The Boys Brigade (Dummy Rifles)
The first Boys Brigade was started by Sir William Alexander Smith on October 4, 1883 at Free Church Mission Hall, Glasgow, Scotland. His purpose was to develop “Christian manliness” by the use of semi-military discipline and order. He desired to promote habits of obedience, reverence, discipline and self respect in the young men of his church. This program was designed for boys 10 to 21 years of age. The Boys Brigade rapidly expanded in the United Kingdom and eventually reached around the world. At the turn of the century it involved tens of thousands of young men. The young men had simple uniforms comprised of a jacket, tie, trousers, white haversack and a pill box hat. During the early years of this organization dummy rifles were used for military drill. This practice was discontinued following WWI. The Boys Brigade promoted such activities as patriotic parades, athletic contests between Companies and service projects.
The Boys Brigade was organized much like the military. It was broken up into Regions, Districts, Battalions and Companies. The leadership was comprised of Warrant Officers who were adults who had undergone special training. Older boys who had received special training could become officers and all held the rank of Lieutenant. Each post had one Captain who reverted to a Lieutenant at the end of his tour of duty. The older boys also held the Non-Commissioned Officer rank based partly on age. The minimum age for each rank were as follows. Lance Corporal -age 14, Corporal – age 15, Sergeant – age 16, Staff Sergeant -age 17. All ranks wore appropriate rank insignia or chevrons.
There was a central organization that published the Boys Brigade Gazette. This was a sophisticated news letter that described the Boys Brigade activities form all regions of the world. It should be noted that the Boys Brigade is still in existence but is significantly modernized from it’s early beginnings. The American Region of the Boys Brigade was started in August of 1894 with a call form the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in New York City for 500 volunteers to form the Baptist Boys Brigade.
The Boys Brigade appears to have been non-sectarian involving all branches of the Christian Church. You will find references to Catholic and Protestant Boys Brigades. Current references to the Baptist Boys Brigade tend to refer to all early Boys Brigade units in the United States. Of particular interest to me is the fact that Francis Bannerman sold a considerable number of non-firing drill rifles to Boys Brigade units. There is very little documentation relating to these drill rifles. The following photographs can be found on the Glesca Pals web site. They are excellent examples of the type of uniforms and non-firing drill rifles that were in use from 1883 – 1918 by Boys Brigade members.
Of particular interest is the photo of a very refined SMLE dummy rifle. Several of these replica wooden rifle were borrowed from a Boys Brigade Company to be used in the 195th Glasgow company display in the centenary year, 1983. No information is available that would indicate their origin. Since the SMLE rifle was adopted in 1902, it seems probable that they were produced between 1902 and 1918 when the Boys Brigades discontinued the use of drill rifles. However, it is also possible that they were specially made at a later date for some ceremonial purpose. There is a wealth of detailed information relating to the Boys Brigade on the internet.
The next installment: The US Training Rifle Co.
From the paper, Non-Firing Drill and Training Rifles, by By Malcolm MacPherson