The Boys Brigade in Dundee

The Beginnings of the Boys Brigade in Dundee

By Harry Buick

The 1st Glasgow Company, originally known as North Woodside Mission, had been founded by William Smith in 1883. His officers were J R Hill and John Hill, then the 2nd Glasgow Company was also enrolled. The early photographs shows that these early Boys were not poor and barefooted but came from the middle class. Officers wore a bowler hat with a red rosette and, as a result, were nicknamed the "Butterflee Men" by the boys. The Glengarry replaced the bowler in 1886. The 1st Glasgow Company was one of the finest companies in the Brigade and is still going strong today.

The BB Archive shows there have been 114 companies in the Brigade in Dundee and seven companies which remained outwith the Brigade, including St Andrew's, St Enoch's, Blackscroft Mission, a Grimond Boys Brigade in 1898 and an independent company at St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in 1890.

The original records show that the 1st Dundee Company formed at 145 Overgate in the Wilson Mission, which was named after the church moderator of St Paul's Free Church in Nethergate. Although set up in September 1885, it was not enrolled in the Brigade until 5th February 1886 when the first officers included George Kidd, a manager of Stephens boat-builders in Broughty Ferry. He had travelled with Andrew Fairlie to Glasgow to see William Smith and came back to found the company. George Kidd went on to become the first battalion president in 1888. Others involved in the early days of the company were Thomas Fyffe, who had a plumbers business in Nethergate which later became Fyffe's Brassworks, Alexander Kidd, George Kidd's brother, and Ebenezer Henderson, a partner in the firm of solicitors. Other notable officers included David Fairful, one of the captains, Rev James Weatherhead, who had been chaplain to 1st Glasgow in Woodside Road and whose son, Leslie Weatherhead, later also became Battalion President. When it was enrolled the 1 st Company had a strength of three officers and 29 boys. Records have been kept of when members joined the BB, their military service and their Christian background.

The 2nd Company, attached to St John's Free Mission, was enrolled in the Brigade in 1888. One of its officers donated the Christie Challenge Flag in 1892: the cost of a solid silver bugle - £30, having been too much. Rev Herbert Reid, a chaplain to the company, moved north and founded the 1st Thurso Company, in the town where William Smith had been born. Arthur Barry, who died in 1965, had served as an officer for 70 years later, having been Battalion Treasurer for 54 years and a member of the Brigade executive for almost 40 years. His brother Jack, a solicitor, was also an officer in the Company. The 2nd Company won the first medal in the Battalion: medals were presented for various achievements, including essay writing.

Many Boys have recollections of Drill and more Drill and, indeed, this was a major activity but Bible Class played a significant part in the experience provided. Later additions included first aid.

The first Dundee Boy to wear BB Uniform was a young apprentice of Thomas Fyffe called John Conacher: He was dressed up in glengarry and belt and was sent out into the Nethergate to walk up and down having been bribed to do so with a bottle of lemonade!

Some drama is recorded over the years. At the behest of Rev Herbert Reid, a motion was passed in 1892 that all new companies must wear the "pie" hat. Failure to comply with this regulation led to the 7th St Andrew's Company being put out of the battalion. Wallacetown Parish Church made moves to establish a company in the Boys Brigade and the 10th Dundee was duly formed in 1893. However, the involvement of their proposed captain as a licensed spirit dealer came to light and the Battalion refused to accept him. An appeal was made directly to William Smith but he endorsed the Battalion decision. For some reason the old 3rd Company, Blackscroft Mission, left the Battalion in 1893, only to rejoin as the 24th St Mary's Company. The loss was £14, a huge amount in 1904, caused drama of a different kind. The battalion had gone to camp and more than expected had been spent on food since the boys had been starving because of the fresh air.

Comparative prices are always intriguing. A bill from the 18th Company in 1903, lists 3 dozen haversacks at 6d each. John Small, one of the original members of the 1st Glasgow Company, charged 3s 9d [18½ p] each for the first rifles for the BB when he agreed to make them in 1896. Some of the officers rode horses for the Battalion inspection in 1899 and their hire cost 10s 6d (52½ p) each.

The 18th Company, founded by William Laskie in 1895 at St Peter's Church, was one of the few companies in the town to have a brass band. One of the founders of the first battalion pipe band, in 1902, was George Wilkie, who donated the Wilkie Powder Horn. The 1st Broughty Ferry had a brass, bugle and pipe band.

Many influential officers have served over the years, although they are remembered by fewer and fewer each year. The chaplain and captain to 8th St Paul's Episcopal Church in 1909 always made sure he was back in Dundee on Friday to take BB when his own father was dying in Aberdeen. He left the company in 1911 to become a bishop and, in 1943, became Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Photographic records are a reminder that Preston Watson, a famous local aviator, was an officer in 2nd St John's Company when it had 85 boys with only one officer.

By 1959 the Boys Brigade in Dundee had grown to 49 companies with 3500 officers and boys. It is estimated that, over the years, 4500 officers, 1100 staff sergeants, and at least 72,000 boys have been in the organisation in the City.


  • Return to Top
  • Return to the Boys Brigade Home Page
  • Return to Home Page
  • Iain D. McIntosh, 2022