Gilcraft Patrol System




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By Gilcraft

In my travels in various parts of the world, I have found only two countries - and these not my Town - in which the real implication of the Patrol System are thoroughly grasped. Many Scouters still fail to appreciate the fact that the Patrol System was used by the Chief Scout in the first experimental Scout Camp at Brownsea Island in August, 1907. In his report of that camp, B.P. wrote that the Patrol was used as the unit of work and play, and that all the activities of the camp and of the Scouting done in the camp were developed through the Patrol.

The chief merit of the Patrol System lies in the fact that it legalizes the natural gang instinct of boys, in much the same way as Scouting as a whole legalizes the natural instinct in every boy to 'play hooky' from home and school when the appeal of the open air gets too strong for him. In addition the Patrol system gives younger Scouts the opportunity to learn from their older Scout brothers, and the older Scouts opportunities of putting their knowledge and experience into practice for the benefit of others.

Patrols can be formed in two ways: 

One, by the association of boys of similar ages, homes and inclinations, and, 

Two, by the association of boys of varying ages and standing together, but whose characters are such that they are able to fit in with each other without any trouble. 

For the reason I have given above, the latter method of formation is more beneficial in its results than the former, although at first sight it seems to run counter to the natural gang idea. However, the best combination of Scouts in a Patrol has to be worked out by each Scoutmaster through experience. It will usually be found that one only of the two methods is possible within the single Troop, but a compromise can frequently be arrived at, especially where there is a Senior Patrol in the Troop or when two or more Troops are established in the same Group.

All Scouters must be brought to see that the Patrol System as such is the distinguishing feature of the game of Scouting, and that too much interference on their part under the guise of leadership and instruction is contrary to Scout principles. The Patrol is a definite method in the development of a boy's character; each member of the Patrol can affect his Patrol for good or ill; the older members of the Patrol gradually learn to assume responsibility and to undertake the practice of leadership. It will be found that a Patrol Leader who is a year or two older than the rest of his Patrol will fad it difficult to continue his association with younger boys, yet that continued association is good both for them and for himself. His difficulties will decrease if he has at least one, who may or may not be his Second, whose age is approximately the same as his own. Similarly it will be found that the advantage of the Patrol System can be illustrated and fostered through the use of Patrol projects, expeditions, separate meetings, and in many other ways too numerous to mention.

The main point is that the Scoutmaster has to realize that Scouting is not a matter of Troop meetings, or even of Troop camp, but that it can only touch its real heights when each Patrol in the Troop is encouraged to meet on its own, to camp by itself, and to train its own members, and when each individual Scout is encouraged to practice his Scouting by himself, with a pal, and with his Patrol whenever the opportunity offers.

To too many Scouters and Scouts an indoor Troop meeting is the be-all and end-all of Scouting, and they are apt to forget that the two planks of Scouting are Woodcraft and the Patrol System, and as the former is difficult to practice all the year round in big towns, it is all the more important that we should make as much use of the Patrol System as possible.

We must think and plan in terms of Patrols, remembering that they should be self-contained units, fully equipped with their own training and camping gear, for which they should be held responsible, and that the Patrol Leaders are there to train their boys themselves, the Scoutmaster training the Leaders.

The Patrol meeting , therefore, is much more important than the Troop meeting, and in a well-run Troop the Patrols will do the bulk of their training and camping on their own, and what finer character training can be imagined than this? For it will make them self-reliant, and they will learn the first duties of citizenship by managing their own affairs.

Patrol meetings should therefore be held weekly, either in the Patrol corners or rooms, or in the homes of the boys themselves. The Patrol Leaders are in complete charge of the meetings and are responsible for the program of work and play, and the Scouters should only visit them at intervals, but unexpectedly. So that tests may be passed, if possible a Scouter or a Rover can be close by in another room, but out of sight. It is therefore quite a good thing if each patrol is lucky enough to have a separate room, and it is convenient for them to meet on the same night, for Scouters, or Rovers, to be handy for test-passing purposes, and it is then easy to have the Patrol Leaders' Council, or Court of Honor, after the Patrol meetings are over, though it is important to let the Patrol Leaders fix their own times for their meetings and so this may not always be possible.

