Scouts pride themselves on making friends from across the world. Thirty years ago, Scouts from Bramshill in Hampshire made friends with Scouts from Czechoslovakia, a soviet-bloc country that our Scouts would have known very little about!
Mike Dawson or the 6th Bramshill (Hawley) Scouts, shares his experiences of the day the Czech Scouts took over their camp activities back on 31st July 1992. The location, Burrington Combe in Somerset.
The week’s camp in Somerset had been organised by the Scouters of Bramshill but the Czech Scouts asked if they could run one of the days themselves. So, there is little for our leaders to do as the Czech contingent have provided today's activities.
We had been warned in the morning to keep well away from the area below the kitchen, the location of tonight’s special event. The preparation for the fire was elaborate and once constructed the area was further excluded by a ring of marker stones outside the central fire. This did not matter because we were out of the camp during the day, with the exception of the Service Crew.
The Czechs have taken over the camp kitchen and are preparing a lunch of pork, dumplings and cabbage. They have also ordered a full inspection at midday. If you don't pass you get fed last! This protocol did seem to work; inspect at tent (hands, tidiness etc.) and then a call to eat and after being fed and ‘Flag Down’ we presented the medals and prizes for the weeks activities.
We then made our way to the camp fire. Here we formed up in two half circles with the Czechs on one side and Brits on the other. Everyone was in uniform and standing outside the stone perimeter circle. In front of the Czech group stood Kamil, George, Baghera and Kim and to their left were the seven Czech Scouts who would give their Scout Promise.
In the centre of the circle was the altar fire, only dimly glimpsed now in the gathering gloom. It consisted of six layers of logs forming a large square and, in the middle, stood an upright log with a twisted end. Along one side of this were inserted carved pieces of flat, stripped wood so the whole resembled an Indian head-dress.
Directly in front of me but on the opposite side of the prepared fire, there is some movement which showed something was about to begin. A few Czech Scouts had assembled to the rear of the half circle and on a signal the Scouts marched in with the Czech flag spread horizontally held at shoulder height by a Scout. To their left stands Bagheera holding a book while to the rear came a flash of light, which flickered briefly and faded but didn't die completely.
Two Scouts sheltered in the lee of a tree trunk and coaxed some glowing embers into life until the bark torch they had made flared up, suddenly illuminating the assembled troop. They moved quickly into the centre and walked around the fire igniting the mass of tinder that filled the space between the logs. As soon as the flames had caught the Scouts went forward to take their promise. Lukas Kraus was first and grasping the Czech national flag he recited the well-practiced phrase. One by one the investees completed the ritual until all were done.
I found out later that the "feathers" of the fire head-dress had the names of all their Troop Scouts on them.
The next day we were encouraged to collect some cold embers from the fire to add to our next campfire. And so began the tradition of the ‘Spirit of the Ashes’ which was continued on in Bramshill long after the Czech Scouts returned home.