Note: I wrote most of the text of this entry “in isolation” (on the bog at my old job, most likely), without referring to the photos I’d taken, so some of them don’t really match up to the passages. I also live in Japan, now, so I’m several thousand miles away from the book, and can’t take any more!
Like Boys, which I reviewed on this blog some time ago, Rovering was an also-ran, “upmarket” story paper, in the vein of the Boys’ Own or Chums. It was a weekly of 36 pages, and first appeared on the 22nd of March, 1924. It ran for just over a year, until it’s abrupt cancellation “owing to a drop in circulation over the summer months” in May 1925. In all, there were 60 issues.
There may also have been monthly, and hard-bound “annual”, editions, but the only ones I have appear to be a collection of privately-bound weeklies. The paper quality is suspiciously good, though (especially as it cost no more than the contemporary Union Jack, Magnet, etc). This may be a bound volume of monthly editions (though it has the weekly covers inside, but so did the monthly editions of The Boys’ Journal – as seen here). I have 29 issues, just under half the run. There’s a faint inscription on the inside front cover saying “2 volumes”. Looks like it was once sold as half of a complete set!
But anyway, to the content itself. “Rover”, in earlier days, was another word for pirate, or at least a freelance “privateer”, on the high seas. Going into the 20th century, it appears to have become a word for “one who roams around”, on land or sea (and I don’t doubt there’s a story about air pirates called “The Sky-Rovers” out there somewhere!).
This was also the age when scouting was at it’s peak of popularity. An organisation called the Rover Scouts was created, for boys too old for the normal scouts (that is, the ones still under Lord Baden-Powell. It turns out all was / is not harmony in the world of scouting, and there’s all sorts of breakaway movements within scouting itself – to say nothing of the various political and religious alternatives). There was no such thing as a teenager in those days, and “boys” may have been as old as 18 or 19. There’s no longer Rover Scouts in the UK, but apparently they still exist in some other countries. The guidebook for the Rover Scouts was called Rovering to Success, and the title was the direct inspiration for this magazine. This isn’t just a hobby magazine, though (I don’t intend to cover those, though I do have an interesting Hobbies Annual from the 30’s knocking about), it has plenty of stories, too!
The first main serial is called A Sword of Nippon. Naturally I started reading that one! It’s set in 1600, and is about the son of an Englishman, who is kept a “favoured prisoner” (he saved a Spanish aristocrat’s life) on a South American island, where he rules over pearl-fishing slaves. He’s really a slave himself, though, and keeps his half-Spanish son a secret (he also married the aristocrat’s daughter, but she died in childbirth). In the opening part he dies, and, at almost the same time, a Japanese ship is wrecked on the shore. The survivors are all samurai, and are led by a Christian called Sanza. Both can speak a little Latin, so communicate until the main character, John Lake, learns Japanese (apparently in just three weeks! Though that only seems to be speaking, not writing. Unless the plot decides it convenient for him to be able to write). They soon capture the monthly pearl-collecting ship, and sail for Japan. Sanza is carrying a sacred Masamune blade, said to bring victory to it’s wielder, to his master, Tokugawa Ieyasu. He’s one of many military leaders of Japan, but there’s a large rebellion building against him. Many of the rebels are actually Christian, though most of them know nothing of the struggle between Protestantism and Catholicism, which was the source of unending strife in Europe at the time (including the father’s imprisonment. And the Anglican main character has to be wary of the Portuguese in Japan).
Once they arrive in Japan, they end up in rebel territory, but journey to the territory of Daifusama (as Ieyasu keeps being referred to), bringing him his sword. They also meet a blue-eyed woman called O Hasuko-san… which is funny, as both “O” and “-san” roughly mean “honourable”, and are said when mentioning somebody else’s name. They aren’t actually part of the name XD.
