Boys' Brigade Uniforms: Chronology

Figure 1.--This English image is indated, but looks to be about 1925. Notice the medals. They show that the image is definitely post 1918 as they are the British War Medal 1914-1918 (right) and the 1914/18 Victory Medal (left). Perhaps they are his fathers medals awarded posthumously. (Note that he is wearing the medals over his right breast.) The Brigade continued to just use a cap and belt for their uniform. Earlier boys had haversacks. He is wearing a campaign cap styled like a Glengarry rather than the pillbox caps that the boys wore for several years. I'm not sure precisely sure just when the pillbox caps were phased out. He wears his Boys' Brigade items with what looks like his best suit. Note that he wore his cap at a jaunty angle like the boys wore their pillbox caps. Image courtesy of the MD Collection.

A time-line chronolog is helpful in following the history of the Boys' Brigade and other related uniformed youth groups in Britain and other countries. We will include major developments in other youth groups to provide helpful back ground information. The chronology also helps to put the uniform developments in perspective.

The 1880s

William Alexander Smith (1854-1914) founded the Boys' Brigade in Scotland on October 4, 1883. At the time Smith was an unknown school techer in Scotland. The idea of a uniformed youth group was quite a novel idea. A simple uniform was decided on in 1883 and changes made in 1884 which established a uniform that would endure for decades. Smith introduced the first Boys' Brigade Bible Class in 1884. The focus on religious instruction was a central focus of the Boys' Brigade from the beginning and continues to be true of the modern Boys' Brigade. The Brigade began expanding overseas. New Zealand Brigaders report that the organization was founded in their country in 1884, another repprt gives a later foundation date of 1889. The Boy's Brigade introduced summer camps soon after the orgnization was founded. Smith organized the first Boys' Brigade Camp at Tighnabruaich, Kyles of Bute, Scotland. This was the beginning of the Boys' Brigade summer camp program. The Boys' Brigade was organized in the United States during 1887. Although organized well before Scouting, the Boys' Brigade never became an important youth group in America. Branches of the Brigade were organized in Canada and South Africa with varying results.

The 1890s

The Boys Brigade is organized in Australia 1891. I am unsure why the Boys' Brigade organized later in Australia than some of the other British colonies. We are also not sure to what extent the overseas Boys' Brigade units attempted to coordinate their uniforms with the British Boys' Brigade. The Church Church Lads' Brigade was also founded in 1891. The Brigade began operating in the Caribbean during 1892. The Girls' Brigade was formed in Ireland in 1892. The Brigade Branch of the Church Missionary Society was organized in 1894. The BB a magazine for boys began publishing in 1895, but only published until 1900. The Jewish Lads' Brigade was formed in 1996. The first Girls Company, however was not organized until 1963. The Brigade Auxiliary of (Free) Church of Scotland Missions began operating in 1897. HRH The Duke of York became the Brigade sponsor in 1897. The Duke of York at the time was the future George V. The Boys' Life Brigade was formed in 1899. The Brigade Auxiliary of London Missionary Society (now Council for World Mission) was also begun in 1899.

The 1900s

The Brigadier magazine for boys began publishing in 1900, but only lasted until 1904. This was the first of a number of Brigade publications which did not prove to be very successful. Girls' Guildry was formed in Scotland in 1900. When Queen Victoria died in 1901 the Prince of Wales became Edward VII. The Brigade patron, the Duke of York, thus became the Prince of Wales (future George V). Different kinds of youth groups began to form in the 1900s. The Wandervogel was formed on November 4, 1901, and became Germany's most important youth groups. It many ways they were similar to the Scouts stressing hiking and camping. Like Scouting, the Wandervogel, it was not associated with any specific church and in fact thegeneral ethos of the organization was a suspicion of major estanlished institutions, including the Church. The Girls' Life Brigade was organized in England during 1902. The Frivilligt Drenge-Forbund (Danish Boys' Brigade) was organized in 1902. Major-General-Baden Powell was made an honorary Vice-Presidenet of the Brigade in 1903. This began an association which was initially conceived of making Scouting a unit of the Boys' Brigade. The Federation of Methodist Companies was organized in 1904. The group now includes a liaison with Overseas Division. Baden-Powell held his first Scout Camp in 1907. Boys' Brigade members participated. he Brigade celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1908. The Brigade was organized in Nigeria. The Boy Scout Scout Association was organized in 1908. Sir William A. Smith was knighted by Edward VII in 1909.

