Leslie's Guiding History Site




Of course, the start of Guiding in 1910 automatically meant the start of Guiders - so one could say they are the second-oldest section, dating back to 1908!  Initially, Guiders had to be ladies of suitable standing in the community - this usually meant unmarried daughters from the local 'big house', well-bred older maiden ladies, or the wives or daughters of professionals such as clergy, doctors, lawyers, etc.  They were appointed both because they were the sort of people who had time to devote to the work (they were of a class who both did not take paid employment and would be embarassed to be seen doing so, but would equally be thus expected to devote their time to 'good works' in the local community as 'noblesse oblige'), and because they were considered to be suitable role models for the girls in their charge - it was felt that the working and middle class girls would pick up good manners, diction and habits from the rare opportunity of direct contact with respectable local upper-class ladies - and from their supervision, advice and example.  In an era when class differences were very obvious, familiar, and accepted as the natural order by those of all backgrounds from across the UK, many parents would be delighted to have the opportunity for their daughters to mix so closely with one of the family from the 'big house', something which would never otherwise have happened.  Another advantage was that these ladies often had free access to land, which could be made available for camps, picnic hikes and wide games - and their endorsement and approval of the Guides and their activities would help ensure that guiding was viewed positively within the community as an appropriate hobby for the respectable young girls of the area - since they were seen at the arbiters of good taste and genteel behaviour. Registration of units and members started in July 1910 and the first steps towards organisation of Guiding thus began.

The initial Guider uniform might seem very formal - the thick navy serge 'Norfolk' jacket and skirt with the large brown gauntlet gloves, and the wide-brimmed hat with it's pheasant feathers caught up in the fold of the brim, the row of 'Service Stars' above the left pocket indicating the number of years service, their felt discs showing how many of those were as Brownie, Guide or Ranger.  Most Guiders would carry a long umbrella or walking stick when out in the country.  But actually, for the era it was relaxed and practical - sturdy shoes and stockings for walking, practical outdoor clothing which even featured pockets, and garments which were warm for wearing during outdoor activities.  But as uniforms were individually tailored at Guide Headquarters, they were not cheap, and had to be looked after.

Commissioners were soon appointed, initially at County level, and soon in Districts too, to support the Guiders and assist in communications between the local area and headquarters - these were invariably selected from among the gentry.  The original Guiders had had to adapt 'Scouting for Boys' using their own initiative, both in terms of what they and the girls should wear, and in choosing and organising suitable weekly activities for their units - as at first the only official information on 'Guides' was contained in two pamphlets (known as 'pamphlet A' and 'pamphlet B'), and the article in the Scout Headquarters Gazette of November 1909 - and it wasn't until the publication of "How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire" in 1912 that full, clear guidelines on how units should be run and what topics should be taught became available, so unit programmes necessarily tended to follow the hobbies and interests of the Guider, and her interpretation of the instructions given in "Scouting for Boys" and "The Scout" magazine, or the 'Home Notes' articles.  There was also now a sketch and description of the Guider uniform, which helped to clarify what was intended - before then there had been various wildly different interpretations of the rather vague directions given!  In those days there were also limitations in programme based on what was socially acceptable for girls to do - in the early years many unit 'camps' involved staying in either hay-filled farm barns or outbuildings, or in village halls, as it was considered unwise and potentially risky to the health for girls to actually sleep in tents!

By the next handbook in 1918 the Guide Captain's uniform was slightly more specific - "a navy blue Norfolk coat and skirt with brown leather belt, navy blue felt hat turned up at the left side, and a navy blue shirt".  "Her tie can be of light blue or of Company colour, her distinguishing mark a bunch of white ribbon on the left shoulder, also a navy blue cockade on the left side of the hat with a green badge brooch on the knot of the tie" as shown in the photo above taken from that book - so the pheasant's feathers were out!  Lieutenant's uniforms were similar but their badges were plain brass rather than having the green enamel.    Commissioners wore white shirts, with "a cord on the left shoulder with badge on the left breast and a cockade on the side of the hat with tie".  Brownie Guiders wore brown ties, there was an Owl's Head badge in place of the green badge for Brown Owls, and a badge featuring a full-length Owl for Tawny Owls.  Headquarters were now able to supply both off-the-peg and tailored uniforms from their dedicated tailoring department, staffed fully by association members - and many other useful items could be ordered there too - for a price.

