Jobs for the boys

4 October 2014

Today (in 1883), the Boys’ Brigade was founded in Glasgow by Sir William Alexander Smith (27 October 1854 – 10 May 1914). Born in Pennyland House, Thurso, Scotland, he was the eldest son of Major David Smith and his wife Harriet. William and his siblings formed a family of three sons and one daughter.

Major David Smith was an officer in the dragoons and later became a businessman. When his father died, William moved to Glasgow (at the age of 13) to be brought up by an uncle in the wholesaling business. He joined the business as an apprentice and later started his own firm along with one of his brothers.

William Alexander Smith joined the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, the YMCA and the Free Church. In 1883, taking a Sunday School full of young, energetic pupils, Smith realised that they were bored and so, ‘The Boys’ Brigade’ was created with the introduction of some discipline to the pupils, in the way of a ‘paramilitary’ youth organisation.

Spreading rapidly throughout Scotland, Britain and the Commonwealth, the Boys’ Brigade was dedicated to ‘the advancement of God’s Kingdom among Boys’. Entrants wore a simple uniform of belt, diagonal sash and a small, round hat which maintained its position by a chin-strap. The introduction of personal discipline to young people – often referred to as ‘youthful hooligans’ – worked for many.

William gave up his business to concentrate on the Boys’ Brigade, becoming Secretary and organiser. He was knighted in 1909 and died five years later, the day after a mass rally in London, in the Albert Hall. His two sons succeeded him with one of them, Stanley, following in his footsteps as Brigade Secretary.

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