8th World Scout Jamboree of New Horizons held at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada 18-28 August 1955

8th World Jamboree Mondial Canada
Scout Badge

I first heard about this Jamboree some years before the event and fell in love with the idea of attending. It was pie in the sky because my parents could not afford to send me and I knew it would not be fair on my other three siblings. So I made a deal with my parents that if they would finance the trip I would promise to repay them in full as soon as I possibly could. Dad started working overtime to earn more and Mom set aside a special savings account. John Landau provided the right shade of Khaki material for the shirts and trousers for my uniforms and Mom set about making these up on her old Singer sewing machine as well as knitting my socks. My 14th Bulawayo Troop held a special fund raising event to provide me with pocket money and the Scouts throughout Canada collected money to pay the Camp Fees for a number of overseas scouts. I was one of the lucky ones! From the time I started work in December 1954 I handed over my full salary to my Mother each month so had already paid for some of the cost by the time I set off from Bulawayo the following July.

Bulawayo to Niagra

Although I had been on a train before, the departure from Bulawayo Station was the beginning of a great adventure for this 16 year old 'Country bumkin'. It was to be the first time I travelled with diesel- electric and electric locomotives, my first cruise on an ocean liner and first flight in an aeroplane. Because I was the only scout from Rhodesia, Scouting Rhodesia arranged with Scouting South Africa for me to join the South African Contingent and from my arrival in Cape Town I was heartily welcomed and treated as one of them, although I continued to wear my Rhodesian uniform. As far as I recall we wore our uniforms every day throughout the trip so we were always on parade. In C.T I was billeted with Ian Appleton's family (he was one of the Contingent) who showed me all of the city by day and by night and the Mayor of C.T also put on a function for us. When we left on the Arundel Castle on 22nd July the docks were crowded, a band was playing and streamers were thrown. It was a grand send off and everything got better day by day.

Telegram to Rob

We suffered stormy weather for the first few days and sea sickness was rampant. Fortunately some wise sailor had warned us to keep walking which we did and even slept in the life boats on deck which kept us well. We formed two scout patrols and I was honoured to be appointed Troop Leader of the Contingent. Our daily routine included exercising, prayers and lectures on what to expect along the route and of course we participated in all the deck games and competitions. The Scouts were very much in demand in all activities including the Crossing the Line ceremony, dances, Fancy Dress competitions,( we depicted Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs and from then on I was known as Lofty), etc. and what a happy family we were. There were movies every day and we were even invited up to the Bridge by the Captain. Free ice cream on deck was very popular. Stopping in Las Palmas, one of the Spanish Grand Canary Islands, for a day was our first experience of 'something very different'. It was an old and very poor community with run-down facilities and very old transport. Some of the taxis were still horse and donkey drawn and with everyone speaking Spanish we were fascinated by it all.

Robert Lavers at
8th World Scout Jamboree, Canada

{Aside I can tell you that Nigel (from the South African write-up below) was a little older than the rest of us scouts and was a real larrikin, full of mischief. When we got to Las Palmas the wharf was full of ancient taxis, some horse/donkey drawn and all quoting exorbitant prices for the trip into town. Nigel took over negotiations and eventually settled at half price but, we managed to get nine of us in the old Ford car! A friend of his in Cape Town had asked him to buy some 'pharmasutical drugs' and Nigel battled to explain to the Driver who understood only Spanish. The sign language was hilarious and eventually we drew up at a big door and were ushered into a big room full of scantily dressed young ladies - we were in a Brothel, all in Scout Uniform! It was as much a surprise to the Girls as it was to us and we left smartly to continue our tour. A cargo of Bananas was loaded on deck destined for the UK market. On the return crossing we again stopped at Las Palmas for the day and Nigel was almost left behind - the ship had already left the dock when he arrived!}

Robert Lavers at
8th World Scout Jamboree, Canada

The sight of Southampton on 5th August was something I will always remember - there was Britain, the land of my forefathers, the country of which I had heard so much and had waited so long to see. After docking we were placed on The Boat Train for the journey into London where we were housed in the Scout hostel Roland House in Putney Green for ten days. It was so exciting because we were close to a Tube Station and quickly learnt the ropes on how to get to all the famous sites of Greater London quickly and cheaply. London was a city with a population of 12 million people (Bulawayo had less than 300,000) and yet I twice bumped into my old Army School Cadet Instructor on the tubes... an indication that all visitors to London frequent the same famous places like Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Big ben & the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. Pauls Cathedral, No.10 Downing Street, Kew Gardens, Tower of London, Madame Tussauds and, of course, our own Rhodesia House. John Landau and his wife kept a flat in London and they happened to be there at the time so he collected a couple of us to drive us around and out to Hampton Court from where we caught a launch back to the City. For ten days we soaked up so much information it was beyond belief.