The 1910s

The Brigade patron becones King George V in 1910. The Brigade Church of England Council Girl Guides were also organized in 1910. The Federation of Boys' Brigade Congregational (United Reform Church) Companies was organized in 1911. The Brigade founder, Sir William A. Smith died on May 10, 1914. World War I began in 1914. The Germans declared war on France in August and invaded Belgium. Britain came to Belgium's and France's defense and decalared war on Germany. At this time we do not have any deatils on Boys' Brigade activities during the War. The Brigade always put a great emphasis on discipline through military drill. We note photographs of Brigaders with rifles. We do not know to what extent the Brigade program went beyound just drill with the rifles. The Brigade in 1915 initiated Founder's Day inaugurate and set it for the last Sunday in November. The Girl Guides began Brownies in 1915. The British Boy Scouts initiated Cubbing in 1916. Boy Reserves began in 1917. They were to become the Life Boys in 1926 and the Junior section of the Brigade in 1966. The Boys' Bulletin magazine for boys began in 1918, but eased publication in 1920. World War I ended in November 1918. The Brigade chose a new president in 1919, Sir John Roxburgh. Poiken Keskus, the Finnish Boys' Brigade was formed in newly independent Finland during 1919.

The 1920s


The Lifeboys, the junior unit of the Boys' Life Brigade, a program comparable to Cubbing was formed in 1920. They became the Life Boys in 1926.


BB Week began publishing in 1921.


G. Stanley Smith, son of the Brigade founder, William Alexander Smith was chosen Brigade Secretary in 1925.


The Boys' Brigade and the Boys' Life Brigade joined in 1926.


The Boys' Brigade Headquarters was opened Abbey House, Westminster in 1927.

The 1930s


The Brigade was organized in Singapore during 1930. The Brigade Auxiliary of Baptist Missionary Society also started in 1930. We note images of Brigaders by the 1930s wearing Glengarry-like campaign caps (figure1). We are not sure precisely when the campaign cap replaced the pillbox cap as the official English Boys' Brigade uniform.


The Brigade elected a new president, Earl of Home. The Brigade celebrated its Jubilee (50th anniversy in 1933. The Brigade was formed in Uganda. Adolf Hitler and the NAZIs seize power in Germany and make the Hitler Youth a universal organization for almost all German children, excluding Jewish children. The NAZIs although they were at first discrete, were basically opposed to Christianity. They used both the schools and the Hitler Youth to promote their ideas on religion. The Hitler Youth in conjunction with the schools actively undermined the Christian faith of an entire generation of German youth. Religion was attacked in may ways by the Hitler Youth program.


The Brigade began its first Brigade Training Course for Officers at Bolobo, Edgware. The Brigade formed the auxiliary, Society of the Propogation of the Gospel.


The Brigade opened a Conference and Training House at Balrossi in Scotland. It was closed in 1940 during World War II. Brigade units were organized in the Cook Islands and the Netherlands (Be Doys' Brigade) during 1935. The Brigade Missionary Auxiliary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland was begun. The Silver Jubilee of King George V's association as a patron of the Boys' Brigade was celebrated in 1935. The Boys' Brigade Loyal Message of Greeting was carried by runners throughout the United Kingdom .


The Brigade's long time patron, King George VI, died in 1936. The Brigade was founded in Sierra Leone.


The Brigade auxiliary of the Bible Churchmen's Missionary Society was begun in 1938.


Hitler begun World War II by invading Poland in September 1939. We have only limited informatuin about Brigade activities during the War.

The 1940s


The Brigade was founded in Samoa during World War II, but before the Japanese decalred war. One Boys' Brigade activity durung World War II were the 'Steadfast Clubs' started in British military units. Later they werebegun in uiversities


The Ansgarsförbundet (Swedish Boys' Brigade) was formed in 1942. This was possible because Sweden was one of the few European countries not occupied by the NAZIs.


The Brigade celebrated its 60th Anniversary in 1943. There was a Royal Review at Windsor Castle presided over by H.M. King George VI.


The Boys' Brigade on the Falkland Islands was founded in 1944.


World War II ended in 1945. The Brigade Training Centre 'Carronvale' was opened at Labert, Scotland.


A new Brigade president was elected in 1947, Lord Maclay.


The Boys' Brigade in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was founded in 1948.


The Brigade opened the Training Centre 'Felden Lodge', at Hemel Hempstead, England. The ceremonies were presided over by HRH The Duke of Gloucester.

The 1950s


The Brigade organized the nationwide 'Festival of Britain Run' to Buckingham Palace, with the assistance King George VI.


King George VI died of cancer in 1952. Queen Elizabeth II became the Brigade's new patron in 1952.


The Brigade began publishing Steadfast Magazine' in 1953. It was published until 1979.


The Brigade in 1954 sponsored worldwide celebrations on the Centenary of the birth of the founder, Sir William Alexander Smith. The Brigade held its first International Camp at Eton, England.


Major-General D.J. Wilson-Haffemdem was appointed Brigade President in 1955.


The Brigade was organized in Zambia and Haiti during 1957. Haiti was one of the few Catholic countries in which the Brigade has operated.


The Brigade 75th Anniversary celebrations, included International Camps in New Zealand and Jamaica, and the '750' Sports Training Camp in England. Queen Elizabeth II reviewed 1,200 Brigade staff officers at Balmoral Castle.

