MABUHAY! - Asia’s First World Jamboree – (and we were there!)
Sixty-one flying hours in a B.O.A.C. Britannia turbo-jet, 18,355 miles covered across half the world, touch downs at Rome, Damascus, Bahrain, Karachi, Delhi, Rangoon and Hong Kong, or possibly at Istanbul, Beirut, Bagdad, Colombo, Kuala, Lumpur, Calcutta and Singapore-it all sounds like idle dreams of a school-boy thumbing longingly through an atlas. But this was fact: this was the experience and privilege that the 112 members of which 94 were Queen Scouts from 16 to 18 yrs old, the United Kingdom contingent enjoyed in order to join with fellow Scouts from 57 other nations for the 10th World Jamboree on the tropical island of Luzon in the Philippines. It was the first Jamboree in Asia and the second outside Europe- and what an experience it was!
Within 24 hours of leaving London on Sunday 12th July (the “overflow” party having left 2 days before and stopping in Singapore on the way out and seven nights at Colombo on the return) the majority of our contingent was in the streets of Delhi and guests of the Scouts of India. A great welcome was given to us by our hosts and after a bus tour of the town, where they were our guides, a big meal was prepared on wood-fires and we were entertained that night in the Scout Headquarters.
On our return we spent a day in Hong Kong, buying masses of souvenirs and presents in what is one of the cheapest towns in the world and the last in which we could barter and bargain in the fascinating manor of the East. Again we toured the sights of the town by bus and that night we were guests of the Scouts of Hong Kong in their fine HQ. We left the next day after a 12-course Chinese lunch eaten with chopsticks- this was a relatively small meal for a big one has over 16 courses – and in just over 24 hours we arrived once more in London on Saturday. August 8th.
In just four weeks we had had the experience of a life time, a unique and wonderful opportunity of seeing many different peoples, travelling on numerous forms of transport, trying new and strange food, suffering diverse climates and witnessing startling natural wonders and odd national customs.
It was “Looking Wide” at its widest and every Scout from England, Ireland, Scotland & Wales had his own impressions and stories to retell to try and recapture something of those exhilarating days.
(I am sure this article written in 1959 by 17yr old Spencer Flack reflects the thoughts of all of us who attended this Jamboree.)
The flight was smooth and uneventful due to the splendid service of B.O.A.C., and the terrible heat each time we landed soon cooled rapidly when we took off again. Through the clouds we could see the crowded, tall European cities change to the teeming flat-roofed cities of the East, the vegetation slowly alter from lush green woodlands to dirty brown arid-lands and finally the Indian & Chinese continents merge into the sparkling greens and blues of the Pacific Ocean. Then came the beautifully artistic coral islands, golden brown sands, dense green vegetation and lagoons of magnificent blues, and by nightfall we reached the islands of the Philippines.
Leaving Delhi in the morning we arrived in the rain in Manila. Our destination, by the evening, where the contingent was divided up and given British or American hosts in the town. Here for a day and a half we stayed among the people of Manila and saw how they lived and worked. The two extremes, the very rich who lived reasonable Europeanised lives and the very poor who lived in tumbledown mud-huts, often on stilts on the water’s edge. Both rich and poor are incredibly friendly and from the first to last there was nothing that was too much for them to do and always in the happiest manner. Generally small, they are the essence of hospitality, speaking American English, which is the official language, as well as Tagalog, the predominating national dialect.
The population today consists chiefly of Malay Filipinos, though well mingled with all Oriental races, and forms the only Christian nation in the Orient, being chiefly Catholic as a result of the Spanish occupation from 1555-1898. The Americans succeeded the Spanish until 1945 when the Philippines (named after Philip 11 of Spain) became a Republic, but the American influence is still overwhelming and the chief imports are American corned beef and sardines. The 7000 islands which make up the Philippines occupy a land area just larger than Great Britain and Ireland and lie just above the Equator. This makes for a dry season from March to June and a wet season from July to October and one of my memories of the Jamboree itself is of sudden tropical rain and mud.
Our British contingent was divided into three Troops of about 36 each (1 Scout Master, 3 Assistant S.M & 32 boys) and from our Manila Hosts we endured a 4+ hour transportation on the shocking roads to our Jamboree camp site via the local Scout headquarters and in a U S Navy bus.
