A. Smith
A false start
Rev. W. J. Wingate, of St. Jude's Church, South Shields, started the first BB company in the town. Regrettably, he struggled to recruit staff, and the company was forced to close after just two years.
Second time's a charm...
A second start at BB in South Shields is made at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, with a company being started in 1891. On the 22nd January 1892, this company was formally enrolled as the 1st South Shields Company. Progress was quite rapid over the subsequent years, and companies were formed across the town.
The start for Shields
By 1897, there were six companies in operation in South Shields, and a Battalion was formed. The six companies of the town, along with a ten-year-old company from Tynemouth, founded what was then the Shields Battalion of The Boys' Brigade, which continued to grow.
Beginning of the 8th Company
The 8th South Shields Company was enrolled on the 18th of October 1900, under Captain F.H. Ornsby, who would later become President of the Battalion and Vice-President of the North of England District. The company has run continuously to this day, reducing to a weekly Bible class in 1917 due to the war, before recommencing full activities in 1919.
Capt. Frank H. Ornsby
A decade of success
The first decade of the 1900s was full of change, growth and success for the Battalion. After more companies were formed North of the Tyne, the Tynemouth Company left the Battalion when the Tynemouth Officers' Council was founded in 1910. The remaining Companies of the Battalion often hosted competitions in various activities for each other (these continue to this day - details on our Recent Events page), and some Companies even proceeded to enter District level competitions. Notable successes were the 9th Company winning the Battalion Draughts competitions back-to-back in 1903 and 1904, and the 8th Company winning the North of England Championship Shield in 1910, 1911, 1912 and 1913 - the latter of which was presented in person by founder Sir William A. Smith.
A change of name
By the end of the 1919/20 session, four companies were fully active, with more in the process of recovering from the havoc of the war. The most notable event of 1920/21 was the Battalion changing its name - the Shields Battalion became the South Shields Battalion. The Battalion had fully recovered, and started to go to camp once again, by 1921.
The Great War
At the start of 1914, there were 12 active companies in South Shields, still at this point under the Shields Battalion. Due to the onset of the First World War, with young men and officers being called up for military service, physical activities stopped at all companies; by the end of the war there were just two remaining active companies.
Union with the Boys' Life Brigade
In 1926, the Brigade underwent its biggest change yet: merging with the Boys' Life Brigade. The BLB was founded in 1899 with a very similar aims and undertaking very similar activities to the Brigade, so the merger brought strength and consolidation to the movement. As a result of this, a series of changes were made nationally, most notably The Boy Reserves became The Life Boys (we now know it as the Junior Section). Closer to home, our Battalion gained a BLB company at Harton Methodist Church, and six Life Boy teams were established. One final, very significant change, was that the BB "anchor" logo and the BLB "red cross" logo were merged, to form the logo we know and love today.
The South Shields Battalion would like to thank Claire at Townshends Emporium for permission to reuse their image. You can view their online store of "vintage finds for your delectation and delight" here.
An enamel Life Boys badge, circa 1920s - 30s, showing the BB logo prior to merging with the Boys' Life Brigade.
District President: Mr John Chalmers, LDS, JP
Our very own John Chalmers became President of the North of England District in 1934. He had started in the Boys Scouts, and been asked to join the Brigade as Captain of the 1st South Shields Company in 1926, being enrolled in 1927.
Mr Chalmers took a very active part in the Battalion, initially becoming Treasurer, then Vice-President, before he became President in 1937 (three years after becoming District President!). John became an integral part of the Battalion, and indeed the Brigade nationally, sitting as our Battalion President for 42 years - and throughout that time, his energy did not wane, he continued to spear-head new ideas, and visit companies to listen, and encourage.
Mr Chalmers sat on the Brigade Executive for many years, and his untiring commitment to the BB was recognised when he was appointed as an Honorary Vice-President.
The Battalion's history is, we hope you can see, long and complex; as such, it takes lots of time to assemble a chronology like this one. We do intend to continue recording our history up until present day, however this needs much research and a lot of careful consideration. It shall, therefore, be put on this website as and when it is prepared.
The Battalion acquires premises
With the Battalion still growing, the decision was taken that a Headquarters building was needed, and as such a pair of rooms was rented from a larger suite of offices in King Street. Officers now had a centralised meeting place, where both formal meetings could take place, and also more informal chats and planning discussions. The rooms were leased until 1939, when WWII caused once again disrupted BB work.
Presentation of Colours
Later in the year, the Battalion had its Colours presented and dedicated. Lady Readhead, and Mrs R. Chapman (Mayoress) presented the colours during the Dedication Service, which took place on the afternoon of November 6th, 1932. More than 800 members were present, and Lord Polwarth, Brigade Vice-President, accepted the colours on behalf of the Brigade. The Battalion then paraded with the new colours for the first time, with the march-past salute taken by Col. R. Chapman, Mayor.