8th World Scout Jamboree, Canada

It was then time to join the thousands of British Scouts for the flights across the Atlantic to Canada. Some flew in Super Constellations and we were in Boeing Stratocruiser (propeller plane!) which landed at Shannon in Ireland and Gander in Newfoundland before arriving to another great welcome at Toronto's Maldon Airport on 16th August. Once again we were billeted in twos and threes to various families. Julius Von Hirschberg and I were placed with the Honeys, a lovely Toronto family with three daughters who were all so surprised to find that Their African Scouts were not Black! Despite this they accepted us and went out of their way to show us everything Toronto had to offer... Mel even let me test drive his new Buick Fluid-drive saloon! We also boarded a smart boat for a cruise up Lake Ontario into Lake Erie and saw the famous Welland Canal. After a few days the great exodos began of scouts across 32 km of Lake Ontario on the SS Cayuga to the beautiful hamlet of Niagara-on-the-Lake where the Jamboree Camp site nestled under a forest of fir trees. Having been schooled about how cold Canada is and has such long winters we were over- whelmed by daily temperatures of between 80 and 110 degrees F as we struggled to set up camp and build our archway entrances.

8th World Scout Jamboree, Canada

To attend a World Scout Jamboree with 11 000 under canvas from 71 countries is such a life experience - To see The Scout Spirit alive amongst so many Colours and Creeds and to enjoy that camaraderie was something to experience to believe. The Organisation of EVERYTHING one can imagine was meticulous and of the highest standard in line with the Scout Motto to 'Be Prepared'. Ford Motor Co. lent the Jamboree a fleet of F100 and F250 pick-up trucks and one of my highlights was being able to drive the one in our sub-camp, on the 'wrong' side of the road. The boys revelled in Swopping or Trading things they had brought with them for items from foreign lands........ my Zebra Hat Band was worth a complete American Scout Uniform whilst sprigs of Resurrection Plant from the Matopos were as popular as little bottles of Mississippi River water or small pieces of the great Douglas Fir Trees! The camp was bordered on our side by the Niagara Parkway Drive on the other side of which was the Niagara River flowing down to Niagara Falls. One excited visitor pulled up one day on the Parkway and forgot to apply her handbrake. The car slid down the bank into the river and we all enjoyed watching a crane retrieve the car. Two of the most memorable all day excursions organised for all 11 000 of us were trips to Niagara Falls and to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. The Falls were highly commercialised and spectacular at night when the lights swept across the water in the colours of the rainbow. They were in two parts - the Canadian Horseshoe Falls with water controlled from the Hydro-electric plants up stream that freeze over in bad winters, and the American Falls where we enjoyed a boat ride into the mist in the 'Maid of the Mist' and a walk along the tunnel behind the waterfall. The CNEX was, at that time, the biggest annual exhibition of its kind in the world so was a real eye-opener. There was so much to see it is no wonder we didn't get back to Camp until the early hours of the next morning - just before the wrath of Hurricane Connie struck our camp area!.

HEP Niagra Falls, Canada

On another day we were treated to a special Luncheon at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club where I was intrigued by the glasses of cold Milk at each of our places at the table. Guests at lunch included some fellows who had sailed their yacht across from Durban....it looked so small and flimsy. John Robertson, a Bulawayo scout who was attending University in Canada then joined us at the Jamboree as well as John Landau. A few times I was asked to attend the Camp HQ to make broadcasts for SABC and the RBC and on one occasion I was surprised to be met by Sir Garfield Todd, the Prime Minister of Rhodesia, who I then escorted around the camp. The World Chief Scout Lord Rowallan also visited our camp. I recall another day after visiting the Niagara Falls I was able to cross the river on the Buffalo Bridge into the United States of America.