The scene was hectic and animated with hoards of sweating Scouts panting in all directions. It was evening and had just rained, so there was no sun top dry up the mud and we squelched around on the mountain side setting up camp, the three Troops in three different area's but all aided by willing Filipinos. The site itself was carved out of the side of Mount Makiling, of local legendary fame, a national park of about 1000 feet above sea level with pleasant views of Laguna Bay and the impressive mountain peaks. It was still covered with bamboo and woodlands, except for the hewn-out steep narrow roads, clearings for camp sites and camp amenities and larger spaces for areas of display and activity. There was no grass, just rough bracken and earth.
We were all crammed tight in a small space, wedged within feet of American, Japanese and Filipinos Troops, who were all wonderful neighbours. The rolling terrain was dotted with straw-thatched bamboo huts of our hosts who numbered about 8,000 against the 3-4,000 of the visiting contingents, of whom half came from China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Malaya. The complete site was vaguely divided into seven sub-camps named after the provinces of the Philippines; I was in “Eastern Mindanao”. Irregular in shape, the 300 hectare site stretched about 1.5miles in each direction and the journeys from one side to the other for events or amenities took some time, walking over the long and twisting mountain roads and avoiding the odd gorge or two shelving two or three hundred feet away. The mud made a soft bed for the night.
The following day the world came to our doorstep, Contingent after contingent arrived, tents scattered as confetti before us, people tramped in all directions in grass skirts, green bonnet, kilt, fez, multi-coloured g-string or burnooses and the colours of them all danced before us. The air was filled with the babble of boys’ voices in 40 different languages and all the noises of camp, everybody was coming and going, finding their way about and beginning to make new friends. The excitement grew, the international spirit sparked and for the next 10 days the 10th World Jamboree blazed with the enthusiasm, friendliness and goodwill that Scouts of Asia inspired.
Not even the dousing rain during the official opening ceremony the next day weakened this. On Saturday afternoon, 18th July, the President of the Philippines Republic His Excellency Carlos Garcia, immediately set the tone by declaring in his address of welcome to us assembled before him in nations- “Rest assured that whatever we give to please all of you, or to satisfy you, are the best we have and that they come from the bottom of our hearts and we give them, to you out of love expecting no returns”.
He stressed the theme of the Jamboree “Building Tomorrow Today”, by the instilling of international kinship, friendship, and understanding as the 16 ft Jamboree emblem was hoisted by 200 multi-coloured balloons and more balloons each with a flag of a country affiliated to the Boy Scouts International Bureau were released. A minute’s prayer was then observed in memory of B.P. Then the crowd of over 100,000 visitors cheered the march past of nations, appearing alphabetically from Australia to Vietnam, with the Exiled Scouts from behind the Iron Curtain receiving a warm welcome.
Camp-fires, concerts, swopping, invitation to suppers or lunches between Patrols and Troops, displays, evening social, get-togethers, games, visits, religious services, evening fireworks, cooking, eating and singing all took their place in the days that followed. There was always so much taking place that anyone missed as much as they saw.
Each morning we rose at 6.00am and the flags of the nations were raised in unison by the signal of a rocket, short services were held before breakfast and then came morning adventure activities or excursions. Tickets were limited for these but I was lucky to visit a coconut processing plant, a coco-cola bottling plant and the local distillery, as well as the surrounding countryside.
On Sunday, after various denominational Scouts’ Owns, all the foreign contingents were invited to join a Filipino Troop for a “Salo-Salo”- a typical lunch. Later, on the Thursday, all the Queens Scouts, Eagle Scouts, Crown Scouts, etc., met for a conclave in Manila.
Other conferences and receptions were held for Scouters, Commissioners, International Leaders and Scout Veterans, as well as training teams and the B.P Guild. In the evenings there were several big sub-camp fires but on the whole the small inter-Troop and informal gatherings were best and there was always multitudes of these each night, as well as national displays and shows more suited to the evening time which took place in the arena or camp theatre with special lighting effects.
EACH DAY had a special theme and this was reflected in the arena displays each afternoon, Sunday was “Pista so Nayon”- Welcome Day, the Filipino Scouts taking first turn with lively dances and musical items- the Filipino Scout bands were the cat’s whiskers. Then came Fellowship Day, with a history of the North Americans told by the Canadians and Americans, Younger Brother’s Day when we were besieged by vast masses of Filipino Cub-Scouts, who presented a gigantic “Pala bus” followed by various national demonstrations.
