Leslie's Guiding History Site




So, Girl Scouts existed and were recognised from the earliest days of Scouting in 1907, with Baden-Powell soon declaring in his personal column in "The Scout" magazine that some had proved themselves "really capable Scouts".  And although a few of those Girl Scouts had become members by slightly devious means (such as filling in their initials rather than giving their obviously-feminine forenames on registration forms), the vast majority had registered openly with full and clearly-feminine names - and were nevertheless welcomed as the enthusiastic and capable Scouts they were, regardless of gender.  Indeed, in some cases they had an official welcome, as was the case with one girl who wrote to Robert Baden-Powell and received a personal reply from him in 1908.  Naturally, those early Girl Scouts followed the Scout programme as nearly as they could given their circumstances - they met as Patrols, and worked together in their Patrols on challenges and badges.  Some were permitted to attend local Scout meetings with the boys, but most were not - for instance, the Cuckoo Girl Scout Patrol were attached to 1st Glasgow Scout Troop, but they met separately in a hayloft rather than attend the Troop's regular Parades, and the Scoutmaster would visit the Patrol at their Patrol Den from time to time in order to pass them for their tests there, not at the Troop meetings where the Boy Scouts got their badge testing done.  Uniforms worn by those early Girl Scouts tended to be variations on the suggestions in "Scouting for Boys" with many girls dyeing their brothers' old cricket shirts and making uniforms from their old clothes or fabric they acquired - not exactly a problem in an era when all girls learned hand-sewing and dressmaking anyway - and these shirts were then teamed with the sturdiest of their long skirts.  But by 1909 things became a little more straightforward in that regard - for in that year's new edition of "Scouting for Boys" there were uniform guidelines for Girl Scouts - so no question that Girl Scouts were not merely known about, or tolerated, but were actively being incorporated in Scouting as equal members with the Boy Scout members.  The requirement for Patrol Leaders to have an embroidered Patrol flag on their staff wasn't exactly a difficulty for the girls either, when it would just be another piece of decorative needlework amongst many they would do - indeed it's quite likely that they offered the boys assistance with how to make their Patrol Flags too!

Due to the growing number of Girl Scouts, and the negative publicity emerging over the existence of mixed Troops, mixed activities, or mixed public rallies, at Robert Baden-Powell's request the separate organisation of the Girl Guides were started in 1910 by his sister, Agnes Baden-Powell - and most of the existing Girl Scout Patrols and units obeyed the order to transfer (however reluctantly), as the Guide Law required them to obey cheerfully.  Thus all soon went directly from being Girl Scouts to being Girl Guides, with the registration of Girl Guide Companies beginning in July 1910.  Initially, the only new information on how Guides should be organised and run was in two pamphlets, later known as 'Pamphlet A' and 'Pamphlet B', and the 'Scheme for Girl Guides' published in the November 1909 edition of the Scout Headquarters Gazette, so meantime most units continued to adapt and follow the instructions in 'Scouting for Boys', and use their own judgement of how best to manage things - in 1911 the 5 Edinburgh Guide Companies paraded for a Royal visit, and it was found that although the actual uniform garments they wore were similar in basic style, one Company wore brown uniforms, two wore blue, one wore green and one wore bright scarlet! 

In 1912 the first Guide handbook was introduced, written by the founder of Guiding, Agnes Baden-Powell.  She had adapted it from her brother's book 'Scouting for Boys', and it still contained virtually all of the activities from that book which the early Girl Scouts had so much enjoyed tackling in their Scout Patrols, but rewritten in order to coat them with a fine veneer of femininity, to appease parents and other nervous adults who worried that the new scheme might lead their daughters astray, by addressing it as a handbook for girls who might someday have to live in the far-flung parts of empire, where self sufficiency would be required of them in the absence of access to servants, doctors, or other trained help.  The handbook helped to clarify procedure and rules for units, where before people had had to judge for themselves how best to adapt Scouting guidelines - and it helped to bring some regularity to uniform and practices, albeit many girls still wore homemade outfits, particularly in areas where official uniform was not affordable or readily obtainable -  and some Patrol Leader chevrons and accoutrements were still extremely large and showy, tending to negate the oft-repeated assurances that the Guides were not militaristic!  It took time for Guiding to be accepted by the public - in the early days it was common for parading Guides to be jeered in the street, sometimes even pelted by little boys, hence the clear discouragement of Guide public parades - but we have to bear in mind that this was in the particularly militant stage of the suffragette era, when women's rights and roles were a topic of very controversial national debate anyway - and Guides could inadvertently be seen as part of this suffrage movement which sought greater rights and freedoms for women by a range of means, some illegal.  It was doubtless this (and an incident where a suffragette had chained herself to a statue in the Palace of Westminster) that the Duke of Devonshire was referring to when he said upon opening a girls' school gymnasium that 'he hoped that the gymnastic training given in the school would not induce any of the students to take part in the various movements which were better confined to the male sex.  As a strong opponent of the Girls' Scout movement, he trusted that the gymnastics would not induce them to take part in demonstrations of force at Westminster or elsewhere'.  It has also been suggested that some adults feared that the girls were being prepared for war service as nurses or the like, which the drilling and parades, and the extensive first aid training, might have risked suggesting.  1912 saw the first national subscription fee, of 3d per person per annum, in order to help defray the expenses of running the movement.  It was really with the coming of World War I that attitudes started to change regarding the capabilities of women in general, and of Guides in particular - the war offered the Guides a real chance to show the practical value of the training they had received and the skills which they had practiced over the preceeding four years in their units - and they certainly took it!  

