Boys' Uniformed Group: Activities

Figure 1.--These Flemish VJR boys in Belgium have organized a drum unit. Notice the white gloves that they wear for special occasions.

Boys participating in uniformed groups have participated in a variety of activities from bands to summer camp to rocket launching. Uniforms were often designed for rough outdoor wear, but many boys also wore them to school and church. Many uniformed groups participated in similar activities such as bands and outdoor games, other groups has more destinctive programs such as weapons training pursued by the Hitler Youth. These pages helped to compare the various uniforms worn by boys in different groups while engaged in the various activities comonly persued by youth groups.

The Activities

Some information on the activities pursued by different uniformed youth groups include the following:


A staple of summer camps, including Scout camps is archery. HBC is unsure to what extent it has been persued by other youth groups. Archery was a popular activity in Victorian England and persumably other European countries. Early American Scouts persued archery as it fit into the focus on outdoors camping and wood craft. I'm less sure to what extent it was persued by Scouts in other countries.


Bands are most associated with Scouting, especially British Scouting. More common were drun and bugle corps. The Hitler Youth were especially fond of drum and buggle corps, I don't believe I have noted full bands. This was in part because of their goal of instilling martial ardour, but also the boys were so commonly used in parades.


Biking is an activity that is popular with boys. Bikes probably were of greater importance at the mid-20th century when it was safer for children to rides their bikes. Generally biking activities are organized by Cubs. This is because the younger boys need clinics and other activities associate with biking. By the time a boy becomes a Scout, he generally has become an accomplished biker. In addition, biking is less suitable for Scouts because major Scout camps are primarily geared to camp activities which do not require long distabce transportation.

Camp Fires

Of course one of the highlights of camping are the even campfires where skits and stories are told after a strenous day of camping.


Virtually all uniformed youth groups have been involved with camping. Although camping was anot a focus of the Boys' Brigade which seemed more interested in military drill, it was a major focus of Baden Powell's Boy Scouts, probably explaining why it proved more popular than and the German Wangervogel. Most other groups followed Scouting with an interest in camping.


Those of us who were involved in Scouting know that camp fire cooking was something that almosy all scouts got involved with. Some of course were more skilled than others. Some of us mostly did hotdogs and hamburgers, but others became quite skilled at cooking over a camp fire. This depended a lot on the camping program. There are countless images of both Cubs and Scouts involved in some kind of cooking. Curiously while virtually all Scouts got involved in camp cooking, we note that Hitler Youth and Young Pioneer boys are rarely depicted involved in any kind of cooking. This no doubt had something to do with the program, but perhaps it was also affected by how these organizations wanted the boys pictured.


Many Scout groups have church calls. This is especially the case in Scout groups organized by churches. Boys' Brigade units also have church calls. Other groups like the Hitler Youth discouraged religious thought or the Communist Young Pioneers openly attacked religion.


While singing around the fire place and bands have been popular with boys' youth groups, usually dancing has not been a major activity. The Wandervogel, however, did give some attention to folk dancing. American Scouts also some times pursued Indian dancing. Some units had dance groups that would give exhibitions.

Fund raising

Many youth groups have to sponsor fund raising activities. This is especially true of groups like the scouts that are private groups and operate independently of government funds. The Scouts were an esentially middle-class organization with the parents the bills. Often the boys engaged in fund raising activities, like the English "Bob a Job" campaign. Other organizations, especially the mass organizations like the Young Pioneers were entirely financed by Government programs. Another mass-organization like the Hitler Youth were well known for sending the boys and girls out to solicit donations on the street with collection campaigns. One of the strong beliefs of Baden Powell was that the Scouts should never be used to solicit donations for either the Scouting program or charities.

Figure 2.--One of the most popular activities with the younger members has been a variety of active games. These are German Scouts in 1977. I'm not sure what the game was.


