Story: Burgin, Annie Mona

Page 1 - Biography

Burgin, Annie Mona

1903–1985

Girl Guide and Peace Scout leader, teacher, headmistress

This biography was written by Judith Bright and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Annie Mona Burgin was born at Kirk Michael, on the Isle of Man, on 11 March 1903, the daughter of John Robert Burgin, an Anglican clergyman, and his wife, Henrietta Jane Woollcombe. She came to New Zealand with her family at the age of six, when her father was appointed vicar of the parish of Havelock, Marlborough. Further parish appointments took the family to Auckland, Ashburton and back to Auckland, where they settled permanently after John's death in 1920. Mona, as she was known, attended Melmerly Collegiate School in Parnell prior to going to Diocesan High School for Girls, Auckland, in 1912, and again from 1916 until 1920. She left at the age of 17 to train as a teacher at Auckland Training College.

While still a teenager she corresponded with and met Lieutenant Colonel David Cossgrove, the founder of the Girl Peace Scouts' Association which, although formed in New Zealand in 1908, had almost died out in Auckland. A revival of peace scouting in Auckland is attributed to Burgin's enthusiasm in starting the St Andrew's Girl Peace Scout Troop in Epsom in 1921, and encouraging others to do likewise. When in 1923 the Girl Peace Scouts amalgamated with the Girl Guides Association, the St Andrew's troop was one of the first to transfer to the blue uniform of the guides, becoming the Epsom Cavell Company. In 1939 Burgin started the Rahiri Ranger Company for the older girls.

Mona Burgin (known as 'Captain' to her guides and rangers, and 'Moby' to her friends) was best known for her contribution to the training of adult leaders. Working first with a visiting imperial headquarters guide commissioner, she spent a year in England in 1932 for further experience, gaining various training qualifications. In 1945 she was asked to lead a Guide International Service team under the auspices of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, to work among young people in the camps for displaced persons in Europe. For two months the team visited camps looking at the possibilities of restarting scouting and guiding, and organising youth leadership courses, as well as meeting civic and military authorities to encourage international links for youth to assist in the rebuilding of Germany. In 1946, after she returned, she gained the coveted chief's diploma.

For many years New Zealand had used imperial headquarters handbooks and programmes, but in the 1950s Mona Burgin wrote the first New Zealand handbooks for guides and rangers, based on the British programme, but with a local slant. Her teaching and training methods had a significant influence on the shaping of the Girl Guide movement in New Zealand. She was awarded the Silver Fish, the highest international guiding honour, in 1945, and was made an MBE in 1959 for services to youth. She held several national positions, including commissioner for training, commissioner for camping, (both relinquished in 1948) and national ranger adviser (1953–64).

Although Mona Burgin worked full time as a trainer for the Girl Guide Association for a short period, most of her working life was devoted to teaching. She taught junior boys at Dilworth School from 1929 until 1960, when she left to become headmistress of Hilltop School (an independent school for girls), remaining there until her retirement in 1968. She was an able teacher and leader, had a strong sense of duty, insisted on high standards of work and behaviour, and took a genuine and kindly interest in all her pupils. Former students remember her ability to stretch them beyond what they thought they could achieve.

After retiring from teaching, followed by an extended overseas trip, Mona Burgin moved to Howick, Auckland, where she became involved in local community and church activities. She continued her involvement in the Girl Guides Association by acting as Duke of Edinburgh Award adviser from 1964 to 1976. She was made a life member of the national council in 1970. She never married, and died at her home on 15 June 1985.