What does the Patrol System look like?
If there was one tangible thing that you could look at and tell how well a Patrol is working, what would it be? The Patrol Flag? The uniform? No, there is something even better that requires the personal initiative of the whole Patrol: The Patrol Den.
Having a Patrol Den should be the goal of every proactive Patrol. It’s mentioned in many old Scout Handbooks, William Hillcourt (Green Bar Bill) wrote often and enthusiastically about it in his long-running Boys’ Life Column, John Thurman said it will turn a “paper Patrol” into a “real Patrol”.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming very rare to find a real, honest-to-goodness Patrol Den anywhere but in the history books. It is a scarce and priceless byproduct of the Patrol System in action. This scarcity needs to change, and I have high hopes that it will. As the Patrol System and traditional Scouting are being Rediscovered by more and more Scouts and Scouters, I hope the Patrol Den will once again become a staple of high-quality Scout Patrols.
But I am getting ahead of myself! What is the Patrol Den? What is it all about?
Let’s find out!
What Is a Patrol Den?
First of all, the Patrol Den has nothing to do with a Cub Scout “Den”. It is something entirely different; a Cub Scout Den is a group of boys in a Cub Scout Pack, while a Patrol Den is a place, a physical location.
I see no better way to talk about what Patrol Dens are than through the words of Scouters past. John Thurman, renowned Scouter of England, said this in his “Patrol Leaders’ Handbook”:
“There is nothing quite so important to a Patrol as having a place of its own, a place where the Patrol can go to get away from the Troop, from the Scouters, from families and from all other acquaintances, and can really be together on its own, without any fear of interference or interruption. I know there are difficulties, but I have yet to meet a really live Patrol that cannot find a Den of its own if it is really determined to do so.
Before we come to consider Dens, why do we want them at all? Well, any family, if it is to be a family, needs a home of its own. There is a very old saying, ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’, and this is as true of a Patrol as it is of anyone. … Our Den is a place where we meet together, where we can be uninterrupted to practice our Scouting, and where, most important, we plan our out-of-doors adventures. It is a place where we can keep our belongings, all those little things that matter so much to a Patrol…”
The old “Troop Scouters’ Handbook” from the Boy Scouts of Canada puts it this way:
“Each Patrol should have a place of its own – somewhere it can meet and keep its treasures. … The Patrol Den can be a shack in someone’s backyard, a corner of someone’s basement, a corner of the Troop room, or a room in the Troop Headquarters, an old box car or farm outbuilding – anything, so long as the Patrol can meet there when they wish and can decorate and furnish the place to their liking. The Patrol Den is the core around which Patrol spirit and tradition can be built. The Den should be decorated by the members of the Patrol with the records and trophies of its activities. It houses the Patrol’s equipment such as signaling equipment, library, photos, games equipment, ropes, axes, first aid kit, etc.
It is the place where each generation of the Patrol can and will express its personality. The maintenance and development of Patrol Dens or Corners can form an important training aid and should be part of the Inter-Patrol Competition.”
“I can’t see how a real Patrol can get along without a den of its own. The work on a den cements a Patrol together into a strong unit. The den itself makes better Patrol meetings possible – and so a better Patrol. ”
“Is your Patrol an orphan? Or, are you the live-wire type who boasts a real home, a place to keep your traditions and treasures, a room you are proud to call yours. …
Now, a Patrol Den isn’t built overnight, but a systematic decoration program will make it take shape, and you can just see that Patrol Spirit go skyrocketing.”
“Every up-and-coming patrol dreams of having a den of its own. And the dream can come true if you and your buddies make up your mind to have one. …
As you work to decorate and furnish your own home you will see patrol spirit grow. And then, as the gang gathers for its meetings, you’ll all be proud of belonging to a gang that has the ambition and energy to turn the dream of a patrol den into a reality.”
In summary, the Patrol Den is a special place that a Patrol can call it’s own. It is the location of Patrol meetings and activities, and is decorated specially to reflect the Patrol.
What Is the Point?
