"SCOUT Jamboree stamps are my favourite. My thematic collection, started since my schoolboy days, has grown significantly," quips my friend, a former scout master, when I happened to drop by at his house to return a book.
Asking me to wait the dining table, he excitedly brings out a stack of albums from his study and starts flipping through the neatly written-up pages while rattling off the names of countries that have issued stamps related to the scouting movement started by Lord Baden Powell in August 1907.
"Malaysia issued its first set of scout stamps in 1974 to commemorate the 3rd Malaysian Jamboree held in Johor Bahru. Since then, POS Malaysia has issued several others in conjunction with subsequent Jamborees," he adds while expressing regret that none were printed when the first two scout meets were held in Penang (1966) and Melaka (1970).
His comments pique my interest. Eager to learn more about the origin of scouts in our country, I ask him to tell me more about the earlier Jamborees in Malaysia. Nodding his head, he beckons me to his study and hands over a rather large box file.
“The answers to all your questions are inside. Take this home and enjoy its contents at leisure. The only thing I ask is for you to return the box in its entirety by next Tuesday as a scout member from Ipoh will be coming up to have a look,” my friend says with a smile as he leads me to the door.
I only start to appreciate my friend's labour of love after perusing the contents at home. He must have spent a lifetime collecting the newspaper cuttings, notes, photographs, badges and other related memorabilia.
PENANG TO THE FORE
Based on his extensive notes that trace the history of the Scouting Movement in Malaya even before the Second World War, it soon becomes evident that Penang has achieved many firsts. In 1908, Penang witnessed the birth of the Scouting Movement Malaya. The date coincides with the same year scouting began in the United Kingdom.
The Penang Movement had its infancy as an experimental troop of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) before spreading throughout the entire peninsula. At the same time, Penang was host to the first Jamborees held in this country on both sides of Merdeka.
Selangor made an attempt at scouting in 1909 but it failed to gain momentum until 1926. The first Scout Troop, comprising 30 scouts, was formed in Singapore in 1910 by FC Sands, an educationist and a well-known scouting figure who came from Nottingham, England. Since then, scouting caught the imagination of both boys and adults in Malaya and the Movement has never looked back since.
Prior to 1941, the Malayan Scout Movement existed as a branch of the Boy Scouts Association of Great Britain (BSAGB). After the Second World War, the set up underwent a thorough reorganisation. The Federation of Malaya and Singapore became two separate branches of the BSAGB, each with their own state association which was further divided into several Scout Districts and Local Associations.
FIRST MALAYAN JAMBOREE
The first Malayan Jamboree in Penang received wide coverage in the local newspapers at that time. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, a major daily in Malaya during the pre-war days, reported that a combined camp and Jamboree was held at the Rifle Range for nine days starting from Aug 8, 1927. It stated that the inaugural event was well attended by scouts from all over Malaya.
Owing to the overwhelming success in 1927, another Jamboree was organised several years later in Perak. Called the All-Malayan Scouts Jamboree, the event at Tanjong Malim attracted more than 1,000 scout members from all 12 major Scouting Districts in Malaya.
The week-long meet, held on the grounds of the Sultan Idris Training College (SITC), began on April 24, 1937. Among the objectives of the Jamboree were to allow members to compare notes on ways to practice good scout discipline as well as promote friendship between scouts from all over Malaya.
Conscious of the impending coronation of their majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in a little more than two weeks' time, the scouts also took time during their meet to celebrate the historic event. As a result, the Jamboree in Perak also became known as All-Malayan 'Coronation' Jamboree of 1937.
The various contingents began streaming into the SITC grounds after disembarking from their specially chartered Jamboree Train at the Tanjong Malim railway station on the morning of April 24, 1937.
Singapore sent the largest contingent numbering 210 with Perak in second place with 141 scouts. Penang was represented by 130 members while the Selangor contingent came in fourth with 120 scouts. The delegation size for each of the remaining states were less than 100 scouts. The Melaka contingent, consisting of 86 scouts, was led by their District Commissioner, BVF Richards.
Apart from drawing up programme consisting of scout training, field schemes, hut building competitions and camp fires, a group of selected senior scouts who formed the headquarters staff was also at hand to provide for the well-being of the participants as well as ensure the success of the Jamboree.
The scouts held an Open Day for members of the public on the fourth day of the Jamboree. On that evening, Perak ruler Sultan Iskandar Shah presented the Aw Boon Haw Cup and Aw Boon Par Cup to the Negri Sembilan District and Melaka District respectively.
