E. E. Reynolds, Boy Scouts, 1944
THE COMING OF THE BOY SCOUTS
For most people the words 'Boy Scout' call up a picture of a barekneed boy wearing a cowboy hat and carrying a pole, or they recall the idea of the daily Good Deeda theme of good-natured jokes by Ministers of the Crown and Variety Stars. Most would say that Scouting is a "Good Thing," though few of the many well-wishers could give a clear account of the principles and methods of the Boy Scout Movement, or of how it has developed. The story can be given here in bare outline only, but it is one which should be widely known, for the Boy Scout Movement is one of Britain's most characteristic contributions to the world of the Twentieth Century.
Consider the following facts-In 1939 there were, in round figures, 400,000 boys and young men in the Boy Scouts in Great Britain with 40,000 adults concerned with their training; there were 600,000 members of the Movement in other parts of the British Empire; to this must be added another two and a half million in forty-nine foreign countries. It is impossible to calculate how many present day adults have had some Scout training, but as the Movement has now been active for more than a generation, there must be many millions of men throughout the world who owe something to the Boy Scouts; so too there must be a vast number of women who have passed through the Girl Guides, a movement whose principles and methods are, mutatis mutandis, the same as those of the Boy Scouts.
All this began in an experimental way with a man camping on an island with twenty boys in 1907. For as with most social movements, Scouting was not ' born out of a Blue Book or Survey; nor was any Committee bidden to find a Leader, still less to train one. Scouting began with a man. Like Lord Shaftesbury, or Dr. Barnardo, Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) was simply tackling a problem which came his way without any idea of beginning anything on a large scale.
The camp on Brownsea Island was not the beginning of the ideas behind the Boy Scout Movement. We can trace their origin right back to B.-P.'s own boyhood experiences. He was the fifth of six brothers who were encouraged to spend their leisure out of doors camping and boating. Soon after he went to Charterhouse, the school moved to the country, and the woods (placed out-of-bounds) became a happy hunting-ground for the boy who was already developing three characteristics which the years strengthened : an independence of spirit, a love of watching animals and of all woodcraft, and a longing for intervals of solitude in the midst of a very active life.
As a subaltern in India, he quickly discovered that his abilities lay in the field of scouting, surveying and reconnaissance. Soon his genius as an instructor found play in teaching the elements of these subjects to young soldiers many of whom could not read or write. It was then that he experimented with the methods later to be the framework of Boy Scout training-the use of the small groups of half-a-dozen men under their own leader as the unit for instruction, for competitions and for games. Here he broke away from more orthodox army methods.
India was followed by varied experience of secret service work in the Mediterranean, fighting Zulus in S. Africa, pioneering and scouting in Ashanti, and then by his memorable scouting achievements in Matabeleland. It was in this last experience that he made his name as the greatest of all army scouts, and in after years he was able to base many a talk to boys on incidents drawn from his nights in the Matoppo Hills of what is now Southern Rhodesia.
At the age of forty he again went out to India this time as Colonel of the 5th Dragoon Guards. He formed and trained a body of regimental Scouts and in so doing developed still further the methods he had used in earlier years, for he now had his own practical experience to draw upon. The instruction was summed up in a small handbook, Aids to Scouting, which was published at a time when the name of Baden-Powell had become that of a national hero.
Just before war began in South Africa in 1899, B.-P. was sent out to organise an irregular frontier force, and it was with part of this company that he was besieged in Mafeking. All hit. special abilities now had full scope; his resourcefulness was constantly needed to improvise new ways of deceiving a clever enemy; his night scouting kept him informed of movements of men and guns, and -that quick good humour of his prevented the besieged from getting depressed for he could both be the man in command and also unbend to play the fool in a mock circus or at a concert. Mafeking was important for the future Boy Scout Movement since it was then that B.-P. realised how boys will rise to responsibility when it is put upon them. A corps of boys was organised in the town as messengers and they rendered valuable service.
B.-P. became the hero of boys everywhere, and he was soon overwhelmed with letters asking for advice from his young admirers. When he returned to England, this hero-worship was intensified. He also discovered to his amazement that his military manual, Aids to Scouting, was being used as a source of ideas by some teachers. Then he was invited to review a rally of the Boys' Brigade and he met its founder, Sir William Smith. B.-P. was tremendously impressed and he was anxious to help. He felt that possibly scouting and other outdoor activities might attract more boys to the Brigade. Sir William encouraged him to work out a scheme, and for a time this was used by those Brigade officers who were attracted by the method. The camp on Brownsea Island in 1907 was an experiment to see how boys liked the ideas, and out of this came Scouting for Boys which was written with Sir William Smith's encouragement. Then the storm broke ! Although the scheme was intended as an auxiliary method of training for the Boys' Brigade or for any organisations who cared to use it, boys outside these bought the fortnightly parts of the book and began "Scouting" on their own. They found Scoutmasters, and men who were captured by the book collected boys together to form Troops.
So a separate movement was created in spite of B.-P.'s original intentions, and its progress has been continuous. The relations with the Boys' Brigade have remained most friendly and the two have developed side by side with the greatest goodwill.