British Identity, Interwar Youth Movements, and the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift

British Identity, Interwar Youth Movements, and the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift

This week, PhD. student Rachel K. Cheng (University of Glasgow) considers the appeal of youth group The Kindred of Kibbo Kift and the conflation of ‘British’ and ‘English’ ideas and images.

The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, a post-First World War outdoors coeducation youth group, was originally part of the woodcraft arm of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, which was founded by Lord Robert Baden-Powell in 1907.  The scouting movement continued to grow in popularity during and directly following the First World War, but it was not without critics both within and without.  The Kibbo Kift was critical of the scouting movement’s connection to the military and it broke away from the Scouts and Guides following the expulsion of its leader, John Hargrave, from the Scouts in early 1921.  As articulated in its surviving literature, the Kibbo Kift considered itself to be a primarily British organisation with international ambitions.  It sought to solve the social and cultural issues in physical fitness, mental health, and poverty that the First World War had exposed in British society or, as Hargrave would have said, brought “home.”[1]

Over the past year of working on my Ph.D., the inclusiveness of this British identity has come more and more into question.  The Kibbo Kift clearly termed itself a British organisation and attempted to address aspects of society from the arts and humanities to the sciences to public policy.  Its outlook on society and culture, however, is very much English in not only the majority of its active membership but also its linguistic sensibilities.  This was first readily apparent in the usage of mythology by members of the Kibbo Kift.  Welsh, Scottish, and Irish myths remained divided by national boundaries in their categorisation.  As I worked through the archives of the movement, the subjects of poetry, song, and plays written by members of the Kibbo Kift for performance at festivals open to public attendance further divided between the four nations in categorisation within the group itself.  British through the Kibbo Kift termed itself, the term “British” was overwhelmingly applied only to myths and ideas considered English. 

Tension within the Kibbo Kift between their British identity and the utilisation of different mythologies divided along the national boundaries of the four nations.  Using a “four nations” approach would help bridge between the various mythologies that inspired members to produce art and literature for the Kibbo Kift and the intellectual background of the Kibbo Kift as a whole.  The Kibbo Kift was not a large organisation in comparison to similar groups during this period like the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides or the Boy’s Brigade.  Despite being termed a youth movement, active members were primarily adults in various stages of the life cycle, and membership numbers were between 100-200 active throughout the 1920s.  Of these active members, the majority lived in England, and the major summer and winter camps were held on English land.  Individual members, however, drew artistic and ideological inspiration outwith of England, and there was some interest in the 1920s in the Kibbo Kift throughout the United Kingdom as well as internationally.  Notably, the Advisory Council, a group of early supporters of the Kibbo Kift who held various political or positions of social influence in the early 1920s, had members from Scotland and England as well as Canada and India.  Sir Patrick Geddes was a supporter of the Kibbo Kift’s educational policy, calling it “a movement of promise” in reviewing Hargrave’s 1927 book, The Confession of the Kibbo Kift.[2]  There was a certain amount of philosophical exchange occurring in the 1920s between the Kibbo Kift and those interested in the group across the four nations’ borders.  This may not have changed the overall linguistic categorisation of mythology and ideas within the Kibbo Kift, but the appeal of the group was not exclusively English; rather it was the opposite.

By early 1931, however, the Kibbo Kift was no longer the Kibbo Kift: it transformed into the political party, the Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit.  More in depth scholarship has been done on the Kibbo Kift’s transition into a political party for the promotion of Social Credit by John Springhall[3] and Mark Drakeford.[4]  The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, as a social and cultural movement, would still benefit from historical analysis, and using four nations methodology will hopefully be useful in contextualising the Kibbo Kift and its British identity.

[1]               John Hargrave, The Great War Brings It Home: The Natural Reconstruction of an Unnatural Existence (London: Constable & Company Ltd., 1919).

[2]               Patrick Geddes, “Book Reviews – A Movement of Promise, The Confession of the Kibbo Kift.” The Sociological Review 20: pg. 75.

[3]               John Springhall, Youth, Empire, and Society: British Youth Movements, 1883-1940 (London: Croom Helm Ltd., 1977).

[4]               Mark Drakeford, Social Movements and Their Supporters: The Green Shirts in England (London: Palgrave MacMillan Press, 1997).

Rachel K. Cheng is a second-year Ph.D. in History researcher in the History Subject at the University of Glasgow, being supervised by Professor Callum Brown and Dr. Alexandra Shepard.   She is currently the chair of Historical Perspectives, a postgraduate history society that runs monthly seminars and a yearly conference for postgraduates throughout Scotland to present their research projects.

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