Joining Wolf Cubs as an eight-year-old in 1925 Frank Hamel dedicated his life to Scouting, becoming County Commissioner for Bedfordshire in 1979 and retiring from that role in 1983. Since then he had continued providing active support in the Icknield Scout Fellowship. Recently, we learnt that he had gone home about a month after his ninety-fourth birthday on 19 October in the loving care of his family.
His beginnings in Scouting
Frank’s Scouting career started as a Wolf Cub in London where he was born after his family had moved from Guernsey. Having won a place at Tooting Grammar School he helped to start the 1st Tooting Scout Troop. Speaking in 2008, Frank recalled this with pride,
We had a wonderful time. We ended up with twelve patrols and over seventy Scouts.
They had regular fortnightly camps and he found himself digging long trenches for latrines as found in Scouting for Boys. Camp essentials were as important then as they are now.
Meeting Lord Baden-Powell
In 1937, Frank met the Founder of Scouting, Baden-Powell when he was mobilized along with hundreds of other Scouts to help at the coronation of King George VI on 12 May. He was one of the Scouts who were selling programmes in The Mall when a figure on horseback approached. It was B.-P. himself! He had come to inspect his Scouts and find out where they were from.
Marriage and a POW
Having met his wife-to-be, Betty, while working for London County Council, they were married in January 1941. However, within day he was off on a secret posting to North Africa. As a naval lieutenant, Frank was in put in charge of a boat with three Stornaway fishermen ferrying spies to locations behind the enemy lines. Six months into the mission they were sunk by Italian planes. Having waded ashore near Tobruk they were captured by two Italian nurses and Frank was quickly sent to a German Prisoner of War camp near Hamburg. Skills learnt in Scouting as a boy were quickly put to good use by digging escape tunnels. They also started a clandestine Rover Crew which met once a week under the noses of the guards who were very anti-Scout. Speaking of his release on 10 May 1945, Frank quipped,
I was liberated on 10 May 1945 ready to restart my honeymoon.
Council Employee and MBE
On his return to England, Frank went to work for various town councils in the newly-created post of housing manager at a fraction of the pay he got as a naval lieutenant. On 29 January 1946 it the following announcement was made in the London Gazette,
The King has been graciously pleased to approve the following appointments to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire:—
To be an Additional Member of the Military Division of the said Most Excellent Order:
Temporary Acting Lieutenant Frank Charles Hamel, R.N.V.R.
For outstanding services whilst a Prisoner of War.
This was quite an unexpected honour for a 29-year-old council employee.
From Bromsgrove to Luton
In Frank’s own words,
Whilst I was at Bromsgrove just after the war, I took over the local Scout Troop as Scout Leader. There were no parents available and they really need help. By then I had made my mark at Gilwell Park, the Scouts training ground and earned my Wood Badge.
Ten years later, on 1 April 1956, I was offered the post of deputy director of housing in Luton responsible for 14,000 council houses and a staff of 240 to look after them. Within 48 hours there was a knock on the door of our Littlefield Road home and Town Commissioner George Waller was there asking me to take over as District Commissioner for Luton’s central division.
I later served as Town Commissioner, then Assistant County Commissioner, and finally County Commissioner before retiring in 1983.
My wife, Betty, never complained. She admitted that she knew when we got married she would have to share me with the Scouts and the Freemasons.
At the time of his death, Frank was a Vice President of Bedfordshire Scouts and a Deputy Lord Lieutenant (he said with a grin that that meant the council members had to stand up when he entered a council chamber). The Scout Association awarded him the Medal of Merit, the bar to the Silver Acorn and the rare distinction of a Silver Wolf for exceptional services to Scouting. Frank is, as far as we are aware the only Scout in the county to have a road named after him just off the A6 in Barton-le-Clay.
The funeral service for Frank Charles Hamel, MBE, DL, will be held in St Mary’s Parish Church, Luton on Monday 12 November 2012 at 11.30 a.m.
Note: This article is based on articles written in 2009 and 2008 by Peter Sutherst, Bedfordshire Scouts, Media Manager.