Guides were involved in acting as messengers, working in hospitals and teaching in nurseries, collecting waste paper, jam jars and bones, making and laundering hospital dressings, and many other important roles.  Some worked as messengers at MI5 headquarters, carrying secret messages both in writing and by memory - they had shown that they were reliable and could be trusted.  Many were involved in fundraising for causes such as the Red Cross and refugee funds, and they also had a special Guide fundraising drive, which raised enough money to set up and run an extensive and regularly-expanded rest hut for soldiers 'behind the lines' in France, and also to provide a 'motor ambulance'.  Many were involved in gardening and farm work, to produce food for the country at a time when the combination of the sinking of cargo ships in the Atlantic and disruption to agriculture in the UK, brought Britain within weeks of full starvation, in spite of the food rationing which had been applied.  At the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, older Guides acted as messengers to all parts of the conference, working throughout the Palace during the tricky negotiations, fully trusted to keep anything they overheard confidential and to lay aside any national interest in serving all parties participating in the conference. 

By the 1920s the uniform had stabilised as a navy dress, or overblouse and skirt, with a necker folded into a necktie, and a broad-brimmed hat with embroidered hat ribbon.  Service Stars were worn above the left pocket - these were ongoing from Brownies, so that those gained as a Brownie had brown felt discs at the back, and those as a Guide had green discs.  Guiding now had public support in communities of all classes, and was rapidly becoming an accepted and ordinary part of national life.  And whereas many early Guides stayed in barns rather than 'risk' camping in tents, by the 1920s it was recognised that camping in tents was a perfectly safe and healthy activity for girls, and it gradually became widespread.  Guides continued to work through their challenges - Tenderfoot, Second Class and First Class - and some managed to earn Gold Cords.  It was not uncommon to see Guides parading in towns with their flags - the Union Flag, and the navy Company Colours featuring the First Class badge and the unit name, later replaced by lettered World Flags with brass Trefoils and long blue and gold tassels.  Guiding expanded outwith the cities into many rural towns and villages, with new Guide Companies opening at a rapid rate - possibly linked to the rapid increase in the number of single young ladies and widows unexpectedly available and with the free time to become Guiders, an indirect and unfortunate consequence of the massive loss of young soldiers and officers in World War 1.  Interest badges were now widely available, and the original blue designs on white felt were soon replaced by the more familiar green, on navy felt.  They still had to be removed from the uniform before every laundry, though, hence many of those in photographs appearing to be loosely pinned on rather than securely stitched around the edges! 

In those areas where Guide Companies weren't viable, and to cater for those who couldn't attend units, such as those living on remote farms or country villages, or attending boarding schools which did not have school Companies, Lone Guides were introduced.  The Guide meeting came in the form of a letter, sent on from Guide to Guide in the Patrol, containing news and challenges.  Each Guide would add their contribution, which would eventually end up back at the Lone Patrol Leader or Guider for assessment.  Lones had a special Promise badge, with a large L in the middle, in blue enamel for the Guide section, and red for Rangers.  Lone Guides continue to exist across the UK today (and especially in rural Scotland), often helped by internet links. 

