How did the Woggle come into being?
Scouts of all ages wear scarves held together at the throat by a woggle. But why woggle?
In the early days of Scouting the scarf, or neckerchief as it was then called, was loosely knotted at the throat and ends. However this caused the scarf to be badly creased.
There are two main stories on the origins of the Woogle.
It was an Australian Scout, Bill Shankley, aged 18 and working at Gilwell who in 1920 heard about American Scouts holding their scarves together with a ring or scarf slide made from materials such as wood, bone or rope.
Bill, who ran a workshop at Gilwell making camping equipment, started to experiment making scarf rings and eventually decided on the Turk’s Head knot. He made one from thin leather belting from a sewing machine and submitted it to the Camp Chief for approval.
The idea of a scarf ring was approved and adopted (although the leather Turk’s Head was reserved for Leaders who gained the Woodbadge). Reference to a scarf ring first appeared in POR in the1923 edition.
Why call it ‘A Woggle’? The American Scouts called their scarf rings ‘Boon-Doggles’, thought to be a word play on ‘dog bones’ as some of the early American slides were actually made of part of a dogs leg bone.
Some think woggle was used to rhyme with boon-doggle but all Bill Shankley says on the subject is “….I got some thin sewing machine leather belting, plaited it into a neat ring, submitted it, and had it accepted. I called it a Woggle and that’s the name it’s known by throughout the world”
It is William (Bill) Shankley a naturalised Australian who in his younger days was member of staff at Gilwell Park in 1919 before emmigrating to Austalia who should be given the credit for inventing the term ‘Woggle’, though it seems unlikely that he was the first to wear a circular device to keep in place Scouting neckerchiefs. In Britain at least, prior Shankley’s invention the neckerchief was merely tied at the neck in a loose knot.
In the 1920’s Shankley travelled to Australia and New Zealand with Sir William Pickford (Pickie) to assist in the development of Scouting in those countries. He was apparently so struck with Australia that he decided to stay on, initially to try in his hand at ‘outback farming’. Later in 1952 Shankley settled in Tasmania, very aptly as a craft teacher, at the Friends (Quaker) School in Hobart. He formed a Scout Troop at the school in 1953, the 8th Hobart, hence his inclusion the Scouting History of Tasmania. The 8th Hobart is long since defunct.
I am indebted to Milestones Reader Chris Ballard of Hobart, Tasmania, who has supplied the above information, and the following from the History of Scouting in Tasmania 1909-1895 that contains Shankley’s own account. Shankley acknowledged that American Scouts wore rings of varying materials called Boon-doggles to secure their scarfs, and that this usage predated his design. He wrote;
“I got some thin sewing machine leather belting, plaited into a neat ring (a ‘Turk’s head’), submitted it and had it accepted. I called it a WOGGLE, and that is the name its known by throughout the world”
It seems that woggle was first worn in Australia and ‘imported’ into Great Britain by Australian Scouts attending Jamborees.Milestone’s reader Eric Mowris wrote in February 2005 to say that the word “boon-doggle” was featured on the U.S. public radio program Word for the Wise in which it was stated that the term was coined in 1925 by an American Scoutmaster named Robert Link- and that he (Eric) is the proud possessor of a period ‘Boondongle’ that belonged to his father.
The first mention I have found of the word is in a June 1923 issue of The Scout where ‘Gilcraft’ (the alias of Frances ‘Skipper’ Gidney, Gilwell’s first Camp Chief) wrote an article called Wear a Scarf Woggle. That evidence would then appear to contradict Robert Link coining the term in 1925, but we do have Shankley’s own assertion that American Scouts wore their ‘boondoogles’ prior to his invention.
Did Shankley coin the word, or take it from another usage? There are several theories and no certainty! Some writers have commented on the closeness of ‘woggle’ and ‘toggle’ – the wooden device at the top of flag hoist for passing though an eye in the flag halliard, and also wooden fastening going through a cord loop to ‘do up’ a naval ‘Duffle Coat’. In both instances there is the passing of one item through another as is the case with the neckerchief and the woggle. However, in the Official Souvenir Handbook for the Coming of Age Jamboree held at Arrowe Park, Birkenhead in 1929 I found the following:
“What is a Woggle?
Every Scout knows but a stranger may not.
You may know the Australians by their uniform . . . one distinctive feature is that in place of a scarf knot, the Australians all have their scarves fastened with a ‘woggle’, which being interpreted is an Australian gum nut, the fruit of the Eucalyptus gum tree.”
As Shankley was naturalised Australian, this derivation of the word has to be possible.
In 2007 Milestone reader Steve Bobrowicz having read this page wrote to say that he had always understood that ‘woggle’ was term for the dangly bit that hangs under the chin of a rooster. Whilst this seems very reasonable I have not been able to confirm this in any dictionary of slang or dialect. As Shankley himself never came up with any derivation to support the name I believe that he did coin the term himself, probably heavily influenced by his awareness of the American ‘boondoggle’- the phonic connection between ‘-doggle’ and ‘woggle’ seems too close to ignore.
It was not until 1943 that the Shankley’s Turk’s Head Woggle was given to participants on completing the preliminary stage of the Wood Badge course. The first ones, then as now, were made from leather. The original source for these was found close to hand from the stocks of thongs employed to ‘bow’ a fire-lighting spindle. It was soon discovered that the belts from old Singer sewing machines,as originally used by Shankley were more pliable. The use of Shankley’s ‘Turk’s Head’ Woogle is no longer confined to those who have any connection with the Woodbadge and can be found round many a young Scout’s neck!
So now when your Joey / Cub / Scout / Venturer looses his / her woggle think of Bill Shankley and the early days of Scouting.