Memories of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme

DAY ONE HUNDRED – Saturday 10th April 2021

By way of a brief introduction. Throughout the year of 2021 I am writing a daily diary. It will form part of a time capsule I will seal Wednesday on Friday 31st December 2021 to be opened by future generations on 1st January 2121. Today’s entry is going to be a little bit different, I will be sharing with readers here on 10th January 2021 and will be confining the page to just one single subject, the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh who died yesterday aged ninety-nine years.

I became a teenager on 3rd November 1963 and spent the next year with my ambition focussed on one thing, joining The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. I could not wait for the next twelve months to pass. Back in those days the scheme operated for teenagers aged fourteen to eighteen. I believe the age span today to be different but that is not of interest to be here and now.

To me and to my friends His Royal Highness was a hero. Beyond any other person, through his award scheme, he influenced my life more than any other.

There were three levels of achievement within the award scheme:

BRONZE which you could begin once you were registered and passed the age of fourteen years.

SILVER which you could begin once you had achieved your bronze and had passed the age of fifteen years.

GOLD which you could begin once you had achieved your silver and had passed the age of sixteen.

Within each award there were four sections which had to be completes successfully.

RESCUE AND PUBLIC SERVICE

HOBBIES

PHYSICAL FITNESS

EXPEDITIONS

On 3rd November 1964 I paid my five shilling registration fee (25p in today’s money) and began The Duke’s – that was what we all colloquially called the award scheme. I was fourteen years of age, HRH was forty-three years of age.

The registration fee gave me my green record book into which all achievements would be recorded and certify my right to be awarded medals at the three levels. These medals were small badges to be worn on the lapel of school blazers.

Those winning the gold medal would have it presented to them by The Duke, I did meet and talk with His Royal Highness but not at a medal presentation.

In the RESCUE AND PUBLIC SERCICE section I was taught first aid. Life in the 1960’s was very different than it is today, calling for an ambulance was nowhere as easy, quick and simple as it is today. It was important there were qualified first aiders within our community, thanks to The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme I was one of them. All these years later I could still administer emergency first aid if I had to. For my silver medal I also attended a six week course, one evening a week, at Sutton Coldfield Fire Station. I then did some voluntary work at a school for mentally handicapped children, without any doubt that implanted with me a view of those less fortunate than myself which I still hold today.

HOBBIES Well for me that had to be music !  Little has changed. I played music and even tried to compose, not very successfully, music. It was music that The Duke of Edinburgh and I discussed briefly when we met.

This was at a meeting of different participants within The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme where we all set up stands demonstrating our activity within the scheme for The Duke to see what we were doing. He flew in by helicopter, I remember it was a big red helicopter, that he piloted himself.

The Duke walked around the display tables with his hands behind his back chatting to everyone in turn. When he spoke with me he was a real person, of course it was a surreal experience but The Duke was friendly, genuine and interested in what we were talking about. He told me of a band he had listened to during a visit to Mexico.

PHYSICAL FITNESS This was the hardest part of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, I think His Royal Highness set the standards based on his own sporting abilities !

There were three sections within which I had to achieve a standard. Running – selecting from 100 yard dash, 220 yards, 440 yards, 880 yards or the mile. Throwing – choosing to throw a javelin, shot, discus or cricket ball. Jumping – high jump, long jump or triple jump.

Within physical fitness I went for the mile, the cricket ball and the triple jump.

EXPEDITIONS This was the big fun event. For Bronze this was a fifteen mile hike over two days with all equipment: tent, sleeping bag, food and cooking equipment plus a first aid kit in a rucksack. Silver, that was a thirty mile hike over three days and Gold was fifty miles over four days.

We had to pre-plan a route and navigate using an Ordnance Survey map and a Silva Compass. How many teenagers today know what a Silva Compass is ?  How many teenagers today could read an Ordnance Survey Map ? I could still handle both if I had to !

For each: bronze, silver and gold, there was a practice expedition and a test expedition. Both had to be written up when over in an expedition log. We were grouped into four, five or six with a nominated group leader. My Bronze expeditions took place in the Dovedale area of Derbyshire. Silver was, for the practice, in the Peak District and test on the Long Mynd.

I achieved my Bronze medal in just twelve month, my Silver took me a little under two years. Gold ? Ah !  I had completed everything save for the expeditions which were the fun and least taxing area but I left school and began working as a management trainee in a vast Birmingham city centre department store. I was so keen to become a giant of the high street I set The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme aside. My eighteenth birthday came and went, I was too old to continue. These days the scheme extends beyond the age of eighteen.

His Royal Highness Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh was through the Award Scheme my teenage mentor and my participation a foundation stone for the rest of my life. I can not thank The Duke enough for all he gave to me through his award scheme, I regret so much that I did not persist and win my gold award. I am, however, so proud to have been a part of it all and to be a Silver Medal holder.

With His Royal Highness passing yesterday I am sad he did not reach his one hundredth birthday but I am so grateful for all he gave to me.

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