Special units were also set up to cater for girls with disabilities, in what was then called the Extension Section - because it saw Guiding extended into residential homes for the blind, deaf, mentally ill and disabled - at a time when many children with disabilities or major illnesses stayed in special boarding schools or on long-term hospital wards for months or years at a time.  From a few pioneering units, soon a network of Extension units were established, and they also worked to link together severely disabled girls living at home into lone-style Extension units, receiving their meetings in the form of letters - especially important at a time when many disabled children received no formal schooling at all, and thus had little to occupy their days.  Local units were encouraged to 'adopt' any local Extension Guides living in their patch and visit them - sadly this was not always successful.  The Extension Promise Badge had lilac enamel, and some special early interest badges were made for extensions with lilac borders rather than red or blue, although that ceased in the 1920s when they then earned mainstream interest badges.  Nowadays most disabled girls are integrated into local units and there are only a few special units, usually based at hospitals, or boarding schools for the blind or deaf, so they no longer have a separate Promise badge. 

International opportunities, too, became available to a few, with International camps and other gatherings.  The international Guide House, Our Chalet, opened in 1932 thanks to the generosity of Mrs Helen Storrow who provided the funding, offering a welcome to Guides from around the world, and opportunities for Guides from different countries to meet and get to know each other, at a time when international travel was not common.  But gradually through the 1930s, the political shadows were gathering across Europe, and especially from the autumn of 1938, when the threat of war came so close and was then seemingly so narrowly averted.  Although the international Pax Ting Camp in Hungary went ahead as scheduled in August 1939, with representatives from many of the countries which Guiding had reached managing to attend as planned, some groups opted to alter the membership of their parties at the last minute, to ensure they were all older Guides who would have the skill to evade capture and escape home overland in secret, should war break out whilst the camp was held.  Fortunately, the peace lasted out, and everyone managed to get home safely - but only a few weeks later, war broke out between Britain, France and Germany, and engulfed most of Europe, and many countries beyond.  Sadly, the Guides of the UK were again to have an ideal opportunity to prove the value of their training, in adaptability, keeping calm under difficult conditions, first aid, rescue work, maintenance of morale, messenger work, salvage collection and many more . . . 

Yet, even before war began, Guides were already hard at work, on preparations and precautions in case of war, especially stepping this up from the autumn of 1938 onwards, when the shadows were especially dark and war seemed imminent - helping to assemble gas-masks and deliver government notices, with some older Guides undertaking specialist extra training in first aid and ARP skills.  On the day war broke out, Guides were involved in meeting evacuees at train stations and escorting them to village halls, in preparing and issuing refreshments, in cleaning and preparing houses for evacuees, and in teaching town-bred children about unfamiliar country customs and ways - many urban children had never seen live farm animals first-hand.  Many Guides raised funds for the red cross, helped at hospitals, served as casualties for first-aid practices, made clothing for the forces, trained to deal with incendiary bombs, and refurbished old toys to supply Christmas presents to poorer children who would otherwise receive nothing. 

Evacuation during that first weekend of war meant that country Companies which had for so long struggled to muster enough girls to keep two Patrols going could overnight find themselves with 50 or 60 all wanting to transfer in - just as many of their Guiders had been called up for war service and transferred far from home and their units.  Equally, large Companies in towns and cities found themselves suddenly reduced to just a few older Patrol Leaders who were of working age, as most of those who were under 14 were evacuated to the country with their schools.  Many units were run by their PLs throughout the war in the absence of Guiders, and if some failed, many succeeded amazingly well.  Soon the Guides were teaching the authorities how to do 'blitz cooking' on improvised fireplaces made from bricks and scrap metal, helping with 'after raid' rescue squads to rescue people's posessions from their bomb-damaged houses, and running canteens and rest centres in public air-raid shelters and halls, and also in mobile vans which travelled to recently bombed areas to feed those who had been bombed out of their homes, and the rescue workers serving there too.  Country units were involved in picking hedgerow fruits and herbs for medicine, and working as labourers on farms during weekends and school holidays.  Later in the war, a new cause for fundraising began, with the start of fundraising for the Guide International Service.  It was decided that teams of young Guiders should train up so as to be ready to go to Europe to work with refugees as soon as war ended - to 'win the peace' as it was termed - and it was clear that funds would be needed, both for the equipment to set up and run the hospitals and feeding centres the teams would create and operate in the recently-liberated areas, and also to cover the basic living expenses of the teams of volunteer Guiders who would go to staff them - so the GIS fund was born, and the Guides continued to fund the team from 1944 right through to 1950 and beyond. 