'Jubilee Fever' strikes
The Battalion had continued to grow to this point, and it became evident in Jubilee year. There were 25 active companies, with 895 boys in total; on top of this, there were 385 Juniors in The Life Boys, giving us a total strength of over 1000 members, plus staff!
The tremendous success of the BB in the 50 years since its founding was celebrated in 1933, with our Battalion putting on a duo of displays, before travelling to Glasgow for the celebrations proper. The first was an indoor show and display of BB activities, the second was a far grander affair. A theatrical performance, entitled "Hail Boy!", was rehearsed by the boys of all companies, with props and costumes being sourced from members, parents and friends; the Empire Theatre was booked for a Saturday afternoon in March, a local orchestra provided incidental music, and after much enthusiastic rehearsal, the whole thing was executed as quite a splendid affair.
On September 9th was the "Great Review" in Queen's Park, Glasgow, and between four and five hundred boys and officers from South Shields travelled there by a special train for the event. In total, 32520 boys and officers paraded before HRH Prince George KT, with the Staff-Officers and Battalion Commanders travelling on horseback! To conclude, the Pipe Band, 637 strong, prompted a huge cheer as it passed and gave the salute to the saluting base.
Sunday 10th Spetember brought an enormous open-air service, held at Hampden Park. 130000 people attended, 15000 of them BB men and boys; indeed so many attended that the venue was not big enough, as it is estimated that 100000 further people stood outside to listen!
Needless to say, the Golden Jubilee was quite an affair, and the enthusiasm it had brought for the brigade was continued on throughout the 1930s.
HM King George V celebrates 25 years!
To celebrate King George V, our patron, being on the throne for 25 years, the BB organised a silver baton relay to cover the nation. One of five batons came through South Shields, having started at John O'Groats, and the Battalion therefore provided teams of three - a bearer and two escorts - to carry the baton from Jarrow to Sunderland. The relay culminated with the five batons being delivered by the BB to the Duke of York, in the Albert Hall.
The clouds of war impend
Many companies closed down upon the start of the war, although some were able to keep active for a few of the war years, led by former members and seniors. The lease on the premises in King Street had to be ended, and by 1944 most BB work was suspended. It is worth noting, however, that the Battalion remained more active through this war than the last, thanks to James 'Jim' Murray, ACIS.
James 'Jim' Murray, ACIS
Jim, as he was known, started BB life as a boy in the 3rd South Shields Company (at Laygate Presbyterian Church) in 1920. he remained an active part of the company, becoming an officer in 1926, and from here progressing quickly: Battalion Assistant Secretary in 1927, Battalion Secretary in 1929, then District Organiser in 1935, and finally District Secretary, combining the two District-level roles.
Jim served the Battlion, the District, and was later employed by BBHQ, although he never forgot about the 3rd, serving as a Lieutenant all the while.
When 1939 came, and war broke, he stepped back up and took over as the Battalion Secretary through the war years, being instrumental in keeping our Battalion alive. After the war, he was heavily involved in the Battalion HQ fund appeal (more below), and did most of the administration for this - he was also a proponent of BB House, and organised events there quite often.
In his capacity in the District, Jim also voluntarily maintained and arranged hire of District camping equipment every summer for company camps. There were many who were eager to help, but Jim was the spark that kept things moving. He was always available and ready to do whatever necessary to further the work of The Boys' Brigade.
Great sadness struck the Battalion when we learned of Jim's death in 1965, after a short bout of illness.
Fundraising for a new HQ
Following a suggestion in 1944 that another, more permanent Battalion HQ would be helpful, the fundraising effort had reach £1500 by 1945 (which included more than £600 from collecting jam jars!). Many properties were viewed and inspected by the Battalion as the fund continued to grow, however no decision was made yet.
Less significantly, 1945 saw the first Battalion-wide football tournament, which was very well attended by a number of companies, featuring more than 10 teams. Matches were played in public parks, where goals had been erected.
Merger with Jarrow, Hebburn & Boldon
By 1948, the Jarrow and Hebburn area was having great trouble in locating and maintaining enough companies to have a functioning Battalion, and so they decided it would be best to join the South Shields Battalion instead. Thus, the South Shields Battalion featured companies from Jarrow, Hebburn and Boldon, although unfortunately, none survive today.
BB House opens
In 1952, the Battalion successfully acquired a new building at the top of Westoe Village - BB House. The house had been a hostel with the Seamen's Mission, and the BB bought it for 'a very reasonable price'. Local decorators volunteered to renovate one room each, new furnishings were purchased or donated, and a warden was found - Mr & Mrs George Norman took up residency to fulfil this role. The Battalion thanks everyone involved, including the Ministry of Education and Science, and the local Education Authority, who each gave assistance graciously.
The official opening of BB House took place on the 18th of April 1953. A Guard of Honour, with a Colour Party, was assembled to greet our Brigade President, Lord Maclay, on arrival. It is recorded that around one thousand people turned out for the Service of Dedication, before the key was handed to Lord Maclay ad he opened the door, to the sound of 'Reveille' from the buglers.
