The Boys' Brigade, The 1st Voluntary Uniform Organization For Children and Youth In The World
The Boys' Brigade was founded on the 4th October 1883 by William Alexander Smith at Free College Church Mission Hall, North Woodside Road, Glasgow. William Smith, a Sunday School teacher and also in the `Volunteers' or what today would be called the Territorial Army, devised a unique system of giving Boys an organisation as part of the Church, based on Christian Education and Discipline.
This was for his Sunday School member of 12 years of age, with a simple form of drill, gymnastics and team games. Uniform for the first was a rosette, a cap, belt and haversack. Other activities were soon added and in 1886 William Smith held the first B.B. Camp at Tighnabruach. In fact it was the start of camping for young people.
The BB was quickly taken by many Scottish Churches and then by churches of all denominations. This growth in Britain was soon followed by starting of Companies overseas, in Canada, USA, Australia and else including Malaysia. Today the BB is found in over 60 countries with a total membership of over 500,000.
Following the impact of the BB, other uniform organisations were started:
- Church Lads' Brigade (1890) - confined to the Church of England
- Boys' Life Brigade (1899) - which was united with the Boys' Brigade in 1926
- The Jewish Lads' Brigade and Catholic BB (1900)
- The Girls' Guildry (1900) - owes its formation to the BB officers and The Girls' Life Brigade (1902). These two organisations are now united under the title the Girls' Brigade.
- The Boys' Scout started in 1908, although prior to this the founder of the Scouts, Baden Powell, had many contacts with the BB and was up to
A few years after the BB started, another organisation was formed called the Boys' Life Brigade (1899). This was similar to the BB and in 1926 they joined together under one title The Boys' Brigade.
On the union of the Boys' Brigade and the Boys' Life Brigade on 1st October 1926, the newly united organization took the name The Boys’ Brigade. The B.B. anchor badge combined neatly with the Geneva cross of the B.L.B. to form the emblem. The Junior name Boy Reserves disappeared, and the cheerful title ‘Life Boys’ was adopted from the junior section of the B.L.B. However, "The Life Boys", which remained until September 1966 were dissolved and were merged in The Boys’ Brigade as The Junior Section.
Since then the Boys' Brigade has been organised on a three sections basis with the Junior, Company and Senior Section of the Boys' Brigade. However, in Asia, some member countries of The Boys’ Brigade Asia, their membership has been expanded to children starting as young as 4 years old. Member countries like Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines and Hong Kong have also started a section that reaches out to college and university students.
The Man Behind It All
The Man - William Smith was born into a family with a long history of military service dating back to the Duke of Wellington. He lived a normal happily childhood in Thurso, Scotland until he was 13 years old when his father died on a business trip to China. Young William then moved to Glasgow to live with his uncle and later to work in his warehouse. During the next few years William attended evening classes, joined the 1st Lanark Rifle Volunteers and became a member of the Free College Church of Scotland.
By 1883 he was Secretary of the North Woodside Mission Sunday School and was beginning to realise the difficulties to control the noisy and naughty Boys and keeping them in the Church after they left the Sunday School. Therefore, after much discussion and planning with two friends and the full support of the minister of the Church (The Rev. Dr Reith) the first Company of The Boys’ Brigade was started on 4th October 1883.
It was to be called the 1st Glasgow Company and was the start of uniformed voluntary youth work among Boys. The 30 Boys present on the first evening were given the training of the discipline of the Volunteers (Reserve Army) and the teaching of the Church.
William Alexander Smith in summary
- Born 27 October 1854 at Pennyland House, Thurso, Scotland
- Started The Boys' Brigade in Glasgow on Thursday 4 October 1883
- Became full-time Brigade Secretary in 1883
- Knighted, July 1909 by King Edward VII
- Died in London on 10 May 1914
What He Lived For
If I am to be remembered by posterity I should like it to be as the man who taught people to spell Boy with a capital B.
What the Brigade seeks to do is to train up good, true Boys, well prepared physically and morally, for the battle of life, in whatever sphere they may choose.
A Royal Tribute
King George VI said of the Founder:
Sir William Smith, builded better than he knew for he started not only a great movement but one from which all our present widespread youth training was destined to spring...
At a BB review in 1943, King George VI said ".....your
Founder started not only a great movemement, but one fromwhich all our widespread youth training was destined to spring.
William Smith was knighted as`Sir' in July 1909, in recognition of his work for the BB and nation's youth. He died in London on the 10th May 1914 in his sixtieth year and all the movement for Boys' acknowledged with gratitude which they had to the BB as the parent movement.