Scouting in Korea

Scouting in Korea 1952

Boy Scouts of Korea in Seoul, Korea 1952
Boy Scouts of Korea in Seoul, Korea 1952

One day in November (?) of 1952 while serving in an army unit located to the north of Seoul I got a one-day pass to go to Seoul to do some shopping and exploring. As I wandered around that devastated city I came upon a Boy Scout leader with a group of ten Boy Scouts in front of a small building that had a sign across the front that read “The Smallest YMCA in the World” and another vertical sign “YMCA.”

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Since I had already visited Boy Scout organizations in over 20 countries of Latin America and Europe I was delighted to have this encounter with Boy Scouts in Korea. The leader spoke some English so we exchanged remarks and I took the photographs shown herewith. This particular branch of scouting began under the aegis of the YMCA and that is where they had their offices. You will note in the photos that the YMCA was demolished by bombs during the war and the little structure labeled “Smallest YMCA in the World” was built of bricks taken from the rubble.

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The scoutmaster told me that they had lost everything in the war and had nothing left in their Boy Scout library. When I was discharged from the service in late December of 1953 I went to the Monmouth Council Boy Scout office in New Jersey and purchased a copy of every publication that they had and sent two boxes of books to this “Smallest YMCA in the World.” This was the beginning of the new library of the Korean Scouts Association in the Seoul YMCA. The letter I received acknowledging the gift pointed out that future letters would be sent by surface mail due to the cost of air mail postage, a clear indication of the financial state of the organization in early 1954.

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In August of 2006 I spent two days at the Korea Scouts Association National Patrol Jamboree in Cheonan, Korea. I showed the photographs to scout leaders there and they recognized that the scoutmaster in the photographs was Chung Seong Che, one of the founders of scouting in Korea. I was told the photographs were valuable for the history of Korean scouting as Chung Seong Che was kidnapped by North Koreans shortly after I took the pictures and never seen again.

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Since all of their files of the Korean Scout Association had been destroyed in the war these photographs were unique and had saved a bit of the history of Scouting in Korea. The photographs are now published in a book on the history of scouting in Korea.

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