Grobbendonk has been the district camp site for the Benelux District (Now Benelux and Skandinavia) of British Scouts Overseas(BSO) since the mid 1950s when it was a part of the British military presence in Europe. Emblem a nearby British military base was responsible for the training area known as Grobben donk and a scouting staff sergeant (Staff sergeant Johnson) set up the facility for use as a camp site for the Benelux district of British scouts in western Europe BSWE to which his 1st Emblem Cub pack was assigned.
Grobbendonk was originally used by the germans in wwII as a fuel depot and after being captured by the British army was transformed into a fuel depot filling millions of jerry cans for onward shipping to the front line, Petrol landed at Antwerp was shipped by rail to Grobbendonk and there pumped to hundreds of blast proof parking areas where the jerry cans were filled.
The Grobbendonk petrol logistics function was superceded by a NATO pipeline in the early 1950s and the site fell into disuse. It was used for some local training by the royal Army service corps and some Territorial Army (TA) soldiers came from the UK occasionally but the fenced site was allowed to go back to nature. Vegetation and Wild animals flourished with deer, Badger, foxes and millions of rabbits and it is now a part of a protected wild life area.
The British army allowed The Benelux District to camp there and one of the two main pumping stations was transformed by sgt Johnson into Alice Springs _ why Alice Springs .. because it was in the middle of nowehere!!! Simply a building for sheltering cubs in case of inclement weather. Over the years, Alice Springs was converted to include storage , a toilet, a kitchen and some meeting rooms. In the 1970s part of the roof was replaced and an annexe built to include multiple toilets, wash basins and two hot water showers and a bunk room. There was a separate small building used as a leaders room and thunderbox toilets were constructed on the camping field.
Scouts and Guides from BSWE across Europe camped at Grobbendonk, including few UK and Belgian groups and rooms were assigned for group storage …….. Paris , Waterloo (The original one), The hague, Telstar Luxembourg , Brussels, SHAPE, Antwerp etc.
Grobbendonk was used every year for the District camp where upwards of 700 young beavers, Cubs,scouts and explorers met for a great long weekend and mixed with their compatriots from across Europe across the 50 hectares of this camping paradise.
Grobbendonk was a wild camping ground where trees could be cut, holes dug and with water features where pioneering failures would result in a dunking.
The British Army returned the land to the Belgian government in the early 1980s and a similar zero cost usage agreement was reached for continuing the camping facility by Benelux District.
Many thousands of young ( and not so young) people have enjoyed camping at grobbendonk and the local mosquitos are famous across the world. The camp site badge was a mosquito with a proboscis dripping blood.
In 2012, the Belgian Army required considerable improvement of Alice Springs to meet local authority requirements for buildings used to house children. The army had no budget to assist in this work and an estimated cost of 85,000 euros was way beyond the means of the Benelux District and so it was decided to abandon the Alice Springs building. We may still use the land for camping, but without water, toilets and shelter for our younger members, this is not practical.
A bunch of stalwart Grobbendonk aficionados camped there for the last time at the end of September this year and to clean up in preparation for the hand back and to bid farewell to this strong episode in Benelux History.
We have other camp sites available but Grobbendonk (Affectionately known as Grobbers) was very special and we will miss it dearly.