Boys' Brigade: National Uniforms

Figure 1.--These New Zealand Boys Brigade band members were participating in a Christchurch church parade in 1992.

The Boys' Brigade is primarily a British organization. There are, however, important Boys' Brigade units in several other cuntries--mostly English spesking countries. The largest overseas units were formed in the British Dominions. There were, however, small groups formed in non-English speaking countries as well. Some units have been formed in America, but the organization has not proven very successful out side of British commonwealth countries. Notably the European Brigade units were almost all founded in mostly Protestant countries (Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden). While the list below includes a fairly large list of countries, the Brigade is not currently active in all of them and in most of the countries with active units the membership is very small. HBC at this time has only limited information on Boys' Brigade uniforms in different countries. Boys Brigade uniform to not have thar substantial differences among countries that Scout uniforms have. They appear to be more similar than Scout uniforms, but there are differences. The Boys' Brigade did not spread around the world like the Scouts, primarily because of its Christian, Protestant foundation. The Brigade has , however, operated in quite a number of different countries. We have the following information on the Boys' Brigade in these indivdual countries. For the most part this has been Britain and its former colonies (except the United States) as well as the Protestant countries of northern Europe.


(The) Gambia

The Brigade in 1967 began operating in the Gambia.


The Boys' Brigade in Nigeria was founded in 1908. A Brigader writes to us, "I am a boys brigade member based in Nigeria. Please my company is in need of some instruments that enhance the spirit of our menbers such as: trumpet, parade brass band and some material in order to help my company grow. You can reach ne through this address: Church of Nigeria Anglican Commuion through my Lord Bishop Rt Rv Dr Chukwuma Emmanuel Olisa in Cathedral Church of Goodshepherd, Enugu State Nigeria. My own church is Our Saviour Anglican Church Amandim Olo in Ezeagu L.G.A of Enugu State." [Collins]

Sierra Leone

The Boys Brigade in Sierra Leone was founded in 1936.

South Africa

The Boys Brigade was organized in South Africa during 1889.


The Boys' Brigade in Uganda was founded in 1933.


The Brigade was organized in Zambia during 1957.


One source indicated tht the Boys' Brigade in what is now Zimbabwe was founded in 1948. At the time of course, Zimbabwe was the British colony of Rhodesia. A reader tells us, "The 1st Bulawayo Company of The Boys' Brigade was founded on Friday, October 1, 1948, the 1st Wankie in 1949 and the 1st Salisbury on Friday, July 14, 1950. [Coltham] William Thomson was the first members of the 1st Salisbury and, as the person responsible for calling the meeting which resulted in the Company being formed. He tells us, "The inaugural meeting of the 1st Salisbury took place in the Presbyterian Church, Jameson Avenue on July 14, 1950." [Thomspn]

America, Latin

Fakland Islands

The Boys Brigade on the Falklands Islands was formed in 1944.


The Brigade was organized in Haiti during 1957. Haiti was one of the few Catholic countries in which the Brigade has operated.


The first Brigade units in the Caribbean were formed in 1892, although I am not sure on which islands. The Brigade 75th Anniversary celebrations in 1958, included International Camps in New Zealand and Jamaica.

America, North

We notice some Brigade activity in Canada and the United States only a few years after it was founded in Scotkand (1883). The primary activity was in Britain and the Commonwealth. We note groups in Canada, but less activity in the Uniyed States even though there was no competition with Scoiting for two decades. We have only been able to find limited information on North America, even in Canada where it was more popular than un the United States. e wonder if the British style uniform was a factor. The strong focus on drrill may not have attraccyed many American boys.


The Brigade during 1960 began operating on Bermuda.


The Boys' Brigade quickly began spreading to other Empire countries spread across the United Kingdom and was becoming a worldwide organisation (early-1890s). Canadian boys began participating in the Brigade at a very early point (1889). hat as about two decades before Scouting. The Boys' Brigade owned a camp north of Toronto at Gravenhurst, Ontario. The last of the "Toronto companies" were the 11th and 9th. In addition, there were several companies in Hamilton Ontario (1st Hamilton), Montreal Quebec (6th, 8th Montreal and others), Winnipeg Manitoba, and Calgary Alberta. The Brigade was a largely Protestanr hroup. That limited its appeal in largely French Canadian Ontario. The string religious component of the Brigade meant that it did not compete well with the more secularly oriented Boy Scout movement. It was not just the religious element because many Scoutetrs had a religious orientation as well, but it was the more comprehensive, challenging program of the Scouts that tended to attract boys, including French Catholic boys in Ontario. One report suggests that the Brigade movrement in Cnada has declined significantly since the 1880s, but we have few details.

