The introduction in 1977 of a Pre-Junior Section (known as Anchor Boys from September 1982) for 6-8 year olds, if measured simply in terms of numbers enrolled, was another conspicuous success for the Brigade. Within the first two months 148 new Pre-Junior sections had been recorded in the Gazette, and by the end of the first session, 900 Pre-Junior Sections had been registered, with a boy membership of over 16’000. However, the addition of 16’000 boys to official figures did not represent 16’000 new Boys to the methods of The Boys Brigade, as many of these Boys were already part of BB Companies across the country. In fact a survey of Companies take in 1974, indicated the 22.8%, or 690 BB Companies were providing some sort of programme for Boys in the 3-8 year old age group.
In Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent also The Republic of Ireland, these were all commonly known as Robins, however in some isolated instances they retained local names such as Dragons or Cadets.
In England, and in some parts of Scotland, the Imps was the predominant organisation for Boys in this age group, but unlike the Robins, which were sanctioned by the Northern Ireland District of The Boys Brigade, The Imps was a separate organisation with no affiliation to The Boys’ Brigade apart from the fact that they were usually found at Churches which already had Boys’ Brigade Companies and were often staffed by the same leaders which ran The Boys’ Brigade Company.
There were however a number of BB Companies in England which provided programmes for the 3-8 year old group under their own names and with their own programme and identity. The earliest of these must surely be the formation of a group in 1926 by the 5th London Company. This uniformed pre-Life Boy group which was being run by the Sunday School and called the ‘Brown Bees’, thrived and supplied recruits to The Life Boys. After the Second World War the name was changed to ‘Pilot Jacks’ and then to Anchor Boys in 1982 in line with The Boys’ Brigade.
These groups remained within their local communities and did not grow to such an extent or become organised such as the Robins or The Imps, and as a result their exact numbers are not know. Some Companies which had such groups included: Pilot Jacks (5th London), Shipmates, Anchor Boys (10th Sutton), The Victors (3rd Bromley) and Cabin Boys.
With the formation of The Pre-Juniors in 1977, companies were given the opportunity to enrol their Pre-Junior Sections which had up until then, been organised and run unofficially, with the proviso that they should come into line with Brigade policy by 1st September 1980. This to include age range, uniform, title and method of working. Whilst the majority did, and adopted the now familiar red Anchor jersey, in the case of the 3rd Bromley: ‘The Victors’ ran so well that it was not until 1987 that the staff finally decided they would become an Anchor Boy Section.
Much of the information around these early pre-Anchor groups has not been recorded in the Boys’ Brigade archives, and anyone with any information about these groups is encouraged to contact the Boys Brigade archivist. archive@Boys-Brigade.org.uk