In the early days of scouting in the Cape Province the need of camping ground for Scout camps and for training Scouters was not felt. Even in Cape Town itself there was always plenty of unused land for scouting "at your back door", and, further away, farm land and public land for annual camps.
- 1 Training of Adults
- 2 Training comes to South Africa
- 3 The story of Gilcape
Training of Adults
The idea that scoutmasters and cubmasters needed training for their job was gradually forced upon the movement. In London, for instance the need of a boys’ camping ground was so urgent that Mr. du Bois Maclaren, District Commissioner for Rosneath in Scotland offered to find a piece of suitable ground. The Chief Scout, our Founder, Baden-Powell, specially requested that part of it should be reserved for training of Scouters. Mr Maclaren headed a Committee to find a ground. In early 1919 they learnt that the estate Gilwell Park was for sale. It was purchased by Mr. Maclaren and given to scouting. It is now the world training centre, and the boys' part is a camping ground for London Scouts. Captain Gidney was appointed Camp Chief, and he ran the first Scoutmasters training course from September 8th to 19th 1919.
Training comes to South Africa
Now and then men holding the Wood Badge – the sign of having passed a Gilwell training course - visited Cape Town and gave us some new ideas. As a result many looked forward to a chance to visit the U.K. and take a course. In 1924 a number of South Africans visiting the Imperial Jamboree at Wembley took the opportunity of taking the course. The 147 candidates on that course represented 97 from the British Empire overseas, 30 from foreign countries, and 20 from the U.K. Two were appointed by the Camp Chief to represent Gilwell and train Scouters in the Cape Province, one being a Deputy Camp chief and the other an Akela Leader.
The first course was a cub course in January 1926. The course was a continuous one, and with equipment scratched together, and a site borrowed from St John’s Hostel in Cape Town it went through. It must be mentioned that the Cape Province Headquarters at this time was in financial straits, and this as well as all courses for some years had to be self-supporting. Under similar conditions the first scout course was run in the grounds of the first Claremont Troop, and the second Cub Course at Bamboo Vlei, Ottery.
The story of Gilcape
Diep River (1926 - 1950)
The first permanent camp
It was soon found that continuous courses would be rare as it was difficult to get together sufficient candidates who could get leave at the correct time. Weekend courses then had to be run. This meant building up and dismantling the camp every week end carrying all the material between camp and storage place. From 1927 Training was handled by the Rayners, Carl and Doris, on a plot of land at the back of their private residence. A permanent camp was then built on this private ground at Diep River - only eight building plots, but enough for all practical purposes. There are many of our older members who have happy memories of the training camps held there from 1928 to 1945. All training camps are branches of Gilwell but the use of this name for so many camps in many continents becomes confusing, so the Gilwell of the Cape Province Division was called Gilcape. All that is left of the first Gilcape is a post with the municipal nameplate Gilcape Road.
The second Gilcape
In 1940 a sub committee was appointed by the Divisional Scout Council to find a suitable site that could be purchased. There was vacant land between the first Gilcape and the Diep River, and a portion was for sale. This was purchased by Mrs Withinshaw of Wynberg, and given to the Boy Scouts. Shortly after this the adjoining piece was purchased by the Division the two sites giving just under five acres on the Main Road at Diep River with the river as one boundary. There were four cottages on the edge of the ground and their rents brought in the monthly instalments to repay the cost price and interest with enough over for equipment and development for the training courses. For a while the new ground was used in addition to the old camp which was just across the road. Gordon Shield and other events were held on the new ground, but it was not until 1942 that the transfer of the den and campsites was made and the old Gilcape was closed down. This became necessary because of the expropriation of the land by the City Council for a coloured housing scheme. The consequent change of character of the area caused the Division to set up another committee to find another site instead of the new ground.
The Gilcape Diep River site was sold in 1950 for GBP 6,100 and the purchaser Ronnie Quibell, built the Three Arts Theatre on the grounds.
Gilcape Diep River photo gallery
Eerste River (1952 - 1988)
The search for a new Gilcape was prompted by the steady development of Diep River into a residential area and it was generally felt that the property had become too urban for Scouting purposes. The property having a high value for business purposes was sold and the Three Arts Theatre was built on the site.
The sub-committee that was formed to find a new site recommended the purchase of a small holding of approximately 4 morgen that was for sale in Forrest Road, Eerste River. As the adjacent plot was vacant, and it was ascertained that it could be purchased, both plots were bought under a consolidated title given in 1952 having a total of 8 morgen and at a cost of £1800. The purchase price and the cost of a warden’s house were obtained by the sale of the Diep River ground which was sold for £6100.
Initial development consisted of fencing, Warden’s cottage, ablution block, hall and general developments (water supply, trees, roads & camp sites).
The first training course at Eerste River was a Cub course held in 1952. There was no den and no established camp sites, but a marquee was erected as a den and gave some protection from the South Easter and the cub-masters constructed what facilities they could.
Considerable development then took place during the fifties and sixties to ensure that the camp had all its basic needs. The training area now had a hall, quartermaster’s store and a team room. Then in 1964 another adjacent small holding came on the market. It was purchased and added another four morgen and a cottage. That brought Gilcape to approximately 12 morgen.
In 1977 a Development Committee was formed and proposed the construction of a river, lake with island and a mountain with a cliff for a variety of pioneering and adventure activities. Many hours by many volunteers went into the creation of Gilcape’s further development. Clifford Harris was one their mentors and an inspiration for many of the projects. By 1980 Brownsea Island, Lake Bennington and Cliff Harris had been completed. Courses like Handyman and Pioneer were also put to good use in building infrastructure.
