125 years ago in a church hall in Glasgow William Alexander Smith gathered together a group of young men because he was worried that there was little for boys to do and that idleness would lead them into trouble.
What became of that meeting was the Boys’ Brigade (note the position of the apostrophe!), an organisation which has endured the decades, serving countless boys like me.
I grew up in the BB. My parents and their friends started a company when I was 5. There was only a short time between then and my 18th birthday when I wasn’t a member and that was because we moved house. I have many brilliant and precious memories of my time in the BB, as both a boy, an officer and in my present role as a denominational youth officer.
I was at the youngest boy at the Centenary international camp at Scone Palace, I spent four of the worst days of my life on Arran completing my Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award, I was awarded my Queen’s Award and our company won the Battalion Flag and the National drill competitions. I was one of the people responsible for Crossover, a weekend festival of music, worship and activities attended over its 10 years by thousands of young people.
Those are all great memories but the thing I remember more are the people. John Shaw, Iain Barnstaple, Iain Patterson, George Arbuckle, Eddie & Rita Wright, Liz Laird, Alex and Margaret Linton and so many other grown-ups who invested their time and energy in me and my friends. I remember the Boys too. The older boys I wanted to be like, my peers and those younger boys entrusted to my care in my squad or at camp and later the boys of the company I was an officer in.
The BB gets a hard time because of the drill and the uniforms and the caricature of the shouting officer. Those are things that are easy to mock but they are far outweighed by the good things.
‘The promotion of the habits of obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.’ That is the object of the Boys’ Brigade. Those are bold aims. High ideals. I wonder often if I live up to them. But I also know I would be a different person in probably a different place in the world if I had not been a BB.
I’m pretty sure that if grown-ups are willing to invest some of their time and energy in the Boys of the Boys’ Brigade, or Pilots, Scouts, Guides or Girls’ Brigade then the world would be a better place because the same problems that Smith wanted to address are still the problems of our world all those years later. Boys with nothing to do and no-one to take an interest. Boys lacking in confidence, skills and self-respect. Boys who don’t get enough exercise, who have few friends and who know little about faith.
Perhaps this 125th anniversary is an opportunity for the BB to look back at all that has been good and take those lessons forward to create a Boys’ Brigade for the next 125 years. I do hope so.