Shifting attention to more recent history, I start tracing the events leading up to the first Malaysian Jamboree that took place for six days at Teluk Bahang, Penang. Preparatory meetings held at Bangunan Tuanku Syed Putra in George Town as well as the Chief Minister Wong Pow Nee's residence beginning from Aug 3, 1965 involved, among others, the formation of the Jamboree organising committee where Wong was elected Chairman as well as Camp Chief.
During subsequent meetings, it was also resolved that Teluk Bahang's Jubilee Camp, the-then campsite of the Local Boy Scouts Association, would be converted into the Jamboree Village.
Preparations were made to ensure the safety and comfort of the scouts from eleven countries, including Malaysia. This move was made possible with special contributions from the Penang state and Federal governments which amounted to $20,000 and $40,000, respectively.
FIRST MALAYSIAN JAMBOREE
The first Malaysian Scout Jamboree was declared open by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah of Terengganu on Dec 5, 1966. Apart from Kedah Sultan, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, Penang Governor, Raja Tun Uda Al-Haj and Sabah Yang di-Pertua Negeri, Pengiran Ahmad Raffae Pengiran Omar, the ceremony was also attended by 2,328 participants from Taiwan, Great Britain, Brunei, India, South Korea, Laos, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand as well as host country Malaysia.
In his speech, Sultan Ismail expressed hope that the Jamboree would serve as a guidance for the unity, friendship and understanding between the people of various races in this world. He also lauded scout members, donors and volunteers for their tireless contribution towards the organisation and success of the Jamboree.
The next two consecutive days were respectively named 'Governor's Day' and 'Prime Minister's Day' when the Jamboree extended a warm welcome to Raja Tun Uda on the second day, and Malaysia's Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Al-Haj on the third. When delivering his speech, Tunku reminded everyone present of the sacred Scout Promise, commenting that it was one of the underlying factors that led to the rapid expansion of the movement during the turn of the 20th century. In 1966, the Malaysian scout membership number stood at 58,000.
The Prime Minister also said that loyalty to God and King together with the will to help others at all times were the strongest possible basis for good citizenship and help foster unity among the different races in Malaysia. Reminding everyone of the Chin Peng led communist threat that was still looming in the jungles of the country at that time, Tunku expressed hope that more young boys would join the Scout Movement as he saw it as an effective answer to 'the evil force called communism'.
TUNKU AS A SCOUT
The Kedah prince then went on to regale the participants with tales of his own involvement in the scout movement. Tunku became a scout member in 1912 while studying in Debsirin School, Bangkok with his three brothers. He returned to Malaya in 1915 and continued his scouting activities after resuming his studies at Penang Free School a year later.
National Chief Scout of Malaysia, Tan Sri Sardon Haji Jubir officiated the closing ceremony on Dec 10, 1966. In his speech, Sardon said that the Jamboree was made extra special by the presence of a big number of scouts from abroad. He expressed hope that Malaysian scout members would continue to build on the strength of the relationship with their foreign friends forged during the course of the Jamboree.
Just before the Jamboree Flag was lowered and the scouts joined hands to sing Auld Lang Syne, Sardon presented Wong with the highest scouting award, the Semangat Padi medal in recognition of his various contributions to the scout movement. The other committee members present at the Teluk Bahang Jubilee camp were also decorated with badges and given certificates of appreciation.
Penang scouts lost the use of their regular campsites when the leases on the Telok Bahang Jubilee and Waterfall Road Coronation camps expired in 1972 and 1978 respectively. The latter was most remembered for hosting the four-day International Year of the Child State Scout Jamboree where 250 scouts from Georgetown North, Georgetown South, Balik Pulau, Butterworth and Bukit Mertajam districts participated with much success.
Since then, the Malaysian Jamboree is generally held once in every four years and the venue is rotated among the member states to give scout members the opportunity to visit and get to know the other parts of their country better. The second post-independence Jamboree was held in Melaka in 1970, and four years later it was Johor's turn to play host.
The third Malaysian Jamboree was held at the Botanical Garden, located within the Johor Palace grounds, from Aug 1 to 7, 1974. Organised by the Boy Scouts Associations of Malaysia and Johor, the event saw the participation of scout contingents from 20 different countries in the Asia-Pacific region as well as local members from all 14 states.
Today, all the states in our country have hosted the Malaysian Jamboree except for Selangor and Perlis. Comparing the statistics found in the last few pages of my friend's collection, it clearly shows that the scout movement in Malaysia has grown from strength to strength over the years and has a bright future ahead. This is definitely an admirable achievement worthy of Baden Powell's vision and effort.