From Long Skirts to Tall Ships
This summer a Girl Guide from Dartmouth will set sail on a tall ship bound for Wales. Stacey Hall will represent her fellow Guides as she takes part in the South West leg of the round Britain Ultimate Challenge.
It’s a far cry from the early days of Dartmouth guiding, when young ladies in long skirts met in the vicarage under the instruction of a Miss Miller, from Kingswear, the group’s founder.
The Dartmouth Girl Guides are celebrating 100 years of guiding, and former Dartmouth leader Laurie Pearson says the organisation is as relevant today as it has ever been.
“Guides came about when girls demanded to be treated the same as the boy scouts. They wanted to do exciting things like learn mechanics and first aid – just in a more ladylike way and in long dresses!
“Girl Guides and Brownies today learn lasting and important life skills. I have lost count of the number of girls who have come up to me over the years and said ‘I would never have got that job if I hadn’t been a Girl Guide’ - doctors, dentists, police. One girl was joining the Armed Forces and was dropped in the middle of Dartmoor with a map, compass and tent and told to get home. The other young women went to pieces but she knew exactly how to get them all back and passed with flying colours. What we teach the girls stays with them forever.”
But Laurie nearly turned her back on guiding after an attempt to join the Brownies, aged seven, ended in tears. The Brown Owl instructed Laurie to take the part of a pig in a game. She was unimpressed and refused to go back.
“But a couple of years later I went again with a friend of mine and loved it. The problem was my grandfather had told me if I refused to go back, I couldn’t change my mind. The Brown Owl spotted him in the post office and told him I’d been going to Brownies for weeks and he should buy me a uniform. I’d told him I had been playing with my friend – not a lie but not the truth. That was it – he told me he would get me a uniform but then I couldn’t leave. That was the start of a very long association!”
London born Laurie was brought up by her grandparents after being evacuated to their Buckinghamshire home during the war. She continued with Brownies then Guides, and in her teens became a Sea Ranger, effectively a Girl Guide on the water. There were regular expeditions, with the girls cycling miles to camp and pedalling quickly home on a Sunday night to finish homework. Laurie was presented to Lord and Lady Baden-Powell, as well as Princess Margaret.
On leaving school Laurie remained a Sea Ranger when she went to work for Barclay’s Bank. She was also a cub pack leader, but on transferring to Devon she decided to break from guiding – a short-lived plan.
“There was a training ship on the River Dart at that time and the leaders would come into my branch to do the banking,” Laurie explained. “One day I mentioned that I recognised the name of my old Sea Ranger skipper on a cheque. The lady immediately asked me to help with Sea Rangers. I declined but within a short time she had gathered a group of leaders and they all came in to persuade me.”
Laurie started as assistant to Guide Captain Molly Pearson, and was introduced to Molly’s nephew Clive, a keen supporter of the Scouts – recalling his shorts and knobbly knees. The couple crossed paths again many times between his travels overseas. They married in the early 1970s and, with Clive leading the Scouts and Laurie leading the Guides, the children of the town enjoyed lots of combined camps, hikes and expeditions.
These days the 1st Dartmouth Girl Guides are led by Tor Carter with Lizzie Callan her regular helper – and Laurie supporting. The Guides and Scouts rule is that once leaders reach the age of 65 they must step aside, but Laurie is not quite ready to turn her back entirely. She remains chair of the Trefoil Guild for former leaders and members.
“Guiding has taken me to India, Mexico, Switzerland, Massachusetts and Nova Scotia. I wouldn’t have seen all the places I have seen and done all the things I have done if I hadn’t been involved in guiding.”
At one time Dartmouth had two Girl Guide groups and four Brownie packs. Now there is just one of each, but Laurie believes it remains important for girls to have the chance to take part in their own activities – without boys. Both Guides and Brownies are looking for more adult leaders - recruiting adults is harder than recruiting children.
“I would recommend it wholeheartedly – working with young people is very rewarding. Guiding gives girls new opportunities, strong traditions and values, fun and friendship.”
To find out more, contact District Commissioner Joanne Mitchelmore on 01803 832244.
First published April 2010 By the Dart