Spotlight on the 70th London Boys Brigade...
[ From The Onlooker, the magazine of the London Stedfast Association No. 67. Written in 2007 by Chris Buss, Captain of the 70th from 1984 to 2010.]
To modern members of the Brigade the 70th is perhaps best known for two things, the company's sporting prowess and the steel band 'Kool Drummings', but this has not always been the case. The Company has over the years, I suppose like many others, been through periods where expertise was developed in different areas...
In the 1950's for instance
The company had a strong band winning the South West London Battalion Championship on a number of occasions, a not inconsiderable feat in a Battalion which was numerically the strongest in London between the late 1940's and the late 1970's.
Perhaps the twin highlights for the members of the company of that era were taking part in the battalion massed band in the 1951 Albert Hall Display, and the parade before King George Vl, also in 1951, where the bands were led by the 70th's drum major Brian Rance.
In the 1960's
Although the band continued, the companys strength was in gymnastics and first aid, winning both the Battalion and London competitions on a number of occasions as well as performing in the London District Display a number of times. In this decade and the previous, the Company also had a strong athletics team winning the Battalion competition eight times and providing boys for the Battalion team which won the London trophy on a number of occasions.
However, times changed
After a lull in the 1970's, the company developed new strengths in the 1980's. With the decline in the strength in the Battalion, the Company started to take part in more London competitions and made the first of twenty five appearances in the UK National Volleyball Finals. This is a London record, and probably an English one as well. This was followed by an appearance in the last London Display at the Royal Albert Hall in a demonstration volleyball game against the 32nd Cardiff. In the Iate 1980's, in addition to successes in the London Cricket, Gym, Pr Games and five a side football competitions, the Company was also performing at a high standard at drill, reaching the London Squad Drill Finals on two occasions.
However the music side of the company was lacking as the bugle band had ceased to operate in 1989...
A chance conversation with Richard Davies in 1992 led to the formation of the steel band, originally using second hand instrurnents from the 104th London. The band made its first public appearance at a Carol service in December 1992 and by May 1993 was ready for its first BB appearance at the last London Display at Wembley. From the beginning the band has been a joint affair with the 7th London Girls Brigade and has provided an outlet for those members of the company who are just not interested in physical activity. Over the years the band must have played over 150 times and apart from one occasion - at the 2006 London Marathon - the rain was kept at bay. The band has had a number of external instructors who have influenced both the style of play and tunes played. The current repertoire is over twenty tunes with a wide mix of style and content and the current instructors are two of the senior band members.
Apart from BB functions such as the Chelsea Beating of Retreat and the Brigade Council, Kool Drummings have played in Churches, school fetes and places as distant as Swanage and Kings Lynn. Venues have been as diverse as the Royal Albert Hall, Millennium Dome, Marquees, the back of a Iorry and Pub car parks. The functions played at have been as wide ranging as a Royal visit by the Prince of Wales, wedding receptions. Christmas light switch on's, Church anniversaries, centenary celebrations and restaurant openings. In fact apart from a funeral or a Bar Mitzvah, it is difficult to think of an event that they haven't played at.
Another interesting point is the fact that the band has never had to advertise for an opportunity to play and has in recent years turned down more opportunities than it has accepted to avoid overload and to ensure that the music and band stays fresh. Perhaps the most outstanding performance was taking part in the Baptist World Congress at the Birmingham NEC in 2005 when the band played before and during the main worship session before 8,000 people - a truly memorable occasion.
Turning back to sporting occasions
The company has had more than its fair share of success in the period since 1986, being London Champions over seventy times in a wide variety of events including gym, athletics. basketball, cross country and five a side football. Success in these events Ied to the Company winning the re-Iaunched Daily Telegraph Shield (*1) in 2003, 2004 and 2005. In five a side football the boys have also been United Kingdom National champions four times (1993, 1997, 2001 and 2003) and have been third in the same competition for the last two years. They are also the current England and Wales senior athletics champions.
The Companys success, both with the Band and in London and National Competitions, together with its charity fund raising, has Ied to the company twice being named Youth Group of the Year by Wandsworth Council (2004 and 2007).
Old Boys and our Centenary
We keep in contact with our former members (Old Boys) and at our Iast reunion in 2005 had over 80 former members present - the oldest joined the company in 1926, whilst the youngest had Ieft the year before. We are currently preparing for our Centenary next year with the reunion already booked for the 14th June 2008. We are also mindful that of the many Companies that used to exist in our area, we are literally the last man standing.
To commemorate the work of the company and the Brigade locally, we have obtained a substantial grant from the Local Heritage initiative to fund a DVD history of the company as well as separate booklets detailing the written and photographic history of the company (the DVD and booklets will all be launched at the reunion). As part of this work questionnaires were sent to Old Boys and these, together with copies of the Company Roll Books, earlier Company histories and video footage, including both the Old Boys bugle band in 1978 and Kool Drummings performance in Birmingham, can be seen on the LHI website www.Ihi.org.uk. (*2).
The preparation for the DVD has involved interviewing Old Boys of all vintages and although the work is not yet complete an underlying message comes across of the incalculable value of the BB method in men both young and old, with friendships made, standards set and faith grown and sustained. In many ways the current company, with its newly formed amicus group, is different from that founded in 1908 by William Cotsell, but in other ways it has the same object and produces the same sort of young men and hopefully will thrive in future years despite changing circumstances.
Captain 70th London
[ As originally published, the text above was accompanied by a dozen related, though not directly referred to, photos. Unfortunately these have not reproduced well and have been excluded here, however they may readily be found in the website album for the related decade. ]
(*1) In 2003, the Daily Telegraph Shield was revived under a new format whereby Companies were ranked based on their London District competition results over the previous session.
(*2) unfortunately no longer available, as at April 2020.