leslie's guiding traditions

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Campfire dates back to the earliest days of Scouting, and thus Guiding - but it has changed significantly over the years.  At the first experimental camp on Brownsea Island, there was a campfire for an hour every night.  But other than the Eengonyama chant, no singing was done - instead there would be discussion of the next day's activity programme, illustrated by some adventure 'yarns' or stories from B-P to illustrate the points to be covered.  Linked to this, the first Scout and Guide handbooks both took the structure of a series of campfire yarns.  After all, from ancient times, extended families have gathered round the fire of an evening, to tell stories and share lore and learning.  



So in the early days of Guiding, too, whenever there were camps, on the programme each evening was a campfire.  They had an additional reason for limiting singing - at that time the popular songs were those sung in music hall.  And the problem was that they all had suggestive lyrics deemed quite inappropriate for innocent young girls.  Guiding tried publishing some songs in the Guiding magazine, and some were taught at trainings in Foxlease or Waddow. but at times these were of a type Leaders dismissed as 'jingles' - and those set to tunes used for hymns raised extra objections.  Guiding published song leaflets of folk songs which were considered more suitable, but many of these songs were quite wordy, so not ideal for impromptu use at campfires.  


At this stage, opening ceremonial was often quite formal, and ceremonial.  Programmes would often include games, 'party piece' performances, and a yarn.

By the 1950s campfires were becoming quite structured.  There might be an opening recitation such as "As the flame points upwards, so be our aims; As the red logs glow, so be our sympathies; As the grey ash fades, so be our errors; As the camp-fire warms the circle, so may the Guide ideal warm the world." or "Here is an emblem: sparks that upward fly - so may our hearts be young and spirits high."  There would then be an opening song such as 'the more we camp together' or 'campfire's burning'.  Then a couple of well-known songs, or songs to well-known tunes.  Next up, a simple round or part song.  After that, Patrol turns interspersed with well-known songs, followed by a campfire game.  Then a quieter song, followed by a yarn, a final closing song, and then Taps.  The Patrol turns were usually acting out scenes from history, or funny incidents at camp, or party pieces which the Patrol performed.


This era, too, saw the start of songbooks aimed at campfire use.  These eliminated the piano score parts, and started to include chords which could be used on stringed instruments.  Songs were shorter, and more repetitive, with fewer wordy verses to memorise - and included more songs drawn from around the world.

In the late 1960s through to the mid 1970s, there was a general revival in folk music, and accoustic guitars started to appear at campfires.  From the late 1970s the previous trickle of Guiding songbooks turned into a flood, and singing came to dominate campfires.  Where Patrol turns survived, they tended to be in the form of 'campfire skits' - performances of comedy scripts, with the same limited number of themes being repeated in skits like "Dorothy Perkins", "Antique Shop", or "Enlarging Machine".  Yarns all but disappeared, as did games, and party pieces.  The quieter section at the end of the campfire tended to be dominated by religious songs and hymns.