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Durable Trifles

Mary Clare Martin

University of Greenwich

“Ephemera, Early Twentieth-century Youth, and the Girl Guide Association: A Centenary Contribution”
     A World War II Pathe newsreel of the flight through France, in 1940, shown in England, picked up an image of a small girl who went back to help an old woman. Close inspection showed that her ragged dress was pinned together with a Girl Guide badge. Even if this story was apocryphal, it nevertheless demonstrated the enormous significance of this tiny piece of metal. Symbolising the Guide promise to serve others, it was a constant reminder to the wearer of her commitment, as well as of what others could expect from her.
     From its founding in 1908 (for boys) and 1910 (for girls), “woggles”, staves, hats, and other markers of identity were important aspects of the Baden Powell Scouts and Guides. Much less research has been undertaken on the more ephemeral aspects of the movement. This paper will argue for their huge significance, not only to Girl Guides themselves, but to contemporary understanding of how the movement was experienced “on the ground”. Many of these sources are as yet unorganized and uncatalogued, kept in boxes in Guide leaders’ homes or huts, or held by former Guides in childhood scrapbooks and other possessions. The meanings attached to these scraps of paper and other small objects can demonstrate, in a unique way, details about how the movement was experienced by girls on an everyday basis, as well as the social function of Guiding.
     Guides, for example, spent a considerable amount of time giving entertainments, including to the forces in both world wars. These were important fund-raisers, but also show how the movement placed girls in the public eye, and how they contributed, often extremely effectively, to charitable causes. A program for an entertainment in Brighton by a Catholic Guide company, the 6th Hove, in 1922 shows not only the type of songs and poetry readings, but also the names of the performers.
     International understanding and co-operation was another key value of the movement. A diary kept by a Guide who went on a cruise with the Baden-Powells and a large number of other Scouts/Guides in 1935, contains a paper doily with the names of several boys and girls. This was kept as a reminder of a dinner eaten with French Boy Scouts, on which all signed their names afterwards. Such sources  can illuminate, not only the history of the Girl Guide movement and its contribution to social citizenship, but also understanding of the history of young people in the early twentieth century,  in international context.

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