One of the most popular activities at youth group meetings are the games. This is especially the case for the younger boys. A great variety of games, both indoor and outdoor have been developed for youth groups. This is especially true of Scouts, but almost all other youth groups have also employed games. Sometimes boys aree told to wear a special uniform such as "t" shirts instead of the regulation shirts for some games.


Almost as commonly associated with youth groups as camping is hiking. The Boys' Brigade appears to have given more emphasis to marching than hiking. Scouts and Wanfervogel gave considerable emphasis to hiking. This appears to have been more the case in Europe than with American Scouts. There are many more inages available of European boys hiking than American boys. The Hitler Youth also made hiking a major part of the progrtam. I'm less sure about the Pioneers.


Some youth groups have pursued gymnastics. Here perhaps the best known is the Hitler Youth. The Germans released many newsreels (very important in the pre-TV 1930s) of Hitler Youth girls in swimsuits or gymnastic outfits working in large groups with hoops or pins. We know less about gymnastic programs for the boys. We have noted Boys' Brigade units doing gymnastics, but at ythis time have little information on other groups doing gymnastics. We think that some other groups did, but are information in limited at this time.


On occasion boys from different youth groups or boys in the same group from different countries had the opportunity to meet or encounter each other. Circumstances varied. The most common occasions were events like Scout Jamborees. There were other friedly interactions. In some countries there were conflicts. Rival youth groups in Germany fought eah other during the 1920s and 30s. After the NAZis seized power in Germany they incorporated the Scouts into the Hitler Youth. Then there were contacts with other Nordic groups in neighboring countries and even Scouts in other countries.

Military Training

Many groups like the Scouts were in part formed with the idea of creating a more healthy vigorous youth to support the military if needed. Baden Powell was after all an army general and the British were appaled at the number of men would could not pass the physical in the Boer War crisis. Overt military training, however, was not conducted. The totalitarian youth groups like the Italian Balial, German Hitler Youth, and Soviet Young Pioneers incorporated actual military training, including weapons handling in the program. For the younger boys it was more of a show and tell approach. For older boys there was actual weapons handling and military exercizes.


Pagentry is spectacular display or pomp. Youth organizations have varied greatly as to the importance of pagentry. The Hitler Youth and other nationalist groups gave more attention to pagentry than most other youth groups, but the Scouts also gave some attention to it. Pagentry seems to have been much more popular with boys in the first half of the 20th century, but less so after World War II (1939-45). There are, however, still some groups that give some attention to pagentry, these same groups also generally continue to insist on a formal uniform.


All youth groups participate in parades. Some have given more attention to parades than others. Scouts occasionally participate in paradesm but it is not common. Youth groups in totalitarian countries, however, like the Balial, Hitler Youth, and Young Pioneers quite commonly were used in parases by local and national governmental bodies.

Poetry and Literary Discussion

Poetry is not an activity commonly associated with uniformed youth groups. One important group was in facted noted for their interest in poetry and literary discussion. It was of course the Wandervogel in Germany. Strangely, the Wandervogel had a major impact on the Hitler Youth who unabashedly borrowed from the Wandervogel program--including the "Sieh heil" salute.


Projects and a variety of indoor activities are very important for the younger boys like the Cubs. Many of their activities are home based and not outdoor camping whih is more for the older boys like Scouts. While outdoor games were possible in the summer, indoor activities were necessary for the winter months. The projects and indoor activities could be quite varied.


Americans are used to thinking that youth groups like the Boy Scouts are non-poltical. The same is true of the Scouts in England and other countries. Even so Scouting is a largely middle-class movement and thus not a cross section of any society. This non-plitical has not always been the case. The German Wandervogel was non-political, although members were heavily taken to Nordic cuklture and thus often deeply conservastive. After World War I (1914-18) youth groups became heavily politicized and political parties organized their own youth groups--like the Hitler Youth.


