WJ'55 Masthead Scouts Canada

Bert Wilson's Story

The Jamboree Story by T. A. (Bert) Wilson, Portadown District, Northern Ireland, December 1955.

For me, the Eight World Scout Jamboree, held at Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario, Canada, was the greatest and most thrilling event that I have ever experienced. The Jamboree was called "The Jamboree Of New Horizons" and was the first Jamboree to be held outside of Europe. It was attended by some 11,000 Scouts and Scouters from over 54 Nations of the World, of course we all did not speak the same language, nor were we all the same colour, nor were we all the same religion, but we were all united by that silver thread of friendship and comradeship which flows through Scouting.

I had the honour of representing the Portadown District and this meant that I was teamed up with 32 other boys from all over Ulster. Before we even left for Canada there had been plenty of preparations. The dancing team met regularly in Belfast to practice their Irish dancing and there were two pre-jamboree camps held at "The Old Fort", Hillsborough. At the first camp the troop was split into 4 patrols each with a nominated Patrol Leader, I being one of the lucky four.

At last the time came for us to leave and we assembled in Belfast. The Presbyterian Hostel was the appointed place where there was a reception attended by the Lord Mayor. After this the convoy of buses and cars filled with singing Scouts and well wishers proceeded to Nutt's Corner where we were to board a Skymaster Airlines which would take us across the Atlantic. After Airport formalities we formed outside the airport to hear a message from The Governor,

Lord Wakehurst, next we said our goodbyes to our relations and then as we entered the great aircraft we were given a tremendous send off from the ground.

We had now put the soil native land from our feet and in these somewhat unfamiliar surroundings that we were to know so well in the approaching hours, we were ushered to our seats by two stewardesses. Then came our instructions to each passenger in the use of emergency exits and life jackets. The stewardesses then announced that owing to strong crosswinds, caused by a hurricane over the Atlantic we were diverted to Horkeflavif in Iceland. Next came the moment we had all been waiting for during the past months. The time was 9.50pm we were airborne. In the next minutes Ulster was receding as the great four-engine bird roared a height of over 4,000ft and heading for the West.

En route we were served with coffee and biscuits at midnight. We touched down on Iceland at 2am and at that hour in that region we experienced cold winds which was in striking contrast to the high temperatures we had left behind. We partook of a meal there and bought some souvenirs in the airport but our purchases were restricted owing to high prices.

After taking off at 3.50am GMT we endeavoured to get some sleep. We slept soundly. Shortly after 8am we were awakened for a meal. Later, boys were allowed to enter the captain's cabin two at a time. There one saw the amazing mass of instruments which function during a flight and which contribute to the safety and comfort of air travel. The pilot then informed us that at that moment we were at an altitude of 8,000ft, speed 225mph and 1 hour 20 minutes from Gander.

We arrived at Gander, Newfoundland at 12 noon GMT. Here we had passport formalities and what was more important a magnificent meal. After we re-boarded the airliner we truly cut off our ties with home when we altered our watches. Airborne once more we had a breath-taking view of Newfoundland, the scenery being wonderful. The trip from Gander to Toronto was quite rough and we were glad to reach the ground "terra-firma" in the mighty city with so many Ulster ties, at 3.50pm. At this stage we had a friendly and sincere welcome from the Canadian Scouts. We received 15 dollars and information, and proceeded by bus to Inimic Rotary where we met our hosts for the night.

The next day, 18th August, we sailed across Lake Ontario in the steamship "Coyugar". From the steamship we had a lovely view of Toronto. It was a 4 hour journey and when we arrived at Niagara-on-the lake the weather was roasting with temperatures well over 90°f. As we marched from the dock to the camp site, singing "the sash" spectators watching gave us a special cheer and clap when they saw the sign post of the Ulster party — the Irish kilts of the Irish dancing team.

When we arrived at our campsite hard work was done for the erection of patrol and troop equipment. Of what we could see of the Jamboree town through beads of sweat, it approached colossal. Imagine a town the size of Portadown. It is all under canvas with the exception of the bank. The only tall building was the terracing in the main arena. There were trading posts, telephones, a post office, a hospital, a fire station, with most of the modern equipment, a police force comprised of Rover Scouts kept a 24-hour vigilant watch, a Jamboree Newspaper issuing a Jamboree Journal daily, canteens, exchange stalls, TV and radio stations, and of course the bank. The Jamboree was split up into Sub-camps. The Ulster Contingent being in Sub-Camp "Timberlands".