The first world war didn't directly impact on Guiders at first, although many did get involved in work to fundraise for the Red Cross and other local and national charitable organisations and appeal funds, and in making clothes and presents for the soldiers at the front, as did young women in general.  Most Guiders were not of a class to find themselves taking up work in factories, as many working class women did at that time, although some served as nurses, especially if they had had some first aid training, or if their family home was being utilised as a war hospital or convalescent home.  However, a major side effect of the vast numbers of young men, especially young officers, killed in the war - and the flu epidemic which followed immediately after - was the number of single middle and upper class women it generated, both widows and spinsters.  It may well be that the massive expansion of Guiding in the 1920s was, sadly, largely down to the significant numbers of young women who were not married and busy with children as they had hoped or expected to be, with not enough young men left to go round - and who were of a class which made taking paid work socially inappropriate - voluntary work such as Guiding provided an outlet of fulfilling activities to occupy their extensive free time. 

By the 1920s, the Guider's uniform suit was firmly established, and a full system of coloured shoulder cords and hat cockades had been established, to distinguish between the different posts and ranks.  County badges appeared in England, along with Country badges for Scotland, Wales and Ireland (who weren't allowed to have separate badges for their Counties, and still aren't).  Cotton overalls became available for camp wear, which were more practical, especially in summer, as women's fashion rules generally became more relaxed over the decade - it was no longer considered necessary for younger Guiders to wear their thick black wool stockings on the campsite during warm weather provided the site was secluded, although it was made quite clear that they were definitely to be worn on any visit offsite, however minor or of whatever duration, and no matter what the temperature!

From the early years, some local training was available, through books or in the form of gatherings of local Guiders in areas and in Counties, or at the specially arranged 'training schools' organised by Counties, sometimes at schools, drill halls and the like, sometimes using rooms or outbuildings at the County Commissioner's house (which was often what we would now term a 'stately home').  There were also the official 'correspondence courses' on all sorts of topics including drill and games which Guiders could enter for, with their written examinations - but it was really with the opening of the training centres at Foxlease (1922) and then Waddow Hall (1927), with their regular week-long residential training courses for the various sections, that Guider training really took off.  The original pages in "Home Notes" magazine had been replaced with a separate magazine, the "Headquarters Gazette", which would become "The Guider" and then eventually "Guiding", giving useful training articles, full information on badges, rules updates and notices, training articles, pages for groups such as Rangers, Lones and Extensions, and other items of interest - and in the early years the Girl Guide Gazette incorporated County or Country news sheet inserts in some areas, such as the one for Scotland which started in 1920. 

Qualifications gradually became available for Camping, and for Indoor Holidays, as it became obvious that some standard-setting and regulation was required to ensure that camps were run safely and had an adequate programme and suitable health and safety and health standards were maintained - at this time it was almost automatically expected that every Guide unit would go to camp for a week or fortnight each summer unless there were really strong reasons why it couldn't be managed - and it had naturally been found that some Guiders were more knowledgeable about camping and more capable of managing the improvised arrangements for cooking, washing, toilets etc, and the daily tent care and maintenance, than others were, especially where inclement weather was encountered!  By 1920 Guiders who wished to take their unit to camp had to have the Senior Camper interest badge, and soon after, a system of Advisers was also set up to help organise suitable camp training, and to encourage the gaining of camp qualifications across the country, in order to raise the standards, working under a national Camp Adviser who was appointed each year.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s a lot of standardisation was achieved - new badges and qualifications were introduced, rules were stabilised, and systems implemented to improve administration and organisation.  The rule book, "Policy, Organisation and Rules" was updated annually in the light of experience, and many conferences and discussion groups were held to determine policy.

During World War 2, major difficulties were caused by Guider shortages - 'The Guider' magazine had actively encouraged all Guiders to register for war work during the 'crisis' of September 1938 - as a result, when the war finally broke out a year later, and given the practical skills and training which they had to offer, a large number of Guiders were among the first to be called up to serve the country, often far from home, within hours of war being declared.  This left many units without Guiders almost overnight - and meant that the few older Guiders who were left had to do what they could to support Patrol Leaders who were left to keep their own units (and sometimes the feeder packs) running too.  The remaining Guiders were also having to organise the war work efforts of the various units in their areas - in country areas where the influx of evacuees meant an overnight multiplication in the number of girls wanting to transfer into previously small rural units an expansion from 8 to 60 Guides in a unit almost overnight was not unheard of, as suddenly every house in the village had children living in it!  In urban areas, the demand for Guides to act as messengers, as casualties for first aid training, to serve at canteens and community centres, and to do charity work of all sorts drained the limited numbers left as all the younger Guides had been evacuated.

The vast majority of Guiders were involved in some kind of war work, as all women aged between 18 and 40 who weren't prevented by their family commitments were automatically called up to one of the women's services, for factory work, or for work on the land in the Land Army or Timber Corps, and those who were not eligible to be called up nevertheless often worked voluntarily in jobs such as running static and mobile canteens or rest centres, first aid training, fire watching or doing ARP or WVS work alongside their normal occupations or family responsibilities, and free time was often filled in by making garments or collecting waste for recycling.  Either option often left little time to spare for extras like Guiding, despite it's recognised national value.