Synonymous with Gilcape is the name Kenward "Bunny" Bennington, and one could ask, would we ever find anybody who would give of himself as much as he did towards the creation of Gilcape. Had circumstances been different Bunny's 'monument' would have stood for many years to come. He was the power behind Lake Bennington, Clifford Harris, the ablution blocks and the barn as well as many other buildings and improvements. He was for many years Chairman of the Gilcape Committee. Kenward "Bunny" Bennington died, at Gilcape, while serving the scout movement, on Saturday 10th September 1983.
In the final years Denzil Roberts (the only existing member of that Committee) who held the position of Manager for 9 years, went out to Gilcape every week to pay the staff and attend to other matters. So many people worked hard to make Gilcape what it eventually became, including many Scouters with their Packs and Troops, and it would be risky to mention some names and in all innocence omit others. Every bit of work was a great contribution.
Once again because of the steady development of the neighbourhood into a residential area, it was felt that the property had become too urban for Scouting purposes and a search for a new Gilcape was one again initiated.
Hawequas became the Area’s property on 1st October 1986 and towards the end of August 1988 the last of the Gilcape (Eerste River) equipment was moved to Gilray or Hawequas.
Gilcape Memories - Eerste River 1952 to 1985
A tribute by Olive La Cock.
These are the times we shall dream about, And we'll call them The Good Old Days,
When the years have rolled away, we shall dream of the times we've had, and the songs we used to sing,
But while we're together let us laugh at the weather, and whatever the gods may bring,
When all our youth is but a memory, and we come to the parting of the ways
These are the times we shall dream about,
and we'll call them The Good old Days.
Ralph Reader wrote that song years ago for the Scout Gang Show. I thought of it when I saw the cover of last month's Cape Western Scouter Magazine (with the aerial pictures of Lake Bennington), and realised with sadness that Gilcape is now nothing but a memory.
We all have memories of Gilcape, whether they are happy, sad, funny or just special in some or other way. Don't you feel that we owe it to Gilcape not to let it merely drift off the scene into the realms of 'what once was' without so much as a closing salute?
When I started in Scouting 25 years ago the buildings at Gilcape were already there. But before they were erected, or purchased as part of an extension, participants on Courses had their lectures in a bug marquee tent; they ate in a tent and slept in tents, and the ablution block was pretty far away near the Warden's Cottage. (Abandon all the groans, you who train today; you have comparative luxury at Gilray). Those were the days when the late Carl (Serpent) Rayner and his wife, known as Gilkela, comprised Cape West's entire Training Team. The original Gilcape had been the grounds of their house in Diep River, and from what I hear training then was a much tougher affair than it is now.
Lord Rowallan who was at the time Chief Scout of the UK and Dependant Territories, laid Gilcape's foundation stone in 1952. 'Skipper' Johnson was the first Warden and he did a tremendous amount of work to improve the grounds - chopping, clearing, constructing tables and benches for the Training camp-sites and very many other things.
He was followed by the Linsley's, who were there when I started; Helen with her great memory for names and faces running the tuck-shop and sometimes doing our Course catering, and Edwin the Warden keeping a strict finger on the pulse of Gilcape. I well remember my first Cub camp soon after I got my Camping Licence.
A too-bright full moon had lured the Cubs out of their tents at around 2am and I was just in time to stop them hanging out their sleeping bags to air "because its morning, Akela". No ways were they concerned about getting back to bed so in desperation we organised a game of French Cricket. Everyone was having a great time when, just as I was bending to pick up the ball, a stern voice from behind me demanded "AKELA! WHY AREN'T THESE CUBS IN BED?" That took a bit of explaining, but he was a dear man and we were forgiven. Luckily there were no other Packs in camp at the time!
Will we ever find anybody who will give of himself as much as Bunny Bennington did? One almost feels tempted to quote Christopher Wren's epitaph in St Paul's Cathedral, "If you seek his monument look around you". Had circumstances been different Bunny's 'monument' would have stood for many years to come. He was the power behind Lake Bennington, Cliff Harris, the ablution blocks and the barn as well as many other buildings and improvements. He was for many years Chairman of the Gilcape Committee.
In recent years Denzil Roberts (the only existing member of that Committee) has been holding the position of Manager and going out to Gilcape every week to pay the staff and attend to other matters. So many people worked hard to make Gilcape what it eventually became, including many of you Scouters with your Packs and Troops, that it would be risky to mention some names and in all innocence omit others. Every bit of work was a great contribution.
Gilcape had a charm of its own and even attracted campers from other Areas. No five-star Hotel facilities, we all know that, but it provided what is was meant to provide a background for Boy Training where Scouts could rough it, with a swimming pool for relaxation; camping sites for Cubs, and the basic wherewithal for Adult Training.
On the Training side there are so many memories. Like the sight of Stan Thomas in a ladies long maroon nightie acting as mother in the Team's camp-fire item, or Rikki Hawes in a pink ballet tutu singing "If I was not upon the stage". And the way those horrors, today's A D C 's (Cubs) and official team caterers, used to apple-pie our beds. On the other hand there was the charisma of early morning Scouts Owns in the Chapel, with the footprints of Wood Badge holders lining the path. One can almost look back with affection on these pesky moles who caused many a downfall. I wonder how the new owners are dealing with them? I hope it's humane.
Then there were all the competitions, camps, cross-country runs, OpenDays, Fun Days (do you remember the Diamond Jubilee Cub Fun Day run so ably by Chris Grouwstra?) local and National Training Courses and the annual Gilcape Day. So many memories!
We have come to the end of an era. If we were to drink a toast to Gilcape I wonder what yours would be? Mine would simply be "Thanks for the wonderful times, Gilcape. Long live Hawequas". And there would definitely be tears in my eyes.
Source: Cape Western Scouter
Author: Olive La Cock
Date: July 1985