Singapore Scouting History

Scouting in Singapore has a rich history having been around for over a century. It started on 2 July, 1910 when Frank Cooper Sands (F.C. Sands), a scoutmaster from Nottingham,UK, opened the 1stSands Troop, consisting of 30 boys under the sponsorship of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) that also served as the first headquarters. For the next forty years, F.C Sands would continue to build the Scouting Movement and increase its reach into the Malaya areas, hence earning the unofficial title of ‘Father of Malayan Scouting ‘.

Scouting in Singapore was initially opened only to British boys up till 1919 when the first Malay troop, the 5th Singapore (HQ Malay) Troop was established in Victoria Bridge School (now known as Victoria School) . This troop paved the way for the growth of scouting and it’s establishment as being the oldest extra-curricular activity (ECA) in Singapore schools as of 1922, when the 02 Raffles Scout Group, 03 Anglo-Chinese Scout Group and 04 St Joseph’s Institution Group were formed.

This is a photograph from E. A. Brown’s collection. It depicts a picture of a boy scout standing in front of a tent.
Credit: From the Edwin A. Brown Collection. All rights reserved, Celia Mary Ferguson and National Library Board, Singapore 2008

This is a photograph from E. A. Brown’s collection. It depicts a group of Scouts having their photo taken. Behind them is a small hut with an attap roof.
Credit: From the Edwin A. Brown Collection. All rights reserved, Celia Mary Ferguson and National Library Board, Singapore 2008

This is a photograph from E. A. Brown’s collection. It depicts a group of five scout instructors demonstrating how to cook in the outdoors.
Credit: From the Edwin A. Brown Collection. All rights reserved, Celia Mary Ferguson and National Library Board, Singapore 2008

Scouts have also been acknowledged for their contributions in Singapore as service staff during the two World Wars, first during the Sepoy Mutiny in 1915 and during the Japanese Occupation from 1942-1945. Some of the jobs scouts took up include that of dispatch riders, telephone operators, clerks, Fire Watchers and First Aid personnel. They’ve also been known worldwide for their aid in relief efforts during post-war times as well (read more about Scouts during the war)

WHY SCOUTING THRIVED IN SINGAPORE

Faced with many an adversity from two World Wars, Scouting never waned in Singapore largely because of the continued British influence in both Singapore and Malaya up till 1959, and Singapore’s presence in International Scouting programmes like the‘ Coming-of-Age Jamboree ‘  held at the Singapore Stadium in 1929.

“The programme commenced impressively with the march past, headed by the Scout Band, Sir Huge Clifford taking the salute. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with exhibitions of Scout work. The Scouts gave a practical demonstration of bridge and hut building. Two trestle bridges we built in a short time by the 2nd and 5th Singapore Troops respectively. This was in competition, each troop constructing a bridge to make a roadway about five feet wide, over a “stream”, the bed of which was about four feet below the level of its banks. All the work had to be done without any member of the team going into the “stream”. The troops made an excellent job of it, and the 5th Troop, who completed their bridge first, were honoured by His Excellency, personally testing it.” – ‘ Schoolboys’ Concert ‘taken from the Straits Times, Page 12, 29 July 1929

This photograph is from an album by Lim Lam San. Lim, then a teacher at Telok Kurau English School, was an avid amateur photographer during the 1920–1930’s who concentrated on capturing scenes of everyday life.
Credit line: Gift of LTC Lim Eng Lian

This photograph is from an album by Lim Lam San. Lim, then a teacher at Telok Kurau English School, was an avid amateur photographer during the 1920–1930’s who concentrated on capturing scenes of everyday life.
Credit line: Gift of LTC Lim Eng Lian

Glass negative depicting boy scouts on a field
Credit line: Gift of LTC Lim Eng Lian

Singapore’s untapped natural surroundings, kampung living and general livelihood up to the 1980s also meant that the fundamental outdoor scouting skills like starting a fire, tying knots, building structures and learning to fish, were more or less essential life skills that appealed to many a student and parents over the years. Discipline, leadership skills and the idea of a Government endorsed school led activity were perhaps also factors in helping parents to keep their kids off the streets and participating in more constructive activities.

The Scout Proficiency Badges. Credit: Singapore Scout Association

Scouting also thrived as a way of life beyond schools, with more senior groups like the Ventures (16-18 years) and Rovers (17-26 years) forming up to continue and pass on the principles and teachings of scouting to their juniors as the years went by.

Telok Kurau cub scouts with their scoutmaster

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Telok Kurau Scout Troop taking a break

Scout troop from Telok Kurau Marching

Scout from Telok Kurau demonstrating the use of a tripod lashing

Members of the 6th Troop of the Arrow Scout Group, Victoria School, Singapore, at a youth rally in 1949

Many leaders of Singapore including former PM Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, former President’s S R Nathan and Ong Teng Cheong, as well as theatre playwright Kuo Pao Kun, took up Scouting in their days, and have mentioned over time how it instilled them with the values and life skills that made them relevant leaders in their own right.

The article below by Emeritus SM Goh even mentions how he and 2011 presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock were Scoutmates.

Former SM Goh Chok Tong tells of his life as a scout and how it influenced him. Credit: Singapore Scout Association, 1 Mar 2010, The Straits Times

Some other milestones of Singapore Scouting throughout the years include

1952- Singapore scouts went on the 1st Job Week to raise funds to subsiside the 1st contigent overseas to participate in the 2ndPan-Pacific Jamboree in Sydney. Job week would become an annual affair for the years to come with the contributions dedicated to running the association and helping the needy.

Job week continues to be an important annual event.

1959- Sands House at Clemenceau Avenue becomes the first official Scouts HQ. In the same year, Yusof Bin Ishak, President of the Republic of Singapore became the 1stChief Scout of Singapore, a tradition that would be passed on to all future presidents.

All Singapore Presidents are conferred the title of Chief Scout of Singapore, such as former President S R Nathan

1964-The Standard uniform of a Khaki shirt and trousers  with a distinctive white and red scarf was introduced

Kahki scout uniform

1966-Sarimbun Camp. A 27 acre  campsite at Jalan Bahtera, off Lim Chu Kang Road, was leased to create a suitable campsite for scouts by the government.

Sarimbun Scouts Camp

1995- The Frank Cooper Sands Award is created to award  sectional scout units for unit excellence annually.

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1996- The Singapore Scout Association moved to its current premises at Bishan Street 12 on Sep 2 1996.

2010 – Celebrated 100 years of scouting history

Credit: Singapore Scouts Association

RELEVANCE OF SCOUTING TODAY

In today’s social and educational context, combined with the rise of technology, the relevance and lessons of Scouting have no doubt dwindled together with the numbers. Yet ask any one, including myself who has been a scout and they will easily tell you the joys, skills and bonds that were established as part of a Scouting Troop.

If you want to know more about my personal life as a scout, do stay tuned as it’ll be an entry i’m posting next.

Few kids can cook chickens like they used to

5 comments

  1. Pingback: Old MPH Building: where the book people are | Ghetto Singapore

  2. Pingback: My life as a Scout in Singapore « The Lion Raw

  3. Wan MH

    Are u still involved in Scouting these days?

  4. can you tell me the names of the districts of Singapore. I was part of the 17th Serangoon and 66th Singapore (Air Scouts) in the early 1960’s, did my training at Jurong. I have badges for Geylang, Kallang, Newton, Serangoon, Stamford, Queenstown, Bukit Panjang, Katong, Tanjong Pagar, toapayoh, Changi, Tiong Bahru, Pasir Panjang, Pengakap Singapore, 150th Year Commemoration of Singapore and Majulah Singapura…yours in Scouting…Len

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