At first, all camping was automatically banned, due to the very real risk of Guide tents being mistaken for army encampments, but it was later allowed subject to certain restrictions - no camps were allowed near the coast or near to military installations, tents had to be camouflaged with paint or nets and pitched under trees, blackout regulations had to be strictly obeyed - so absolutely no campfires or torches/candles after dark.  In addition to the usual lat trenches, refuse pits, tent trenching and other standard camp earthworks of the day, a slit trench had to be dug which was deep enough for everyone to shelter in during air raids if required.  Most camps had to be held within easy range of home - the rule was for safety reasons, but it would have applied anyway due to the constraints of petrol rationing and government urgings to avoid all unnecessary train travel - so that lorries could rarely be used for transporting kit and Guides, with horse-drawn carts or the traditional Guide-powered trek carts an option.  Camp equipment was hard to come by - some had been requisitioned by the Army or Home Guard for military purposes, over time other kit could be damaged or destroyed by bombing - and replacements were almost impossible to come by as the forces naturally had first call on any which was being manufactured.  Camp Quartermasters had their talents heavily tested in trying to make a workable menu from everybody's assorted ration coupons plus their food oddments brought from home - and arranging for food supply from shops near the site through the local Ministry of Food office - not to mention ensuring everyone got a fair share of leftovers to take home to last until their next rations were due - but they coped! 

Although the war ended in 1945, by then another form of war work had already started, one that was to continue for a long time - the Guide International Service, or GIS.  From the middle of the war, many at headquarters had realised from past experience that winning the war wouldn't be enough, as after the fighting was over the disruption would continue.  They took the view that what the nations had failed to do at the end of World War I was to 'win the peace' - to help those in Europe who were left homeless, starving, sick or as refugees by the effects of the war and it's disruption, and who at the end of WW1 had been left to cope as best they could.  But with the extent of damage to civilian housing and infrastructure from bombing as well as fighting, and the numbers transported abroad to labour or concentration camps, it was clear that this time, conditions would be worse and the need greater.  Seeing this, Guiding was one of several organisations who started to train volunteers, ready to do relief work in Europe and the Far East as soon as war ended.  Training started in 1941, in order to recruit people who had the necessary strength and adaptability to cope with the work and operate well as a team, taking on a wide range of tasks, not necessarily those which they expected to be doing, or had trained to do - even though at that time it was far from clear which side might win the war or when it might end.  From 1944 onwards several teams were sent out, and they worked to diagnose and treat infectious diseases, to sort and issue aid supplies, to prepare and repatriate displaced persons, to set up and run maternity and infectious disease hospitals, and to feed the starving.  They also ran training camps to train local Guiders, enabling Guiding to swiftly resume in postwar central Europe.  GIS members were some of the first people into the Belsen concentration camp, and the work of the GIS carried on until 1950 when the local authorities were able to take over the remaining hardship cases - long after other aid agencies had had to pull out on funding grounds - and all of it funded by the fundraising efforts of the girls.

Guider uniforms also started to change at that time, rationing permitting, with the old brimmed felt hats being replaced by stiff-fronted berets, the hat cords replaced by an expanded system of cockades - and a uniform dress in 'headquarters blue' becoming available. 

Wartime also brought a certain breaking down of class barriers within Guiding.  As there were fewer 'big houses', and more women were expected to get a job of some sort on leaving school, even among the upper middle classes, so more middle and working class women (especially former Guides) were becoming Guiders, albeit the Commissioners still all tended to be upper-class, especially at the higher levels.  Post-war, there were more opportunities for units, too, as weekend camping started, and Brownie Pack Holidays gradually became more common.  Cars gradually became more widely available, and more women had the chance to learn to drive (or had learned of necessity during the war) allowing transport further afield than trek carts or public transport could reach . . .

This also helped with training, in making both the two existing training centres at Foxlease and Waddow, and the new regional training centres at Netherurd, Broneirion and Lorne more accessible (Guiding was fortunate that their training centres were in most cases either leased to them on a peppercorn rent, or sold to them for nominal sums - as a result they tended to be large houses on country estates which were ideal in terms of camping and facilities for outdoor activities, but not always so easy for those reliant on public transport).  New innovations were also introduced, such as the mobile training van which was used during the 1950s to take the training to the Guiders, especially those in remote and rural areas located far from the existing training centres (a similar venture operated in Scotland in the 1990s to provide outreach to more remote areas there). 

