He grew up in a Scouting family in Handley Street, Horden, a village in County Durham known for it’s history of coal mining. All the male members of his family were coal miners who worked either in Horden Colliery or Easington Colliery a few miles away. His life was plotted out for him at birth to go down the pit. Horden Colliery was one of the biggest mines in the country. At the height of operating in 1930, the year of his birth, Horden Colliery employed over 4,000 men and produced over 1.5 million tonnes of coal a year from 3 shafts that worked the coal seams underneath the North Seas. His father, who had little schooling, was self-taught and earned the respect of the other miners to be elected trade union official for the National Union of Mineworkers at Easington Colliery. A quietly spoken Christian gentleman, who wore his Sunday best when not covered in coal dust miles underground in the mine shafts, he loved the open fields around the village and the sea winds blowing in from the North Sea.
He was also the Scout Leader of the 3rd Easington & Horden Scouts for 17 years between 1930 - 1947 including Group Scout Leader for 10 years and encouraged his two sons to join him in the fun, adventure and world-wide friendship that Scouting promoted. It was here that his father taught him to put the "Out" into Scouting: traditional Scouting woodcraft skills based on the best-selling book, "Scouting for Boys", by Robert Baden-Powell, founder and first Chief Scout of the world-wide Scout Association. The book "Scouting for Boys" became the fourth bestselling book of the 20th century and was placed next to the family Bible in their Pitman`s terrace near the Colliery. He carried a copy of that book with him for the rest of his life.
Scouting became an indispensable alternative to the horror of the harsh reality in the coal mining industry. His own father, George, had been raised by just his own father after his mother walked out on the family. It is unknown whether his mother, called Eliza, deserted the family before or after their two girls, Esther and Sarah, died or after her husband lost a leg in a coal mining accident and was unable to work. Black and white photographs show George`s father, also called John, dressed as a soldier in a First World War cavalry regiment, his cap jauntily cocked to one side of his head with his comrades or family portraits of John and Eliza with their three young children.
There is no doubt that a tragedy occurred whereby John lost not only his leg but his wife and two little girls. The disappearance of Eliza was never spoken of again, her name, like those of Sarah and Esther, revealed only by family records. John, a man who joined the British Cavalry in the service of his country, never rode a horse or walked again: crippled by an industrial accident and crippled by the shame of not being able to support George, his last remaining child. John and George struggled to survive on charity until the little boy was old enough to go down the pit and support his father. A sense of community pervaded the Colliery as families helped families and all felt the loss and grief of the underground struggle for "the black gold" in a deep-rooted community entirely dependent on coal.
In later years George was to spend his retirement either coughing up the black dust from the coal mine, wincing with the pain of his shattered knees caused by kneeling on the coal floor or the residual agony surviving two collapsed mines when the ceiling gave way and he was buried alive miles underground. These were daily risks every coal miner faced in the early 20th century. Easington Colliery briefly became famous in a significant mining accident on 25th May 1951 when an explosion in the mine resulted in the deaths of 81 miners and two rescuers. Some of them had been in his Scout Troop, others had attended his church and some had played with his sons in the village streets or fields surrounding the Colliery. They had died working the black seam underground.
Easington Colliery produced high quality coal from seams several miles out at in the North Sea but there was a human cost of the coal. The explosion underground created a self-generating fire ball which smashed and scorched it`s way through 16,000 yards of underground workings. Within two decades British Coal closed Easington Colliery, despite the fact that there were 8.4 million tons of coal in reserve and the buildings were razed to the ground. The area has since been landscaped and no sign of the pit is to be seen but there is a memorial avenue with 83 trees planted in memory of those who lost their lives. In 1970 Horden Colliery was considered the "Jewel in the Crown" and expected to have a life of 30 years but was also closed down shortly after the 1984 - 85 UK Miners` Strike. George, who was now 75, died the following year.
When George got married and started a family he did not want his sons to suffer as he had by following in their father’s footsteps. He sent his eldest child, called John after his father, to the other end of Great Britain. The decision was to get the boy far away from the coal mines of County Durham. It was an act of love so his eldest son could escape and have a better life. The boy, nicknamed "Little Jacky" (to differentiate him from the one-legged old patriarch also nicknamed "Jack"), was to become a monk at St Francis Friary at Cerne Abbas in Dorset. George reasoned that by becoming a monk Little Jacky would receive an education, training and never go down a coal mine into the bowels of Hell. Dorset was a whole new world from County Durham and had no coal mines. His son would stand a chance of a better life. It was the best George could do for his boy.
