Founder

Sir William Alexander Smith was born on the 27th. Day of October 1854, at Pennyland House, Thurso Scotland. He was the eldest son of Major David Smith and his wife Harriet. William and his siblings formed a family of three sons and one daughter. His father was the son of William Smith who had fought in the 78th. Dragoon Guards in the Kaffir War of 1849 to 1850. His mother was Born October 27th 1854 the daughter of Alexander Fraser, who was a merchant in Died May 10th. 1914 Glasgow, Scotland.

As a boy, William was educated at the Miller Institution, better known as the ‘’Thurso Academy’’. At thirteen years old; William’s father died on a business trip to China and his family moved in with his uncle in Glasgow. In early January 1869 William became apupil in a private school, the Western Educational Institution better known as ‘’Burn’s and Sutherland’s School’’. In his first and only term there; he took seven prizes but his time in the institution was short lived; as he ended his school days late in May at the age of fourteen and a half. William did not cease his education all together; his writings in a note book states that he continued to take French classes after joining his uncle business in 1869 as a junior clerk at Alex. Fraser & Co. His involvement in business continued until 1887; first in the family firm, then in partnership with his brother and a friend.

William began to make choices about his life and in 1872 he was attracted to Amelia Pearson Sutherland; the sixteen years old daughter of a Presbyterian minister. He joined the church and became a member of the church choir. He fell in love and married her in March 1884. Their home address was No. 4 Ann ;Street, Hillhead, West End; just only a short walk to the North Woodside Mission Hall. It was there William’s two sons George Stanley Smith and Douglas Pearson Smith were born. (George was the third secretary of the council of the Boys’ Brigade from 1925 to 1954). Their partnership was also vital in the development of the Boys’ Brigade. Sadly Amelia died in 1898 when their two sons were only eleven and eight years old.

In 1906 William married Hannah Campbell the daughter of Mr. William Campbell but death again entered his home and Hannah died after a short married life of only fifteen months.

In the autumn of 1874 William joined the Glasgow Y.M.C.A. and attended lectures; two of which were given by H. M. Stanley the famous African explorer. The Y.M.C.A. played an important part throughout his life. William set up a branch of the Y.M.C.A. in his own church with the encouragement of the minister in 1874. We can now see a change in the seriousness of his Christianity. On February 12th he heard the American Evangelists Dwight Lyman Moody and Ira David Sankey for the first time on 12th. he joined the church were his uncle was an office holder.

Also in 1874 William joined the 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers and moved through ranks from Private, to Lance Corporal, to Lieutenant, to Colonel. By 1905 this military activity of the time was absolutely part of his culture.

The organizing church took him into the Mission Sunday School as a teacher; and later he became secretary. It is this developing work in this building at North Woodside Road that William got the ideas for new methods. Nine years with the Y.M.C.A. and in parallel teaching Bible Study to unruly young people showed him a gap. The Y.M.C.A. depends on the self discipline and motivation of responsible young men. The Bible need to be learnt for the good life but the discipline and rules he found in the Volunteers was sadly lacking in the Sunday School. The opportunity for unselfishness and team sprit is missing; attendance is erratic; the boys are only there for an hour and there are no active participation; William thought a lot about what was going on with the Sunday School.

Saturday afternoon; as an enthusiastic young officer of the Volunteers, he had no difficulty in making a hundred men obey his every word and command on the nearby drill ground. Yet on Sundays he could do nothing with a small group of lively boys. It was then he had an idea; ‘’Drill and Discipline’’. Why not turn the Sabbath School boys into a Volunteer Band or Brigade, with the same military order, ’’Obedience, Discipline and Self - Respect ‘’ as any well-trained army? Religious instruction was the core of the Sabbath School work. But why should the boys not enjoy games as well as discipline, gymnastics and sports as well as Hymns and Prayers?

William discussed his idea with two of his close friends in the Y.M.C.A., the brothers James R. Hill and John B. Hill, who also taught at the Sabbath School with him and who were also fellow Volunteers nothing was left to chance; so the programmed was tailored out with care for every detail and with the plans made they asked for God’s blessing on it.

On Thursday, the 4th day of October 1883 the three leaders invited the boys of the Free Church Mission Sabbath School; North Woodside Road, Glasgow, Scotland; to join The 1st Glasgow Company of the Boys’ Brigade to develop ‘’Christian Manliness’’ by the use of semi-military ‘’Discipline and Order’’. As yet there was no uniform, but the leaders wore a small red rosette in their lapels. Fifty-nine boys volunteered to join right - away, some out of curiosity others ready to see what fun they could make out of the new idea. All of them were between the ages of twelve and sixteen, but when they learned that Discipline meant what was said, the number of recruits dropped to thirty-five. From the very beginning William Smith was as strict with the boys as the army had taught him to be with himself and his Volunteers.