Thursday, 8 September 2016

Vera Charlesworth Barclay (1893 - 1989) – British writer; co-founder of the Cubs (Scout Movement)

Vera used the pen-names Margaret Beech, Vera Charlesworth, Hugh Chichester

 “It is impossible for a woman, however observant, however experienced who has not been a boy, to understand, to be in tune with, the boy’s mind.  J.S. Wilson in the preface to “The Scout Way”, 1919, one of Vera’s many published works.

An e-mail from writer Fiona Mercey suggesting that I include Vera in my Inspirational Women of World War One exhibition prompted me to look into Vera’s fascinating life.

Vera was born in Hartford, Hertfordshire, UK on 10th November 1893. Her father was the Reverend Charles Wright Barclay, a Church of England Minister, and his wife, Florence Louisa Charlesworth, a writer.  Vera’s siblings were Magdalen (b. 1882), Muriel (b. 1883), Cyril (b. 1884), Ursula (b. 1886), Guy (b. 1887), Claudia (b.1895) and Angela (b.1900).  In 1901, Vera's father was Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Little Amwell, Hertford.  The girls were educated at home by a governess.

The family travelled regularly to Switzerland where Vera liked skiing and sledging.  She was one of the first women to try the Cresta Run.  At that time it was still unusual for women to wear anything but long dresses, so Vera's sporting outfits were skirts or riding breeches.  Vera injured her knee during one of those vacations.

Vera’s mother Florence became ill and was bed-ridden for a while.  During that time she began writing novels and in 1910 had a novel published that became No. 1 best-seller in America.

In 1912 Vera joined the Scout Movement, which began with a camping trip to Brownsea Island in Dorset in the summer of 1907 organised by Lieutenant-General Robert Baden Powell.  Baden Powell came up with the idea of the Scouts after successfully employing school boys as assistants during the siege of Mafeking in the Boer War in 1900.

Vera soon became one of the first Scoutmistresses.  She also noticed the eagerness of younger boys to emulate the older boys who were members of the Scout movement as their regular meetings looked like fun and decided to do something about it.

During the First World War, Vera volunteered to work with the Red Cross and went to the Red Cross Hospital in Netley, Hampshire.  

In 1916, encouraged by Baden Powell, Vera came up with the idea of having a similar group for younger boys and on 16th June 1916 the Wolf Cub section was formed at Caxton Hall in London.   Baden Powell used the ideas of his friend Rudyard Kipling in his “Jungle Book”.

Vera resigned from her nursing job, which had become more difficult due to her earlier knee injury, and concentrated on organising Cub packs in Britain.  Between 1923 and 1926, she went to Chamerande in France to set up Cub and Scout packs and train leaders. Vera went to live in France in 1931, returning to Britain in around 1939.

Retiring to Sheringham in Norfolk to be cared for by her niece, Vera died in Sheringham's St. Nicholas Nursing Home in 1989 and is buried in Sheringham Cemetery.

Netley Military Hospital was built on the south coast of Hampshire after the Crimean War and opened in 1863.  During WW1, a large Red Cross Hospital was constructed in huts to the rear of the main hospital building, with a capacity of around 2,500 beds.  Demolished in the 1970s, all that remains of the original building are the Hospital Chapel and Military Cemetery.   There is also a Facebook Page dedicated to the commemoration of Netley Military Hospital.

Sue Robinson of Wenches in Trenches set up the group in memory of her grandmother who nursed at Netley Hospital in WW1

Sources:  “The Years of Promise” by Cecil Roberts (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1968)

Fiona Mercey’s book about Vera’s scouting activities in France - “Le Grand Jeu de l’Enfance” - has recently been published by Carrick Publishing in France

Photo of Vera Barclay's grave in Sheringham taken by and reproduced with kind permission of Jane Crossen.

1 comment:

  1. At last Vera Barclay is being recognised for her work starting up the Wolf Cubs , she started her first pack in the village of Hertford Heath where her father the Rev Charles Barclay was the Vicar and her mother was the famous authoress Florence Louisa Barclay.Vera was an inspirational woman who we are very proud of , we knew her well , she also started the phrase Dyb Dyb Dyb Dob Dob Dob , Do Your Best and Do Our Best , thank you for acknowledging her work , from her niece Mary-Rose Barclay Willis and gt niece Angel Barclay Browne .