The Boys' Brigade

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Date: 4 Oct 1883
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The Boys' Brigade

The Object of The Boys' Brigade is The advancement of Christ's Kingdom among Boys, and the promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-respect, and all that tends towards a true Christian Manliness. The object remains the same as set in 1883, except that the word 'obedience' was added in 1893.

The Boys' Brigade's motto is 'Sure & Stedfast', which is taken from Hebrews chapter 6 verse 19 in the Brible, "... the hope we have as an anchor of the soul ... both sure and steadfast ..."; speaking of Christ Jesus' resurrection and our ultimate resurrection and everlasting life. The shorter spelling, 'stedfast', comes from the Authorised or King James translation of the Bible, the version widely in use in 1883. Whilst most countries today maintain 'stedfast' as the motto spelling, some countries have changed to 'steadfast'.

The Boys' Brigade is recognised around the globe by its logo: an Anchor with a Red Cross behind and an attached length of Rope. Its Motto, Sure and Steadfast, appears on the Anchor. The logo and motto are taken from the Bible's Hebrews chapter 6 verse 19: 'This hope we have as an anchor ... both sure and steadfast' (some countries continue to use the original spelling of steadfast, as printed in the Bible's Authorised Version, Stedfast).

The Boys' Brigade, or BB as it is affectionately known throughout the world, was started on 4th October 1883 in a Mission Hall in industrial Glasgow, Scotland. Within seven years the BB had spread fully around the globe, through the British Empire. The 'brainchild' of William Alexander Smith, a 29 year-old businessman, Militia officer, Sunday School teacher and member of the YMCA, the BB was designed as a means of training 12 to 17 year old Boys in life skills such as faith development, discipline, leadership, physical health, adventure and first aid. As of 2018, there were 750,000 BB members in sixty countries, covering every continent (other than Antarctica).

The BB became the stimulus for the huge number of 'spin-off' uniformed youth movements, such as Boys' Life Brigade, Church Lads Brigade, Jewish Boys' Brigade, and Boy Scouts. BB's early growth also gave rise to youth work amongst girls, promoting the establishment of such organisations as The Girls' Brigade, Girls' Guildry, Girls' Life Brigade, Jewish Girls' Brigade and Girl Guides. It is acknowledged as the first international movement to take an all-encompassing interest in young people. Smith was later, deservedly, knighted for services to youth and is affectionately known as the 'Father of Boyhood'.

Unique aspects of The Boys' Brigade

  1. The BB is NOT an organisation, although incorporated as a company in many places. Neither is the unique aspect the fact that The Boys' Brigade is proudly an evangelical Protestant movement. Each local group, usually called a company, belongs to a church or christian organisation. The 'heirarchy' is purely a networking, support and logistics structure for local volunteer leaders by local volunteer leaders with a very-small administrative staff. Is BB 'too old'? No! Schools and universities are older. Many churches utilise the ministries of Sunday school (nearly 300 years old), Bible Societies (more than 200 years old), mission agencies (similar age) and Scripture Union (over 150 years old).
  2. What Boys do at BB vary according to leaders' skills and local circumstances. The constant is that Boys get to earn badges, rewards for progression in a balanced programme that culminates in, often, a vice-regal or presidential presentation of The Queen's Badge or similarly-named medal. This too is Bible-based, from Luke 2: 52, "...and Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man". Some of the most popular activities include life skills, camping and adventurous pursuits, band, physical activities and sports, water activities including canoeing and sailing, service to the wider community, drill, environmental conservation, and walking through the Bible.
  3. Wherever Boys are in the world, the BB uniform is worn with pride, smartly, as it the symbol of social equality for all yet promoting esprit de corps. Each country develops its own uniform with the BB anchor logo as the common feature. Is uniform 'old-hat'? No! Most people identify their store, bank, football team, office, emergency service, community group, etc by its uniform. Even many Christian ministers wear a 'uniform'. The key is to proudly identify with the group and to wear your uniform smartly.
  4. Usually referred to as leadership development, discipleship training is an integral element of The Boys' Brigade; in response to Christ's Great Commission, "As you go, make disciples ... and teach them all that I [Jesus] have commanded you ..." (Matthew 20: 19). From leading a small team in a game, to commanding a squad of Boys, to cadet leadership and officer development, BB trains tomorrow's men for service in church, community, business, and family. BB proactively encourages Boys to 'push the limits', challenge themselves, and find their best level in their society.
  5. Gender-specific. Many countries in which BB operates have included girls in the programme. Many others have remained Boys-only and work very closely with our 'sisters', The Girls' Brigade. Be assured, whether single gender or co-ed, BB is interested in the development of Boys into Christian men and girls into Christian ladies. It is often said that contemporary society demands co-ed. Nonsense! Men's groups and ladies fellowships flourish everywhere; every major sport has men's divisions and women's divisions.
BB 100 badge, 1983

Highest award

In most countries, The King's (Queen's Badge from 1953 to 2022) or The Founder's Badge, is the highest award attainable by brigaders and the culmination of all they have achieved to that part in their BB 'career'. It is regarded as BB's international award, although each country is responsible to set its own guidelines. Many countries have adopted an award as their highest national award, and known as President's Badge, Sir William Alexander Smith Award, or similar title. These awards take years of serious determination to attain, the presentation for which are often vice-regal or civil ceremonies.