John, however, missed his family, tried his best and did his duty (as every good Scout should) but he was not suited for the life of a monk. John had special educational needs called dyslexia which were not diagnosed at the time. He remained a “guest” and not a novice of the Friary. These were the days before Skype, WiFi or even motorways. It was as if Little Jacky had been scooped up by a UFO and deposited on another planet, in another universe, with no way home. He didn`t like it, preferred messing around with engines to formal education because of his dyslexia and his disruptive behaviour at the Friary led to a polite but firm suggestion that perhaps his talents lay elsewhere. Does it take much to be “disruptive “ in a Friary?
When John was old enough he left the Friary and joined the Royal Air Force as an aircrew mechanic. He was reunited with his younger brother George (named after their father) who had also escaped the coal mines. John studied at night, despite his undiagnosed dyslexia and worked his way through the ranks to become a sergeant. He continued with Scouting and became Scout Leader of 1st Buckburg in Germany during the Cold War when it became a British garrison town.
John participated in the Berlin Airlift as a 19 year old airman when the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies` railways, road and canal access to the sector of Berlin under Western control. Alongside aircrews from the United States Airforce, the French Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the South African Air Force, he helped provide Western Berliners receive up to 12,941 tons of necessities a day, such as food and fuel, when aircraft flew over 200,000 sorties in a year before the Soviets lifted the blockade, although not before 70 British and American aircrew had died. He flew in the Hadley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster four engine bombers that had been used in World War Two and claimed to have flown Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft.
Free from the coal mines John was based at RAF Buckburg Airfield with the Second Tactical Air Force in the British Zone of Germany. John used his posting as a base to discover Western Europe and, on leave from the Royal Air Force, he travelled around Western Europe taking photographs to show his parents at Easington Colliery in County Durham. The family had moved to a Pitman`s terrace house in 1953 in Ayre Street and that was his formal postal address when issued with his wood badge in 1955 by the Scout Association. The wood badge was the symbol of completing Scout leadership training and is recognised around the world. He found a universal community in Scouting: people from different backgrounds and nationalities all speaking and understanding the same language of Scouting against the backdrop of World War Two and the Cold War. His photograph albums record a world still scarred by war and people struggling to rebuild their lives. His tiny black and white photographs are a portal into a forgotten world.
Posted back in the UK at RAF Melton Mowbray, near Loughborough, with RAF Transport Command, he became Assistant Rover Scout Leader at 2nd Topcliff in Vale of Mowbray Scouts. He explored Western Europe in his Rover Scout uniform. The photographs show him with other Rover Scouts or his attempt at a 1950`s "selfie", setting the clicker on a timed switch to take his photograph nonchalantly reading a map or striking a pose in the Alps. Rover Scouts were young men who had grown up beyond the age range of Scouts and was replaced by the Venture Scout programme and later Explorer Scouts and Network.
On leave from the Royal Air Force he attended the 9th World Scout Jamboree in Sutton Park for 12 days during August 1957. He camped at Copenhagen near Powells Pool . His reason for attending was to take part in the World Rover Moot which was running simultaneously as the Jamboree and 3,500 other Rover Scouts had turned up to participate from 61 countries. As a life-long Scout this was an opportunity not to be missed. The Moot was an opportunity for young adults in Scouting to meet together with the objective of improving their international understanding as citizens of the world. The Moot was organised by the World Organisation of the Scout Movement.
John had broken free of the snares of Easington Colliery in County Durham and flown high above the clouds, soaring above land and sea. He had been part of the Berlin Airlift and witnessed for himself the competing ideological and economic visions for Post war Europe. He had also travelled around Western Europe in his Rover Scout uniform and met other Rover Scouts from Western nations. This coal miner`s son obviously felt that he had something to contribute to the World Rover Moot. The experience of attending the World Scout Jamboree in Sutton Park changed his life.
As well as the 33,000 Scouts participating from 85 countries there were an additional 17,000 British Scouts camping on organised sites spread over a 15 mile radius from Sutton Park. This gave a total attendance of 50,000 Scouts in residence with a further 7,000 Scouts being transported to Sutton Park on a daily visits during the Jamboree. The Jamboree was opened by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and accompanied by the British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan. John`s treasured trophies from the Jamboree included an American tent bearing the logo of a Native American in red paint on the canvass and a metal American Scout eagle woggle. He wore the American eagle woggle on his craveat (a Scout neckerchief substitute when out of Scout uniform) until the day he died in 2007. The World Scout Jamboree in Sutton Park was one of his favourite topics of conversation for the last 50 years of his life.
