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The Boys' Brigade

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The Promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-Respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness1.
- Sir William Smith

The Boys' Brigade is a Christian Youth organisation for boys aged 5-19 years. As described in their mission statement, the Boys' Brigade aims to 'care for and challenge young people for life through a programme of informal education underpinned by the Christian faith'.

  • The Boys' Brigade Object: 'The advancement of Christ's kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect and all that tends towards a true Christian manliness.'

  • The Boys' Brigade Motto: 'Sure and Steadfast.'

The Boys' Brigade Founder

The Boys' Brigade was founded in 1883 by William Smith, who was a teacher at North Woodside Mission Sunday School in Thurso, Scotland. Aged 19, he had become a lance corporal in the 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, and, after becoming a lieutenant in 1883, he decided to use his experience in the Volunteers as a means of dealing with the unruly boys of his school. And so, the Boys' Brigade was created.

Smith became the first Brigade Secretary in 1883, and was knighted in 1909 for his services to boys. He continued to play a leading role within the Boys' Brigade until he fell ill at a Boys' Brigade meeting in 1914. Sadly he did not recover, and two days later, on the 10th May 1914, Smith passed to rest.

Robert Baden-Powell was also heavily involved with the Boys' Brigade, due to his military background and passion from promoting excellence in discipline. However, after rewriting his book, Aids to Scouting, he inadvertently created the Scout Movement, to which he dedicated most of his future time.

The Early Years of the Boys' Brigade

In the first year of its existence, the 1st Glasgow Company2 was the only company in the fledgeling Boys' Brigade. However, by the end of the third year, the Boys' Brigade had grown to include over two thousand members and new companies had been formed around Glasgow from Ayr to Inverness.

The Boys' Brigade soon spread into England and gradually worked its way South, eventually reaching London. It also moved overseas, with the 1st Jersey Company being founded in 1887. The 1st Belfast and 1st Dublin Companies were founded in 1888 and 1890. The Boys' Brigade was also encouraged even further afield by its founder in 1895 and 1907, when Sir William Smith promoted the work of his Brigade in Canada and the USA.

The Modern Boys' Brigade

With changes in uniform and a more relaxed, social approach to meetings, the Boys' Brigade is now more accessible to all boys aged 5-19. Boys' Brigade companies are run by volunteer staff and are, in most cases, always connected to a local church, with meetings taking place on Church properties. Although girls are not invited to join the Boys' Brigade, they are made welcome and can join the Girls' Brigade, however this is a separate and autonomous organisation.

The Boy's Brigade Structure

From 5-8 years old, Boys' Brigade members are part of the Anchor Boys Section, the part of the company for younger members. These members have a simple uniform and are encouraged to look after their appearance with a simple inspection3. They will take part in fun but educational craft and sporting activities.

Aged 8, they will move up to the Junior Section. Here an awards scheme is introduced, with awards in over 2000 subjects arranged in categories from Physical awards to Interests4. Achievements in these subjects contribute to gaining badges, which are worn on armbands as part of the uniform to display the members' achievements.

From 11 years old, members will join the Company Section, with more responsibilty for uniform and achievements, with a more structured and varied awards scheme. Representing the company, members are given opportunities to take part in Battalion5 competitions. National and regional competitions exist also. Often, company members may follow the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme or use the Boys' Brigades own awards structure to gain the President's, or Queen's badges. Expeditions often form a part of these schemes, during which members will take part in various physical and adventure activities and often spend a few nights away from home under canvas.

Beyond company, older members will become seniors and gradually gain an increased part in leadership and organisation. Seniors may organise games or activities for younger Brigade members, or lead Drill and Inspection through learning commands and leadership skills. Courses in Leadership are offered by the Boys' Brigade to older members, in the hope that they will eventually become permanent leaders.


Discipline is encouraged through Inspections and Drill. In most Boys' Brigade meetings, each company member will attend in full uniform and in a formal ceremony will be inspected on their appearance and attendance of Church and Boys' Brigade meetings. Marks gained are often used towards trophies and awards which are given throughout companies and battalions.

Drill is the skill of formal figure marching. Members march in unison, following commands given to them by either their squad6 or company leaders. At parade services, the company will march in procession and raise the colours7.


The Boys' Brigade uniform has evolved from a traditional, military-based uniform into an increasingly more modern, practical form. Although the uniform once included caps, lanyards and belts, which were to be cleaned and maintained regularly, the uniform is now much simpler.

The Anchor Boys, as the youngest members of a company, now wear dark trousers and shoes, with a red Boys' Brigade pullover marked with the Boys' Brigade logo. Although their uniform is basic, they are encouraged to take responsibility for their appearance through keeping it clean, presentable and smart. Junior Section members wear a similar uniform, but with a royal blue pullover to separate them from the younger section. The oldest group, the Company Section, now wear a shirt and tie, or, if preferred, a navy blue polo shirt and pullover.

The Company and Senior Sections wear two armbands, upon which the badges with which they have been awarded are displayed. On the right arm, badges for the five achievement areas are worn, and on the left arm, badges including the length of service, and Queen's and President's Awards are worn. Anchor and Junior boys wear a single armband on their right arm, showing both Award and Service badges.

The Boys' Brigade and the Church

As a Christian organisation, the Boys' Brigade has always kept close ties to the Church, and while many of its members are not Christians or don't attend church regularly, Church worship is encouraged through Parade services, where members take part in a formal service in uniform and march the Colours8.


As a military organisation, marching features heavily in the form of drill. This is often performed to music, which is led by a marching band. The most common instruments featured are bugles, drums, and other brass instruments.

Other Boys' Brigade Activities

Many battalions organise competitions and events between companies. Five-a-side football and other sports tournaments are common, and there are also larger regional and national events where Company Drill Squads and marching bands can compete for trophies. Frequent social occasions are also held, at which members do not have to wear uniform or follow standard Boys' Brigade practices. There are many battalion summer camps, also, where members spend nights under canvas and taking part in team games, Christian devotion and daily camp duties. Senior members, as part of leadership experience, often assist by leading their own activities.

More on the Boys' Brigade

The Boys' Brigade now have companies all over the world. To find out more, visit their website.

1This quote was used to form the Boys' Brigade's Object - detailed below.2A 'company' is the name for one branch of the Boys' Brigade.3Clean hands and shoes etc.4Music and other hobbies.5A Boys' Brigade battalion is a group of companies in a region eg, the 1st Yorkshire Battalion.6Squads are teams which each company is divided into. These may compete in company sports or competitions.7The company or battalion flag.8Marching the colours is the parading and raising of the Boys' Brigade flag in church.

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