Religion is not precisely an "activity" in boys' youth groups and perhaps needs to be treated as an entirely separate topic. For now we will address it here. Religion has been a part of boys' youth groups from the earliest days. The Boys' Brigade, the first uniformed boys' group, was organized at churches and propagation of the protestant Christain faith was the primary reason for the group. We are less sure about the Wandervogel in Germany. The Boy Scouts were initially organized as a program within the Boys' Brigade and also had a strong Christian component. It quickly developed a more secular program as it became an independent movement, but retained a Christain message. As Scouting expanded to other countries, the movement had to address the question of how to deal with the variety of Christain denominations and eventually entirely different religions. Some youth groups developed programs designed to weaken or destroy Christianity, such as the Hitler Youth. The Communist Young Pioneers attacked all relogion and actively promoted athiesm.


One especially challenginh activity is repelling. The British call it something like abseling. It is often combined with a climbing program. Facilities for such programs are difficult to maintain Some groups in recent yearshave built climbing walls. Repelling is a very demanding program. Usually older boys are involved in this activity, but the actual varies with the program. Climbing and repelling are very challenging activities. These activities help build confidence and allow boys to "push the envelope," all while having fun.


Youth groups have varied in popular acceptance. The Scouts in America have been supported by the government and thus it used to be common for a day to be established for boys to wear their Cub and Scout uniforms to school. This was more common in primary school than secondary school. Such a tradition might be more complicated in European countries that have many different Scout associations. Uniforms are also worn to school on some days in totalitarian states with established youth groups like the Hitler Youth and Young Pioneers. Some countries like Germany before the NAZIs seized power had politically active youth groups which would have disripted the schools if the boys wore their uniforms.


Singing is a popular activity, especially at camp or around the campfire. I'm not sure about the Boys' Brigade, but most early youth groups like Wandervogel and the Scouts liked to sing. Camp fire songs are especially asdsociated with Scouting. It was perhaps most popular with the Hitler Youth which strove to build camradeie among the boys. We have this image of Hitler Youth boys singing as thy march through the country side. How accurate that is we do nt know at this time. The Pioneer also sung, but we believe that thuis was primarily a camp activity. Some Scout groups have formed choirs, we do not know if this was also the case of other groups.


Skiing is not an activity normally associated with youth organizaions. It is just one of a variety activities, however, that individual youth group units can elect. HBC ha noted Scouts involved in sking. Units of other youth groups may have also been involved with skiing but we have little information at this time. Usually skiing involves individual Scout units which have selected a skiing trip. Scouts from countries like Canada and Norway where it snows a lot may have been involved with skiing as a part of orfinary winter activities.

Summer camp

I'm not sure who first developed the idea of summer camp. It was a natural follow on of Baden Powell's Brown Sea Island experience. Even before the foundation of Scouting, boys in American had begun to enjoy summer camps. Scouts in American bagan building a network of summer camps. The YMCA was a major factor in the growth of summer camping in America. I'm less sure about Europe. Many German youth groups had summer camps and the same is probably true of other countries, especially England and France. The Hitler Youth seized the summer camps of other German youth groups and built an extensive natuin-wide system. The Young Pioneers in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries alsp built nation-wide systems, but were sold off after the fall of Communism.

War effort

Uniformed youth groups began forming in the late 19th century, but became more extensive after the Scouts were founded in 1906. Thus many groups were organized throughout Europe when World War I (1914-18) broke. These groups were mobilized to support the War effort in many ways. This changed substantially in World War II. Th Hitler Youth not only had a major role on the home font, but actually had a combat role. The NAZIs in most occupied countries banned Scoting, although they operated clandestinrly. The NAZIs and in some countries supported alternive right-wing groups, but none played the significant role played by the Hitler Youth. Group in America and Britain played the same home front roles tha they did in World War I.


Details are available on the activities pursued by many uniformed youth groups.

