The 4th Harpenden Cub Pack and my Mother’s ‘Akela’ Chapter

as told to her son

Following a series of strokes resulting in my mother Brenda Dougall moving into a Care Home, there was a need for her house to be cleared so it could be sold – an exercise that provides a plethora of emotions to anyone involved in such an undertaking. My mum – as I only called her mother when I was cross with her, usually as she was right about some issue – was a very organised person with a ‘Harpenden’ influence discovered in almost every room. She had attended St Hilda’s School during the Second World War and a box file stored all her school reports and some wonderful written notes recording the somewhat eclectic style of education at that exceptional time. She kept records of all her housekeeping purchases in account books bought I suspect from long gone Newsagents – Hockaways and Whitehouse. She had a radio by her bed that had a ‘Stephen Sander’ sticker on the back and another clock from ‘Pellants’. To top it all, she still had cardboard boxes from the off licence ‘Threshers’ in Station Road that had delivered the regular supply of essential liquid refreshment to my Grandparents in Fallows Green. Mum was very much of the generation that had always recycled as everything had a use or all it required was some mending .

A collection of cub pack items carefully saved

On the top of a wardrobe shelf hidden by a selection of wool, knitting needles and patterns that recorded admirably the styles of the 1950’s was a box file with 4th Harpenden on it. Upon inspection this was full of her time with the Cub Pack and as totally expected the stored items were almost in chronological order.

The 4th Harpenden Cubs in Coldharbour Lane

I should start by saying that when mum was appointed a Cub Scout Instructor in the summer of 1969 by Roy Carrington who was District Commissioner at the time, the Group were located in Coldharbour Lane immediately at the bottom of Ox Lane. They would not move to their new location on the Lower Luton Road until the late 70’s or early 80’s from a memory that fails me increasingly by the day.

The ‘Nissan Hut’ was asbestos built and should perhaps best be described as antiquated. However the land at the front, side and rear backing onto the River Lea was always going to make it of considerable interest to Developers at some stage. Flooding presented a constant challenge but it just required everything stored in the back to be raised off the floor at all times.

I should note that the ‘Akela’ at the time of mum becoming an Instructor was a Mrs Pat Balding who she was good friends with and lived directly opposite our house at the bottom of St James Road. Mum at this stage would have been in her mid 30’s and had two failed marriages behind her so may have been looking for a new challenge. One of the last things she said to me was if she comes back in another life she would be very wary of men and cigarettes. I had been in the cubs for about a year and upon reflection would not have had an issue with mum turning up each week. I believe she was also persuaded to become an Instructor by the Group Scout Leader Ernie Collis, a wonderful man that lived in the top flat in the block at the Crabtree Lane end of Cross Way if it is still there. Climbing the steps at the back of the block almost warranted the award of a ‘Mountaineers’ badge.

From instructor to Akela

Mum progressed from Instructor to Akela in the summer of 1970 and this was probably linked to Pat Balding moving to Suffolk and I suspect she was charmed by Ernie Collis to step into Pat’s shoes. I should note that Pat and mum stayed in touch until mum’s passing this year. Mum, to no great surprise to anybody that knew her, took the role very seriously. In the October of 1970 she obtained her Pack Holiday Certificate and more of that in a bit and shortly after obtained her Wood Badge. True to form, mum had stored all her badges, carvings and woggles in a small leather bag with her maiden initials on it. Nothing ever went to waste in her world. She was expected to go to Training Courses, some overnight but due to family circumstances meaning looking after me, never got to enjoy the evening camaraderie with her peers.

Mum firmly believed everybody was welcome in the scouting family and when she became aware that one such person that was keen to join the pack had been affected by thalidomide, she confirmed very early on that he was most welcome to join. Even circa 50 years later, I can still see Davy competing in the sack race at the annual Scout Games held at what was then known as the National Children’s Home. Davy did not quite win but he gave the rest of the competitors a good race and got a great cheer at the end. Another of mum’s focuses was on getting the whole Group to support a charity. She decided on collecting silver foil for the Guide Dogs and most days we would come home to bags of foil on our drive. Whilst some of the charitable gifts were cleaner than others, we made sure they were all clean and bagged up ready for collection. These were stored in the concrete store at our house at 39 St James Road and I often wonder if the occupants can smell the odour of dairy products all those years later .

Once a year for the cubs that were of a permissible age, an invite was given to attend the Annual Pack Holiday. This was always at Phasels Wood just off the A41 heading towards Kings Langley. The holiday was very popular and sadly sometimes over subscribed. I can recall Mum and her loyal team sorting out food menus, games, transport, parent invites etc but she was always very well prepared for all challenges that catering for taking circa 24 cubs away entailed, some of which had never been away before on their own.

I think the photo above was taken in the early 1970’s so I am guessing the cubs are now in their late 50’s. For anybody that perhaps had children that attended the ‘Petter’ Troop. Young David is located in the back row fourth from the right. Mum is on the right looking very proud.

Mum had to retire as Akela in 1975 as she had to move north to look after her own mother but right up to her memory being affected by the strokes she would name every one of the cubs that are captured in the above photo. I will end now and decide whether to publish her St Hilda’s school reports !

Brenda Dougall is third from the right in this group of Cub Scout leaders, c 1979

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