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       Ros Abbott: A Guiding Life

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Ros Abbott: A Guiding Life
How Things Have Changed - A look at the The 1954 First Class Guide Test

Ros Abbott: A Guiding Life

An edited version of this article appeared in the Autumn 2012 edition of Pucklechurch News.

Our own Ros Abbott celebrated a major milestone recently. Yes, yes, she did have one of those big-0 birthdays in June, but this milestone was much rarer. Ros received an award from Girlguiding UK for 50 years of volunteer service to guiding. In truth, though, she’s been involved with guiding one way or another since 1950.Ros 1tn

Ros was seven or eight when some other girls told her about a fantastic "club" they belonged to. She was so excited that she ran home from school, forgetting to collect her little brother first. Though her mum was not amused about her lapse, Ros was allowed to join Brownies. The vicar’s daughter led the unit in Stratford-upon-Avon, where Ros’s family lived. "Miss Melville was just what you might expect: an upright, unmarried woman with a keen sense of discipline," says Ros.

The attraction for Ros was Guide Camp. Since her parents ran a leisure boating business serving the Shakespeare tourists who came to Stratford, the family never took summer holidays. The prospect of going away to the seaside for a week was thrilling to young Ros. She learned how to make a bed roll from blankets fastened together with safety pins and never looked back.

The Brownies went off in the back of a furniture van loaded with camping equipment. No permission slips, no seat belts, no adults (who were riding up front in the comfort of the cab). When they got to camp, the girls slept in canvas bell tents like the army used, and there were no modern conveniences. The toilets were trenches with spades, and bathing facilities consisted of wash cubicles made of hessian strung between poles. The girls warmed themselves by wood fires, which the quartermaster also used to cook the food in dixies, enormous cast-iron pots placed on the fire. It was great!

At 11, Ros moved up into Guides. Today’s Guides would be surprised at some of the skills girls learned in the 1950s, like how to turf a fire pit and light a fire that leaves no trace. The Guides were taught how to chop wood with an axe and whittle with a knife. They even made their own wooden tent pegs! And in the days when most homes did not have a telephone, the girls learned how to make a call from a public phone box. The achievements for earning a first-class guiding award included reading a map, using a compass and finding the 16 points by the sun and stars, organising a half-day expedition for two other Guides (without an adult), darning a stocking, and knowing how to resuscitate a drowning victim.

Ros 2tnEvery meeting included a uniform inspection. Badges had to be sewn on in their proper places, ties properly knotted, shoes clean and shiny, pins and buckles polished, berets perched just so. There was even a pocket inspection to make sure every girl had her notebook and pencil, a piece of string, a clean hankie (in the days before tissues), and two pence for the phone. On the belt hung a penknife, and the official penknife of the day included a hoof pick for getting the stones out of horse’s hooves. Can you imagine? The leader would also carry a metal whistle on a lanyard around her neck. Ros showed me the one she inherited when she became a leader, the Acme Girl Guide Mistress.

Various parts of the uniform had dual purposes. The Guides were taught how to use their ties as bandages and slings. Ros showed me her old belt, which had the inches and feet marked off on the reverse side so it could be used as a measuring tape.

When she was 15, Ros’s family moved to Marshfield, where her father took over the post office. She joined the Marshfield Guides unit. When she turned 16 and could no longer be a Guide, Ros stayed on as a helper. When the unit’s leader became ill, Ros took over running the unit temporarily. Unfortunately, the leader never came back, so temporary became permanent, though she was officially too young to be a leader. When she was 18, the District Commissioner Mrs Davison, who lived in the Moat House in Pucklechurch, asked Ros to become a lieutenant. Now as an official leader, she took her Guides off to Badminton Cottages for a weekend without a second thought. In those days, there were no CRB checks for leaders and no training. Fortunately, there were no disasters either.