Now, you might not see the point in all of this. “It’s just a clubhouse,” you might think. “What makes it such a big deal?”
Well, I can tell you the reason. It has to do with Patrol Spirit. Patrol Spirit is the ultimate goal of the art of working the Patrol System. To those unfamiliar with the Patrol System, it remains the elusive alchemist’s gold of Scouting. Simply put, it is the spirit of teamwork and cooperation in a Patrol. It is the not-quite-definable something that makes the individuals in a Patrol sacrifice their own interests for the good of the Patrol. It is the unquenched desire in a group of Scouts to make their Patrol the best Scout Patrol ever!
Well, for one, it does a great deal in creating a unique Patrol culture. Like the Patrol Flag, the Patrol Den is decorated in a unique way that symbolizes the Patrol creating it. Through it’s furnishing and decoration, it holds a visual representation of the special traditions and peculiarities of the Patrol.
Secondly, it provides a place the Scouts want to be for separate Patrol Meetings. Regular Patrol Meetings are a cornerstone of the Patrol System, and the Patrol Den is the natural home for these. It gives a place where Scouts can fellowship, plan adventures, and practice their skills.
Finally, building it is a project undertaken by the whole Patrol. Every member has a say in the design, and each Scout will have a hand in building it. This process brings the Patrol closer together. It is an actual physical location that Scouts can work together on, be proud of, and associate with their Patrol.
To summarize, the reason a Patrol Den is so important is because it is very helpful in building Patrol Spirit. It does this by helping create a unique Patrol Culture, providing a special location for meetings, and bringing the Patrol closer together through the construction of a physical representation of the Patrol that the members can be proud of.
Building a Patrol Den
Finding a Place
The first thing to consider when planning a Patrol Den is the location. This is probably the hardest part, especially these days. However, it can certainly be done if the Patrol is persistent and creative about it. As John Thurman said in the “Patrol Leaders’ Handbook”:
“I could tell you many instances of Patrols in town and country who have overcome all sorts of difficulties to get their own Den, and amongst those Patrols are the best Patrols I have ever met. They were the Patrols which really were Patrols; they were gangs, they did work together and kept together.
I could show you Dens constructed out of old air-raid shelters, the top half of an old bus, half of a railway carriage, four sheets of corrugated iron and a few bricks, large packing-cases, and out of the ground itself, just dug in and built up with a little brick and concrete to keep out the damp.
So, go to it, Patrol Leaders! Plot and plan and worry and ask until you find a Den. It is worth all the effort, and you will make your Patrol a real Patrol and not just a paper Patrol.”
There are a couple of guidelines for good location. These days, when most members of a Patrol are not within walking distance of each other, it’s important to find a central location for the group. If the members of your Patrol need to be drove to the meetings, its important to make sure none of the drivers have to go too far! This also might make it possible for some of the members to bike to the meetings. Look at a map of your area and figure out where everyone lives, then plan the best location!
Secondly, you need to make sure whoever owns the place you choose is aware of what you want it for and fully supportive. You don’t want to have to relocate just after you’ve set everything up! The old “Golden Arrow Patrol Leaders’ Training” of the Canada Scouts puts it this way:
“The Patrol Den does not have to be a fine room in a building, but can be an old shack in a back yard, a corner of a basement, an old box car or farmhouse building, a small room in the Troop Headquarters or, as a last resort, a corner of the Troop room. In some respect, the more ramshackle it is, the more challenge there will be to the Patrol to make it into a Den worthy of its members. Also, there will be less restriction placed upon them. A room where you cannot knock a nail into the wall without giving the janitor or owner apoplexy is not really suitable for a Patrol Den.”
The finding/building of the Patrol Den requires a lot of dedication and creativity. Make sure the whole Patrol is in on this. You can build your own structure or you can find an existing one. It can be in a tree-house, attic, basement, shack, etc. If you can, try to make it off the beaten path. It is a special place, and you don’t want just anyone walking through!
Once you have located a suitable place and have permission to use it, the next step is decorating and furnishing it. There are so many options here!
