Mpumalanga Scout Groups
Please see Scout Groups in South Africa for a list of all the current Groups in the area
Scouting spread throughout Southern Africa very soon after its birth in Britain in 1907 and following the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the Transvaal Province soon had many Troops being formed. This included a number of towns in the eastern part of the province where Troops sprung up in Middelburg, Witbank, Waterval Boven and Nelspruit.
The Scout Archives in Cape Town is in possession of a logbook of the late Jack Mullins wherein it records his Scouting career in this area during the mid-20th century. It contains many photographs and items of memorabilia and is the source of much of the following that gives a vivid insight into Scouting during this period.
Initially the official documentation for South African Scouting was processed and archived at the Imperial Headquarters in London. Enquiries in 2020 by Middelburg’s Scout Group Leader to the UK Scout heritage, revealed early records that a Mr CG Goddefroy was Assistant Scoutmaster in November 1912 and Scoutmaster on 8th October 1913.
This timeframe was also mentioned by an old resident, Mr. D. N. MacLaughlin who recalled that scouting in Middelburg was started either in 1912 or 1913 and that meetings were held in a house at the corner of Long and River Streets. Another resident mentioned that the Scouts were run by Messrs Chris Goddefroy and Victor Uncen. In 1919 the Rev. A. J. Johnson was in charge, the Scoutmaster was Mr. W. Burrows and the secretary Mr. D. Dogterom.
The 1st Middelburg Troop was registered with the S.A. Boy Scouts Association in August 1931, when the Divisional Commissioner Mr. Whitely and Mrs. Whitely visited Middelburg. During the day the Rangers, Girl Guides and Wolf Cubs were inspected by the visitors and in the afternoon Mr. Whitely met the boys who intended taking up Scouting, twenty-four being present. In the evening a meeting was held with interested parties and Mr. Harry Laver was appointed Scoutmaster. He was their Scoutmaster for many years. The Scout Troop and Cub Pack with Meg Middleton as their Cubmaster, had their own grounds and hall, kindly lent to the Local Committee by Mr. Harry Laver, he also supplied the Scouts and Cubs with free electric lights, water and any firewood that might have been required. The only condition Mr. Laver made with regard to the use of these halls were that both properties and grounds be left in a clean condition. Mrs. Harry Laver worked tirelessly for both the Guide and Scout movements in Middelburg and also for the rest of the Eastern Transvaal. Thousands of guides and Scouts made use of the kindness of both Mrs. Laver and Mr. Harry Laver.
Middelburg became Jack and Hetty Mullins home in 1940 and they remained there for the next 17 years until 1957. Here they took a leading role in the movement in not just Middelburg but also Waterval Boven and Witbank. Hetty was, in addition to running the Pack, was also the Guide Captain and Jack ran the Troop. On the 23 May 1940 Jack was awarded the Long Service Medal. Photos from late 1940 tell of them having a very active Group with an energetic committee, Troop of around 43 Scouts and a Pack of 36 Cubs. Scouts attended the 1940 Pretoria Fountains Rally and there were outings to Kruger Dam and Boshoek amongst the many activities. In November 1954 Jack was awarded the Medal of Merit in recognition of his good services to the Boy Scout Movement. Hetty received the Long Service Medal in 1953 and the Medal of Merit in 1955.
Over the 1957 Easter Weekend 15 boys from the Middelburg Troop and 10 from Witbank went to Nelspruit for a camp, at which Barberton and Nelspruit were also represented. It showed the comradery and enthusiasm in the area that Jack and Hetty had greatly helped to build up. Also present were Scouts from Pretoria who were touring and presented their Divisional Gang Show.
In November 1958 Fifteen Scouts camped on Mr. G. V. Erichsen's farm. A sing-song was held around the campfire on Saturday night and a tracking and stalking competition was held. There was advance notice of the scouts are having teenage dance on Saturday night at 7.30 in the Anglican Church Hall, Market Street. Admission is 2/6 (25 cents) per couple. The dance was in aid of the building fund for the new Scout Hall.