The 1960s


The Brigade during 1960 began operating in Hong Kong, Bermuda and Solomon Islands.


The Brigade launched an appeal for a new Headquarters building in London. A major event was a nationwide Relay Run to Mansion House, London. The target of £100,000 was reached. A new publication Life Boy Link magazine was launched in 1961. It was later renamed Junior Steadfast in 1965. It published until 1979.


The Brigade celebrated its 80th anniversary. An International Camp was held at Perthshire, Scotland. A new Brigade president was chosen, Earl of Elgin and Kincardine. The first meeting of the Boys' Brigade World Conference was held in 1963.


The Haynes Commitee delivered its report on the work and future of The Boys' Brigade. A European Fellowship was formed: with groups in the United Kingdom (the Boys' Brigade and the Girls' Brigade), Denmark (Frivilligt Drenge-Forbund and Frivilligt Pige-Forbund (now Frivilligt Drenge og Pige Forbund), Sweeden (Ansgarsförbundet), and Finland (Poiken Keskus and Tyttojen Keskus).


A new Brigade Secretary, Ian G. Neilson, is chosen. The Brigade forms a Mountaining Club. The Girls' Brigade (Ireland), The Girls Guildry (Scotland), and The Girls' Life Brigade united wityh the Girls' Brigade.


The Brigade reorganized The Junior Section (formerly The Life Boys), Company Section and Senior Section. They also started a Junior Section Achievement Scheme. The Brigade Headquarters was moved from Abbey House to Brigade House, Parsons Green, London. Brigade house opened by HRH Princess Alexandra as Headquarters of both the Boys' and the Girls' Brigade.


The Brigade in 1967 began operating in the Gambia.


The Brigade introduced a new range of awards and activities in the Company Sections.


The Brigade introduced new uniform for Lady Officers in 1969. The Brigade held introduced national competitions for Chess and five-a-side football. The Seniors Project was also introduced.

The 1970s


The Brigade formed a Canoe Club. A new uniform hat introduced for all boys.


The Brigade opens a Hostel at Parsons Green, London. The Brigade introfuces a new uniform for Junior Section Boys. The minimum age for Lieutenants and Warrant Officers was reduced to 18 years.


The Brigade celebrated its 90th Anniversary in 1973. Events included visit by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip to Brigade House. There were also special events in London, Glasgow, and Thurso (founder William Alexander Smith's birthplace).


A new Brigade Secretary is chosen, Alfred Hudson. The Brigade begins a national volleyball competition.


The Brigade appoints the first lady officer appointed to the Brigade Executive. 'The Pacemakers' film ismade for Company Section boys.


The Brigade approves the appointment of Lady Captains. The first national Marching Band Contest is held in 1976. The Brigade had had marching bands from an early point in its history and marching band competitions had become a popular event among British Scouts. The Brigade establishes the World Conference Committee.


The Brigade establishes the Pre-Junior Section for 6-8 year olds.


The Brigade launches of "The Boys' Brigade, First for Boys" development campaign.


Former Steadfast Magazine competitions held for "Top of the Form" (now "Master Team"). Table tennis competitions taken over by Brigade Headquarters. The Brigade releases the "If you can't beat 'em'" film for the Junior Section boys. The Brigade also launches a 2,000 mile ballon journey around Britain as part of publicity campaign.

The 1980s


The Brigade holds its first National Brass Band Contest. A national report on FFB is made to Sir David McNee after a parade in London.


The British Royal Post Office issues four commemorative stamps for The Boys' Brigade, The Girls Brigade, Scouts and Guides. The Brigade changes the name of the "Pre-Junior Section" to "Anchor Boys".


The Brigade celebrates its Centenary in 1983. International Camps are held in New Zealand, Scotland and Australia. A Royal Review is held in Edinburgh presided over by Queen Elizabeth II. Campus '83 is held at Durham. A Centenary Salute and Thanksgiving Service is held in Glasgow. Centenary Day is celebrated October 4. A National Thanksgiving Service is held at St. Paul's Cathedral on October 27. Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother attend. The Brigade introduces a new Award Structure and Badges for Company Section boys.


The Brigade chooses a new president, The Rt. Hon. The Viscount Thurso of Ulster.

The 1990s


The Brigade has a Royal Review at Windsor Castle presided over by Queen Elizabeth II.


The Brigade Council approves a new uniform.

The 2000s


The Brigade begins a national ten-pin bowling compeition.


The Brigade upholds the motion for new Uniform.


Don McLaren took over from Sidney Jones OBE as National Brigade secretary. The Brigade, especially the Brigade marching bands, participate in the celebrations of the Queen's Golden Jubilee.


Muriel Gibbs, A Date to Remember (Boys' Brigade Archive Press).

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 12, 2002
Last updated: July 18, 2002