United States

The Boys' Brigade was organized in America (1887). Sir William Smith helped bring the Boys Brigade to America. Units were founded in several different cities. Given the strength of Christianity in America, one might have thought that the BB would have become a very important organization. President Theodore Roosevelt comnmended Smith for his service to boys. We are not sure why the BB was so sucessful in Britain and had such limited success in America. We note a few BB groups in America, but going on the photographic record, there were not very many. The Brigade never experienced great success in America. The exclusive church-based approach was one factor limiting its growth--even among the many religious families. The more diverse American Christian community was surely a facgtor. The Brigade was a Protestant movement and did not appeal to Cathlolics. And there were even problems with various Protestant denominations. The association with Britain probably was not an advantage in America. And eventually the groups that were formed were rapidly engulfed by the more secular Boy Scout movement. Today few American boys have even heard of the Boys' Brigade.


Hong Kong

The Brigade during 1960 began operating in Hong Kong. I'm not sure why the Brigade did not begin operating in such an important colony as Hong Kong so much later than in other British colonies. Perhaps the Chinese were beginning to look more favorably on the British and British institutions.


Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country. There is a Christian community as a result of the British colonial period. We note a Boy's Brigade movement in Malaysia, but know little about it at this time. A reader reports on a Brigade rally on Penang Island. The boys wear a blue uniform similasr to the New Zealand uniform. The uniform is mostly long sleeves and long trousers. Some boys rill up their sleeves, a few junior boys wear shorts. The rally included both marching and band units. Malaysia appears to be an open society. In many Muslim countries, public events on the streets like this, especially a uniformed group, would be dangerous. We have no information about the ethnic makeup of the Brigade in Malaysia.


The Boys' Brigade organized in Singapore during 1930. Singapore has a small Boys' Brigade movement. We do not know much about it at this time, but the uniforms appear rather similar to New Zealand uniforms.



The Frivilligt Drenge-Forbund (FDF) or Danish Boys' Brigade was organized in 1902. We have few details about the Boys' Brigade in Denmark. One Danish writer, Kaare Westergaard, remembers joining the Boys' Brigade. The Salvation Army also founded a youth group, the Salvation Army Boys’ Brigade (FHDK), I do not know, however, how successful it was or if it ever joined with the Boys' Brigade.


After being founded in Scotland in 1883, the Boys' Brigade quickly spread to England. It is the English Boys' Brigade that has been the center of the organization's strength. There are more English Brigaders than members of all the oversea's units combined. While the Brigade was organized in many other countries, in did not become a major boys' organization in any other large country. Boys in many countries such as the United States for the most part have never heard of the Boys' Brigade. In England, however, it was an important group.


Poiken Keskus, the Finnish Boys' Brigade was formed in newly independent Finland during 1919.

(The) Netherlands

We have very little information about the Dutch Boys' Brigade, but we know that there were Brigade units in the Netherlands. As in Britain, the Brigade had more of a Christian focus and for many years a Protestant focus. The Brigade was founded in the Netherlands during 1935. We know that it was operating in the 1950s. We do not know its current status.


The Boys' Brigade was founded in Scotland in 1883 and the Scotland has been a center of strength for the organization. Some Scottish members wore kilts with their uniforms, but we do not know how common this was. The Scottish origins of the Boys' Brigade can be seen today in the pipe bands popular with many Boys' Brigade units around the world.


Ansgarsförbundet, the Swedish Boys' Brigade was formed in 1942. This was possible because Sweden was one of the few European countries not invaded and occvupied by the NAZIs during World War II.




The Brigade was most successful in the British Dominions like Australia. Australian units were founded in 1890-91. A Company was formed at the St. Mark’s Church of England, Fitzroy, Melbourne. The next Company to be formed was at the Wesley Church, Perth in 1895 and this was very quickly followed by Companies in each of the other States on a fairly scattered basis.

Cook Islands

The Boy's Brigade was founded on the Cook Islands in 1935.

New Zealand

The Boys' Brigade did not spread around the world like the Scouts, primarily because of its Christian foundation. It did become popular, however, in several British colonies like New Zealand. The Brigade was founded in New Zealand during 1884, only 1 year after its inception in Scotland. The goal of the New Zealand Boys' Brigade was the same as in Britain, to develop develop a Christian lifeskills through a Children's and youth ministry within Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand. This is achieved through a program that focus's on enhancement of boys' spiritual, physical, adventure, community and personal interests.


The Boys Brigade in Samoa was founded in 1940 during World War II, but before the Japanese declared war.

Solomon Islands

The Brigade during 1960 began operating in the Solomon Islands during 1960.


Collins, Odune. E-mail message, November 30, 2006.

Coltham, Norman. E-mail message, Auust 2, 2009.

Muriel Gibbs, A Date to Remember (Boys' Brigade Archive Press).

Thomson, William. E-mail message, March 17, 2006.


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Created: July 12, 2002
Last updated: 7:16 AM 3/24/2014