Boys' Life Brigade

Figure 1.--This 1967 photograph shows Lifeboys, which was the junior division of the Boys Brigade. They wore nautical caps with navy blue pullovers. They could wear either long or short pants with their pullovers.

HBU has seen references to the British Boys' Life Brigade (BLB) which was apparently founded in 1899. We have been able to find little information about them, but have found a few sketchy details. The BLB in 1910 arranged an alliance with the British Boy Scouts to form the National Peace Scouts. After the collapse of the BBS the question of union with the Boys Brigade was discussed beginning in 1913 -- but a dozen years were to pass before this effort would be successful.

Boys' Life Brigade

HBU has been unable to find much information on the Boys' Life Brigade. HBU notes that very little information is often available on these early youth organizations, especially those absorbed by larger organizatiions. We know that the Boys' Life Brigade was an organization of some importance in the early 20th century. I am not sure when it was founded, but it appears to have been the 1890s. It was a response to the military approach of the Boys' Brigade. In reaction, several Boys' Brigade units broke away from the main Boys' Brigade organization. Membership in 1910 totaled about 40,000 boys. Unfortunately HBU had virtually no information about the BLB. We do not have, for example, any details about the BLB uniform.

British Boys Scouts

Americans and Brits tend to think of the Scouts as one united national association. This is not how Scouting developed in many other countries and there were competing associations in both America and Britain. The most significant challenge to Baden Powell's Scout Association was the British Boy Scouts. Few people today have ever heard of the BBS, but for several years the organization posed a major threat to Baden Powell's desire for a unified national Scouting movement. The BLB decided to form an alliance with a rival group to Baden Powell's Boy Scout Association. The BLB brigade chose the rival British Boy Scouts (BBS).

National Peace Scouts

The BLB in 1910 joined with the BBS to create the National Peace Scouts (NPS). This reflected the more non-military approach to Scouting of the BBS. The combined membership of some 85,000, about equal numbers from the two organizations. The NPS never developed into an important groups, howevrer, the BLB had a primary religious focus and were not interested in secular Scouting as invisioned by the BBS.

Boy Scout Association

The BLB after the collapse of the BBS in 1912 entered into corporate negotiations with Baden Powell's BSA. During these negotiations, the BLB created a Scout Department within the organization. Ther negotiation, however, proved tonbe complicated and dragged on. The differeing goals of the two organizations appear to have been the primary problem.

Boys' Brigade (1926)

Rather than combining wth the BSA, the BLB finally decided to join with the Boys' Brogade, an organization with a more religious focus than the BSA. After joining with the Boys Brigade in 1926, scouting as an activity was dropped. The union meannt that something had to be done with th uniform. The BLB was much smaller, but a lot of the BB boys liked their uniform better than theor own uniform. As a result, changes to the BB uniform incorporated features of the BLB uniform. A HBU ledwrs tells us about the BB uniform changes.

Life Boys

One of our British contributors reports that he is not familiar with the BLB. He believes that this may be a reference to the Lifeboys, which was the junior division of the Boys Brigade. They wore nautical caps with navy blue pullovers. A 1967 picture is posted on this page. Our British contributor reports looking at an issue of Boys' Brigade Gazette from 1932. The Life Boys are officially called 'The Junior Reserve of the Boys' Brigade' and there's a song entitled I am a Life Boy in which the final verse reads:

I am a growing Life Boy
And proud I shall be made
When I am twelve, and then can join
The gallant Boys' Brigade;
When I'm a man then me you'll see
An Officer in the B.B.

This shows that a Life Boy graduated to the Boys' Brigade at age 12. It also shows that they were known as Life Boys (two words) not Lifeboys (one word).


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Created: June 24, 2000
Last updated: 3:25 PM 7/13/2015