By Les Mitchell (G3BHK) Founder of Jamboree On The Air
The following is a transcript of a speech recorded at his home in England in 1968.
"I joined the Scout Movement in the 1930s and I joined mainly because I was interested in International friendship and because I thought then what a wonderful idea it was for lads of different Nations to be able to get together. However I soon found out, much to my horror, that unless you were one of the really top Scouts, you never were sent along to Jamborees. and very few Troops in pre-War days, ever camped abroad.
But when the War started, I was with a Troop in Reading, and it wasn't long before I was called up myself, and much to my supreme joy, was sent over to America for a year where I became a Scoutmaster with Troop 38 in Brunswick in Maine. So I started my International Jamboree at the Government's expense.
After a year in Maine they sent me out to Sydney in Australia, where I became Sea-Scoutmaster, spending another year this time with the 1st Leichhardt Sea Scouts.
On coming back home again, I found that the Navy had hammered enough radio into me to enable me to apply straight away for an amateur transmitting licence, so when the end of the War arrived, there I was as a Radio Amateur with a very good taste of International Scouting.
I tried many, many years after the War to get Scouts interested in Radio, and to get the Movement as a whole interested but without success until the 1957 Jamboree at Sutton Park, when one of the finest Amateur Radio Stations that I think I have ever seen was established in the Jamboree area.
Unfortunately, and I was very disappointed regarding this point, of the 60 odd operators who were there, there were only two of us in uniform, and the other chap wasn't there very often either, so it left the station there as practically the only organisation of the whole of the Jamboree site that wasn't run completely by people in Scout uniform and even at that time I felt that this must never happen again. So whilst the Jamboree was continuing, I called a meeting of overseas Scout Radio Amateurs (of which there was quite a number attending the Jamboree) and we used to meet every morning just outside the gates of the Jamboree site, at a little cafe where we enjoyed a cup of coffee.
Whilst at one of these meetings, the idea arose almost spontaneously - Why don't we have a day each year when the chaps around that particular cafe table should contact each other on the air? Immediately they said ‘Come along Les, YOU organise it!’
So when I got home after the Jamboree I realised that whilst the idea sounded very fine in the cafe it would be rather doomed to failure because there were so few of us there, and with chaps getting married and dropping out for examinations, plus the fact that radio conditions might not be particularly good on the particular day we might choose, and there might be so few radio contacts, that the whole idea would fold up in a year or two.
So I wrote again to these people and said - ‘Look, I've a better idea, why don't we ask all the Radio Amateurs throughout the World to help the Scout Movement and to run one glorious Jamboree on the Air every year for about 48 hours and just let's go to town on that one weekend evey where in the World. If then, we particular six or seven chaps at these meetings don't happen to contact each other, well, it wouldn't matter because we would all still have a jolly good time’.
They agreed to this idea so I put it to headquarters in London, but they looked at me as if I were suggesting Patrol camping on the Moon. I felt that their feelings were, ‘well, we'll let this chappie go ahead and after one event surely he'll realise he is wasting his time and ours and we'll never hear about it again‘.
Well, as you know it went fairly well the first time, and the next year I handed the International side of the event over to the World Scout Bureau to organise and as it turned out, I couldn't have done it at a better time, because a certain young chap there by the name of Len Jarrett, had just joined the staff, he was ex-Royal Corps of Signals, rarin' to learn more radio, and he really threw himself into the organisation of Jamboree on the Air with all the zest and vigour you could imagine! He later gained the call sign of VE3EWE (now HB9S) and as you know, the Jamboree on the Air has gone since then from strength to strength.
The point I would like to make is that the great attraction for this event for me has been the fact that other Scouts like myself, who were never really top class Scouts would get the chance of making International contacts and chatting, in fact, the boy who joined the Movement only last week can have a chance to chat to someone a long way away and get the thrill of chatting to an overseas Scout, at very little cost. I think you'll find that as Jamborees these days get larger and larger, they'll probably become fewer and fewer, and J0TA is one way of making international contacts at very little cost to the boy and the Movement, and with great enjoyment to the people who take part."