It is generally accepted that the 1920s were the most
important period in Scouting history. With the end of the 1914-1918 war, the sympathetic
but slightly mocking attitude of the public changed into respect and even admiration….
… This was the ideal time for B.P. to launch his
project for the great international "Jamboree" – a rarely used expression he
borrowed from American slang and meaning noisy revelry, carousel or spree. This is how he
described his intentions: "I should like to explain that the word ‘international’ has
been introduced into the description of Jamboree with the idea of showing that we welcome
to it Scouts from all parts of the world, if they can come … not only those who were our
close allies but also those who remained neutral and even those who were for the time
being our enemies where they exist."
An enormous feat of organization, the first Jamboree was
held from July 30, to August 8, 1920. B.P. himself played the key role as General
Commissioner. The Organizing Secretary was A. G. Wade, a former Secretary of the
Association back from the war with the rank of Commander. A first-class man, Wade stayed
with Scouting for life. His wife Eileen also caught the Scouting bug and was private
secretary to B.P. for 27 years.
Some 8,000 Scouts turned up from 21 independent countries
and 12 British dependencies. About 5,000 camped, the rest lodging in makeshift boarding
houses or at the vast Olympia Hall in London where the Jamboree took place. The
festivities lasted for eight days. Hardly a Jamboree in the strict sense of the term, it
was a combination of exhibition, fairground and parades on a vast scale with an infinite
variety of games, sports, Scouting skills and singing, and stage shows. Despite the heavy
rain, this first Jamboree was an impressive demonstration of international Scout
fraternity. It proved that 12 years after the foundation of the Movement and only two
years after the war’s end, Scouting could unite the nations in one uniform and in a common
spirit of peace and friendship. The Jamboree was viewed well by the public. The presence
of the reigning monarch and two heirs to the British throne gave it the seal of royal
approval and proved that Scouting was taken seriously even in high places.
At the height of the festivities, an amusing suggestion
was put forward by James E. West, Chief Scout Executive of the Boy Scouts of America who
were present in force with a high-level contingent. An American lawyer, West was another
who had recently accepted a so-called limited assignment of six months with the Scout
Movement and found himself still there 32 years later. His proposal, made half in jest and
half seriously, was that B.P. should be awarded the title of Great Indian Chief. B.P.
found the idea amusing but during the initiation ceremony the following day, one of the
young Scouts in the huge audience suddenly shouted "Long live the Chief Scout of the
World." The cry was taken up by thousands, and on this memorable August 6, 1920, B.P.
was officially acclaimed as Chief Scout of the World.
From: Laszlo Nagy, 250 Million Scouts,
World Scout Foundation, 1985