In 1960 the troop closed down when the Scoutmaster left on taking up a position in Pretoria, however three years later in June 1963, the Scout Group Committee was re-formed and Mr. J. M. Collett was appointed as Scoutmaster.
During 1993 five Springbok Scouts awards were presented making Scoutmaster Jan Marais and his wife Assistant Scoutmaster Veronica very proud. They were presented by Divisional Commissioner Denis Bruckmann
Dave Backer who was twice Troop Scouter stepped down in 2017 after around 18 years of having being involved with the group. He recalls when Mpumalanga West was a vibrant District with competitions between Secunda, Middelburg, Coalfields and some other groups. He saw Secunda close down and reopen with cubs, Coalfields close down and Passau being born. Like many troops the numbers fluctuated but at one stage under his guidance there were about 24 Scouts. They participated in events in Gauteng (Kon Tiki) and Tshwane (Field Day). During this period there were a few Springboks Scouts, in 2014 seven 1st Middelburg Scouts, one Scouter and one Troop Mascot participated in the Cederberg Senior Scout Adventure and a highlight was when two scouts, twins Lisa and Sean Macdonald attended the 2015 World Jamboree in Japan.
Current activities can be seen on the 1st Middelburg Scout Group Facebook pages
Rev. A. J. Johnson (1919)
Chris Goddefroy and Victor Uncen (1913), Mr. W. Burrows (1919), Mr. Harry Laver (1931/c1939), Jack Mullins (1940/57), Mr. J. M. Collett (1963/?), Jan Marais (1993), Dave Backer (c2000)
Meg Middleton (1931/c1939), Hetty Mullins (1940/57)
Springbok Scout Awards
Earliest records mention that Witbank had a Scout Troop in 1919 known as the Witbank Troop of Boy Scouts with P. M. Cruse as Scoutmaster, J. H. Moore as Assistant Scoutmaster and E. Soar as Signals Officer and they met at the Witbank Colliery Recreation grounds.
The logbook of Jack Mullins, who was once the District Commissioner for the area, recorded that in November 1964 a farewell ceremony was held for the Pack Scouters, Mr. and Mrs. Scott. There were accolades from the Committee, the Douglas Pack and the Troop, indicating that the group as a whole, was successful and flourishing. Cubs, Scouts and parents gathered in the Rand Carbide Hall to say farewell to their most popular and well-beloved Cub Leaders. They had made scouting their life's work and through their practice and experience they had taken the cubs under their wing and had built the pack up. They had also helped Mr. Parkin establish the Douglas Pack in the area. The parents were most grateful for the interest they had taken in the boys, and for all they had done. As a parting gift they were given a mohair travelling rug.
Opening of Scout Hall
A grand affair was celebrated on Saturday the 18 June 1965 with the opening in the Witbank Scout Hall in Vandeventer Street. Present were parents, dignitaries and a neat little parade of Scouts, Guides, Cub and Brownies. The hall was officially opened in on by the Divisional Commissioner for the Northern Transvaal, Mr. Jac Joel, who came out from Pretoria to perform the ceremony.
His Worship the Mayor, Councillor F. W. Birkholtz, together with a crowd of about one hundred and fifty people, listened with interest while Mr. J. Meintjies, President of the Group Association, outlined the history of the Group since the early 1920's, when the first Scouts were active in Witbank.
The site which had been occupied by an old stable and garage, was purchased in 1962, and by dint of hard work and much help from generous donors, it was altered and improved at a cost of about R3,500. There was a short speech from Councillor Birkholtz who reminisced about his own youth in the Scout movement.
Group Scoutmaster C. G. Parkins presented Thanks Badges to Mr. Meintjies, Mrs. Edwards, Mrs. Kourie, Mrs. Hundermark, Mrs. G. Wright (who also accepted a decoration on behalf of her husband), Mr. and Mrs. du Sautoy (Mr. du Sautoy is Chairman of the Association) and Mr. and Mrs. R. A. C Woollett. Mrs. E. Montgomery, District Commissioner of Girl Guides, then presented the Guide Thanks Badge to Mrs. Gertie Young, and finally the Medal of Merit was presented to Mr. Ted Evans. The Round Table, who had made the cupboards in the hall, handed over the cupboard keys, and the Divisional Commissioner opened the door.
