LUTON CUB MISTRESS RITA MET THE QUEEN AT THE 1957 SCOUT JAMBOREE

Rita at home with royal memories
Rita at home with royal memories
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More than3,000 UK Scouts have just returned from a life-changing jamboree in Japan. But back home in Luton an 82-year old mother has fond memories of her own experiences 60 years ago at the Golden Jubilee jamboree in Sutton Coldfield in 1957.

She was part of the Scouts press team who regularly brought news of the two-week adventure to a UK public who had almost forgotten such events were possible. It included a visit by the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Philip which was just one of the many stories she covered.

The Queen tiptoes in the grass at 1957 Jamboree

The Queen tiptoes in the grass at 1957 Jamboree

Rita Jarman of Florence Avenue was just 24 in 1957 and a Cub Mistress when she was invited by the Imperial Scout Headquarters to join around 10 secretaries and 40 other staff on the press team for the golden jubilee jamboree. Her sole skills for the job were a shorthand speed of over 120 words per minute and a typing speed of at least 30 words per minute. But she also had loads of enthusiasm.

She recalled: “We had new typewriters and copious bottles of correcting fluid. Our job was to type the stories about the jamboree ready for the printers at the local newspaper office. Small items might take five minutes but a long 1,200 word article could take an hour to complete. There was none of today’s electronic stuff unless you counted the TV cameras in the next tent.”

She added: “Copy had to be with the printers by 5pm ready for the teleprinters to get it to Fleet Street for the next morning’s newspapers. At the same time we produced our own daily jamboree newspaper which was typeset and printed locally. It was all very exciting.

“The newly crowned Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrived one day to a warm welcome by the 50,000 Scouts that came from all corners of her empire. In the press tent we were busy writing news as it happened and making sure we got all our facts right.”

Rita at the jamboree in 1957

Rita at the jamboree in 1957

The Queen wore elegant white, peep-toed sandals so the royal feet needed protection from tent pegs, grass and mud. Four years into the new reign and Prince Philip was already showing his droll sense of humour. At the American camp the Royal couple were faced with a battery of cameras. He remarked, “Is there just one of you without a camera?” A small voice from the crowd said, “Me sir.” Quick as a flash the Duke replied, “Congratulations!”

Rita added: “One evening we had a cloudburst with torrential rain that went on for two days. It flooded the low lying part of the site but the Scouts just took it in their stride with help from the local fire brigade.

“We had TV coverage from huge television cameras specially installed by the BBC. They covered events live for news broadcasts.

“Also on site was a film unit from Pathe News who filmed the events for cinema audiences. Those days there were no mobile phones. If you needed one it was a dial-up unit through to the operator if you were lucky.

The Queen and Prince Philip at the Jubilee Jamboree

The Queen and Prince Philip at the Jubilee Jamboree

“We had a resident cartoonist, Lewis Williams from the Birmingham Mail, who produced countless comic strips including one showing what Scout Jamborees may be like in 2007. His idea of space age Scouts was a bit wide of the mark but who knows what may happen by 2057?” Rita still volunteers for Scouting events in the town and she is a staunch supporter for Holy Cross Church on Marsh Farm Estate. She has also just been awarded an MBE in this year’s Queen’s birthday honours. Husband Mick, an ex-naval man and fellow scouter, can often be found teaching Scouts knotting.

Rita added: “I have wonderful memories of my time in Scouting and particularly the jubilee jamboree and its Royal visitor. I am sure our returning young people from the Japanese jamboree will have just as many life-changing memories.”