One if by land, two if by sea - and three if by air? - A Brilliant Invasion by Old Friends

Flags of two countries at Resica Falls Scout Reservation
Flags of two countries at Resica Falls Scout Reservation

“One if by land, two if by sea - and three if by air?”


A Brilliant Invasion by Old Friends

(Separated by a Common Language)


A group of purple clad British invaded homes throughout the North Penn area of the Philadelphia suburbs in August, 2013.  They spoke a language that seemed unfamiliar, at first – “porridge” for oatmeal, “squash” for orange juice, and “lovely” for great.


But the invaders weren’t latter day Redcoats.  Instead, they were old friends, the Mickleover 149th Scouts and Mackworth Guides, and their leaders, from Derby, England,  near the mountainous Peak District (north of London, halfway to the Scottish border). 


This year's visit was the latest renewal of almost 20 years of international Scouting fellowship.  Of course, like all of Scouting, it started with Lord Baden Powell.. 


Bob Smith, then Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 303, sponsored by Corpus Christi parish in Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, visited Baden Powell House  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baden-Powell_House) in the early 1990’s. while accompanying his wife on a business trip to London.  His reply to a pen pal request by the Mickleover Scouts led to an exchange of letters, and an invitation: Smith took 5 Scouts and 3 leaders to the 1995 PEAK Scout jamboree, the first of many international Scouting visits.


Since then, US troops 303 and 547, sponsored by Mary, Mother of the Redeemer parish in North Wales, have traveled to England for the PEAK jamborees, which take place every 5 years (most recently in 2010).  In between, the British Scouts have visited American Scout camps – as they did this August, when they renewed their friendship by hosting the visitors for a week of fun at Resica Falls Boy Scout summer camp, in the Pocono Mountain region of Pennsylvania. 


The English boys (and girls) joined with their American hosts in everything from rock wall climbing, to jumping off a boulder into a swimming hole in a river, to traditional campfire humor (such as a skit playing on Paul Revere’s ride, mentioned in the title of this article). 


But their “brilliant” exposure to the US – “brilliant” being colloquial English for “great” – wasn’t limited to Scout camp.  Both before and after camp, the US Scouts and their families opened their homes and lives to their guests, for a brief exposure to our world.  The British then went on a whirlwind tour of the US with their hosts, including trips to Wildwood and a minor league baseball game, as well as traditional tourist destinations in New York City, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia – including, of course, a run up the Rocky steps (the Philadelphia landmark best known to the British).   https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151565306520814&set=vb.616280813&type=2&theater.  The most popular activity, however, was a bonding experience beloved of teens and young adults from both countries: shopping at local malls and outlet stores.


They also shared memories and favorite home made foods at pot luck picnics, on arrival and departure.  The Scouts played Ultimate Frisbee, soccer and softball alongside meals of pulled pork, fried chicken, and hot dogs to, of course, Philadelphia cheese steaks, soft pretzels and water ice.  Troop 303 Star Scout Nick Picozzi designed a commemorative patch, which all of the visitors received at the farewell picnic.  The adult leaders even found a common tradition to celebrate the last night of the visit - a pub outing to start planning for the US return to the 2015 PEAK Camp in England.  (The US hosts even helped their visitors find a taste of home while abroad, by driving them past Derbyshire Marine Products, a Lansdale business.)


But let the Scouts themselves describe why they look forward to these visits.  According to Troop 547 Life Scout Matthew Shafer, “It was a great experience to meet the British scouts.  My troop has a great relationship with the English scouts, and we get along well.  During the week, we went to Wildwood, where we hung out and played in the water.  This was memorable to me, as it was fun to hang out with these people in a personal environment.”


Troop 547 Eagle Scout Andrew Judge echoed his friend’s opinion.  “Our British friends come over here to the US every five years, so it was great to see some familiar faces, and meet new friends. It’s nice to get together with these British Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and see how much we have in common. They are missed already, but in two years our troops will be going over to England to join our friends for summer camp in the UK.”