Initially, camping in wartime was totally banned, but soon, subject to certain rules, limited camping was permitted.  It wasn't allowed near the coast, tents had to be camouflaged with paint or nets and located under trees, and camps couldn't be far from home (although that wasn't a hardship as petrol rationing and Government discouragement of unnecessary train journeys meant units couldn't go far anyway!)  In those 'dig for victory' days, many units went 'farmping' - camping on farmland in order to spend part of the time helping the farmer with farm and harvest work.  Food rationing brough a further complication to camp menus with the need to juggle the rations and coupons - and that continued to be the case until the mid-1950s, but enthusiasm overcame all difficulties. 

 The end of the war brought new uniforms for Guides - it was out with navy and in with 'headquarters blue', but programmes were little changed.  New challenges were introduced, including the 'Queen's Guide' award, and international gathings increased.  With an international folk dance competition in 1947 and Empire Ranger Week in 1948, the Coronation celebrations in 1953 (especially valued since the new Queen had been a Guide and Sea Ranger), and the celebrations of Robert Baden-Powell's centenary in 1957 which included a special 'centenary camp' in Windsor Great Park, it was a busy decade.  The role of 'Company Leader' was brought in, where a Senior Guide received a third stripe, worn diagonally across her existing stripes, and left her Patrol to become a sort of 'PL to the PLs'.

 And of course, celebrating didn't stop, with 1960 bringing Guiding's 50th birthday, and jubilee celebrations.  Many pageants and gatherings were held, to mark the special occasion, and a special song was written.  It was also a time of looking ahead, with proposals for programme change being considered, culminating in the publication of the working party's report looking at change for all the Guiding sections, which was titled, 'Tomorrow's Guide'. 

The next big change was in 1968 when these changes were implemented, with a new Guide uniform and programme.  The Second and First Class challenges were dropped, to be replaced with a series of 'trefoils' - yellow, green, red and blue (in that order).  Patrol Leader chevrons on the pocket were replaced by a smaller curved set of stripes to fit under the Patrol badge, and a special hat badge with a single stripe below the trefoil, and the Company Leader role was dropped.  Challenges were more flexible, and offered choice where previously there had been fixed tests.  Many units now travelled abroad, both to international camps, and on holiday trips.  The high birthrate meant increasing numbers of Guides, with many new units opening up.  1970 brought diamond jubilee celebrations, with special international camps being held around the UK, including 4 in Scotland.


1977 was another jubilee year, in this case it was the Queen's Silver Jubilee, and many local celebrations were held.  Uniform ties were regularly altered in style over the 1970s and 1980s, going from a mini necker, to a cross over style tie which was held in place by the Promise badge, to a conventional rolled necker worn with a woggle, with the shirt going from 3/4 sleeve to full sleeve, from waist height pockets to no pockets but a 'pouch' to wear on the belt instead, and from worn loose to tucked in! 

1983 saw the Queen's Guide Award moved to Senior Section, and the Blue Trefoil replaced with a new award, the Baden-Powell Trefoil.   

1985 was the next big celebration year, with Guiding celebrating it's 75th anniversary.  Among the events was a large rally at Crystal Palace in the spring, organised by London and South East England Guides.  Unfortunately the weather was unseasonably cold for the time of year, and this was not helped by some Guiders insisting on their Guides parading without coats, in their thin cotton shirts, despite the fact there was a fair bit of standing around involved and a cold breeze blowing - as a result of which there were several quite severe hypothermia cases amongst the Guides, and a major inquiry was held.  It was clear that the existing uniform was no longer suitable for it's purpose (as well as becoming increasingly unpopular with members), so Jeff Banks of 'Clothes Show' fame was brought in to design something new . . . hence the radical change to sweatshirts and joggers. 

Soon programmes too were changing in the late 1990s, with Trefoils being replaced by 'Challenge Badges' and a greater emphasis on the Patrol working together as a group to choose and carry out activities by themselves as a small self-managed group or gang, rather than on whole-unit activities as had increasingly become custom in many units, led by the introduction of the themed challenges, 'Go For Its'.  Community Action also became a distinct and highlighted part of the core programme, as in many ways Guiding sought to go back to it's roots . . .  

The Guide uniform changed again, in 2000, to a mix and match range in shades of navy, offering sweatshirts, rugby shirts and t-shirts, and later a zip hoody, navy polo, striped polo and t-shirt, worn with the girl's choice of skirt, shorts or trousers.  Patrols worked on themed 'Go For It' packs each year, with the ultimate aim being the gaining of the Baden-Powell award, named after the founders of Guiding.  New innovations such as the Big Gig (and Tartan Gig) closed-doors pop concerts saw a modernising of the Guide section's programme and image, and Guiding's Centenary in 2010 brought a wide range of 'Guide Getaways' ranging from unit holidays to national and international camps within the UK, and International visits too.  