If there is an inter-Patrol competition, points can be given for tests passed during the period of the competition, and extra points given for any good training stunts and for outdoor meetings, for the Patrols should be encouraged to meet out of doors whenever it is possible. Points would also be given for attendances and logs.

The weekly Patrol meeting should be worked in conjunction with a monthly Troop meeting, which is run by the Scouters, and should largely consist of competitions, sing-songs and special stunts such as Troop good turns, Troop feasts, visits to other Troop, and so on. These, too, should be held out of doors, if possible, so Saturday afternoons or other half-holidays or Sundays would be suitable.

If a subject for competition is given out at the Troop meeting for the next Troop gathering, then this will give the Patrol Leaders something to work up during their Patrol meetings, the practices in Scouting for Boys being the backbone of these. The Chief's own methods in the Camp Fire Yarns should be copied and stories weaved round the competitions, so bringing in as much romance as possible and getting away from school-room methods. If this system is followed, that is weekly Patrol meetings and monthly Troop gatherings in which the Patrols compete against one another in subjects they have been working up in their Patrol meetings during the previous month, it is quite easy to plan a systematic scheme of training for a year, without getting lost in the maze of detail caused by weekly Troop meetings.

A general theme can then be made to run through all the Patrol and Troop meetings, and the whole work planned out so that each month sees an advance forward on the road to the First Class Badge, shall we say.

To take just one example: exploring would be a good theme, and if this were taken, all the practices would be based on this and the interest of the Patrols centered on the doings and ways of famous explorers, and the various tests tackled with a view to training themselves for the same work, and as much actual exploring carried out when practicing as possible.

The scheme should of course be planned jointly by the Scouters and Patrol Leaders at the Patrol Leaders' Council, but in order to give the boys surprises it is a good thing for the details to be kept secret and only unraveled as the year goes on. This is especially true of the details of the competitions at the Troop gatherings, which should be kept absolutely secret and made as exciting as possible.

When the Patrol Leaders are trained enough they should be encouraged to run camps on their own, but the main summer camp should be one where the Patrols, although looking after their own cooking, feeding, sanitation and sleeping, should camp on the same site, and the program of the camp would naturally be based on the general theme for the year, and the locality chosen from that point of view. This means that each Patrol must have their own camping and training gear.

Even if Troop cooking is practiced, each Patrol has to have its own tent, so there is no extra expense entailed there, and the gear required for Patrol cooking is small in quantity and possible to make and cheap to buy, and should be designed so that it can be split up and carried by the boys themselves. Thus cartage expenses are saved, and this makes up for the very slight possible extra expense in feeding.

If the Patrol Leaders are to be successful in their weekly Patrol meetings and in running their camps, it is essential that they should be trained, and so they must form a Patrol themselves with the Scoutmaster as the Patrol Leader, for instructional purposes. This Patrol should be named after some bird or beast, and must meet at regular intervals, if possible once a week.

This meeting should be a model for the Patrol Leaders to copy and so must be carefully prepared for, and after, or before it, can be held the Court of Honor or Patrol Leaders' Council if need be.

If the other Scouters or Rovers attend, then it would be possible to give individual instruction if necessary, and by this means the Patrol Leaders can be kept well ahead of their Patrols.

A week-end hike or camp should also be held, and some sort of district training would be useful so long as it does not mean that Scoutmasters rely on it to train their Patrol Leaders for them.

When a new Troop is being started the Patrol Leaders must be trained first and should at least have their Second Class badges before any other boys are allowed to join. They can raise their own Patrols among their friends.

After that it is a good idea for the Scouters to train recruits themselves, at least through their Tenderfoot stage. Until then they should have nothing to do with the Troop, and should not be allotted to any Patrol until they make the Promise and are invested at one of the Troop gatherings.

This scheme helps the Patrol Leader enormously, for it means that they do not keep on having to go back over old ground in order to train newcomers, and if it can be arranged it is a very good plan to allow recruits to join on certain dates only. Numbers should, of course, be limited and a waiting list kept.

Although these methods may seem rather daring they are in common use in Norway, where they have proved themselves time and time again, and as British boys are very similar to Norwegian they should prove equally successful with us.