James and Sanza then travel to enemy territory, where they find O Hasuko San had been taken hostage (she had been left at a monastery). After a number of captures and escapes, James becomes involved in the Battle of Sekigahara (referred to in the story as “The Field of the Barrier”), in which Daifusama triumphed, and the other princes were crushed. In the story, James himself kills one of the rebel ringleaders, Prince Yukinaga after a long, exhausting fight, in which Sanza dies at the last.
After this, despite being offered the title of prince, and lands of his own, James says he’d rather be a beggar in the England his father had spoken of, than a great ruler in Nippon. He ends up coming back to his “native” Devon, and eventually being knighted by Elizabeth the first. Though he’s already experienced plenty of proper armour-and-swordsmanship knighthood in Japan.
And Daifusama? After having had so much help from a Christian foreigner? Er… he bans Christianity and closes Japan’s borders.
After this serial, another called Black Man’s Diamonds begins. This ends in issue 29, so a third serial must have rounded out the remaining issues of volume 1. Black Man’s Diamonds is described as “a tale of South Africa and the IDB”. Now, I was raised by British television of the 1990’s, so my primary knowledge of South Africa is “it was terrible, until the flawless, near-messianic pacifist Nelson Mandela took over and sorted everything out”. I therefore assumed “The IDB” was some sort of black liberation movement, but actually it means “Illicit Diamond Buying”. Basically unscrupulous White men would entice the Black labourers at the Kimberly diamond mines (oh yeah, it’s set in the 1880’s) to sell diamonds directly to them, for a lump sum greater than the wages paid by the mine owners, but still far below the actual value of the stones. One of these men, called Peter Levinsky is trying to get two workers from the Brannon mine, A Basuto and a Zulu, to sell him diamonds. Just as they agree, a master-criminal called Jack Kinch appears on the scene, and forces a division of the profits.
The Pole gets his diamonds in due course, then steals from Tom Brannion, the son of the family, the newly-found “Aurora Diamond”, worth thousands. The Pole tries to take all the diamonds for himself, but is caught and killed by Jack Kinch. A thousand-mile chase, headed by Captain Steele, the local policeman, and Henry Brannon, owner of the mine ensues.
They trek up through South Africa, what would one day be Rhodesia, and probably into what is now Botswana, finding savage bushmen, ancient lost cities and warfare between tribes of Barotsi, an agricultural people.
As well as the obligatory complete stories in every issue, there’s occasionally series stories, the first of these being The Exploits of Yakoob Mirza, a Middle Eastern story.
A selection of the complete, or mini-series, stories
Later there’s a mini-serial called The Problems of Doctor Vasuki, about a “Eurasian” (he wears a turban, so we can assume he’s Anglo-Indian) private detective, who is described as quite feminine and awkward to get on with (and he gets through opium like nobody’s business), but who can spot the solution to baffling mysteries instantly. So far, so Holmesian… unfortunatey, I only have the one full story about him, but a second is advertised.
The first story is pretty good, anyway – an impossible “haunting” in an old house leads to riches for the new owner, and the unmasking of a totally unexpected burglar.
As this is a Rover Scout paper, there’s naturally a lot of articles about camping. These fall into the usual categories of where to pitch tents, how to build a good fire, and so on. More scouting-specific are mentions of dividing the duties at camp – detailing people to find wood for the fire, buy food at the nearest farm, etc.
There’s also a number of articles on places to go camping, and modern ways of holidaying. A regular column is dedicated to bicycles and motor-cycles (I believe, at the time, that motor-cycles could be driven by anybody who could afford them – even children! If there was a “licence”, it was probably just something you bought at the post office, not something you took a test for), and taking tents and equipment on these for a holiday, stopping the night in fields en-route. Not something that’s really possible these days.
There’s also an article on holidaying by “motor caravan”, though it’s more like a modern camper van (not many people had cars or horses with which to tow the conventional kind, though horses could also be rented). There’s a picture of a then-modern model, the level of driver visibility looks terrifying! Though I suppose it didn’t go very fast, and there wasn’t much traffic outside the cities.
