This is my very distant relation Francis "Skipper" Gidney. He is indirectly responsible for taking my son away from me for a week! He is also a very good example of how it is possible to get sidetracked on family trees if you come across a good personal story. I know far more about him that I should, given the tenuous connection!
Francis Gidney was the son of another Francis Gidney. That Francis was brother to John Gidney, my great great grandfather. I have posted about John before but not about his siblings. Francis Senior was in the British Army for his entire life, having joined up as a teenager. There was another brother - William. He joined up when Francis Senior did although his career was neither so long nor so successful.
Anyway, this is a good time to write about Skipper Gidney as my son is away on his first international Scout jamboree and as it happens (did you guess from the uniform?!), Skipper was one of the first ever Scouts. In fact, in 1919, Skipper was appointed as First Camp Chief at Gilwell Park, the new permanent home for the Scouting movement. He was close to the Scouts' founder, Robert Baden-Powell and had founded, in 1908, one of the first Scout troops in the country - at his school in Lichfield when he was just 16. He fought in the First World War but was invalided out. Although unwell for the rest of his life as a result of the wounds he sustained, this does not appear to have slowed him down - he developed the Wood Badge for camp skills and visited India for the Scouts amongst other contributions. My favourite quote is "Gidney brought a touch of controlled lunacy to the place"1! Despite a later disagreement with the Association, he remained loyal to scouting for his whole, sadly shortened life - writing to Baden-Powell on his deathbed in 1928.
My son has been through Beavers, Cubs and now Scouts. This will be the longest that he has been away from home so far. However, the opportunity provided by an international jamboree is hopefully something that he will remember for a long time. This year, ten thousand people are attending, from all over the world. There have been international Scout jamborees since the 1920s. How many youth organisations can have sustained such loyalty?
There is of course the ever present worry about child abuse. In these sad times of the aftermath of so many scandals, we cannot stop being vigilant because an organisation is well established. However, if one can put aside those worries to consider what Scouting offers, I am a huge fan.
We are constantly being told that children should be outside more, should be away from screens, should be getting back to nature. Yet at the same time, children's freedom is hampered by every tightening health and safety concerns. A few years ago in our local park, the council chipped down all the hedgerows because they said children needed to be seen at all times by passers-by. All they achieved was increased vandalism as drunks and others took advantage of the park at night, where previously they could not immediately see it and they could not climb in because of the hedges anyway! I also had a run in with an official about tree climbing in the same park.
From the Scouting Association, children get discipline, camaraderie, outdoor and survival skills, a chance to roam and play outdoor games that have been played for a century, camping, cooking, you name it. All with no electronic devices in sight! [Although of course, the jamboree is tweeting and facebooking and I am anxiously watching the weather on my phone...].
Seriously, schools these days are often so tied up in knots over risk assessments and helpers that they just decide not to bother with any activity which is remotely risky or contentious.
The founders of Scouting would hopefully be delighted and possibly amazed to know that their organisation is still going strong. If you google Francis Gidney, the many websites which mention him say that he made an important contribution to the Scouting movement. I have researched his life in great detail now (see what I mean about getting sidetracked - I have his schooling, his marriage, his descendents.... oh dear) and I am proud to even distantly be connected to him, Everyone needs a "touch of controlled lunacy" in their lives.
Oh, and below is the Frank Gidney Memorial Cabin at Gilwell Park!
1. quote from The Twenty Four Years Hike - Charles W.Emlyn (C. Arthur Pearson Ltd 1932)