Once everyone was home and rested, they could reflect on universal appeal of Scouting, and the bonds it builds.  "While our units only spend a week or so camping together every few years”, said Frank Shafer, Troop 547’s Committee Chairman, “our international friendship remains very close.  It's such a tremendous feeling when we get back together - it feels like we have never really parted; our common scouting bond naturally supports our camaraderie."


Troop 303 Life Scout Thomas Schmitz had a similar perspective on hosting British scouts.  “The activity witnessed the blending of two cultures and allowed everyone to learn about each other and our differences and similarities.  Some of our visitors were old friends, some were new, but the experience felt brand new.  Getting to know everyone was the most enjoyable, and the most educational, part of the experience.  Whether it was over a Philly cheese steak at the local pizzeria or while sitting around the campfire at Resica Falls summer camp, I learned more about English culture and life from my fellow scouts than I would have from a textbook.  The gathering is a great way to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones and makes you realize that we Yanks and Brits aren't that much different.”


Frank Shafer best summed up the international Scouting friendships that grew (or were renewed) by the visit, in his parting address at the farewell picnic.  “At the welcome picnic, I saw three colors, each sitting apart (Troop 547’s blue Class B shirts, Troop 303’s maroon, and the English purple).  Today, however, I see everyone mixed together, reflecting how everyone has grown together over the last two weeks.  The best aspect of our ongoing international scouting relationship is observing youth from an ocean apart come together, and in a matter of only a few conversations realize they share many common interests and goals.  Scouting serves as the unifying element."


Of course, such a major undertaking took more than just normal trip planning work for the Scouts, and their families.  Troop 303 Committee Chairman Joe Rakszawski thanked all of the US hosts for their teamwork and generosity.  “I can’t thank you all enough for everything that you have done these last two weeks in support of the British visit.  You all really stepped up for that in our time of need, and I am very proud of what was accomplished and the teamwork demonstrated.  I do understand the sacrifice that the host families made as part of all this.  I hope you were rewarded with their friendship and the cultural opportunity.  Your preparation, planning and arrangements were well done, and the trips were fantastic.”


Although the British flew home on August 15, Jayne Rose, a British adult leader with the Mackworth Guides, recognized that the rewards for all that work will carry on in both countries.  "We all had an amazing time while staying with our American friends. We were very well looked after throughout our stay, and plenty of old friendships were renewed, and new ones made. The youngsters are still very much in touch with each other, and all refer to their host families as their “American Families”, showing the friendships which were made. We hope to be able to repay the fantastic hospitality we were shown, when scouts and leaders from Troops 303 and 547 come to stay with us for the PEAK 2015 camp."


Joe Joyce, Scoutmaster of Troop 547 saw the same lasting bonds, “The friendship and camaraderie which have developed between the U.S. Troops and our British friends is a living example of the Scout Law which the boys and girls on both sides of the Atlantic can learn from and nurture. This is a tremendous growth experience for everyone involved, youth and adults, and serves to exemplify all that is good and meaningful about the Scouting program the world over.”


Troop 303 Life Scout Stephen Schmitz had perhaps the best explanation of the lasting memories of the visit:  “`The British are coming!’ was a quote referenced, joked about, and laughed about many times throughout two weeks when the British were here. It was used as a funny way to announce our “all present and accounted for,” at morning colors, and even used by the (camp) staff at the closing campfire ceremony.  The British scouts were even laughing at it, although I had to explain to them what it meant later. It’s these things that the Scouts will remember the most, both American and British, because I know I will.”


Bob Smith, whose reply to a pen pal request got the ball rolling 20 years ago, has a true Scout’s perspective: “The friendship and fellowship (that) has continued through those twenty plus years with many of the original UK folks has been a warm, friendly, learning experience for our boys; for their families, for the leaders, and for all of us as friends.”


Postscript: While the weary British returned to their homes and jobs, Troop 303’s Scouts, with boundless teen energy, and a few committed leaders departed early Saturday for a week at the high adventure Boy Scout Sea Base camp in the Florida Keys.  The remaining leaders, however, were looking forward to working on the Napping and Coffee Drinking Merit Badges they had started at camp.


Copyright 2013 Stanley P. Jaskiewicz, Esquire


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