Wearside Echoes: Carry On Camping!

HAPPY DAYS: The St Gabriel's Boys' Camp in 1914
HAPPY DAYS: The St Gabriel's Boys' Camp in 1914
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A WORLD of adventure in the great outdoors awaited the youngsters of a Wearside church 100 years ago.

Barnes-based St Gabriel’s organised its first camping trip for boys in 1912 – and generations of members have carried on camping ever since.

“It is a tradition which is still going strong,” said camp cook and life-long camper Tim Galloway, whose children now enjoy camp life too. “As far as we know, the group is unique.

“Similar camps have been held by other churches over the years, but ours is the only one celebrating its centenary. This is camping with a difference; it has a very special atmosphere.”

The idea for a summer camp for young parishioners was dreamed up by Rt Rev B. Lasbrey and Canon Vining, then vicar and curate of St Gabriel’s, and a notice published in the church magazine.

“The camp will be a holiday camp, and not in any sense military. The day’s occupations will consist of bathing, football, cricket, picnics, expeditions and entertainments,” the advert revealed.

“It is hoped that by living with them for this time, and sharing their recreations and duties, the (church) officers will so come to know the boys as to be able to help them in their lives.”

Around 40 youngsters flocked to sign up for the first adventure, which was held at Windy Hill Farm near Saltburn. The cost of ten very wet days under canvas came to 15 shillings – 75 pence.

“We are pleased that our holiday camp has been so successful,” the parish magazine later reported. “In spite of moderate weather, one hears nothing but praise sounded by the lads who were present.

“Perhaps the event of the day was the sing-song each evening, when all the talent of the camp – musical and otherwise, was unearthed. A number were very reluctant to leave camp.”

The truth behind this report, however, could have seen an end to the trips long before they became a tradition – as Gordon Vining revealed in a letter to the church many years later, in 1948.

Constant rain, soaked tents, mud everywhere, rats attacks on food, the kitchen tent blowing into the sea and a novice chef who couldn’t cook were just some of the disasters to befall the camp.

“Many men today would have given up camp as a bad job after this, and found easier ways to spend a church holiday,” said John Donald, author of a book on the history of the boys’ camp.

“But these were no ordinary men! They dried out their clothes, polished their shoes and started planning reunions and the venue of next year’s camp.”

The next venue turned out to be Seaton Point, near Alnmouth, where a fresh batch of boys set up their bell tents in 1913. When the trip proved “to be admirable,” the same site was booked for 1914.

But the storm clouds of conflict were by now gathering over Europe and, when World War One was declared, all of the camp’s undergraduate tent officers were recalled to serve their country.

The end of the war saw the return of camp in 1919, with bell tents rented from Speedings of Sunderland and Rev Sammy Salter in charge – having progressed from disastrous first camp cook.

“We still camp in bell tents, that is one of our traditions,” said Tim.”We have toilets now, rather than holes in the ground, as well as electricity and a cook-house, but our traditions are important.

“We still have tent tidying in the mornings, just as early camps did. Many activities are the same too, such as Podex – a cross between rounders, baseball and cricket, but we also do laser wars.”

St Gabriel’s Boys’ Camp went from strength to strength following the end of World War One, surviving the Great Depression and celebrating its Silver Jubilee at Seaton Point in July 1937.

World War Two, however, saw camp activities temporarily put on hold, and plans for a post-war trip in 1946 almost ground to a halt after rationing sparked a severe shortage of flour and meat.

But church officials managed to battle on, overseeing changes in venues from Seaton Point to Littlehoughton, Eastgate, Riding Lea, The Linnels and finally Riding Mill – home since 1966.

“In every part of the world, from America to South Africa, there are men who look at the calendar and say, ‘Well, camp’s started,’ and pause to think of the friendships made,” said John.

The camp’s centenary is to be celebrated at St Gabriel’s this Sunday, when a special service will be held at 10.30am. Dozens of camp photos – from 1912 onwards – will also be on display.

“I’ve been to camp every year since I was born,” said Tim, who lives in Barnes. “My father, Rev Bert Galloway, was in charge for a while, and my mother, Ann, was the camp cook.

“It is very difficult to explain why camp is so special. You have to experience the camp spirit to understand it really. I believe that is why the group is still going strong after all these years.

“There must hundreds, if not thousands, of ex-campers out there. I would like to reach out and invite them to celebrate the centenary of a very special tradition – our camp.”

** Do you have fond memories of camp life? Contact Sarah Stoner at sarah.stoner@northeast-press.co.uk or write to: Sarah Stoner, Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland, SR4 9ER. @WearsideEchoes

Sidebar: Camp snippets

Former Eurythmics star Dave Stewart, who lived in High Barnes, was a St Gabriel’s camper

The first cup of tea brewed at the first camp in 1912 was made with cold water

A camp based on St Gabriel’s was started at Dawlish in Devon after World War One

A Senior Camp was launched in the 1920s, inspired by the success of the boys’ one

The Camp Pot was introduced in 1921 – a prize for the Best All Round Tent Company

Teach Me Thy Way became the camp hymn in 1924

The Senior Camp was shut down due to lack of interest in 1931

The first St Gabriel’s Girls’ Camp was held in 1946 and is still going strong

Daniel Pratt – son of the camp’s lay chaplain Larry – was christened at camp in 1975

Dougall, a corgi belonging to Tim Galloway’s family, died at camp in 1982 – having been to 17 camps and “chewing many thousands of tent pegs.”