East Meets West Day with Asian contingents performing amazing traditional dances in a riot of colour and breathtaking pageantry, swirling Chinese dragon and lion dances and exotic Japanese post harvest festival and ancestor-worship rites: and Elder Brother’s Day where the theme was Senior Scouting and the Scouts of Europe staged Senior Scout activities.
On Baden-Powell Day our contingent staged a pageant of Scouting accompanied by a narrative given by our genial contingent leader, Laurence Stringer, HQ Commissioner for Senior Scouts. We presented Brownsea Island in the centre of the arena and then as 10 spokes radiating from this hub enacted the following 10 World Jamboree's, joining up into a large turning wheel. At the end of this, Lord Rowallan, the Chief Scout, presented the Chief Scout of the Philippines with a picture of B.P from our contingent. Many Filipinos, apparently, considered that B.P was an American born in Washington D.C., and we hope we shook a few of their illusions.
It was very difficult for us to see any of the arena events as the visiting crowds rose from 20,000 a day to an estimated 300,000 at times and the events took place in an open field that was not raked. The winding roads leading to the arena were the best places to see the appearing contingents as they marched in with their fantastic national masks and costumes, especially those of the East.
The crowds of public many of them in greetable light-fingered began arriving at 6.00am (though not officially until 1.30pm) and left only at about10.00pm during which time they toured the camp-site visiting the Scouts of many nations. We wondered at times if the symbol of the camp should have been an aching right arm, for "NOWHERE" was left private and we calculated that we must have signed about 3-4,000 autographs a day.
However, the real emblem of the Jamboree was the “Salakot” a typical Filipino straw hat worn for generations in times of peace and war, capping a “Fleur de Les”, the symbol of world wide Scouting, and both enclosed in a diamond representing North, South, East and West. Every camper was given a “salakot” to wear as well as a Jamboree scarf and slide (woggle) so that we all were united as one.
This international spirit was everywhere, expressing itself in all activities. If we were not able to get into the arena there was always the crowded camp market and trading post. A hub-bub of bartering and bargaining for souvenirs, soft drinks, etc., as well as swopping and collecting, all amid a mass of straw and bamboo.
This was at the centre of the camp near the post office, general headquarters, indoor theatre, the Jamboree Totem (a permanent memorial of the camp), Brotherhood Plaza where the flags of all the nations flew in a great horseshoe, the exhibition pavilion, the main flag pole where the Jamboree flag fluttered and the fire station from where vehicles hurried about all day.
The sub-camps were scattered around this, each consisting a first aid station, a distribution centre for the food and the sub-camp office. The arena and grandstand were just within the main entrance way, the vast new swimming pool at the far end of the site (which was never finished) and a very fine camp hospital, which unfortunately I had to make use of for a day or two with stomach trouble( although the nurses mitigated this somewhat), just near the entrance.
Everywhere was teeming with the friendly Filipinos and nobody could possibly claim to be lonely with the constant invitations to join them at their camp-sites. These were always marked by their gay gateways and only the lack of wood prevented the other contingents from following suit. But in every contingent’s camp there was something worth seeing and we were particularly impressed by the high standards of the Chinese.
Another thing we were impressed by was the complete absence of insects from the whole of the Jamboree. This was noticeable as soon as we left the site when the flies and all various tropical collywobbles started making themselves felt. Insecticide was sprayed from machines and by hand day and night great clouds of it would rise everywhere, but it certainly did its stuff.
The heat was oppressive, never less than 85 degrees and too hot for sun-bathing. It rained violently nearly every day for a short spell but if it was not too late in the day the sun immediately dried up the mud into dust again. Unfortunately water from the taps was very scarce on the site until the very end. It was turned off by 7.00am and often not available until late at night.