Identification Card
8th Scout Jamboree Canada

All the scouts had been given special Jamboree Identification Cards and being in Scout Uniform I had no trouble at the American or any other Border and Customs Controls. Perhaps the most memorable was the closing ceremony of the Jamboree on 27th August when the address was given by BP's Widow Lady Baden Powell. The next day we struck camp and returned to The Honey's in Toronto for a few more happy days.

8th Scout Jamboree Canada

It was sad to be leaving Canada, such wonderful memories and I vowed to return some day. It was stormy when we flew out of Toronto on 30th August and bumpy so we changed course to land at Sydney, Cape Breton Island with thoughts for those who had periled on the Titanic in that area. Back in London we felt quite at home and after calling at International HQ in Buckingham Palace Road to collect our Mail we took the train out to Scout International Training ground 'Gilwell Park' --- Where Skipper Knapman had earned his Wood Badge. We camped under canvass there until 9th September when we all parted to visit relatives all over the UK under our own steam. I caught the overnight sleeper train from London to Aberdeen where I was met by my Great Aunt (my dad's mother's sister). The couple in the compartment next to me also alighted in Aberdeen that morning and we sat at adjoining tables for breakfast at the station. Later that afternoon I read in the paper that my companions were non other than The Duchess of Kent and Princess Alexandra on there way to join the Royal Family at Balmoral Castle! For the next ten days my Gt. Aunt hired a car and I became her enchanted Driver criss-crossing Scotland from east to west and from north to south.

Robert Lavers at Gilwell Park

She knew Scotland like the back of her hand and was determined that I would have seen it all before she let me go. I visited her Father aged in his eighties, all of my Gran's cousins as well as the homes she lived in, schools she attended and some of her old school friends she hadn't seen for sixty years. I even saw the piano where she learnt to play. Edinburgh, Braemar, Glasgow and all the smaller towns, the River Dee, the Grampians and other wonderful scenery, I loved it ALL. It was a history lesson far superior to anything I learnt at school. On the Sunday we attended the service in Crathie Church and sat a few rows back from the Royal Party. Afterwards we joined the crowds outside waiting to see the Queen and the Royal Family. I was wearing my uniform and the queen noticed the Rhodesia shoulder patch and came over to chat. She told me about some of things she enjoyed when she visited the Colony with her parents in 1947 and I would have loved to tell her that I was one of the scouts that served tea to the King & Queen in the Bulawayo Park.

Robert Lavers at Gilwell Park

On 19th September the Contingent re-assembled at Roland House and departed the next day in a hired bus for a tour of the English Midlands and north Wales - 12 of us in a 33 seater, in comfort. The tour included Christchurch College at Oxford, the show Merry Wives of Windsor in the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratfor-on-Avon, Cheltenham, Stow-on-Wold, Bourton -on-Water and its model Village, Tewkesbury, Evesham and Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Warwick, Coventry and Lady Codiva's statue, a Midlands Knitting Mill in Derby, Manchester, Chester, Caernarvon Castle and Liverpool. At each stop we were met by the local scouts and in some cities a Mayoral Tea was arranged. We were shown the local historical sights which often included a visit to (another) Cathedral so in many ways we saw more than the average tourist. On our return to London we again stayed at Roland house until it was time for us to say goodbye to England and once more board the Arundel Castle , at King George docks in London, for the homeward journey. This took us by way of Rotterdam where we had a fascinating tour of Holland seeing fields of Tulips, the China factory in Delft, Cheese making (and tasting ) at Edam and of course many Windmills.

Robert Lavers back home in Bulawayo

We landed again in Las Palmas before the last stretch to Cape Town from where I caught the train for the three day trip back to Bulawayo. I arrived wearing the kilt my Great Aunt had made for me in Edinburgh and was greeted by a large crowd that included Gerry Stephens the Provincial Commissioner, Skipper Knapman from Gordon park, my Scoutmaster Cyril Shaw, my whole Family as well as other scouts, Guides and Friends.

I shall be forever grateful for everything that Scouting did for me.'

Kind regards
Rob Lavers
5th August 2020

Further reading scoutwiki.scouts.org.za