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Our Fifth World Jamboree
by James E. West
Chief Scout Executive and American Camp Chief

HERE we were, ready for the signal that was to start the Fifth World Jamboree—more than eight hundred of us, American Scouts and Scouters, in our khaki uniforms and with the Stars and Stripes waving over us. We had come from every state of the Union, had already celebrated together a National Jamboree, and had finally crossed an ocean in order to meet with thousands of Brother Scouts in the far-off country of Holland, at the spot with the picturesque name of Vogelenzang—"Bird Song." