In profile: Norwich scouting legend Ronnie Mobbs, who was made an MBE for services to young people and scouting, and fell in love with the movement during the Second World War
06:51 09 October 2012
Ronnie Mobbs is a legend in the scouting world in Norwich and recently picked up the highest award going, the Silver Wolf.
He fell in love with the movement during the Second World War. It was a time when young boys could help out immensely with the war effort and the scouts were at the forefront of that.
He said: “I joined the Thorpe St Andrew scouts in 1938, and my formative years were during the war when we were doing so much good work in teams. It just got into my blood. Through a good grounding in scouting I saw what good it did.
“We used to have a trek cart and used to collect waste paper and aluminium in Thorpe during the war.
“We also used to go with the river inspector looking for anything unusual or any German activity. We got the national service badge for that.”
The immediate years after the war were also special for scouts and in 1947 he attended the world jamboree for peace on the banks of the Seine in France with 50,000 other scouts from across the world.
In 1950 he became a King Scout, and in 1951 an assistant leader at Thorpe, and then he did his national service in the RAF.
But it was another 20 years later that his second career as a scout really took off, after a vicar asked him to help liven up a Suffolk group.
That second phase of his career saw him design the new HQ at Eaton Vale in Norwich, which was paid for thanks to a huge £500,000 fundraising effort.
Sitting in his conservatory, overlooking his garden, he told me a story to explain why scouting has played such a big part in his life.
“When I was a scout leader at Woodbridge in Suffolk, a little boy accompanied by his father came to see what scouting was all about,” he said.
“Later on he said he wanted to do the mapmakers’ badge, one of the hardest of all to get.
“When he was awarded the badge, he went into a chandlery shop and was asked to update all the charts they sold.
“Lo and behold, he then went on to work for the Ordnance Survey. His mother later said that scouting had made him, and she said she even had to make an appointment to see him now, he had done so well.”
Born in Norwich, Mr Mobbs’s family lived in Gloucester Street, but in 1935 they moved to Furze Road in Upper Thorpe, when it was being developed.
He attended the old Thorpe school in School Lane, then the new school in Hillside Avenue, Thorpe St Andrew, where he stayed until he was 11.
He passed his 11-plus exam and went to Norwich Junior Technical school in Ipswich Road where he learned carpentry and joinery. Leaving before his 16th birthday, he took up an apprenticeship with a small builder, W Smith in Norwich Road, Wymondham, attending City College on day release where he was awarded his City and Guilds Certificates.
“After that I got an extra sixpence an hour,” he joked.
He started his National Service in 1952, and became a wireless mechanic at RAF Coltishall.
He added: “I did not know where RAF Coltishall was, as we called it RAF Scottow during the war, when the Spitfires flew out of it. It was a home posting which was a bit disappointing as I thought I would see a bit of the world.”
By the time he came out his parents had moved to Suffolk, and he started a business near Stowmarket.
But due to migraines his doctor advised him to give it up and he went into local government. By then he had qualified as a building surveyor, and he worked at councils in Stowmarket and Aldeburgh.
His second career in scouting started in 1974 when he was living in Woodbridge.
He said: “One wet and windy evening there was a knock at the door. There was a chap standing there in a raincoat. He looked like ‘Lonely’ from the TV series. It was the Reverend Rowlands and he asked me to bring a scout group in Woodbridge back to life.” Ronnie and Paula ran that group until 1980 when they moved back to Norwich.
He then worked for Norwich City Council and joined the Blofield and Brundall Scouts, taking the youngsters on regular boat patrols on the MTB 102. He became district commissioner for scouts in Central Norwich District in charge of all 10 groups within the old city walls, and was awarded the Medal of Merit from the chief scout. And at 65 he became district chairman in Norwich.
He added: “At the same time the county HQ at Eaton Vale had become derelict.
“I designed the new HQ, and the £500,000 we fundraised was matched by a National Lottery grant.
“That new building contains an assembly hall, offices, training rooms, a climbing wall and big kitchen, and on the second floor we put in 20 bedrooms.”
He was later awarded the Silver Acorn for services to the county of Norfolk, redesigned part of the 15th Norwich HQ to accommodate girls and then extended the Gt and Little Plumstead scouts HQ.
“We also rebuilt the 35th Norwich Sea Scouts HQ at Mousehold Avenue following a water burst.
“And at present I’m project managing the reconstruction of the 1st Thorpe headquarters building.”
Mr Mobbs is still a member of the executive of 1st Thorpe Scouts, chairman of the executive of the 35th Norwich sea scouts, district administrator, and vice-president of the Eastern Norwich District Scouts.
“It keeps me young,” he said.
In his spare time he’s secretary of the Norwich Model Yacht Club, which races radio controlled yachts at Whitlingham Broad, near Norwich.