A new uniform was introduced in autumn 2014, featuring a mix-and-match range in mid-blue with red trim, featuring a long-sleeve top, polo shirt, zip hoody, skirt and dress, to be worn with the girl's choice of skirt, short or trousers.  The fabric was deliberately chosen to be comfortable in different temperatures, crumple-proof and quick-drying, to cope with the rigours Guide uniform has to stand. The badges were redesigned too, with the Go For It cards being replaced by oval badges, the interest badges also being changed to a uniform shape and style, and the Challenge Badge colours being changed, to be star-shaped.  And in Autumn 2016 it was announced that a new programme review was being launched, 50 years on from the last major review in 1966-68.  It launched in July 2018, with a year-long transition period.  It's out with Go For Its, Challenge Badges and the existing interest badges.  Instead, there is a programme running through from Rainbows to Rangers, with 6 Theme topics.  Within those topics the girls can work on the new Interest Badges, and also on Skills Builders, and Unit Meeting Activities.  There is a Theme Award for completing each Theme, and those who complete all 6 can earn the Guide Gold Award.

Despite all the modern opportunites for travel, and the activities which technology offers, the No1 favourite activitiy for Guides - is still greenfield camping, and 'Patrol Camp Permits' are as prized as ever they were!

  • Bantam 1917-1966
    Bantam 1917-1966
  • Blackbird 1917-1966
    Blackbird 1917-1966
  • Bluebell 1917-2000
    Bluebell 1917-2000
  • Bluetit 1924-2000
    Bluetit 1924-2000
  • Bullfinch 1924-2000
    Bullfinch 1924-2000
  • Buttercup & Daisy 1910-1937
    Buttercup & Daisy 1910-1937
  • Buttercup 1922-1966
    Buttercup 1922-1966
  • Canary 1917-2000
    Canary 1917-2000
  • Chaffinch 1924-2000
    Chaffinch 1924-2000
  • Clover 1910-1966
    Clover 1910-1966
  • Cornflower 1910-1966
    Cornflower 1910-1966
  • Daffodil 1910-2000
    Daffodil 1910-2000
  • Daisy 1922-1966
    Daisy 1922-1966
  • Forget-Me-Not 1910-2000
    Forget-Me-Not 1910-2000
  • Hawthorn 1922-?
    Hawthorn 1922-?
  • Holly 1917-1966
    Holly 1917-1966
  • Iris 1910-1966
    Iris 1910-1966
  • Kingfisher 1924-2000
    Kingfisher 1924-2000
  • Lily of the Valley 1920-1966
    Lily of the Valley 1920-1966
  • Lily 1910-1966
    Lily 1910-1966
  • Marguerite 1910-2000
    Marguerite 1910-2000
  • Nightingale 1917-2000
    Nightingale 1917-2000
  • Orchid 1926-2000
    Orchid 1926-2000
  • Pansy 1910-1966
    Pansy 1910-1966
  • Poppy 1910-1919, 1925-2000
    Poppy 1910-1919, 1925-2000
  • Primrose 1910-2000
    Primrose 1910-2000
  • Purple Heather 1918-1966
    Purple Heather 1918-1966
  • Red Rose 1910-2000
    Red Rose 1910-2000
  • Robin 1917-2000
    Robin 1917-2000
  • Scarlet Pimpernell 1910-2000
    Scarlet Pimpernell 1910-2000
  • Shamrock 1913-1966
    Shamrock 1913-1966
  • Skylark 1917-1966
    Skylark 1917-1966
  • Snowdrop 1918-2000
    Snowdrop 1918-2000
  • Harebell 1913-1916
    Harebell 1913-1916
  • Speedwell 1920-1966
    Speedwell 1920-1966
  • Sunflower 1910-?
    Sunflower 1910-?
  • Swallow 1917-2000
    Swallow 1917-2000
  • Thistle 1910-2000
    Thistle 1910-2000
  • Thrush 1917-2000
    Thrush 1917-2000
  • Violet 1910-1966
    Violet 1910-1966
  • White Heather 1923-2000
    White Heather 1923-2000
  • White Rose
    White Rose
  • Wren 1917-1966
    Wren 1917-1966
Bantam 1917-1966
Bantam 1917-1966