The Boys’ Brigade movement was founded by William Alexander Smith (later, Sir William) in October 1883 in the west end of Glasgow, near Kelvinbridge. Smith was a Sabbath School teacher who saw that the older boys were bored and restless. They did not respond to teachers who told them to behave, and Smith compared this to his afternoons spent with the army volunteers where he had no difficulty in making a hundred men obey his every word.
It was then he had his idea: 'Drill and Discipline'. Why not turn the Sabbath School boys into a volunteer band or brigade, with the same military order, obedience, discipline and self-respect as the volunteers? A programme combining games as well as discipline, gymnastics and sport as well as hymns and prayers would appeal to the boys. Smith planned the programme for this new idea with two friends, and the three leaders invited the boys of North Woodside Mission Sabbath School to join The Boys' Brigade.
The new organisation's badge was an anchor, and the motto 'Sure and Stedfast'. This was taken from the Authorised Version of the Bible, from Hebrews, chapter 6, verse 19: 'Hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast'.
There was nothing else like it and its popularity soon spread. Companies began to be formed in churches all around Glasgow and further afield.
In 1904, the elders of the recently opened Broomhill United Free Church decided that a Company should be started. The Minister of the Congregation, the Rev. James Henderson, secured the services of Mr D W Thomson, who was an officer in the nearby 97th Glasgow, to command this new Company, and he, with Messrs Young, Macdonald and Smith as his Lieutenants, started “the work.”
Recruiting was announced around the area and an enrolment meeting was held on Tuesday 4th October 1904 (coincidentally the Brigade’s 21st birthday) and the first Parade Night was held on Friday 7th October 1904. By the end of that first session, over 20 Boys had joined the Company and on 7th December 1904, the Company was formally enrolled by the Glasgow Battalion Council as the 130th Glasgow Company.
Under Mr Thomson’s enthusiastic leadership, until he retired in 1925, the Company grew in strength and became well known in the Glasgow Battalion. In 1910 it won the Battalion “Smith Park” Challenge Shield for Drill and the team appeared in the Battalion Display that year in Hengler’s Circus.
During this early period, the Pipe Band was formed and for many years it played a leading part in the success of the Company. At first, they were only equipped with half-size bagpipes and it was some time before the original sets were disposed of and full-size sets were purchased.
In May 1914, the Brigade suffered the great loss of the death of its founder, Sir William Smith, and two members of the Company had the honour of forming part of the Guard of Honour at the graveside.
From the outset, camping was a very popular BB activity and, during the summer of 1922, a number of officers and Boys attended the Battalion Camp at Elie, where the church’s Minister, the Rev J A Turner Kennedy MA, was Camp Chaplain.
In 1925, The Brigade discontinued the use of the rifle, not without opposition. Boys of that time experienced a great thrill when issued with a rifle for the first time, and how proudly it was exhibited to their families. That year, the amalgamation of the movement with the Boys’ Life Brigade and Boy Reserves saw the addition of the Cross to the well known Anchor emblem and the start of the Life Boys for younger members.
In 1933, the Brigade celebrated its Golden Jubilee and the 130th Glasgow were present to take part in the celebrations. Boys marched all the way from Broomhill to Queen’s Park, stopping en route to allow the then Captain, Mr Willie Muir, to take the reins of the horse he was to parade on. After the celebrations, the Company marched smartly back to the church for a party.
Despite discipline being a large part of the Boys’ Brigade programme during this period, there was always ample opportunity for fun and entertainment within the organisation. Among the activities which proved popular at this time were ‘Concert Parties’, when “Singing in the Rain” and “I’ve never harmed an onion, why does it make me cry?” became popular hits.
Even during the Company’s Annual Inspection, the element of enjoyment was important throughout, although this landed one boy in trouble when he rode a penny-farthing type of bicycle along Randolph Road to school in order to get the necessary practice for an Inspection item – but ended up receiving a warning from police for travelling on this unaccustomed mode of conveyance!
The difficulties which arose during the two world wars did not stop the work of the Company, though the period of 1939-1945 brought problems unknown during the First Word War. Evacuation halved the Company membership and those who remained had to parade with gas masks, whilst convoy escorts had to be arranged to get the Boys home during the black-out. The evacuated half of the Company kept in touch by letter and many of these boys joined local companies. Those at home gained the new National Service Badge acting as A.R.P. Messengers and First Aid Post Orderlies and some of the Company’s members were on duty in Clydebank following the “Blitz” in 1941.
Such was the spirit of the Company that Drill and Bible Class continued and the only Parade Night missed during the war was the second night of the Clydebank Blitz.
However, it was this period that also led to a 130th legend when one of the Boys, Stanley Ewing, was trapped inside his bombed out house for several days. He managed to reach food through a hole in the wall and he kept his spirits up by learning Morse Code from his BB Handbook.
In the post-war period, summer camps were resumed under camouflaged canvas, military supervision and the almost impossible food rationing conditions. For many years the Company cycled all the way to camp at Kinlochard and one year the Boys had to endure a mass smallpox vaccination. As life returned to normal, the activities and programme expanded. Company Camps were held each summer in places such as Tayvallich, Tighnabruich, Kinlochard, Southend, Morar and Loch Striven.