So the superbly-built new swimming pool could not be filled until the day after the Jamboree finished and it also made for some bad areas of sanitation. Fire engines came round during the day from which we could get essential water, though very luke warm, but on the whole we consumed Coca-cola all day, which we bought by the crate load. The food was mainly enjoyable and we cooked over wood fires, collecting rations daily. Pineapple was always available for breakfast in some shape or form and the Philippine Air Force supplied us with free pineapple juice throughout, which we could get by the cup of bucketful. We also had lashings of rice, melons, bananas, chicken “papaya” fruit - a national speciality, coconuts, sweet corn and salmon, while most things were cooked, and so tasted different.
But the Jamboree had to end and Sunday 26th July was “Au Revoir” Day. We were all moved by the afternoon closing ceremonies. Entering the arena by the sub-camps and not the contingents we marched, the world arm-in-arm before the 550,000 crowd and faced the grandstand.
From here the Filipino Camp Chief, Vice Camp Chief and Camp Director presented Jamboree Plaques to the leaders of each national contingent for their national Headquarters. Lord Rowallan presented a Silver Wolf award to the Philippine Chief Scout, Jorge Vargas on behalf of his team of Jamboree leaders, with the words “We are supremely grateful to the Boy Scouts of the Philippines for bringing us to this lovely spot and for the cheerfulness in the face of difficulties, which happen at Jamboree’s and for their kindness and friendship”.
In wholehearted agreement we joined vigorously in the catchy Jamboree song, followed by the Jamboree yell and everybody threw their salakot into the air, cheering—which was the last we saw of those. Finally the Scout Promise was reaffirmed by us all in either English or Tagalog, the flags of the nations were lowered and all linked arms for the final Auld Lang Syne. Promises to write to all our new friends were made, we were each piled with hundreds of addresses, farewell campfires were held and all too soon night fell and we staggered to bed very tired but very happy.
When we woke the next morning most of the contingents had gone. Leaving in the early hours of the morning, and by late afternoon we had left and were again in Manila and re-dispersed among the same hosts as before, wherever possible.
That evening and the following day we were welcomed aboard the U.S Coast Guard Cutter “Nettle” and sailed to the island of Corregidor where we spent three hours touring about, the island contained a disused army barracks a mile long, it was the scene of many battles in the last war, and is still littered with live ammunition.
After two more days in Manila we set out by train to Legaspi, the capital of Albay, a province in the very south of the island of Luzon, and here we were given a great civic reception and marched to breakfast accompanied by the town band. Three crowded days followed of sight-seeing and entertainment.
We saw the active volcano of Mayon with the most perfect volcanic cone in the world and the remains of Cagsawa, a town buried by the eruption of 1814. We visited the Naglagbong Sulphur Springs where scalding water shoots from the ground and which boiled our eggs for us in exactly four minutes. And amongst many other wonderful sights and scenes we saw Manila rope being made, sugar cane and crushed coconut being processed and grass manufactured into baskets and mats.
A special concert in our honour was performed at the school of Albay and one of the items was the unique but unintentionally high speed display of Highland dancing by the Scots, who tried to dance to a 45 r.p.m. record played at 78 r.p.m – on the only equipment available.
Then back to Manila for a further two days and so to the airport, a flight round half the world, a two hours intense customs screening and then home.
We left the Philippines exhausted but regretful. It had been a tremendous trip and nothing can shake the memories of those exciting, eventful, often breathtaking days. We were told that the Filipinos would be friendly, but nothing like their actual friendliness had been expected by any of us. It is impossible to know where to start thanking them, or the many Scouts we met “en route”.
To our English/American hosts in Manila, to those in Albay, to the leaders and organisers of the Jamboree at work since 1957, to the Boy Scouts of the Philippines, to our friends from practically every country in the world who contributed in measure to the Jamboree’s success, to our Contingent Scouter's and to the many people at home who made this experience possible for each of us, we can only say “salamat” (thank you), tell you something of our travels and hope you think them worthwhile. We certainly did.
The 10th World Jamboree made another contribution to our Scout task of “Building Tomorrow Today”, of building a “world citizenry dedicated to the ideals of world brotherhood and peace” and for the brilliant success of this the Scouts of Asia can be justly proud.
Spencer Flack – (1942-2002.)
This article was written by the late Spencer Flack as a 17 year old Queen Scout with 21st Hendon Scout Group in August/ September 1959 who sadly died in 2002. A young man who I was proud to have met and spent 4 weeks with at the Jamboree in 1959
Some more information on Spencer can be found on the "Gone Home" page