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The scout flag that went South with Scott

The flag of the 4th Cardiff Scout Troop
The flag of the 4th Cardiff Scout Troop
Commander Evans returns the flag to Scoutmaster T.W. Harvey on board the <em>Terra Nova</em> on 17 June 1913.
Commander Evans returns the flag to Scoutmaster T.W. Harvey on board the Terra Nova on 17 June 1913.
The flag being retrieved from the rubble of the scout hall in Wyverne Road, Cathays, Cardiff after the German bombing raid of 30 April 1941
The flag being retrieved from the rubble of the scout hall in Wyverne Road, Cathays, Cardiff after the German bombing raid of 30 April 1941

When Captain Scott's Antarctic Expedition ship, the Terra Nova, sailed into her home port of Cardiff on 14 June 1913, she had not only the White Ensign flying at the stern, the Welsh flag on the mainmast and the Cardiff City coat of arms on the foremast, but another, much smaller flag fluttering at the bow. Bearing the colour of the 4th Cardiff Scout Troop, this little green flag had accompanied the expedition to the Antarctic and back.

The 4th Cardiff (St Andrews) Troop had been set up in the Cathays district of Cardiff in October 1908, just five months after the first publication in book form of Scouting for boys by the organisation's founder, Robert Baden-Powell. Despite its title as the 4th Cardiff, it was the first scout troop established in Wales.

In March 1910, their Scoutmaster, T.W. Harvey, ordered a flag from the Boy Scouts headquarters in London, with the intention of presenting it to Scott's upcoming expedition to the South Pole. The flag cost six shillings, plus threepence postage, and the invoice, which was returned with the payment by postal order, he marked "Urgent. For Captain Scott Terra Nova for South Pole".

The flag was presented to the expedition in June 1910 when the Terra Nova was in Cardiff to take on coal and other supplies prior to sailing for Antarctica on 15 June. It was one of several flags given to the expedition in Cardiff with requests that they be taken to the South Pole. The flags certainly made it to the expedition's base hut at Cape Evans on McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea, but it is unlikely that they were taken by Scott to the South Pole itself.

The 4th Cardiff scouts formed a guard of honour on the quayside at the Roath Dock when the Terra Nova sailed back into Cardiff on Saturday 14 June 1913. Three days later, on 17 June, some fifty members of the troop gathered on the deck of the Terra Nova to see their colour handed back to their Scoutmaster, T.W. Harvey, by Commander Teddy Evans who had assumed command of the ship after the death of Scott. Addressing the boys, Evans said, "Well, boys, here's your flag, and I hope you will treasure it. It has been a long way. If you become such good soldiers as Captain Oates, you will be good men."

Following the flag's return to the scouts, it hung, framed, in a place of honour in the scout hall in Wyverne Road in Cardiff until the night of 30 April 1941 when a German land mine, dropped during an air raid, destroyed the building. A search of the ruins soon afterwards revealed that, remarkably, the flag had survived intact. But that wasn't the last of the flag's adventures. The rebuilt hut in which it later hung burnt down, and yet the flag survived. Replacement premises in Cathays flooded when a pipe burst, but still the flag came through unscathed.

Now in the textile collections of Amgueddfa Cymru, the flag of the 4th Cardiff (St Andrews) Scout Troop has been reunited with two of the other Terra Nova flags which flew on the ship when she returned to Cardiff, the White Ensign and the Welsh flag.

Boy Scouts Be Prepared

The flag is made from two pieces of coarse green, plain weave, woollen cloth, machine sewn across the centre with a double line of stitching in black cotton thread. Its sides have been turned to the reverse and machine sewn using the same black thread. The centre features the yellow fleur-de-lis motif of the Boy Scouts with a painted outline in black and brown. The green cloth has been cut-away and the edges turned in, the motif laid on the front, and the edges turned under and machine sewn with double line of stitching. This technique enables the motif to be seen from both sides when flying, although the text can only be viewed from the front. Below the fleur-de-lis is a scroll, also in yellow wool, with the motto BOY SCOUTS BE PREPARED painted in black capital letters. The troop's name is painted in white in the bottom left corner. It measures 92.5 cm x 115cm, making it the smallest of the Terra Nova flags in the Museum's collection.

The edge which would have been exposed to the wind is quite frayed. This type of damage is often found on flags. There are also lines of black soiling on the front, the source of which has not yet been identified, but is comparable to the soiling found on the other two Terra Nova flags in the collection. Small rust marks, pin holes and long tacking stitches indicate that it was previously displayed on a stiff board inside a frame. It has also suffered substantial light damage to its front side. Unfortunately, light damage cannot be reversed, but the physical structure of the flag will be supported with the use of conservation-grade materials.

Faded areas, stains and tears help us to understand how the flag has been used, stored and displayed during its 103 year history. Our goal is to preserve as much information about its past as possible.

Article by: Jennifer Barsby, Department of Conservation, Elen Phillips, Department of Social and Cultural History, and Tom Sharpe

Article Date: 14 June 2013

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