Guests at the Dedication included representatives from the North of England District; our local MP of the time, the Rt Hon J. Chuter Ede; the Mayor; various members of the local Education Committee and Sir Robert Chapman, long time BB supporter and son of the original house owner.
On the 18th April 1953, BB House was officially dedicated. Here we see all of the Officers of the Battalion at the time, as well as Brigade President Lord Maclay, sitting for a photograph on the front lawn to celebrate the occasion.
The coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II
In 1953 our current monarch and Brigade patron, HM Queen Elizabeth II, was crowned. To help celebrate, a group of boys were chosen to be the Battalion's representatives, and travelled to London. They took places along part of the processional route which had been allocated for youth organisations, helping to represent the Brigade on this special day.
The centenary of our Founder's birth
27th October 1954 brought the centenary of the birth of Sir William Alexander Smith, our Founder, so of course the Brigade held a celebration. An International Camp was held in Eton, UK, and at the event a photograph competition, organised by the Stedfast Magazine, was held. With a criterion of "best photograph showing the spirit of the camp", the 8th Company's own Leslie Wall won - and later became a professional photographer!
Closer to home, celebrations were rife: a display was held at Horsley Hill Stadium, and the Reviewing Officer was Mr G. Stanley Smith, Brigade Secretary, helping to celebrate what would have been his father's 100th birthday; the Jarrow & Hebburn companies held an indoor display; on top of this the Battalion sent representative boys to a tribute service in Durham Cathedral; and to complete the celebratoin, each company held a service of thanksgiving at its own church.
Brigade Secretary visits
Mr G. Stanley Smith was succeeded in his capacity as Brigade Secretary by Major-General DJ Wilson Haffendenm, who paid the Battalion a visit during the course of 1957.
Another visitor of the year was Dan Macmillan, who was the BB Organiser for the country of Nigeria, coming to share his experiences and knowledge from the work he did over there.
75 years of BB
On the 4th October 1958, The Boys' Brigade became 75 years old, and our Battalion once again experienced widespread excitement and thanksgiving, with a series of services held.
Competition success for 11th Company
The 11th South Shields Company won the Chronicle Shield, awarded by the North of England District to the winner of their annual 'Vaulting and Agility' competition.
BB Jamaica pay us a visit
John Edbrooke, the BB organiser in Jamaica, visited the Battalion in 1959, giving a very interesting talk about his work in the country - helped by our very own Staff-Sergeant Harrison West (5th South Shields Company), who was completing a period of national service in Jamaica at the time.
The John Chalmers Hall
BB House was proving itself to be an invaluable resource for the Battalion time and time again as the years went by, and discussion was now starting to be had regarding extension. Many a time it was noted that many more activities would be possible if there were just a bit more space, and so, after an unexpected grant from the Government for the furtherance of youth work, a hall, 30ft by 60ft was afforded and erected.
The Battalion decided that in tribute to the countless hours of dedicated service from our then-President, John Chalmers, the hall should be named in his honour.
Saturday 9th November 1963 saw the opening, and dedication, of the 'John Chalmers Hall'. A Guard of Honour was assembled to greet the Brigade President, who attended to celebrate the achievement with us; following the Service of Dedication our Mayor, Ald. Mrs L. Glover, performed the opening ceremony.
Duke of Edinburgh's Award success
We, as a Battalion, had been helping to pioneer interest in the DofE Award scheme for a number of years by this point, however members had only been able to achieve up to the Silver standard award, as we had nobody who was suitably qualified to supervise to Gold level. In 1963, however, a visit from Sir John Hunt quelled this problem, and later the same year the first Gold Award was won in the Battalion - by Sergeant David Smith.
80 year celebrations prompt visitors
With 80 years of BB being celebrated, we hosted a five-day stay for a group of 20 Canadians, as part of a celebratory international camp. Later, we entertained 39 members of the Frivilligt Drenge- og Pige-Forbund, or FDF, which is the Danish equivalent of the BB, for a brief visit; these were followed by a one-night stay of the Poikien Keskus of Finland as they waited for their ship on the way home from the camp.
Easter invitation for Londonderry
The Battalion invited ten boys from Londonderry, Northern Ireland, to visit and stay with us in 1972, over the Easter break. They had a thoroughly enjoyable time, staying with different families of our own members.
The Boys' Brigade reaches 100 years!
The centenary celebrations were grand across the country and, in keeping with the spirit of the Brigade, each Battalion was asked to complete some kind of project of public service. South Shields Battalion decided that we would endeavour to raise money to help those with asthma, by purchasing and donating Nebulizers, and at £80 each (the equivalent of £260 today) they were no small undertaking.
The first two were presented in a ceremony held at South Shields Town Hall, with a Guard of Honour formed for the Mayor, Coun. Mrs E. Scrimger and the Mayoress.