Sunday, 11 August 2013

Guides at war

This picture from 1916 made us do a double take.

It’s actually a bike stretcher, used by the Guides – in this case the 1st Alderley Edge Company – to ferry people to and from hospital during the First World War.

The ‘Girl Scouts’, as they were called, had only been around a few years at this point, the movement having been inaugurated by Baden Powell in 1909. 1st Alderley – headed by a Miss Tipping – were one of the earliest groups to be established in Cheshire, along with Macclesfield (under Captain G.H. Owen), and Birkenhead and Rock Ferry (with Mary Crossfield, Ida New, Winifred Howard and Miss Raskin).  

As you would imagine, Guides worked tirelessly to help the war effort. As well as needlework, laundry work, cleaning and cooking, they  looked after children whose parents were abroad, typed documents, ran market gardens, and collected flax (used in making aeroplane wings) and herbs (for medicines). They  built trestle bridges, felled trees and, as shown in the photo below, collected salvage and recycled waste. They raised funds for convalescent homes, equipped and ran hospitals, and prepared and worked in houses for refugees.
And, come the Second World War, they did it all over again. From potato digging and hop picking to helping maintain the blackout, Guides more than lived up to their promise to ‘lend a hand’. Their fundraising really made a difference: in 1940 Guide Gift Week raised more than £48,000, double the amount earmarked  to provide two air ambulances and a lifeboat (Cheshire’s contribution of over £1,000 was among the highest in the country). The two ambulances were handed over to the RAF and the lifeboat arrived just in time to take part in the evacuation of Dunkirk – it was named Guide of Dunkirk.
After the war, it was hoped a fledgling Guide movement in Germany would begin to heal old wounds, and German Guides from the British Zone visited Cheshire. Local reports at the time say they were ‘impressed by the warmth of their welcome and by the kindness and courtesy that the English people showed’. So did Guides also help in the long process of building peace.

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