Boys' Brigade

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File:Boys Brigade Anchor Logo.gif
The Boys' Brigade emblem

The Boys' Brigade (BB) is the world's first uniformed youth organisation. The idea for this interdenominational Christian organisation was conceived by William Alexander Smith. Following its inception in Glasgow in 1883, the BB quickly spread across the United Kingdom and became a worldwide organisation by the early 1890s.[1]

Object, motto and emblem

The object of the Boys' Brigade is "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." Except for the addition of the word "obedience" in 1893, the object has remained unchanged from the beginning.[2]

When designing the Brigade's motto and crest, William Smith referred directly to Hebrews 6:19 in the King James Version of the Bible, "Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast..."

From this verse came the BB motto, "Sure and Stedfast", retaining the old spelling of the latter word.[2] Today, some parts of the movement have adopted the modern spelling of "steadfast", whilst others continue to use the original spelling.[1][3]

The crest was originally a plain anchor, bearing the BB motto a capital 'B' on either side. Upon the merger between the Boys' Brigade and the Boys' Life Brigade in 1926, the red Greek cross was placed behind the anchor to form the current emblem.[1] The cross originally formed part of emblem of the Boys' Life Brigade.


The first Boys' Brigade company was set up by Sir William Smith on 4 October 1883 at Free Church Mission Hall, North Woodside Road, Glasgow, Scotland to develop "Christian manliness" by the use of a semi-military discipline and order, gymnastics, summer camps, and religious services and classes.

In the years following the establishment of the 1st Glasgow company, others were rapidly formed throughout Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom leading to a movement comprising thousands of boys: in the early 20th century there were about 2,200 companies connected with different churches throughout the United Kingdom, the British Empire, and the United States, with 10,000 officers and 160,000 boys. Each company is normally affiliated to a battalion encompassing several nearby companies, which in turn are organized at a district and then national level, although in Scotland each company is attached to a local district, which is attached to a battalion.

Being the earliest of all youth organizations, a simple rosette was worn as an identifying uniform, shortly being replaced by the simple use of a belt, haversack, and pillbox cap (a popular military cap of the day) worn over the boys' everyday clothing. The pillbox cap was used into the 1960s, long after it had fallen out of use in the British Army, when it was replaced with a field cap.

The movement also pioneered camping for leisure in Britain, previously rarely used outside the military. Early admirers of the Brigade included Robert Baden-Powell who as Vice President of the Boys' Brigade used it alongside initiatives in schools, particularly Eton, to promote the idea of scouting and outdoor pursuits based on those of the military for boys. At the time, he did not originally intend that any individual organization would later arise from this aim in the form of the various Boy Scouts movements. Early examples of Scouting were seen in Boys' Brigade Scouting awards and even specialised Boys' Brigade Scout sections who wore a blue uniform with shorts and the distinctive Smokey Bear hat traditionally identified with Scouts, and still worn today by drill sergeants in the United States Army. However, nowadays there is a certain friendly rivalry between the two groups.

The Boys' Life Brigade was one of many similar movements formed by the Boys' Brigade's influence, sometimes along denominational or religious lines, including the Church Lads' Brigade, the Jewish Lads' Brigade, or the Catholic Boys' Brigade. The merger also prompted the abandonment of dummy drill rifles that had been used in The Boys' Brigade, due to the Life Brigade's objection to use of weapons or their representations. For some time afterwards, the section covering members aged 8–12 years was known as Life Boys, before being restyled as the Junior section (see below).

A popular[citation needed] hymn in the BB is "Will Your Anchor Hold"[4] by Priscilla Owens, usually sung at displays and church services.

Establishment of Recreational Camping

Drawing from his military experience, Sir William Smith introduced the concept of camping into the Brigade to allow boys and officers to remain in contact when other activities ceased for the summer break.[5]

The notion was initially ill-received due to concerns for the boys' safety.[5][6] A mother has been quoted saying, "Camp! My children have always had a roof over their heads, and as long as I live, always will!".[5] Nevertheless, Sir William Smith proceeded with the idea and 1st Glasgow Company held its inaugural one-week camp beginning on Friday, 16 July 1886, at Tighnabruaich in the Kyles of Bute.[5]

The initial reservations towards camping did not last. A tradition developed, where the boys who were marching home on the last day of camp would be greeted by cheers from residents and were each presented with a bouquet of flowers.[5] Camps soon became one of the most anticipated events in the year[6] and early publications of the Boys' Brigade Gazette contained many accounts of camping experiences.[5]

