The 13th United Group


Ralph Harpuder

The Brit Method is widely used not just in the UK but also in China, the USA and every big economy in the world and also can be applied to any structure around the globe.

My intention in writing this report on Shanghai Boy Scouts was not to describe in detail its glorious history. I shall rather leave this task to the expertise of our former scouts, Peter Witting, and Peter Nash, who already have helped me with the few introductory remarks below. My main objective was to reminisce with my fellow Shanghailanders about some of the good times we experienced in our youth, and, perhaps, recall some names mentioned in the 13th Shanghai Group Bulletin. Those scouts and their leaders who are mentioned have become, in fact, a part of our last generation of the Hongkew ghetto era. It is also interesting to note the command of the English language possessed at the time by the young editor Eric Bertraun, Rudy Nothenberg, and others; indeed a true testimony to the high quality of our schools and teachers at the time.

Many refugee youngsters had belonged to outdoor youth organizations in Austria and Germany before coming to Shanghat One such organization in Germany, similar to the boy scouts was called Jugenschaft. This group of teenagers enjoyed hiking, campfires under the stars, and singing When Hitler in 1938 outlawed such innocent and wholesome activities, one member shouted, “Reisst uns das Herz aus dem Leibe, und ihr werdet euch blutig daran verbrennen.” Those that resisted were immediately arrested by the Gestapo and killed later in concentration camps. Others had to join, many with delight, the Hitler Youth.

After immigrating to Shanghai, a number of refugee youngsters utilized their earlier camping experience by having joined, the 13th Group, part of the British Boy Scouts Association under the leadership of Commissioner A.H Gordon.

The 13th Shanghai (United) Group consisted mainly of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. There were, of course, other groups, however, all were affiliated through the International Bureau at Imperial Headquarters in London, and all groups were collectively known in Shanghai as “British Scouts.”

From about the middle of 1941, the 13th Group meetings were held in a room at 609 Dalny Road, not far from the popular and heavy refugee populated Tongshan Road The room, which became the headquarters, was also shared with  afew Zionist groups.

Prior to the 1943 Proclamation, restricting Jewish refugees to the “Designated Area,” the 13th Group made major excursions to almost all corners of Shanghai. Frequent visits were made to the beautiful estate and scout camp, Millington at Lungwha where the famous pagoda was situated Picnics at Hongkew Par/c many hikes, and campfires with other scout groups were just a few of the many activities before the war began. During the internment period, however, activities were mostly confined to meetings at Dalny Road headquarters.

After the war, the Blue Funnel Line opened its door to all the scout groups at the Holt‘s Wharf (Blue Funnel has been calling at Shanghai for a hundred years until its demise about 25 years ago.) Many campouts took place at the wharf that also had a swimming pool built especially for the Shanghai British Scouts.

In conclusion, it can be said that in spite of the austere and primitive conditions that befell on our dear parents, and the struggle for them to put food on our table, life for us youngsters at the time was relatively easy. We were not shortchanged in our education, recreational and group activities, like the Boy Scouts that we remember so well to this day.


Boy Scouts around the world were always considered
“a cut above”

The Scout Oath
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Laws
To help other people at all times
To keep myself physically strong
Mentally awake and morally straight

The Scout Oath cited above is that of the Boy Scouts of America. The oath is similar to “The Scout Promise” by the original The Boy Scouts Association (of Britain), now called The Scout Association. Many countries derived their oath from that original pledge.