World Scout Jamboree 2023: Cancelled South Korea event draws parallels to Nottinghamshire Hollinwell Incident where hundreds of children collapsed

Theories from UFOs, pesticides, to mass hysteria have been used to explain how hundreds of children quickly went from feeling ill to losing consciousness

An adult carries a child who has fainted (Copyright: Neil Lancashire)An adult carries a child who has fainted (Copyright: Neil Lancashire)
An adult carries a child who has fainted (Copyright: Neil Lancashire)

The 2023 World Scout Jamboree has been called off after high temperatures led to hundreds of attendees falling ill and a typhoon warning meant a large campsite had to be evacuated.

Poor sanitary conditions in South Korea inside the camp and temperatures at around 35C led to scouts - including those from the UK - being affected by heat exhaustion.

The UK Scouts chief executive Matt Hyde told the BBC that he felt let down by organisers and that the site had become a "health risk". Relocation costs for a group of 4,500 UK scouts are set to cost the UK Scouts Association well over £1m. The UK, US, and Singapore were among the first nations to pull out of the campsite.

The chaotic event was deemed unsafe by the South Korean government on August 7.

The dramatic and untimely culmination of the annual event offers reflections on a jamboree which took place in the UK over 40 years ago and also led to a large number of children falling unwell - even unconscious.

A general view shows the campsite of the World Scout Jamboree in South Korea's North Jeolla province on August 5, 2023. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)A general view shows the campsite of the World Scout Jamboree in South Korea's North Jeolla province on August 5, 2023. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)
A general view shows the campsite of the World Scout Jamboree in South Korea's North Jeolla province on August 5, 2023. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

Back in 1980, on July 13, hundreds of children attending a jazz band jamboree in Nottinghamshire began to feel unwell - many complaining of sore throats - before they hit the floor.

From harmful pesticides to UFOS and other sinister theories, many have had a guess as to what actually happened that Sunday afternoon at Hollinwell Showground.

Local brass brands with ties to Ashfield and Mansfield collieries gathered for a large event - totally unaware that the day would live in infamy as the 'Hollinwell Incident'.

NationalWorld speaks to photographer Neil Lancashire, who covered the event for local press when he was 29.

Still working in photography, Neil has his own view on what happened and said:

"I think it was mid-morning when some of the children fainted. Some had been up since very early in the morning travelling to get here and it was a hot day.

A woman carries a child at Hollinwell Showground, July, 1980 (Copyright: Neil Lancashire)A woman carries a child at Hollinwell Showground, July, 1980 (Copyright: Neil Lancashire)
A woman carries a child at Hollinwell Showground, July, 1980 (Copyright: Neil Lancashire)

"Then the tannoy turned on and the speaker said that some people had fainted and he started listing reasons. First, it was 'do not eat the ice cream', and everyone eating that fainted, then it was 'do not drink the water' and the same happened.

"He also said 'do not touch the floor' so they were clearly clutching at straws. They were susceptible children so down they went. I have it down to mass hysteria.

"I remember seeing parents carrying their children to the first aid station that was completely overwhelmed. They had to put some children on buses to get them to Mansfield General Hospital because there weren't enough ambulances

"I remember driving from Manchester to Birmingham after to get the pictures I had taken out there. It just shows how much has changed now.

"The story went global and I was selling my pictures all over the world."

Mystery still surrounds an incident at Hollinwell Showground on July 13, 1980, when hundreds of children fainted (Copyright: Neil Lancashire)Mystery still surrounds an incident at Hollinwell Showground on July 13, 1980, when hundreds of children fainted (Copyright: Neil Lancashire)
Mystery still surrounds an incident at Hollinwell Showground on July 13, 1980, when hundreds of children fainted (Copyright: Neil Lancashire)

Others have also spoken about their personal experiences on that day 43 years ago. Penny Morley was around 10 when she was a member of one of the jazz bands set to perform on that day.

She still lives in Kirkby and said: "I can remember everybody falling like dead flies and people being so ill that they had to go to hospital.

"I came home with a stomach pain so I went to the hospital myself but was fine in a couple days.

"It was ages ago, but it's a day that has stuck in my memory."

Some have even said that the grass had a blue tint and strong smell - hinting that some sort of pesticide caused the incident.

Many of the children suffered sore eyes, throats and nausea before losing consciousness. Four hospitals in the nearby area were placed on red alert as 259 casualties were sent for treatment. Nine had to be kept in overnight too.

Ashfield District Council and Nottinghamshire Police carried out a joint inquiry into the incident at the time which ruled out food poisoning, contaminated water, nerve gas and radio waves as causes.

Instead, it was concluded that mass hysteria was to blame. Ron Chamberlain, then Ashfield District Council's environmental health committee chairman, also backed this conclusion.

Speaking to the Nottingham Post after the incident, he said: “We carried out a full, proper and thorough investigation. We followed up several possible theories and there is still no doubt in my mind that it was down to mass hysteria.”

But the theories didn't stop there.

Around 23 years after the incident, researchers at the University of Nottingham's School of Biomedical Sciences looked into the incident.

Dr David Ray, from the University of Nottingham’s School of Biomedical Sciences, said in 2003 that the smell of tridemorph - a pesticide that was banned in the UK in 2000 - could have triggered the mass hysteria.

The doctor, who lost his battle with cancer in 2010, said: “It is possible that the children marching could have kicked residue of this chemical back into the atmosphere.

“The weather, the fact that some children had been awake since 3am, could all have been factors.

“It would only have taken one or two of the children to react by panicking and that reaction could have spread very quickly. It’s usually the smell of the pesticide which triggers the reaction.”

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