When I was about 10 I had a number of friends at a different school and many of them were members of the Boys’ Brigade. One day one of my best friends, Andy Macleod, persuaded me to come along to the band practice where a bunch of people got together to play drums and bugles and march around the place. I loved it. They were a really good group of people and it was good fun. After I turned up a few times it was suggested to me that, really, if I wanted to keep coming, I ought to actually join the Boys Brigade.
There was one issue though; the church. The Boys Brigade, certainly in Scotland, despite being advertised as a “Christian” organisation is actually seen as a Protestant organisation and this was a bit of a concern to my Roman Catholic parents. I was really keen to join and didn’t really see this as an issue but it took a little while and some persuading from the then captain Bob Goodall, for my parents to let me join. In the end though they gave in and I became one of only three Catholics in the company. Ironically I was actually too young by about a month to join the Company section, but they let me in anyway.
Over the next four or five years I made a load of friends through the BB and had some great times, especially at summer camps and with the band, which turned out to be one of the best marching bands in Scotland. We had some brilliant trips to Stafford for the BB National Marching Band competition. As well as those sort of activities I played in the table tennis and football teams, and took part in numerous other competitions in the battalion.
Eventually though you either go on to become an officer or end up leaving. I ended up leaving.
There have been times I’ve thought about going back to help out but having daughters instead of sons is a slight issue. The main issue though is that the BB still retains its strong links to Christianity. As a non-believer that’s a real problem; how can you encourage Christian beliefs and so on if you don’t believe yourself? I’m sure there are some people who could do this, but I’m not one of them.
I think this issue is also part of the reason why, if you look at the published information on the BB and Boy Scouts websites, the BB claims to have around 1 million members worldwide whereas the Scout organisation claims to have 28 million. In the UK the BB is 65,000 strong compared to around 400,000 in the Scout movement. My perception of the Scouts has always been that they seem less tied to the church and therefore more open to non-christians.
Perhaps it’s time that the Boys Brigade followed down that route. Ultimately the main principles that are encouraged in the BB, Obedience, Reverence, Discipline and Self-Respect, have nothing whatsoever to do with religion, they’re just plain and simple morals that should be widely encouraged irrespective of what religion you are. Other than the church issue, I didn’t see a huge difference between the organisations; the Scouts appeared to be a bit less disciplined in my experience, and didn’t seem to spend so much time on non-physical activities but other than that they seemed to do much the same thing.
Back then the BB was a brilliant organisation but I think it needs to become more modern and multicultural if it’s going to survive and expand over the next few years.