BB 125 badge, 2008

Some 'things' BB has contributed to the world

  • Recreational camping, or a love for the outdoors; when BB first took Boys camping in 1886 parents were concerned for their welfare, as only the military camped out. Skills in bushcraft, campcraft, bush cooking, and environmental care were developed whilst camping.
  • First aid training. BB introduced first aid (then called Ambulance), life-saving and fire-safety training for youth because the adventurous and outdoor activities the Boys were pursuing inevitably produced injuries. So, the first aiders were 'on the deck' to assist their mates.
  • Band. BB is noted for its bugle and drum bands and pipe bands. Many contemporary bands have branched out into brass and other instruments, and even concert bands. Many communities have bands that started as BB bands.
  • Physical healthiness has always been a key point of BB training. The first BB leaders learned from the YMCA that health is not just about exercise but includes understanding nutrition, anti-drug abuse and sportsmanship. And a healthy body aids spiritual healthiness.
  • Outdoor adventure, in an era in which parents were horrified at taking their sons into the 'bush' to live in tents. BB introduced camping within three years of its formation. It added Wayfaring, known today as bushwalking, Seamanship, in the form of sailing, and Scouting, better known today as expeditions (the latter introduced by (then) Major General Robert Baden Powell, a friend of the BB Founder, through his Aid to Scouting. A later book, Scouting for Boys drew on much of what he had introduced in the BB and gave rise to the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements. Bushwalking, 4WD-ing and glamping also have their origin in BB. These outdoor adventure activities included instruction in environmental awareness and care.
  • Community mindedness is much more than community awareness; including appreciation of others' and one's own place in society. Many volunteers in community organisations such as Rotary, Apex and Lions, got the 'taste' for serving their community in BB. BB leaders, conservatively, give in excess of 300 hours per year to their community through their BB service. The brigade has produced senators, members of parliament, cabinet ministers and even prime ministers.
BB Juniors 100 badge, 2017

Countries in which The Boys' Brigade operates or has operated

Is there a culture in which BB doesn't succeed? Each 'BB country' is a member of the Global Fellowship of Christian Youth, together with other like-minded Christian youth movements. BB does not have an international heirarchy.

  • Europe: Eire, United Kingdom
  • Africa: Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo DRC, Cote D'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
  • the Americas: Anguilla, Antigua, Aruba, Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Nevis, St Eustatius, St Kitts, St Lucia, St Maarten, St Vincent, Tobago, Trinidad, United States, Virgin Islands (UK), Virgin Islands (US)
  • Asia: Bangladesh, Brunei, Hong Kong (China), India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam
  • Pacific: Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, American Samoa, Western Samoa

In 1963, the BB's International Committee gave way to The World Conference, an independent international umbrella organisation connecting Christian youth organisations in 68 countries around the world. Whilst the vast majority of this family of national organisations are BB, several kindred Christian organisations, like FDF Denmark, Nuori Kirkko Finland and Junior Ministry India are valued and equal members. The organisation is today known as Global Fellowship of Christian Youth, or Global Fellowship for short.

BB Patron

Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee badge
Elizabeth II Coronation badge
George VI Coronation badge

Whilst, technically, it has been BB United Kingdom that has received the Royal Patronage of British (and Commonwealth) Monarchs, George V, George VI, Elizabeth II and Charles III, the respective Monarchs have been recognised as Patrons of the entire global BB movement. Of course, several Commonwealth nations, such as Australia, enjoy Vice-Regal patronage by their Governors General, who are the representatives of their respective Monarch.

Charles III Coronation badge
Queen Elizabeth II
Patron of The Boys' Brigade badge

Notable Boys' Brigade persons


  • Hoare, Michael E. Boys Urchins Men: A History of The Boys’ Brigade in Australia and Papua New Guinea 1882-1976. Reed, Terry Hills NSW, 1980. ISBN 0-589-50076-7.
  • McFarlan, Donald. First For Boys: The Story of The Boys' Brigade 1883-1983. William Collins, Glasgow, 1982. ISBN 0-00-434279-8.
  • Springhall, John; Fraser, Brian; and Hoare, Michael. Sure & Stedfast: A History of The Boys' Brigade 1883 to 1983. William Collins, Glasgow, 1983. ISBN 0-00-434280-1.


See also

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