First, determine with your Patrol a theme in the decoration. You can make it Indian or Pioneer themed, like many Scouts of the past did, or you can do something different: maybe Special Ops themed or Medieval themed. Whatever choice you pick, make sure it best represents your Patrol and the qualities you all want it to have!
Whatever theme you pick will dictate what decorations you use. If you have permission, you can paint the walls whatever colors you like. You can hang pictures of your Patrol and places you’ve been. Really, the sky is the limit!
You can also build your own furniture for the Patrol. Tables, benches, stools, shelves, coat racks, etc are all great projects you can work together on.
Again, I want to stress that you must have the Patrol working together on this! If the room isn’t a product of the whole Patrol, it won’t work right. A great suggestion of William Hillcourt is:
“When the den is once started, make it a Patrol aim and habit to add one new thing every meeting!”
Don’t expect to finish it up in one day. It should always be a work in progress!
One particularly important furnishing of the Den should be some kind of advancement display. A busy Patrol is a good one, but you can’t stay busy and focused unless you have some sort of plan. Advancing the Patrol in rank is a good goal. By hanging up a chart of your progress, you will always be reminded to work toward the goals you have set.
This can be just a chart on a sheet, or you can bet more creative with it. It’s up to you!
Here’s an important one! Make sure the standards/symbols of your Patrol have a prominent place. You’ll want a place to display your Patrol Flag. You can make a stand pretty easily out of wood, or you can hang it on the wall where it is easily accessible.
You’ll also want a good prominent place to put your Patrol record book. This object is the Patrol Scribe’s responsibility. This book keeps track of all the things you’ve done in your Patrol: all the milestones you reached, all the adventures you’ve had, all the places you’ve been. In time, it will become one of the most treasured possessions of your Patrol.
Finally, make sure you put your Patrol emblem at the center of attention. Older Patrols which had animals as their symbol would sometimes make totem poles featuring it. Others would use a stencil to make a nice drawing and hang it up in a prominent place.
Another purpose the Patrol Den serves is to provide a place to store your Patrol gear. This is much better than throwing it into some store-room with the rest of the Troop’s gear! It is your gear; your Patrol should own it and take care of it. This is the particular responsibility of the Patrol Quartermaster.
You can make a nice chest in which to put your tarps, rope, stove, cookware, and etc while you’re not camping. This will keep it organized and protected, and you will never have to worry about getting it mixed up with the rest of the Troop’s gear.
You can also add training gear to your Patrol Den. Special ropes, poles, and first aid gear should all have a home in your Den. That way it will all be readily accessible for practice during Patrol Meetings.
Using the Patrol Den
The biggest purpose for the Patrol Den is providing a home for the Patrol Meetings. If you only have these three times a year or not at all, the whole thing is kinda pointless. However, I hope that won’t be your Patrol!
Patrol Meetings are challenging to hold regularly and are the subject of a long post in themselves. For now, I will suffice to say that it definitely can be done if your Patrol is determined. And it is so very much worth the effort! Patrol Spirit will skyrocket with regular, well-planned Patrol Meetings.
Preferably, you should hold them once a week, they should always be planned by the Patrol Leader and his assistant, and they should be carefully scheduled so that the whole Patrol can always make it. More on all that in another post! Suffice to say, this is the real purpose of the Patrol Den!
The Patrol Den is also an excellent place to hold special Patrol Ceremonies. That’s right, you can have your own ceremonies apart from the regular Troop ones. When a new Scout joins your Patrol, there is no better way of introducing him to the culture, expectations, and fellowship of your Patrol then by holding a unique investiture ceremony.
Another occasion for a ceremony is the induction of a new Patrol Leader. It may seem unnecessary, but it certainly is beneficial! The position of Patrol Leader should have a great deal of responsibility, and an induction ceremony is an excellent way of setting the tone and impressing upon everyone the importance of the responsibility.
In addition to these, your Patrol can come up with special ceremonies and events of your own! You can have a end-of-the-school-year celebration, a Christmas celebration, etc. It really is up to you! In addition, as the Scouts in your Patrol get older, turn 18, and move on to other things, you can always hold a reunion right there in your Patrol Den!
