Here’s a great book that we just had to review for our blog although it wasn’t on our book club book list!
From the sounds of it, our reviewers suggest you rush out to pick up How the Girl Guides Won the War by Janie Hampton. Have you read it already?
2nd Mount Hope Guides and 2nd Mount Hope Pathfinders, Ontario
“For great occasions, such as visits from the District Commissioner, there was a Grand Salute. The Brownies form a circle and squat on their heels…with both hands on the ground beneath their feet. When the important person comes in they howl very gently all together “Tu-whit-towho-oo-ooo. Tu-whit-to-who-oo-ooo, ” the second time raising the voice and gradually rising to a standing position. “Tu-whit-to-who-oo-ooo.” The third time it is louder and the forefinger on the right hand is placed to the lips and made to revolve, the noise getting louder and louder until it ends in a shriek, a leap in the air, and a clap of the hands. The clap comes as the feet reach the ground… then the Brownies are absolutely silent and raise their hands to the full salute.”
The Grand Howl, as we called it, was one of my favourite Brownie moments! I joined Girl Guides of Canada as a Brownie. However, I joined late, in what would have been my third and final year. The other girls all talked about being able to “fly up” to Guides at the end of the year, having successfully completed their Golden Bar, Golden Ladder and Golden Hand requirements. I too wanted to fly up to Guides and worked feverishly to earn that honour. Somehow, I managed to do it and my wings were proudly worn on my Guide badge scarf.
Yet somehow after reading this book, my accomplishment seems pitiful and lackluster in comparison to what Brownies and Guides accomplished during the Second World War. What struck me most was the incredible ingenuity and bravery shown by these young Brownies and Guides. Many girls mentioned throughout the book were refugees or interned in concentration camps. These girls lived by the Guide Law and did everything in their power to do a Good Turn each day; even if their meetings had to be run in secret to avoid execution.
The girls often risked their lives in incredibly dangerous situations. They were forced to step into the roles of homemakers, nurses and even messengers of top-secret information. Not an easy task for a child. Yet despite the atrocities they faced, they managed to find time to work on badges, complete their second and first-class tests and even earn their All Round Cords. I find it truly amazing that in the face of adversity, these incredible girls were able to find some normalcy in their lives; and I want to offer a huge hug of thanks to the many young women that risked their lives to provide Guide and Brownie units for the children. In fact, some of the unit Captains were executed for their roles in running Units, or aiding the Allies and prisoners of war.
I have to say, Iʼm not a history buff. In fact, history was the one subject in school in which I had to work for a decent grade. Yet somehow Hampton was able to hold my interest. I did find the book took longer to read than expected; but, then again, Iʼm unaccustomed to reading non-fiction. I wasnʼt able to get lost in the story like I can with a work of fiction.
As a Guider, I can see how different our expectations for the girls have become. I look at the girls in my Guide Unit and think “could they do these things if another war broke out?” I hope we never have to find out. I do like to think that Guiding principles today are the same as they were 100 years ago; and as such, our girls and women would step up just like their sisters of the past.
By Stephanie. For more from Guider Stephanie, visit her blog.
13th Red Deer Brownies, Red Deer, Alberta
The book was very insightful as to how girls survived and how they managed to hold meetings in the early years of Guiding. It was definitely not an easy road for them to be a part of their community as they still weren’t seen as people. Women were gaining strength though, as the younger generation were the ones who were able to help siblings and friends get ready for air raid drills, as well as the actual air raids, keeping others calm and being able to call for help. When people were being deported to concentration camps, the girls stuck together like sisters to keep each other’s spirits up.
During the war, Guiding and Scouting became illegal movements as the government saw it as a youth movement to take over the government. The book is filled with many anecdotes of girls being held in these camps, and still holding their meetings or recognizing each other in Guiding. Two stories come to my mind as I type this out. The first one is where they have different patrols, and they name themselves after different materials to build strong walls, so that they can still meet and still talk about their ideas and meetings openly. The other story is where one girl has seen more horrific things in her 10 years of life than anyone should be witness to, and she is sent to a concentration camp. She wouldn’t eat or participate in anything, finally one of the older girls quietly and discreetly makes the Guide sign and the girl just falls into the older girls arms crying, finally seeing something from her childhood that she recognizes.
Later in the twentieth century, a girl remembers why she loved going to her Guide meetings: “The whole point of Guides was an evening away from parents, a great excuse for giggling, something that we were absolutely forbidden to do…it [is] a liberating organization, and gave us positive values about women which we didn’t get at my male dominated home…you learned to do things yourself.”
I loved reading this book and have a new respect for women who grew up during the war. I know I am going to look at my own personal struggles differently now that I have read about their own struggles of food rationing.
“Always stand with your face to the sun, and the shadows will fall behind you.”
By Jenn, a Brownie leader in Red Deer, Alberta. Jenn loves going to her weekly meetings and getting to spend time with her girls every week. She wants to gleam as much information about how to make her unit a better place for girls to come and learn how to be strong and independent as possible.
District Guider Ali,
“Girl Guides – so, cookies and stuff?” That is often the type of response I receive when I tell people about my involvement in Girl Guides. After reading How the Girl Guides Won the War, I am much more prepared and proud of the contributions of Girl Guides throughout the world during the Second World War.
How the Girl Guides Won the War is about the different aspects that Girl Guides throughout Europe helped with during the war effort. What is more empowering than reading that Rangers throughout Europe were in roles including espionage and underground efforts to support those against the Nazis? What about knowing that Brownie and Girl Guide Units were secretly organized in concentration camps such as Auschwitz? Women understood the importance of helping girls survive that they risked their lives to help girls earn badges. There were other leaders in internment camps in Asia that helped girls fulfil program so they did not fall behind when the war ended.
Of course, the efforts “at home” (this book was written in Britain) were also astounding. To hear about what service projects girls of all ages did and the amount of money they raised during times of rationing and near poverty filled my Guiding heart with pride and enthusiasm.
After the devastation of the war, Girl Guides throughout the world were not done with their “good deeds.” In fact, Guides were part of the restoration efforts that were happening in full force until the 1950’s. Giving food, helping rebuild, holding school classes and many other tasks were entrusted to Girl Guides.
This book is an easy read, where the author starts with her own experience in Guiding; her experience may not be as positive as you think. Janie Hampton dives into the history of Guides and Scouts, and examines the lives of different units and women throughout the war. After the war efforts and recovery, she continues into more current history and how the Girl Guides throughout the world are still making a difference in the world.
Ali Peters is a high school guitar teacher to pay the bills, and District Guider and Trainer in real life.
After this post went up we heard from Jennifer who also loved the book and had in fact reviewed it on her own blog a while back.
See what great blog posts our Members come up with? What would you like to pitch us? Email me to get your post in front of our Guiding audience! Talya rotemt (@) girlguides.ca