To show that we were not lazy at the Jamboree here there is the average daily routine:

6.30amrouse cooks
7.00amrouse troop
7.20ambreakfast, flag break and prayers
9.30am to 12.30pmcontingent activities, inter-troop visits
12.30pmlunch, rest period
2.00pm to 6.00pmtours, displays, inter troop visits, etc.
7.30pm to 10.30pmdisplays, inter-troop visits, sub-camp and troop fires, etc.
11.00pmlights out

Flag break and flag down were for me among the unforgettables of the Jamboree. At 9.28am a maroon was raised which can be heard throughout the Jamboree. This signal for everyone to prepare for the flag break. The same procedure is carried out at flag-down at 7pm. At these two times the bustle and burly of the Jamboree would stop and there is nothing but silence, literally speaking, one could hear a pin drop, the only times of the day when there is silence. Could you imagine what it would be like if Belfast's mighty voice stopped once a day?

One of the amusing episodes of the Jamboree for us was the intense competition for our Irish Shillelaghs from the American and Canadian Scouts. Trading (swapping) was one of the characteristics of the Jamboree, and it was through this that many friendships were made.

The highlights of the Jamboree for me were the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Let me put you in the picture at the Opening Ceremony. There we were, sitting on the grass with the sun blazing down on us. Around us the huge terracing filled with visitors. In the middle of the area were all the Scouts and Scouters sitting on the grass. In front of us was the large stage filled with the Scout Leaders of the world. The opening ceremony was performed by the Rt. Hon. Vincent Masey, CH, Governor-General of Canada. All the speeches were in two languages, French and English. It was a magnificent sight. Well over 11,000 Scouts of different nationalities and dress and over 10,000 visitors. The flags of 60 nations were flying. I never saw such a colourful sight. The ceremony was televised and broadcast throughout Canada and most of America. The Jamboree of New Horizons had come together for the first time.

After the opening ceremony was all over we paraded back to our campsite where we entertained our visitors. Northern Ireland must have been one of the most popular campsites of the whole Jamboree; for on Saturday and Sunday, the main visiting days, there must have been well over 200 people come to see the "Wild Irish"! I met people from Belfast, Portadown, Banbridge, Lurgan, Larne and Derry.

On Sunday we went to church. Some of us sang in the choir. The singing was later recorded and will be used in making of the Jamboree film.

In the Jamboree there was a Jamboree newspaper know as the "Jamboree Journal", a valet service, interpreters, international signposts, trading posts, camp cinemas and many other things. The Jamboree was a town in itself and was indeed more. It was a meeting place of all the free nations of the world. Scouting is a big thick band of friendship and comradeship. To quote an Israeli Scout: "If everything was left to Scouts the world would be happy and united and there would be no fighting or quarrels in it".

Attending a Jamboree one can grasp the essentials of world peace. If all the nations' leaders attended a World Scout Jamboree, I think it would provide them with a lesson which they would never forget and which would be to the benefit of the whole world. On Friday, August 26th, we were up at 3.45am to go to Canada's National Exhibition in Toronto. We travelled by bus to St. Catherine, where we boarded the train for Toronto. On arrival we had to wait 3 hours for the rest of the Jamboree to arrive. When everyone had assembled there was a tremendous parade to the Exhibition, which was opened by the Chief Scout, Lord Rowallen. To give you an ideal of the size of the turn out: the parade moved off, 35 minutes later we moved off with 3,000 more behind us and we were marching nine abreast! There was a march past, the Chief Scout taking the salute. After the parade we were given free dinner and tea tickets and then we split up to see the Exhibition. The Exhibition was a tremendous affair. The fun fair alone was so big that I spent my whole day there and only went out of it once. That time I went into the food building and Horse show. I never saw a fun fair like it in all my life. It was ever bigger and better than Battersea Park in London. I tried practically everything. All Scouts received a 75% reduction. I was on the scenic railway six times. In one of the dazzling jockey races I won a radio for 25 cents. I think I should do well as a test pilot after what I went through on those breath-taking machines. At 8pm we assembled and marched to the train.