Patrol Dens. To get the best results it is essential where possible to give each Patrol a definite corner of the Troop Room, and if permanent rooms cannot be made out of matchwood boardings, portable screens should be made so that the Patrols can work unseen and feel they are really on their own.

If the Patrols have to meet on the same night and at the same time this is an essential arrangement, and the first month's competition can very well be the work of the Patrol rooms or screens.

Patrol Gear. Each Patrol should have a box containing its own training gear. As much of the latter as possible should be constructed by the boys themselves, and this can also be made into a subject for competition.

These boxes could be made large enough to carry the Patrol camping gear, and then be mounted on wheels and so make Patrol trek carts, the construction of these making another inter- Patrol competition.

It is only possible to sketch out the general idea - there are obvious difficulties and pitfalls, but given the will and enthusiasm these can be overcome or at least diminished in numbers and size.

All this, as has been mentioned, entails a reduction in the number of Troop Meetings, and these become in particular the means that the Scoutmaster has at his disposal of fording out how the training of the Patrols is being developed, and of detailing to the Troop as a whole the lines on which future advancement should proceed. The Troop Meeting becomes the Scoutmaster's means of expressing his personality on the whole Troop, and, especially, of forwarding the ideals of Scouting through his yarns.

Even under this scheme it is not right that the Scoutmaster should draw up Troop meeting programs without the aid and advice of his Patrol Leaders. More emphasis is required on the benefits of the use of the Court of Honor or Patrol Leaders' Council in drawing up programs for Troop and camping activities. I have no hesitation in saying that it is the association together of Scouters and Patrol Leaders which makes for the real success of any Troop. On these Councils the Scoutmaster should consider himself not as the chairman of a meeting, but as the Patrol Leader of a gang of boys who are out to acquire more knowledge and experience of Scouting and of leadership. In this way he can train his Patrol Leaders in their leadership and in their, and their Patrols' advancement in Scout ability.

The atmosphere and discipline of every Scout Troop needs the closest scrutiny and attention. Here, again, the Court of Honor is the most effective agency for to bring the spirit of Scouting into the life of the Troop, and into the lives of its members. This question of discipline still needs better understanding and more exemplification. There seems to be a general misunderstanding in regard to the value and use of discipline in the Scout method of training. Largely it is a matter of personal example. Boys like to conduct their games and activities in an orderly kind of manner in order to get the fullest value and enjoyment out of them. They are very responsive to any lead in this direction. It is the duty of Scoutmasters to give such a lead, and to see that this lead is properly followed by their Scouts. Patrol Leaders can set the pace here, and give a proper conception of true Scouting discipline to the members of their Patrols.

To complete the circle, I return to the Patrol System and its application to Troop Meetings. Two very important points emerge: one, that when the Patrol is complete as a unit under its Leader the Scoutmaster should take great care to recognize the Patrol Leaders' position and deal with the members of the Patrol only through him This does not mean that a Scoutmaster should not have direct association with each Scout in his Troop, far otherwise, but that the time for that association and consequent encouragement to each Scout to develop his Scouting for himself is outside Troop and Patrol Meetings. The other point is that a Patrol Leader should not normally be used to give a lead to the Troop as a whole, or be used as an individual to fill any of the functions of a Scouter. His leadership is confined to his Patrols. Occasional short, informal talks by a Patrol Leader to the whole Troop on some particular Scout activity in which he is interested, or on some experience which his Patrol has had, do not come amiss, but normally it is not right for a Scoutmaster to pull out a single Patrol Leader to inspect the whole Troop or to give the Troop a game - unless he is demonstrating with his Patrol - or to fill a function which should more properly be filled by the Scoutmaster or his Assistants.

The Scout Troop is still - whatever other branches or sections of Scouting have been developed - the fundamental organization in Scouting. The Patrol System is still - as always - the Scouting method. The Scout Promise and the Scout Law are still the foundation of Scouting. The outdoors is still the place where Scouting is practiced. The four - separately and collectively - are the distinguishing features of Scouting which mark it as different from other organizations for Boys, and which continue to attract boys. It is for us to see that these features remain and that our Scouts are not disappointed because of the absence of any one of them from the Scouting presented to them in their Scout Troop.

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.