As well as these articles, there’s plenty of suggestions for places to visit. These contain plenty of local history and items of interest – and not just the “big” ones like cathedrals, either. Modest houses where some poet lived (or which are just architecturally interesting) are covered, and the ancient traditions and stories behind certain things found in towns are described in detail.
One town once had vivid red figures depicting various sports on the ends of rows of houses, no doubt all faded into nonexistence, or painted over, now. The people of Penzance as described as being “more swarthy”, and differently dressed, compared to the rest of England. Articles about countryside walks comment on interesting churches, and famous writers and artists buried in their grounds, plus how the surroundings inspired their works in life. All neglected, mossy and forgotten about today, haven’t we made so much progress?
There is, as well all of these sorts of publications, the general interest pages, and suggestions for what boys might want to do when they leave school.
Not always on the front cover!
What may be called the “editors page” is actually called On The Trail. It only rarely refers to Rovering itself, often concentrating more on what’s happening in the world of scouting. It seems that scouts were being exploited as free errand-boys and leaflet distributors, their eagerness to do a “good turn” every day giving unscrupulous business-owners a means of avoiding having to pay a “down-and-out” a handful of coppers to do the same job. The column also contains a number of literary and historical allusions. Maybe just the style of the writer, or maybe a way of adding in even more educational value?
A similar column was called For Scouters and Rovers. This one was dedicated more to Rovers who took on a senior role in Scout troops, or Scoutmasters themselves. It was about running a good troop – observing ceremonies, taking pride in your uniform, and so on. This column is about “The Court of Honour”, a ceremony where a scout troop has a meeting to discuss division of duties, upcoming events and other issues. I doubt even the “militaristic” Baden-Powell Scouts call it by such a victorian name, these days.
Other regular columns included It’s Up to You, which dealt with good citizenship, clean living and the state of the world in a Christian context. Some of them make very interesting reading. Check out that middle one! We all know what the term “British Empire Exhibition” is going to stand for in 2024, and it isn’t quite what the writer imagined.
Young Citizen Papers was a similar, but non-religious, column. It featured Plenty of exhortations about seeing both sides of a debate, voting for the greater good, and not simply following the crowd, etc. As well as these regular columns, there was occasionally “single” articles, or short series, on similar subjects. For instance What Makes a Gentleman, and The Gambling Problem.
Another regular column is called Books and Bookmen. It’s really more of a general interest column, talking about a different subject each week, about which a book has been recently published. Subjects covered include science, engineering, travel and the post-WW1 “awakening” (though it started just before) of some non-white races, especially the Chinese and Japanese, to their own industrial revolutions and serious economic competition with Europe.
Compare this page with the feature pages from Thunderbirds Are Go!
Broadcast radio was a brand-new technology in the 1920’s, but Rovering was ready to cater for boys interested in this new medium, running a regular wireless column with advice on buying (or building!) a set, tuning it, and erecting a suitable aerial.
Much like Boys, and other papers of this stripe, not an inch was wasted. The tiniest free space was filled with a poem (many submitted by readers), tidbit of information, joke or other item of interest. There was also a regular column dedicated to upcoming events, in Scouting or in general, and the occasional advertisement for jobs. Remember that Rovers were “teenagers” (though that demographic was invented by 1950’s marketing men) and compulsory schooling ended much earlier in those days! A lot of the jobs advertised are government ones, recruiting for the police, military or civil service around the Empire.
Oh, and there’s the inevitable stamp collectors’ column… but I didn’t take a picture of it!
