- The Boys’ Brigade was just one of a number of organisations that developed in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Their avowed aim was to produce “manly Christians”, but the line between being a Christian and being a soldier tended to get blurred. Hence the emphasis on drills, inspections, obedience, rank, uniforms, etc. The leaders of such movements like William Smith (Boys’ Brigade) and Baden-Powell (Boy Scouts) had in mind not just the salvation of immortal souls but the creation of fit fighting men for Britain’s armed forces.
- The modern Boys’ Brigade and Boy Scouts don’t, of course, include weapon training. But the founding fathers of both were soldiers and in the early days rifle firing was part of the drill. This mentality of virtuous boys/fighting men is best caught in Baden-Powell’s statement: “Every boy ought to learn how to shoot and obey orders, else he is no more good when war breaks out than an old woman”.
- Boyhood years are important, as it is in this time that lasting perceptions of self and the world are formed. As other commentators have pointed out down the years with reference to the Boys’ Brigade, if you are involved in an organisation where obedience and discipline are emphasised, where you wear a uniform and have different ranks, where you march, have colour displays and inspections, it’s reasonable to assume that these militaristic features will go to play a part in your values and way of looking at the world.
- In some ways there are similarities between the Boys’ Brigade and the Orange Order. Both are very largely Protestant organisations, they march, they have uniforms, they have bands – and the experience of them for probably most of their members is or appears to be totally positive. That is, Orangemen and Boys’ Brigade members get a lot of enjoyment and even skills from their involvement with the organisation and yes, sometimes they are even kept from coming under the influence of paramilitary organisations like the UDA and the UVF. But the members do themselves little favours by denying the history and the rules of the organisations. The Orange Order came into being after a sectarian clash which left some thirty Catholics dead. The Boys’ Brigade succeeded when William Smith combined Sunday school with military features.
- Baden-Powell originally was part of the Boys’ Brigade movement, but eventually left it to set up the Boy Scouts, which has obvious similarities with the Boys’ Brigade. The motivation behind the Boy Scouts comes out clearly from the Baden-Powell statement about shooting and obedience cited above. Just as Christianity and militarism were clearly married there, militarism and colonialism/racism speak clearly from another of Baden-Powell’s utterances: “The stupid inertness of the puzzled negro is duller than that of an ox; a dog would grasp your meaning in one-half the time. Men and brothers! They may be brothers, but they are certainly not men”.
Even allowing for different ways of thinking at the time, would you trust the moral formation of your child to such a man?