They were young, pale-faced, unschooled and poor and they, or their parents, came mostly from towns and villages in Russia, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with little knowledge of English. They had settled in Glasgow’s Gorbals, one of the least elegant of the Scottish city’s areas. The prospects for these young Jews in this strange land of cold, soot-blackened tenements, could not have been more bleak, but at least they were free from the pogroms of Eastern Europe.. The year was 1903.
Their plight was discussed by the elders of Garnethill Synagogue, many of whom had themselves come from Eastern Europe years earlier and who knew what difficulties lay ahead for the immigrants.
spent many hours discussing the problem and finally they came up with a
solution to help these young people to integrate with the indigenous population,
give them proper values to live by, be self-reliant and become good citizens
in their new country. They would form a Glasgow Company of the Jewish Lads
Brigade, a body which had been established in London eight years earlier..
Now, 100 years later, the Glasgow Company prepares to celebrate its centenary with a programme of events to reinvigorate the company and to attract former members from many parts of the world. Among the celebrations planned are a special week-end camp, a rededication Service, a centenary dinner and a special event from which a number of charities will benefit.
“We already know there are former members in America, Canada, Australia, Israel and South Africa,” says Mr Harvey Livingston, organiser of the centenary celebrations. ”We have plans to make the celebrations really memorable.”
Livingston has been involved with the JLB since 1958 and is one of the few holders of its Award of Honour. The last of several posts he held over the years was that chairman of the Glasgow company’s Management Committee, from which post he resigned in 2002. He is still a member of the Management Committee of the nation-wide Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade.
In “civilian” life he was managing director of the family furniture-manufacturing company from 1986 until 1999 when he became Head of Finance of the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund. His four children, Aaron, Simon, Michael and Karen, all are, or have been, members of the brigade.
Girls were admitted to the company in 1964 but it was another four years before the girls became “equal partners” and the organisation became the Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade. In the 1920s the company had what was claimed to be the world’s first Jewish pipe band but by the 1980s the young people no longer had the time to commit themselves to rehearsing and playing in a band.
The prime movers of the new company 100 years ago were John Hirshfield and Oscar Stern. whose antecedents had also come from Eastern Europe. They charmed and cajoled money from their business colleagues and friends to support the new company and get it on its feet, but they did not have the necessary training to enable them to carve the company into a disciplined, cohesive force.
This fell to two other members of Garnethill Synagogue, the brothers Benjamin and Nathan Strump who were cadets in the Volunteer Force, the forerunner of the Territorial Army. Garnethill was the first purpose-built synagogue in Scotland. It was, and still is, located in the West End of Glasgow not far from Glasgow University and since it opened its doors in 1879 its members have played a significant role in the life of the city, in politics, the law, medicine, accountancy, the visual and performing arts and in social welfare. At one time seven members were professors at the university.
The Strump brothers, particularly Nathan who years earlier had been a member of William Smith’s Boys Brigade, which was also born in Glasgow (in 1883) were able to introduce the disciplines of rifle drill, foot drill, map reading, morse code, physical training and other useful skills. And very importantly they introduced summer camps for the young people, which enabled them to get into the fresh air and have a holiday, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Camps were held Duntocher in a field near where Benjamin Strump lived, Luss, Arrocher and later on English sites with other JLB units.
Nathan and Benjamin Strump maintained an interest in the Glasgow company throughout their lives. So, too, did Benjamin’s son Lieut-Colonel Reuben Strump, his grandson Major Rufus Strump, and four nephews, Major Harold Freeman, Captain Michael Freeman, Lieutenant Philip Freeman and Mr Gerald Strump, a former Sapper in the Royal Engineers.
Mr Strump, a retired senior executive with Marks & Spencer, is the last remaining member of his family. “Although many of the JLB company’s activities appeared to be rather militaristic it really wasn’t militaristic at all,” he says.
“The founders merely adopted the vocabulary and rituals of the military but not its philosophy. They believed that course was the most efficient way of developing the company. Jews do not take kindly to the bearing of arms. They have an ingrained abhorrence of violence but like anyone else they can be conditioned to react to violence.”
It was not until 1954 that the then Commanding Officer of the company, Lieut.Colonel Ralph Delmonte, a long-time member, changed the face of the company and introduced less formal uniforms, more social and recreational activities and visits to outside organisations like factories to show the young people how things were made.
The Commanding Officer of the Glasgow company today is Harvey Livingston’s brother Martin, finance and fund-raising officer of the welfare organisation Jewish Care. He has been in the JLGB since in 1964. His son Adam is a former Warrant Officer. His wife Pamela has also been an active Brigade member since the 1960s. In the mid 1980's she became Commanding Officer at a time when the company was at its lowest ebb with a membership of about 20 members.
Pamela worked tirelessly to rebuild the company. She developed a junior unit for 8-11 year olds (the seniors are aged 11-18) and organised an annual recruiting day. Over the next decade she built the Glasgow unit back up to over 100 members, and this at a time when the Jewish community in Glasgow was shrinking. The unit was given the status of a battalion because of its numbers. In the late 1990s she was promoted to Major and given command of the Provincial Regiment of JLGB, which included Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow.
She relinquished that command in 2002 but is still an active supporter of the Brigade. She was also a driving force behind the development of JLGB-Israel adventure trips in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, and exchange visits between JLGB members and Israelis.
Meetings, or “parades” are held on Tuesday evenings in a school hall. The total membership is about 60 boys and girls plus 15 leaders and helpers. Parents pay a modest fee to cover basic costs of hall hire, equipment, camping, outings and uniforms which are often festooned with badges for achievement in all types of sport, balls games, arts and crafts, foot drill, cooking, tap, ballet, highland, Scottish and modern dancing, team games, and work in the community. No-one is restricted from participation because of a lack of funds and discreet arrangements are made to ensure everyone has a chance to participate, just as was the case in the founding days.
Members of the company have been awarded gold, silver and bronze medals from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards Scheme and even more medals from the Challenge Award for Jewish Youth, founded by the late Isador Walton, the philanthropic Glasgow property developer.
And the result of all this? “Over the years there have been something like 25 Jewish youth organisations in Glasgow but we are the first to last for 100 years,” says Harvey Livingston. “Former members have gone on to distinguished careers in many professions. This goes a long way to demonstrating the enduring values we have instilled in our young people.”
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