The Company won the coveted Garroway Drill Cup of the Glasgow Battalion in the years 1942, 1943 and 1945 and, at many civic receptions of the time, Boys of the 130th were continually in demand as Colour Escorts or Guards of Honour. Sports were always popular too and some of the Boys took part in inter-city rugby matches in Ireland. At Battalion Sports, the Company’s tug-of-war team managed to out-pull all others for a number of years!
In 1952 when James Cubie became Captain, the Company had only 12 Boys but when he stepped down in 1960, the roll was over 50 Boys. As new houses were built and more families moved into the area, the Company and the Lifeboys section grew in size. The post-war ‘baby boom’ saw the strength increase in the 1960s and 1970s, when Watson McKinnon and Gordon Smith were Captains, to almost 70 Boys.
With large roll numbers, the Company could compete against the other companies in the Partick District and the Glasgow Battalion and in the 1970’s, the Company enjoyed much success in Drill, bands, sports, swimming, table tennis and football. BB was not just a Friday evening event because, on every night of the week, there were classes in First Aid or expedition planning, band practices, badge tests and District competitions.
Encouraged by Officers who enjoyed the “great outdoors”, the Company did a lot of hill-walking, expeditions and participated in weekend camps. The “Winter Expeditions” gave Boys the chance to go hill-walking in the depths of winter. They stayed in a specially opened Youth Hostel and did their own cooking and walked in some spectacular scenery. This was held annually from Boxing Day, for four days, and the joke at the time was that every Boy turned up on the 26th with turkey sandwiches for their packed lunch.
The fellowship enjoyed by the Boys was strengthened further by the annual Ex-Members’ Reunions organised by Mr Hugh Allan and his committee. The old-Boys did not all remain in the local area and, every year, letters were sent to many countries around the world. Even now, the addresses on the Company’s ex-members list stretches to locations in Canada, Australia, Bermuda and around Europe. Several former members, influenced by the Company’s example, are church Ministers while many others are in the medical profession, the armed services, or serving the community in other ways.
It was also during mid-1970s that the Company’s old tradition of performing shows was developed. “Café Noir” was an evening of food and cabaret in the large hall. Gradually, the emphasis switched from the food and hospitality to the actual show and by the 1980s, the Company was putting on a full, scripted “comedy-drama” on the stage every two years. These “starred” every Boy in the Company and many hidden dramatic and musical talents were unearthed. Shows such as “Where Seagulls Dare”, “Dunces with Wolves”, “Sherwood Shenanigans” and “Chariots for Hire” raised thousands of pounds for blind or deaf children, the cot death trust, motor neurone research and many other deserving causes.
When Gordon Cubie took over as Captain in 1988, the Company had a very good core of Boys and were again encouraged them to enter as many competitions as possible. Very soon, the Company won the District Drill championship for the first time in many years and the District Bible Quiz, General Knowledge Quiz, Swimming Gala as well as the Table Tennis, Darts, Chess, Pool, Badminton and Sports. This resulted in the 130 being crowned as District Champions in three years and runners-up in another five of the following decade. The Boys also reached the national final of the Masterteam Quiz on two occasions and competed in many Glasgow Battalion events with great distinction.
This success was matched in other areas too, with a steady stream of Boys achieving their President’s Badge and Queen’s Badge – the highest award in the Brigade.
When Gordon Cubie stepped down as Captain, it took one year before Company Section met again, with Scott Martin accepting the invitation to become Company Captain in 1999. One of Scott’s first decisions of this era was to adopt the new style of uniform, taking on the challenge of growing and leading the Company into new millennium. After the year-long break, the number of boys attending Company steadily recovered which meant that in 2004-2005, the 130th Glasgow could celebrate a successful centenary session.
This left the Company in a good position to continue to grow and adapt to the challenges faced by the Brigade in future years. The appointment of Craig McQueen as Captain in 2006 has seen the Company continue to embrace modernisation. In recent times, Boys have been more likely to enjoy an outdoor adventure centre holiday rather than a traditional canvas camp but the overall objective remains the same – providing a disciplined atmosphere in which young men can flourish and reach their potential.
This objective has been shared not only through the life of the Company Section, but also during the history of Lifeboys and Shipmates, and then onto the Junior Section and the Anchor Boys. Started in the 1950s, these sections have been pivotal in the success of the 130th Glasgow Boys’ Brigade.
In recent years, the three sections have held a joint Annual Display and friends of the Company are able to see more of the activities and achievements of the younger Boys – not to mention the unbounded enthusiasm with which they participate. Like all sections of the Company, many have given of their time to ensure Boys throughout the generations could experience what the organisation had to offer. However, particular tribute should be paid to the lifelong service given by Miss Elsie Shedden to these two younger sections of the Company.
Over the past 100 years, the activities and the uniforms may have changed, and the regulations governing the supervision of youngsters may have become much stricter, but some things remain constant: Boys from the Broomhill area, and beyond, are offered a programme of interesting activities; they are set a Christian example by the Staff; they have fun taking part and they are proud to belong to the 130th Glasgow Company.
By its very nature, a BB company is self-perpetuating. Boys join; grow up; they are taught things; they become adults and they join the Staff to pass on their expertise to the next generation of Boys. And, so it continues. Although it is impossible to mention everyone by name, nobody’s contribution is deemed any less important. The Company owes a deep debt of gratitude to all Officers, leaders, instructors, and all who, in any way, have given their time and abilities for the past hundred years for “the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom among Boys.”
Friend and former Captain of the 130th Glasgow