Boy Scouts

Scouts have participated in a wide range of activities over time. Initially the activities were primarily delt with camping and woodcraft. Many popular activities like swimming and boating as well as archery and first aid were gradually added to the orogram. Over time the Scouts have sought to keep up with the times and activities like rocketry and computers have been added to keep the program interesting to contemporary boys.

Boys' Brigade

The Boys’ Brigade as conceived by founder Scottish Sir William Smith in 1883 was to instill discipline and provide religious instruction to the Boys of his day. As such closer order drill was an important early activity, which may explain the adoption of military style uniforms. The other early activity was religious instruction. Gradually many Scout-like activities were added to the program, in part to compete with the more secular Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts in fact proved so successful because boys wanted a more secular activities based program than offered by the Brigade at the turn of the 20th century.

Church Lads' Brigade

We have very limited information about actvities pursued by the Church Lads' Brigade. We suspect that they were very similar to the Boys' Brigade with a heavy emphasis on drill and religious activities. We have, however, been unable to obtain detils about CLB activities. Hopefully our British readers will be ble to provide us some details on CLB activities. We do note that the CLB had an active summer camp program. We note in many available images of both BB and CLB summer camping that large tents were used, looking rather like army tents. This suggests that before World War I that there were few if any camps with cabins and other facilities.

Hitler Youth

Hitler was a notorious anti-intelectual. In fact it was dangerous in NAZI Germany to speak one's mind, especially on matters of interest to Hitler and the NAZIs. The Hitler Youth program reflected Hitler's distrust of intelectuals and lack of interest in intelectual pursuits. The best example of this is Hitler's ban in 1940 on weapons programs which could not be completed within a year. Thus decision by the Furrer put back the development of key radar, jet, and rocket systems so that by the time they were finally operation that they had minimal impact on the war.

Nationalist Groups

Nationalist groups have pursued many of the same ativities as all uniformed youth groups. With may of these groups pagentry and parading have often been more important that with other youth groups like the Scouts. Many of these groups have also pursued various levels of military training.


The Wandervogel was a German nationalist group. We list it separatelt because it was found so early and because it had an important imapct on the development of early youth movements. Wandervogel was best known for its outdoor activities such as camping and hiking, folk dancing and singing, reciting poetry, staging dramtics, and sports. Activities were not restricted to bucolic country settings. Wanddrvogel and other groups supported a Heim (home) in Berlin and other major cities. Often they were small basement apartments or storefronts. The young members paid the rent and furnished as best they could. They were decorated with posters, bannersm trophies, and momentos of their many excursions. Here the boys and to a lesser extent girls would play games, sing, reherse dramtic skits, conduct poetry readings, and discuss the issues of the day which interested young people. They planned and organized their next excursion. In these homes they enjoyed e fredom they found in bucolic settngs--freedom from often stifling adult authority. For many they felt more at home in these "caves" as some were called than in their own homes. One very importnat element of Wandervogel was the music and song. Some of the music was quite beautiful and appealing. There was, however, also some rather uglu anti-semetic songs which in the loght of history are quite chilling today. Many of the more benighn songs are still remembered in Germany today. A HBC contributor reports visiting the Wandervogel exhibition in Berlin in 2001 where two girls and a boy came in. The boy had a guitar and wore the only pair of Lederhosen to be seen in Berlin. They were from the town of Lippe in West-Germany. They started playing and singing typical Wandervogel songs. They had beautiful voices and the singing filled all of the house. These Wandervogel songs are available on CDs.

Young Pioneers


Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web organizatiion pages:
[Boys' Brigade] [Boys Club] [Camp Fire] [Hitler Youth] [National] [Pioneers] [Royal Rangers] [Scout] [YMCA]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Uniform Web Site:
[Activities] [Biographies] [Chronologies] [Countries] [Essays] [Garments] [Organizations] [Religion] [Other]
[Introduction] [Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Questions] [Unknown images]
[Boys' Uniform Home]

Created: November 17, 2000
Last updated: 11:17 PM 1/9/2008