The 1st Ventnor Guides celebrate their 100th anniversary. Picture by Robin Crossley.
WIGHT LIVING IT’S hard to believe a full century has passed since the Island’s first girlguide company was founded in 1912.
Times have certainly changed for the girls at 1st Ventnor Guides, where members earn badges for party planning and chocolate making, learn how to climb mountains and party at the guides-only music festival, the Big Gig.
Yet the ethos and values of girlguiding — the girls together camaraderie, the emphasis on being prepared and its reputation for turning out well rounded, capable young women — has not changed.
Girlguiding quickly became popular on the Island. 1st Shanklin Guides was founded shortly after the Ventnor company and, by 1917, seven companies attended the first all-Island camp at Godshill.
It’s clear from speaking to former members just how much they enjoyed their time in the guides, and how important it was to them.
Win Smith, nee Salter, 76, joined 1st Ventnor Guides in 1946, when she was 11.
She has fond recollections of camping on the beach at Castle Cove, cooking 'dampers’ — flour, salt and water mixed into a dough and pressed on the end of a stick, topped with margarine or jam if you were lucky — over open fires.
"I loved being a guide. I liked the activities and I was very proud of my uniform, I remember wearing it to church, carrying the flag. When we were youngsters, we joined everything going. Things like that were our lives," said Win, who still lives in Ventnor, at Castle Close.
"We all knew each other from school, so we were all friends."
Win remembers visiting the Twining family home in St Lawrence for lavish afternoon teas, even during post-wartime rationing, and taking part in a huge rally at Carisbooke Castle, in 1949, attended by none other than World Chief Guide, Lady Baden Powell.
"There were more than 1,000 guides there, all perfectly turned out, it was so exciting. Lady Baden Powell was very famous," she said.
Fellow member Fay Brown, nee Wearing, 79, joined the company just before Win, in 1943, and remembers guiding during wartime.
"Ventnor was badly bombed in the war so we were too scared to camp out. The beaches were covered with wire and you needed a permit to leave the Island, so that wasn’t an option," said Fay, of Newport Road.
"We still went out over the downs though, we used to play 'fox and hounds’ where you had to stalk each other. We used to cook potatoes in camp fire ashes but we were always too hungry to wait for them to cook properly. I enjoyed being patrol leader and I liked my uniform, which we were allowed to wear to school on St George’s Day."
Jenny Gardner, nee Nigh, joined the company in 1962, when she was 11.
"I remember the guides being a really important part of the community, and we would always take part in local events like the carnival. We had a Summer Holiday themed float in 1963, because Cliff Richard was really popular.
"We used to build the floats at Win Hatch’s house, she was the guide leader and she was fantastic," said Jenny, 62, of St John’s Road, Wroxall.
"It was a big part of my childhood and I remember I was at a guide meeting when President Kennedy was shot.
"The guides was great fun, and it definitely taught me to be prepared — I always have aspirin and plasters in my handbag.
"We had a great time, although to be honest I hated camping. Being woken up at some unearthly hour by the birds, having to find your shoes to traipse across a freezing field to go to the loo — it wasn’t for me. But it did teach us the importance of working together, of friendship and making the best of things."
It’s also striking how girlguiding has influenced the women’s lives lives and careers.
Fay, who was proud to gain her writing badge as a guide, is a local historian who has written for the South Wight Chronicle and former IW Mercury. She has been a keen knitter since gaining her knitting badge, and now makes blankets for the Rotary Club.
For Jenny, from a Catholic family, joining the guides was her first real opportunity to mix with girls who weren’t catholic.
"Meeting new people was one of the things that really appealed to me and it really broadened my horizons. Because of that, it was important to me that my own children to mix with the non-catholic community as well," she said.
As reported in last week’s County Press, around 60 members of 1st Ventnor Guides, past and present, attended a centenary celebration at St Catherine’s School last month, where they toasted their 100-year history with a night of nostalgia and entertainment. They were treated to a potted history of the company, presented by girl guiding historian Suzanne Whitewood, a fashion show of guide uniforms through the ages and performances of songs and sketches by current members.
Guests at the event included IW high sheriff Nick Hayward, IW Council chairman Cllr Susan Scoccia and Ventnor town mayor Cllr Steve Stubbings, plus Girlguiding IW county president Patricia Partridge and Island commissioner Janet Lovell.
"It was lovely to meet the current guides at the 100th anniversary party. They seemed quite innocent, not like a lot of kids you see today, which was nice. The entertainment they put on was fantastic," said Fay.
Jenny said: "It’s changed a lot. We used to do cooking, sewing and hostessing, and they do all kinds of things now. I think it’s still relevant though, it teaches you to get along with people regardless of who they are or what their background is."
One thing all the women agree on though, is the uniform. The T-shirt and trousers worn by guides today well may be modern and practical but Win, Fay and Jenny say it’s not a patch on their smart dresses.