The day before, Thursday, we went on a tour. Leaving our campsite at Niagara-on-the-Lake, once the capital for much of North American warfare and once the capital of Upper Canada, the route followed the Niagara Parkway past some of the finest fruit lands in the world. Peaches, pears, plums, cherries, grapes and apples are grown, with peaches and grapes the major crops. This is the ground the Indians took as they travelled from lake to lake, the ground that saw the battles of American and Canadian wars. Now, for the past 100 years the border is guarded only by friends. We proceeded in our bus and came to the Queenston Heights, the site of the battle of the same name, overlooking the river, Queenston Village and the fruit lands 340ft below. We visited the General Brock monument, towering 185ft high (something like Nelson's Pillar in Dublin). From here we went to the Hydro Floral Clock, which is more than three times the size of Edinburgh's floral clock it takes over 14,000 flowers to make up the design of the clock's face. The three hands weigh approximately a quarter of a ton each and it is the largest floral clock in the world. Beside the clock is a large hydro generating station. We next called at the Spanish cable car, which consists of 1, 700ft long cableway carrying a basket-like passenger car over the whirlpool. The river has itself a bed 400ft deep where the water gyrates to the bottom and coming up, apparently subdued, makes its escape at complete right angle and flows on towards Lake Ontario. From aero car the route took us across more hydro tunnels for it where around Niagara that most of Canada's electricity is generated. We next stopped at Falls View overlooking the Niagara River and famous falls. This was a wonderful and magnificent sight. Next we proceeded into the town, where we were "set loose" until 9.30pm. We had something to eat then proceeded to look around Niagara Falls. A few of us went on the boat "Maid of the Mist" and sailed right up to the Falls, and later walked across the Rainbow Bridge into the USA. After a great day we returned to the bus which brought us back to camp a very tired but happy band.

All too soon the Jamboree came to its close and Major-General Dan Spry was there to perform the closing ceremony. I have said this was one of the highlights of the Jamboree for me. All contingents paraded to their sub-camp headquarters where they all split up and mingled with - the other scouts from all over the world. We formed ourselves into line, eight deep and then marched arm in arm singing the Jamboree song. It was a great sight to see eight different national cities walking arm in arm, wave after wave, along to the arena, singing. Again the stadium was packed and again the temperature was around 100 degrees. After speeches by world famous personalities there was a tremendous cheer for Lady Baden-Powell, wife of our founder, when she spoke. Every country was presented with a souvenir Jamboree plaque and then there came the climax of the ceremony: every Scout and Scouter stood and repeated his Scout Promise, and what a wonderful sight it was to see so many boys from so many countries repeat the same pledge in so many tongues! When it was all over everyone left as before, arm in arm, singing "Auld Lang San". I made friends with some of the Scouts who were in my line, and we had "pop" afterwards and talked for a long time. Later that day we dismantled our kitchens and packed our tents, that night we slept out in the open.

The next day I left to stay a week with my relatives in Windsor, where I had a great time. One day we went to Detroit, USA, by car crossing the Ambassador Bridge and returning by tunnel which goes under the river separating the two cities. That day I also attended a baseball game between Detroit and Washington.

Alas, time flew, and the day came for me to leave and we travelled by car to Toronto where I stayed the night. The Rotary Club at Port Credit organised a barn dance for us and a corn and Weiner roast. The next day, Sunday, September 4th, we were brought to Mimico Rotary Hall where we all boarded the bus for the airport. We had a great send-ff by the Canadians whom we now hold in great admiration. We had been received warmly and had been treated everywhere with the greatest hospitality.

Take-off time was 11.45am. We touched down at Gander, Newfoundland, at 8.45pm had a meal and then were off again. This time it was a straight flight across the Atlantic and we touched down at Nutts Corner at 9.50am and of course it was raining! We were home again.

I should like to thank the people who made it possible for us to attend the Jamboree: people like Commander Cotton and his assistants, Mr. George Barclay and Mr. Harry McClintock, who turned the trip from a good trip to an excellent, happy and successful trip. Then there is the staff at Headquarters led by Mr. Ernest Moore, without whom there might not have been a trip at all. Finally I would like to thank and I am sure I have the backing of every Ulster Scout who attended the Jamboree all of you who will be reading this. For it is you who are running Scouting in Ulster.

What a great lot of people rallied round. I felt very honoured being a member of the Ulster troop which represented you in Canada. I shall never forget it and we thank you all very much.