But the basic programmes were relatively unchanged from the early days of Guiding - Brownies still worked for their Golden Bar and Golden Hand, Guides for their Tenderfoot, Second and First Class, with every girl in the country all tackling the same tests - which some found relatively easy, and some found extremely difficult or impossible despite trying their best.  Although the idea was that every Guide should aim to achieve First Class, at no point did even 50% achieve it, with some units rarely having any First Class Guides.  By the 1960s it was time for programme changes, and following consultation with educational psychologists and others, in 1968 a new more flexible 8-point programme was brought in, along with new uniforms and handbooks, and the aim of each individual challenging herself, rather than reaching the same level.  Inevitably, it was not popular in all quarters, but in time the programme settled in and offered the option of Guiders tailoring the challenges to the individual's abilities.  It was now also possible for the girls to start to gain interest badges soon after they joined the unit, instead of Guides having to wait until Second Class was completed and Brownies until Golden Hand.  At the same time uniforms for Leaders were changing, with the ready-made lighter weight crimplene suit, blue fine-checked blouse and the 'air hostess' hat with it's 'hat felts' for Guiders and 'hat flash' for Commissioners and Advisers replacing the beret.  In place of the older necktie was a ribbon 'tie' - a plain vertical navy tab for unwarranted leaders, a plain navy crossover ribbon for Commissioners and Advisers on a length of elastic with hook-and-eye fastening, and a similar series of navy crossover ribbon ties with coloured stripes for Guiders - with two stripes on each side for Leaders and one stripe on each side for Assistant Leaders - the colours being green for Rainbow Guiders, brown (later yellow) for Brownie Guiders, blue for Guide Guiders and Aqua for Ranger Guiders.

In 1990, as with all sections, a mix-and-match range of uniform was introduced for Leaders, featuring polo shirts, sweatshirt, zip sweatshirt, long and short cullotes and joggers, as well as a light blue and white striped blouse in long or short sleeve, striped button-through skirt, and a navy skirt suit.  The 'badge tab', a length of navy ribbon hung from a badge, was introduced, in plain blue for Commissioners and Advisers, and with markings for section Leaders - green for Rainbows, yellow for Brownies, dark blue for Guides, aqua for Rangers, and white for Young Leader Guiders.  Unit Helpers originally had an all-yellow tab, this later changed to all-raspberry pink.  Between 2001 and 2020 various uniform changes occurred, with the 1990 range replaced by navy or white polo shirts with a pale blue collar, hoodies in navy with mid-blue side panels and hood lining, a half-zip top, and a 'shell' jacket.  These changes also saw the end of the rules regarding uniform skirts/trousers, with Leaders free to choose an option suitable to the occasion, in a dark colour.  Badge tabs changed from being navy with vertical stripes at either side, to being a pale blue colour with a stripe across the top - pale blue for Rainbows, yellow for Brownies, mid-blue for Guides, aqua for Rangers and plain for Commissioners and Advisers.

In 2020, Leaders faced a fresh challenge - with an infection, Covid-19, spreading rapidly around the world, countries imposed a 'lockdown' on their citizens, with all gatherings banned.  As such, from March all unit meetings had to cease.  Although a number of units had to stop meeting, with their Leaders occupied by essential work, others were able to send out weekly activity newsletters, or hold videoconference meetings, often by 'Zoom'.  Some units were able to resume outdoor meetings in September 2020 provided each person remained 'socially distant' and precautions were taken to avoid contact, and indoor meetings were permitted in some areas in October 2020, in those parts of the country not affected by a 'local lockdown' due to levels of covid infection in the area.  But it wasn't long before the permission was removed, and it was back to remote meetings.  It was autumn 2021 before units were able to resume in-person meetings, and even then, it was with the risk of having to move back online if there were further outbreaks, or if any of the Leaders were infected and forced to quarantine for 10 days, as the rules demanded.

Over the years, the role of Guiders hasn't really changed much.  Our job is still to encourage the development of the girls, so that they become responsible, community-minded citizens - hence the widespread encouragement of service in the programme - through good turns in Brownies, community action in Guides, and citizenship in Senior Section.  We encourage the girls to express their own opinions and make decisions for themselves, as the girls take increasing responsibility for planning and running their own programmes as they progress through the sections.  We encourage teamwork and self leadership, increasingly responsibility and challenge.  Nowadays we have a mix and match uniform which is based on practicality for wearing when doing active Guiding.  

  • Brownie Guider (non-UK)
    Brownie Guider (non-UK)
  • Guide Captain
    Guide Captain
  • Lieutenant (ie Assistant Leader)
    Lieutenant (ie Assistant Leader)
  • Cadet Guider
    Cadet Guider
  • Land Ranger Captain
    Land Ranger Captain
  • Sea Ranger Captain
    Sea Ranger Captain
  • Air Ranger Captain
    Air Ranger Captain