William Alexander Smith (Boys' Brigade)

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William Smith memorial plaque in St. Giles, Edinburgh William Smith memorial plaque, St. Giles, Edinburgh.JPG
William Smith memorial plaque in St. Giles, Edinburgh

Sir William Alexander Smith (27 October 1854 – 10 May 1914), the founder of the Boys' Brigade, was born in Pennyland House, Thurso, Scotland. He was the eldest son of Major David Smith and his wife Harriet. He and his siblings formed a family of three sons and one daughter.

Boys Brigade organization

The Boys' Brigade (BB) is an international interdenominational Christian youth organisation, conceived by Sir William Alexander Smith and Chester to combine drill and fun activities with Christian values. Following its inception in Glasgow in 1883, the BB quickly spread across the United Kingdom and became a worldwide organisation by the early 1890s. As of 2018, there were 750,000 Boys' Brigade members in 60 countries.

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and the North Channel to the southwest. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.



As a boy, William Smith was educated at the Miller Institution, known as the “Thurso Academy”. This is why, there is a room at Boys' Brigade Headquarters called the Thurso Centre

Following his father's death, his family moved to Glasgow. In early January 1869, William Smith became a pupil in a private school, The Western Educational Institution, more widely known as “Burns’ and Sutherland’s School”. In this first and only term there, he took seven prizes. 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.

Glasgow City and council area in Scotland

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, and the third most populous city in the United Kingdom, as of the 2017 estimated city population of 621,020. Historically part of Lanarkshire, the city now forms the Glasgow City council area, one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the local authority is Glasgow City Council. Glasgow is situated on the River Clyde in the country's West Central Lowlands. Inhabitants of the city are referred to as "Glaswegians" or "Weegies". It is the fourth most visited city in the UK. Glasgow is also known for the Glasgow patter, a distinct dialect of the Scots language that is noted for being difficult to understand by those from outside the city.

Nonetheless, Smith did not cease his education altogether. His writings in a notebook indicated that he continued to take French classes after joining his uncle's business.

Late Adolescence and Adulthood

In October 1869, a few days before he became fifteen, William Smith entered his uncle’s business. Alex. Fraser & Co. were wholesale dealers in “soft goods”, shawls being one of their chief markets.

He later joined the 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers, part of the local Volunteer Force, and at the age of 19, he was promoted to the rank Lance-Corporal. He also joined the Church of Scotland in that same year.

Church of Scotland national church of Scotland

The Church of Scotland, also known by its Scots language name, the Kirk, is the national church of Scotland. It is Presbyterian and adheres to the Bible and Westminster Confession; the Church of Scotland celebrates two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, as well as five other rites, such as confirmation and matrimony. It is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

Smith was commissioned into the Rifle Volunteers in 1877 and promoted to Lieutenant later the same year. He also became a Sunday School teacher. It was a combination of these two activities that led him to start the Boys' Brigade on 4 October 1883 at Free Church Mission Hall, North Woodside Road, Glasgow. In 1909 he was knighted by King Edward VII for his services to children. He also eventually reached the rank of Honorary Colonel in the Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers. [1]

A lieutenant is the junior most commissioned officer in the armed forces, fire services, police and other organizations of many nations.

The dignity of Knight Bachelor is the basic and lowest rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised orders of chivalry; it is a part of the British honours system. Knights Bachelor are the most ancient sort of British knight, but Knights Bachelor rank below knights of chivalric orders.

Colonel is a senior military officer rank below the brigadier and general officer ranks. However, in some small military forces, such as those of Monaco or the Vatican, colonel is the highest rank. It is also used in some police forces and paramilitary organizations.

He died on 10 May 1914 in London. [1] He was buried in Glasgow. There is a memorial stone in honour of him in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, and in St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh.

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  1. 1 2 "Sir Wm. A. Smith Dies. Founder of the Boys' Brigade Succumbs in His London Home". New York Times . 14 May 1914. Retrieved 22 December 2013.