As I mentioned before, working on the Patrol Den is a continual process. You should make a habit of always improving it a little bit at a time. You can make better designs and better furniture as time goes on.
Sometimes, you may have to change locations. Perhaps it was at a Patrol Leaders’ house and his family is moving. Perhaps it gets badly damaged by inclement weather. In a case like this, it is much easier to relocate than to start all over. You can simply transfer all of the decorations and furnishings to the new location.
Sometimes, for lack of a better place, Patrols had to leave a room looking untouched after their meeting was over. Although it was less than optimal, the Patrols made the best of it by having all decorations and furnishings be portable. They would then pack everything thing up and store it after each meeting.
A Word About Patrol Corners
Now, you may have heard of the term ‘Patrol Corner’ before. This is not the same as the Patrol Den. The Patrol Den is a permanent place the Patrol can call its own. The Patrol Corner is a small section of the Troop Meeting room that the Patrol can retire to during the Troop meeting.
Many Patrols in the past would have portable dividers they would use to partition out their Corner. These they would decorate like their Patrol Den. Just about everything said here applies to the Patrol corner as well in a smaller, portable way. The Patrol corner is a great place to start if, for some reason, you are having trouble with the Patrol Den. It is virtually a miniature Patrol Den that serves as the particular home of a Patrol during Troop meetings.
If your Troop is just getting started implementing the Patrol System, having Patrol corners partitioned out of the Troop room and Patrol meetings partitioned out of the Troop meeting is a great way to start. I hope, though, that you continue in pursing a real Patrol Den as well!
Call to Action
If you are a Scout, I will borrow the words of William Hillcourt by saying:
“Every top-notch Patrol wants a den of its own for its meetings. It you haven’t one yet, get a hustle on!”
If you’re not the Patrol Leader, tell him and the rest of the Patrol about this and be willing to work hard to make it happen. If you are the Patrol Leader, then tell your Patrol about the Patrol Den and what an opportunity it is to make your Patrol better! It may take a lot of patience, dedication, and creativity, but in the long-run, I’m sure you will succeed in having a Den of your own!
If you are a Scouter working to put the Patrol System into practice in your own Troop, then it starts with teaching the Scouts about all of this stuff and what it means. It will take time, and you will have to start off slow. You may try Patrol Corners and Patrol Meetings during the Troop Meeting time to start out with. Once the Scouts get used to that and the P.L.’s understand the responsibilities of leading their Patrol, then encourage them to take the initiative in getting a Patrol Den. Perhaps make it a contest to see which Patrol can have a Patrol Den and regular Patrol Meetings first! Start slow, and don’t get frustrated if things don’t work right away. The Patrol System is challenging to implement, but the rewards are immense!
For more reading on the subject, I recommend John Thurman’s “Patrol Leaders’ Handbook”. It can be found at http://thedump.scoutscan.com. This link will take you right to it:
Another helpful reading from this site is a 1952 English book called “Patrol Corners and Dens” by Edward G.W. Wood. This link will take you right to it:
Many thanks to the one/ones who maintain this resource of historical Scouting documents!
Some more great reading about the Patrol Meeting can be found at http://inquiry.net. These links will take you right to the articles:
Many thanks to Rick, who maintains this resource on traditional Scouting!
Thank you for reading this post! I hope you got some great info out if it about the Patrol Den. I looked around on the Internet for more resources and articles about the Patrol Den, and I couldn’t find any! The Patrol Den is such an important part of the Patrol System and building Patrol Spirit, it is a shame it isn’t talked about more often!
Please take the time to share this info with the Scouts and Scouters you know! The Patrol Den is one important aspect that needs to be Rediscovered by modern Scouting.
If you have any comments and/or questions, leave them in the box below. Did your Patrol ever have a Patrol Den? What do you remember of it?
Thanks again for reading, I hope you visit again!
*All images in the post are from historical editions of the Boys’ Life Magazine. Many thanks go to the journalists who chronicled Scouting’s History!