In addition to these, there were often articles about other youth organisations, how “scouting” in many forms is spreading (or is already in existence) throughout the world, or about upcoming jamborees and other major camps. The most prominent of which in the world (if not in the pages of Rovering, more on that later!) was undoubtedly the International Jamboree in Denmark, which is previewed with an article on Danish scouting in general, and followed-up with a write-up of the festivities some weeks later. The camp sounds like it was great fun for all involved, even if it did tip it down and flood part of the camp. The Danish contingent gave up on camping and went to their (relatively close) homes, leaving their tents for the use of the victims! The final passage of the article says it all…
There was plenty else going on in the world of 1924, especially among the Scouts and their alternatives. Towards the end of this book, the Scout-like (but church-oriented) Boys’ Brigade get their own column, called B.B Notes. Interestingly it says they used to all keep, and drill with, rifles. No doubt that’s been long-since abolished, even in favour of inert mockups, lest somebody gets twiggered during a parade.
They also get several mentions in editorial columns and articles before this, as do the Kibbo Kift, another society which glorified outdoor life, though with a greater emphasis on “oneness with nature”, ancient languages and clothing, and quasi-religious ceremonies. The Kibbo Kift would later turn into a fascist-inspired political movement called the Greenshirts (their armbands had a back-to-back KK on them), who wanted to bring in “Social Credit”, the system that the Green Party more recently pushed as “National Income”. The Public Order Act 1936, banning uniformed political rallies, effectively silenced the Greenshirts. I also forgot to take any pictures of pages mentioning them! But I do have a few other Scout-like youth organisations, some of around the same age as the Scouts, some of incalculable age…
As well as these events, 1924 was an Olympic year, the games being held in Paris. It was nothing like the media circus it’s become now (not that I object to the idea of people bettering themselves, the pushing themselves to the limit in friendly competition, being shouted from the rooftops), and remarks are confined to the sports section. They also treat the various competing nations as equal, the writer as confidently predicting American victories in the pool as British ones in the ring.
But above all that, the event for Britons in 1924 was the British Empire Exhibition, at Wembley. Rovering was in on the act, securing a nearby field and setting up their own Rovering Camp, for readers of the paper. This was heavily advertised beforehand, and ran for six weeks, with visitors to the exhibition coming and going.
The main part of the field was taken up with large, semi-permanent tents, which parties of rovers could stay in, though another area was available for people who bought their own. The farmer who owned the field supplied fresh produce, and stray branches from his trees were used as firewood.
A nearby firm of “motor owners” (we can presume a minibus-like “charabanc” was used) arranged excursions, while a nearby glass factory invited parties from the camp to look around. There was also a number of camp mascots (a goat being the subject of repeated annoyed references to items of food it stole), and a camp cartoonist.
Of course, the Empire exhibition itself was the main attraction, and it’s opening was marked with an 8-page supplement, included in this volume. There’s a guide to the main pavilions (it seems every colony was represented, though the big ones like Canada, Australia and especially India, attracted most attention), and things on show within – examples of a nation’s culture, people, wildlife and industries.
There was also a separate “palace of engineering” where the great trains, marine engines and factory machinery were displayed. The supplement also suggests sightseeing tours around London, for readers from further afield. I just wish I could have gone to the exhibition myself! But I’ll have to make do with the photos. Also, while Rovering ran it’s camp, nominally for Scouts, the exhibition also incorporated an Imperial Jubilee, for the Scouts of Britain and her empire. Presumably the lucky boys involved in this got to camp right on the grounds! (and, depending on how late the exhibition ran for, and proximity to the factories and docks, never slept!).
Rovering had a two-page photo spread in every issue (except for the first three, where it was a single page). During the Empire exhibition and Rovering camp, these featured heavily – though there was plenty of other stuff too, including pictures of other Scout groups “under canvas” around the world. Also appearing were scenery, life abroad, interesting buildings, sports teams and one of the first ever “cosplayers”… whom I also forgot to take a picture of. He was dressed as Felix the Cat.
From issue 25, the paper got a new, more modern-looking cover design. But that’s modern looking for the 1920’s, when several story papers adopted a “clean, crisp” look. But to our modern eyes, those “clean, crisp” page designs look like they’ve been made in “super poster maker 2000”, running on Windows 98. Presumably this same cover design continued for the rest of the 60-issue run.
Oh, and the early issues contained some great poetry in box-outs.