Wednesday, September 19, 2007


In 1924, my grandfather (not this one, the other one) went on a trip to England with his scout troop: the First Toorak, one of the first in Victoria. In those days, of course, one went to England on a steamship, so going meant being away from school for more than six months. However, his headmaster, the redoubtable Dr Littlejohn, opined that he would learn more in six months abroad than in two years at school, so off he went.

That is he in the foreground, on the deck of the ship.

I knew that he'd gone, of course -- the trip was part of the family storytelling -- but I didn't know about Dr Littlejohn. I heard that today from my uncle, the eldest of my grandfather's sons (with my own father occupying the noble Number Three spot) who has transcribed my grandfather's diary from the trip. He knew that my grandfather's stories of the journey were some of my favourites, so he emailed it to me. Top notch avuncularity if ever there was! The diary is so crammed with gems I barely know where to start. He recounts trips to chocolate factories, newspaper presses, light-bulb manufacturing lines, drapers, clothiers, castles, cathedrals, museums and all the other Evidence of Great Empire to which the wee Australian boys must needs be exposed, naturellement. Ditto tours to Oxford and Eton. And not a little bit of parading for the better element, I must say:

" ... then we all got into charabancs and were driven to the Palace. After waiting for some time in the Riding School Room, Sir Alfred Pickford gave us our instructions about what to do when the King came in. About ten minutes afterwards the King and 4 of his attendants inspected us. Then he gave us a speech. Then BP gave 3 cheers for HM. Then HM took us his abode at the entrance and we marched out with “Eyes Right”."

The King himself! My grandfather always said that his impression was that he looked "just as he did on a penny".

I think, though, that my baby grandpa's affections really lay with the Prince of Wales. Something about the postscript to this is exquisite in its adoration:

"This morning we all went over to the stadium and practised for the march past and got back in time for lunch. This afternoon, we march past HRH the Prince of Wales as Chief Scout of Wales. In the middle of it all down came the rain and we all got wet. After tea we had an enormous meeting round a rather small camp fire. The different contingents gave different songs and the night went off very well. We got back to our tent and turned in. P.S. The Prince attended the camp fire."

Did he, indeed.

How much more fun could a boy in 1924 be having? Wait until I tell you about my grandfather's wide-eyed reportage on the employees the Osram Electric Lamp Works!

"It is a tremendous place and only 500 out of 4-5,000 employees are men. "

Heavens alive!

There is so, so much more. Thank you, thank you uncle J.


Reid Farmer said...

That's fantastic, Xtin. As an old Eagle Scout myself I love seeing things like this. The BP he's referring to has to be Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, right? That's touching history!

The 2nd World Scout Jamboree was held in Denmark that year. Was that on his itinerary as well?

mdmnm said...

That is very, very cool! I wonder if you or your uncle could put together some excerpts for Boy's Life, the scouting magazine? I'd have loved such an article back when I had a subscription.

Meg Kribble said...

What sheer delight to have such wonderful tales! Thanks so much for sharing them.

Puzzled said...

This is marvelous! A world and a time captured in beautiful writing, a world and a time at once small and enormous. History that is so personal.