At this point in his life John was with 3rd Squadron, RAF Syerston near Newark. He volunteered as Assistant Scout Leader with 1st Syerston Air Scouts. He was also a married man after having met a lady from Walsall, near Sutton Coldfield, who was Cub Leader of 2nd Walsall, Walsall Central District.
They were married in 1957, the same year as the 9th World Scout Jamboree and she joined John during the remaining period of his RAF service with 3rd Squadron at RAF Syerston. They lived happily in a caravan on Manor Farm, Calverton so they could be near his parents who had moved from County Durham. His father, George, had found work at Calverton Colliery which was opened in 1952 by the National Coal Board. Jean continued to volunteer as a Cub Leader, earned her wood badge in 1959 and was with 1st Woodthorpe in Central Nottingham District. The wood badge is an award for adult volunteers in Scouting throughout the world designed to make Scouters better leaders by teaching advanced leadership skills and creating a bond and commitment to the Scouting movement.
John`s brother, also called George, relocated back to Calverton following his service in the Royal Air Force and also volunteered with 1st Woodthorpe Scouts, earning his wood badge in 1962, serving as Scout Leader, Assistant District Commissioner for Cubs, Rover Scout Leader and finally Group Scout Leader in 1966.
It was no surprise that George`s wife Margaret, just like John`s wife Jean, followed the family tradition by becoming an adult leader in Scouting. Margaret earned her wood badge in 1965 and Scouting records show she was with 3rd Arnold Scouts in Central Nottingham. Although George was now working as a coal miner at Calverton Colliery and was reunited with his two sons, George and John now they were back from the Royal Air Force, there was no risk either would be going down the coal shaft. George got a job with Nottingham City Council and John opened up his own business in Wolverhampton before working for Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council. John`s Scouting career continued in Wolverhampton as District Rover Scout Leader for 5 years and then Assistant Cub Leader with 10th Walsall in Walsall Central for another 5 years.
And it was in the 10th Walsall Cub Scouts that John, who was my father, introduced my brother and I to Scouting. He wanted us to get out of it what he had and as children we would listen to stories of the 1957 World Scout Jamboree and go on pilgrimages to the Jamboree Stone in Sutton Park and imagine it all: over 50,000 Scouts from 85 countries coming together in peace and unity in Sutton Park.
My father had also come a long way in his life from a boy with no education. He had run his own business, albeit a corner shop, to working for the Council, supplementing his income with running a youth club. We lived in a 4 bedroom detached house in a leafy part of Walsall and when he retired he enjoyed regular holidays abroad in his camper van or beach holidays in the Mediterranean. During all of this time he had a portrait of Robert Baden-Powell, along with a wooden crucifix, on his bedroom shelf and his prized possessions were that American tent, eagle woggle from the World Scout Jamboree and his wood badge, the symbol of completion of Scout leadership training.
When he died, in 2007, I placed in his Scouters" left hand (traditionally used by Scouts to shake hands) his wood badge and Gilwell woggle to show he had earned his wood badge and in his right hand a cross my children had made for him and that is the way he went to Heaven.
To deal with my bereavement I enrolled as a Scout leader and completed my wood badge within 6 months with West Mercia Scout County: a record. I also walked in a pair of his shoes so I could literally claim to be "walking in my father`s footsteps" becoming, at various points along my journey, a Beaver Leader, Cub Leader, Scout Leader, Explorer Leader and now an Assistant District Commissioner. All 4 of my daughters have been through the Scout Programme and gained skills for life over the past 11 years. Each one of them has also gained the highest Scouting awards for their age group.
My father, like his old pair of shoes I used to wear, is gone: so are his parents, grandfather, brother and sister-in-law but their memory lives on. I have no idea what happened to that old American tent or my father`s eagle woggle from the 1957 World Scout Jamboree. Transferred to the Scout Association Archives were items concerning the Scout Service of John Henery, namely 12 black and white photographs from the 1940s, one 1957 World Jamboree Programme, typescript documents concerning the Copenhagen Campsite in Sutton Park, 11 Jamboree newspapers and 5 1957 Scout magazines from the Jamboree.
However, in 2019, my daughters are better for having been part of Scouting`s great story. It is the best gift my father could ever have given to his 4 beautiful grandchildren.
Member since: 4th February 2019
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