Belfast Battalion Camp

The first Boys’ Brigade Camp in Ireland was organised by the 1st Irish Company in 1892 in Killough County Down. The first Battalion Camp started in 1904 and was held in Ballywalter. With the popularity of camping in The Boys’ Brigade growing, the dream to acquire a Battalion Camp Site started to emerge. This dream was realised in 1923 when the Battalion President, Rev R H S Cooper, drew Executive’s attention to a press advertisement announcing the sale of a farm of 12 acres at Ganaway, County Down. The Battalion Secretary at that time, Mr William Garrett, was authorised to attend the sale and to purchase the farm on behalf of the Battalion. The property was acquired for the sum of £1,230 (approx. £75,000 today). This sum was raised using a gift from an anonymous donor with accrued interest, together with a bequest of £100 from the estate of the late Sir William Q Ewart and £130 from Battalion funds. The Battalion President, Rev R H S Cooper, provided the Battalion with an interest free loan of £500 and Mr Garrett and Rev Cooper were appointed Trustees of the property. A sub-committee was formed to make ready the site in preparation for the 1924 Battalion Camp.

The first Ganaway Camp was duly held as planned in July 1924 under the direction of Commanding Officer WT Ewing.

The Battalion’s heavy financial commitments arising out of the purchase of Ganaway were eased as the result of a further House-To-House Collection that raised £200 out of which £100 was handed over to Rev RH S Cooper as part payment of his interest free loan.

The 1929 Battalion Camp was a memorable occasion when the new entrance gates were officially opened and dedicated by Rev R H S Cooper. Although advanced in years, Rev Cooper was a regular attender at Battalion Camp. More often than not, he was accompanied by a dog called ‘Romeo’ which became a great favourite with the Officers and Boys.

The popularity of the Ganaway Camp increased as each year succeeded and in the mid-1930’s an attendance of more than 1,000 in all ranks was recorded . Moving 1,000 Boys and Officers from Belfast to the Ards Peninsula was a logistic task of its own. Boys would muster at various points in Belfast and make their way to the train station to board the Belfast and County Down Railway train that would take them on their journey to Donaghadee. From here, Boys would form up and parade through Donaghadee towards Millisle where they would stop for refreshments. Stories are told of how the roads would be lined with onlookers watching The Boys’ Brigade pass by with women providing water and lemonade for the weary marchers along the way. From Millisle, they would continue the march onto Ganaway.

Many improvements were effected to the Camp Site over the intervening years . A permanent canteen was erected in 1932 and later, a quartermaster’s store and ladies cloakroom were added.

Inspection Day at Ganaway was always a highlight of camp when hundreds of parents and friends attended and a distinguished visitor carried out a thorough inspection of the camp. The Honorary President, Viscount Bangor, High-ranking military officers and the Brigade Secretary, Mr G Stanley Smith, Son of the Founder of the Boys’ Brigade, were among those who honoured the Camp in this way.

In 1912 The Ganaway Camp Lyre was first published – a daily newssheet of ‘literary excellence and libel’. The first editor was Mr J S Platt followed by many others who kept the tradition of adding humour to daily camp life.

The outbreak of war in 1939 caused the abandonment of the 1940 camp for fear that the large number of tests might be mistaken for a military encampment. It was not until 1948 that Battalion camps recommenced.

By the early fifties, however, a new generation of Boys and Officers were looking farther afield to spend annual holidays. Belfast and Larne became the transit ports for individual Companies taking Boys out of Northern Ireland in large numbers to experience camping and fun-days in Ayr, Troon, Girvan, Millport, Morecambe, Blackpool, Isle of man and a host of other seaside towns the length and breadth of ‘the Mainland’.

Belfast Battalion Camp 1924

The Ganaway Lyre Vol.16 No.2

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