Ros tells me that guiding was quite different in the 1950s and ‘60s from what it is today. It was run along military lines, with rules and discipline at its core. The emphasis today is very much on having fun, rather than the focus on practical skills and public service of yesteryear. Today’s Guides are encouraged to learn about the world outside their own country and gain an appreciation of what girls’ lives are like in different places. The Guides of the ‘50s couldn’t imagine getting on a coach to London to go to a pop concert at the O2 Arena. Guides still do fundraising for good causes, of course, and becoming a good citizen is still at the heart of guiding.

One of the presents Ros received for her recent birthday was a blue plaque similar to those used in London to mark houses where famous people have lived or worked. Her daughter had one made for her. It reads, “Ros Abbott, the world’s longest serving Girlguider”. [Please correct wording, Ros] It may not be quite true, but it is a fitting tribute to someone who has touched the lives of thousands [?] of girls over five decades of volunteer service. Thank you, Ros, from all of us.


How Things Have Changed!
The 1954 First Class Guide Test

The 1954 edition of the Guides’ official publication of Hints on Girl Guide Tests lists the following requirements for being a First Class Guide:

  • 1. Be a Second Class Guide, show that she is growing in understanding and practice of the Promise and Law, and has a good influence in her company.
  • 2. Have camped for at least a week-end in a Guide camp.
  • 3. Read Scouting for Boys (Boy’s Edition) or The Wolf that Never Sleeps (published by the Girl Guides) or another life of Baden-Powell.
  • 4. Understand the meaning of thrift and show that she has endeavoured to prevent waste in six practical ways – three with regard to her own property and three with regard to that of other people.
  • 5. (i)  COOK’S TEST
  • (a) Cook and serve unaided a two-course dinner for a small number. (Indoors or out as chosen by the candidate.)
  • (b) Answer simple questions to show understanding of balanced menu.
    Make a simple garment, darn a stocking, and patch a worn article.
    • (a) Make at the test a time-table for the routine of a child for a day in summer or winter.
    • (b) Keep a child or a group of children happily occupied for one hour. This test applies to children aged 3 to 5 years.
    • 6. Go on foot for an expedition of not less than six miles.
    • 7. Have an easy, upright carriage and be able to walk and run well, understand the rules of health and how they apply to herself.
    • 8. Swim 50 yards.
    • 9. Throw a rope:
    • (a) Over a beam or branch approximately three times the height of the candidate.
    • (b) Within easy reach of a person twelve yards away, three out of four throws to be successful. (If the candidate wishes, a suitable float may be used for water rescue.)
    • 10. Have an intimate knowledge of the neighbourhood within a radius of half a mile from her home or Guide HQ (for country Guides one mile) and direct a stranger to the nearest doctor, fire, ambulance, telephone, police or railway station or post or telegraph office, pillar box, garage and the nearest place for petrol, etc. Be able to tell a stranger how long it will take to get there. Draw at the test a rough sketch map which would enable a stranger to find his way from one given point to another. The distance to be covered must be indicated. Know to what places the main roads lead.
    • 11. Use a compass and find the 16 points by the sun and stars. Read a map.
    • 12. Take two other Guides (not 1st Class) for a half-day’s hike, when possible following a map. (The tester, who may accompany or join the Guides at any point, should judge them on their general turnout, programme, organisation, manners, care of other people’s property, clearing up, enjoyment, etc., type of food and method of cooking.)
    • 13. Be prepared to: Treat for shock following accident; arrest bleeding; treat a patient unconscious from accident, fit or fainting; resuscitate the drowning using the Holger-Neilsen method of artificial respiration. Know how to deal with fire, ice, and electrical accidents.
    • 14.  Change a bed with a patient in it. Show how to prevent bed sores and make an old or ill person comfortable in bed. Use a clinical thermometer. Dress a wound.

    Throughout the test, the candidate’s appearance, carriage, courtesy, and common sense shall be taken into consideration.

    The remainder of the chapter on the First Class test goes on to give girls practical advice on such things as stuffing newspaper under their coats to keep warm, measuring the width of a river using a marker pole and paces, cleaning their cooking pots with wood ash, identifying the correct pressure point to reduce bleeding in a wound, and what to do if they fall through the ice on a lake or river. How about it, girls?