Sir William Smith's plans and notes for his first camps have been preserved, and have been used by many other campers.[5]

Sections in the BB

There are five different age groups, known as "sections", within the organisation:

  • Anchors - 5 to 8 years
  • Juniors - 8 to 11 years
  • Company - 11 to 15 years
  • Seniors - 15 to 18 years
  • AMICUS - 15 to 22 years (Note, this section also admits girls)


Officers (Adult Leaders)

Leaders in training Warrant Officers attaining the rank of Lieutenant only when having completed additional formal training in youth leadership. To avoid unnecessary leader hierarchy, all qualified officers are Lieutenants.[citation needed] The post of Captain of a company is a brevet rank with those in the position reverting to Lieutenant when they cease to be in the position; similarly other positions such as the company Adjutant (second to the captain) are considered appointments rather than substantive ranks.

Boys bearing the rank of Staff-Sergeant are non-commissioned officers but act within the company as Officers.

Boys as Non-Commissioned Officers

An older boy can gain promotion to become a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO). There are six ranks available, each being awarded when a boy is of a certain age and reaches a high enough standard of leadership. The six ranks are:

  • Private (minimum age 13 or promotion to company section)
  • Lance Corporal (minimum age 14)
  • Corporal (minimum age 15)
  • Sergeant (minimum age 16)
  • Colour Sergeant (minimum age 17)
  • Staff Sergeant (minimum age 18)
  • there is also the ceremonial rank of Drum Major who leads the band.

NCOs often play an important role in the Boys' Brigade, helping the officers and other adult helpers with organising activities and awards classes, particular in the Anchors and Juniors sections. NCOs wear chevrons on their upper right arm, a red sash is worn by Colour Sergeants and a Drum Major wears a badge on his right upper armband.

STAFF SERGEANTS: Staff sergeants act within the company as officers and do not stand in the ranks; however Staff Sergeants are boys of the Brigade. As they have received no formal training as officers and are not required to under go the standard police checks, and can still partake in company activities and computations and still earn awards and badges. The uniform of Staff Sergeants is also different to that of the normal boy or NCO, they wear a white shirt with an armband on the right forearm which has four inverted chevrons on it (as historically worn by senior grades of sergeant in the British Army) other than that the rest of the uniform is the same


Each section within the Boys' Brigade has awards that can be gained by fulfilling achievements.

The Anchors can gain awards for Project, Sports, and Scrapbook, among others.

The Juniors award scheme was revised in 2004 and members of the section can now gain the Junior Target Award, followed by Bronze, Silver and Gold awards, by completing a variety of activities in the areas of Body, Mind, Spirit, Community, and Creativity.

The Company Section can gain one Target badge first (reduced from the required two in an award reorganisation a few years ago, though Target Two can still be completed as an optional extra), then five other badges (Interests, Adventure, Leadership, Physical and Community) with red and blue flashes around them. After about three years, the boys should have gained all five badges with both red and blue flashes. This enables the boys to attend a Leadership Training Course and potentially attain the President's Badge. This is a necessary prerequisite for the Brigade's highest award - the Queen's Badge. In non-Commonwealth countries[7], the Founder's Badge is used in place of the Queen's Badge (an exception is found in the Boys' Brigade in Malaysia; This BB movement within a member of the Commonwealth of Nations has chosen to use the Founder's Badge).

Some Non-UK Countries

Canada The Boys' Brigade was prominent in Canada up until the mid-1980s.[citation needed] The Boy's Brigade owned a camp north of Toronto at Gravenhurst, Ontario. The last of the "Toronto companies" were the 11th and 9th. In addition, there were several companies in Montreal Quebec (8th Montreal and others), Winnipeg Manitoba, and Calgary Alberta.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Senior Section Handbook, Fifth Edition. Malaysia: The Boys' Brigade in Malaysia. 2003. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 McFarlan, Donald M. (1983). "Sure and Stedfast". First for Boys (Collins). Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  3. "The Boys' Brigade UK: About Us". Retrieved 2007-03-18. 
  4. Gospel Music - 'Will Your Anchor Hold'
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 McFarlan, Donald M. (1983). "Summer Camp". First for Boys (Collins). Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Boys' Brigade Uniforms: History". 2003-09-11. Retrieved 2007-02-12. 
  7. See Boys' Brigade Badges

External links

Links to companies are not listed, but can be found on the appropriate national BB website.

National Websites