2018 was the 90th anniversary of Girls’ Brigade in New Zealand, which was introduced to New Zealand through Baptist missionaries, at Caversham Baptist Church. Gwyneth Arnold gives a history of the organisation and shares some of the highlights of the anniversary celebrations.

In 1893 the Girls’ Brigade was established in Ireland at the Sandymount Presbyterian Church, Dublin by girls who, too cold to sing, were given some marching exercises to warm up by their choir mistress. This was enjoyed so much it became a regular feature whereupon the girls called themselves the Girls’ Brigade, just like their brothers in the Boys’ Brigade, although with a motto ‘Onward and Upward’.

In 1902, the Girls’ Life Brigade (GLB) was started by the National Sunday School Union in London by the inspiration of a Miss Alice Towers who was adamant that girls were bored with sewing, cooking, embroidery and other ladylike past-times wanting to do more boisterous activities like their brothers in the Boys’ Life Brigade. The idea caught on and GLB companies opened up in many of the London churches quickly spreading throughout the country. Their motto was ‘To Save Life’.

The Girls’ Guildry was founded in 1900 as a church centred organisation providing programmes for four age groups. Interdenominational as well as international it had a strong emphasis on service to others. Their motto was ‘Wise unto that which is Good’.

In 1964 Girls’ Brigade, The Girls’ Life Brigade and the Girls’ Guildry of Scotland amalgamated and became known collectively as The Girls’ Brigade. The official badges were combined and a common motto formed ‘Seek, Serve and Follow Christ’.

Girls’ Brigade in New Zealand

In New Zealand the movement began in 1928 with uniforms, badges and equipment coming from London. Horace and Ada Grocott, Baptist missionaries returned from Bolivia due to ill health, were instrumental in introducing both the Boys’ Brigade and the GLB (as it was then called) into NZ at the Caversham Baptist Church, Dunedin. The NZ Sunday School Union supported the movement by offering office accommodation, the first secretary being Miss Lilian Busfield who later married Rev Ridland Jamieson.

The four-square programme based on Luke 2.52 (“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man”, KJV) covers educational, physical, spiritual and social aspects of development. Since the formation of Iconz for Girls in 2009, a dual programme has existed harmoniously.

Anniversary celebrations

To celebrate 90 years in New Zealand a national conference was held at Butterfly Creek Holiday Inn, Mangere over the weekend of 16-17 June 2018, with a special dinner on the Saturday evening, when about 160 former officers, current members and girls attended. Three officers were granted Life Membership awards, namely Kay Barbour (Mairangi Bay Presbyterian, North Shore, Auckland), Muriel Hill, (29th Christchurch, South West Baptist, formerly Spreydon Baptist) and Gloria Mills (Pakuranga, Hamilton and Whangarei), all of whom have served the movement for fifty years or more.

North Shore, Auckland, held a celebration in early August 2018, when about 30 former officers, as well as current members, attended with much hilarity over hundreds of photos in dozens of albums recalling memories we had long since forgotten! A great time for catching up with those friends of yesteryear.

Caversham Baptist church, Dunedin, hosted a function for two of its most stalwart officers in September 2018, namely Mrs Glenys Whipp for 55 years’ service and fellow officer Mrs Jennifer Box, who received a Life Membership for 50 years. Jennifer has served as National Commissioner as well as International Vice-President.

Many who read these reminiscences will recall with pleasure those bygone days of Girls’ Life Brigade and may feel inclined to support the movement through the Girls’ Brigade NZ Supporters Club at Girls’ Brigade NZ Inc., P O Box 100983, North Shore, Auckland 0745.

Story: Gwyneth Arnold