Visitors were entertained to tea and had the opportunity of inspecting the spick and span premises, as yet awaiting the loving care of the muralist and the trophies with which every Scout Hall is hung. An unusual feature of this hall is that it is to be shared by Scouts and Guides alike. The Guide officers were soon busy receiving their keys and establishing their feminine foothold in the masculine stronghold.
A beacon for Scouting
From 1968 to 2010 the 2nd Coalfields Troop had 31 Springbok Scouts, which is a clear indication of the level of Scouting that was on offer by the Scouters.
In May 2005 the Scout magazine, Mpumalanga SUN, recorded that the annual Dudley James Award for excellence in Scouting, was presented to Lynn Miller, the Pack Scouter of 2nd Coalfields, for outstanding service to the Mpumalanga Scout Area. Lynn, who was both a Brownie and Guide, has run the Pack for over 25 years (1980 / 2005) often with no help at all, yet she has kept it as strong as ever. Active Member of the Area Training Team she has run many of the West’s Training Courses - sometimes single handed, and has often travelled to Nelspruit and White River to assist at Courses and attend Area meetings. She has organised Camps, Field Days, Fun Days, and District Cub Outings. Husband Kevin, always a wonderful support, is involved on the Lay side of the Group, mainly in Maintenance. Their son and daughter both came through the Movement. As part of the Award, Lynn will be visiting Germany, sight-seeing, experiencing Scouting there and reporting to Nangu Thina, our support organisation which sponsors the Dudley James Award.
From a local newspaper article dated June 4 2014 it is mentioned that the 2nd Coalfields Troop now meet at the Scout Hall in Beatrix Street (next to New Life Church), and that Brian Sulter is now the Troop Scouter. Interaction with other scout groups in the district were popular and combined camps were held with scouts from Middelburg, Passou and 2nd Coalfields where they got together for a fun learning experience. July saw Scout Troops of First Passau and Second Coalfields hold an Enviro-Adventure Camp at Doornpoort Dam. During the camp they were taught about extreme weather and how to survive, which was just as well because the temperature dropped to -6.5C on the Friday night. Around this period the Cub Pack was also active with Letitia Galloway as the Pack Scouter.
The end of an era
From the March 2016 page of the 1st Middelburg Scout Group's Facebook, it was mentioned by Dave Backer, their Troop Scouter that 2nd Coalfields had closed down. He recalled that this once vibrant Troop which had been a beacon in Mpumalanga West has sadly closed its doors! They had dominated the District competitions. He then summed up some of their legendary Scouters, like Philip Plant, Graham Sulter (30 Year Bar to the Long Service Medal in 2009) and Jane Sulter (15 Year Long Service Medal in 2004 and the Certificate of Merit in 2006), Keith Plant (15 Year Long Service Medal 2004) and Frank Flowers. Lynne Miller was a formidable Pack Scouter and motherly inspiration to other pack scouters in the District. Dave's moving postscript was - The fire might have died, but I believe that nestling somewhere in those stifling ashes of scouting heartache, there is still an ember glowing steadily and ready to ignite the scouting spirit in Witbank again. Scouting fills the heart and dominates the soul of each and every scout, no matter how dormant or active. Somewhere, sometime and somehow, someone will rediscover the spark and rekindle the awesome fire that was 2nd Coalfields.
Group Scout Leaders
C. G. Parkins (1965)
P. M. Cruse (1919), Brian Sulter (c1982 - 2014)
Mr. and Mrs. Scott (? – 1964), Lynn Miller (1980 - 2005), Letitia Galloway (2014)
In the late nineteen thirties, Jack and Hetty Mullins moved to Waterval Boven (Emgwenya, Mpumalanga) and it seems from the captions to their photos that it was colloquially known as simply "Boven". They had a very active Troop with Jack as Scoutmaster and a Cub Pack with Hetty as their Cubmaster. They took the boys on many hikes, camps and to the 1938 Vereeniging Jamboree. The nearby Waterval Onder was also a popular hike destination.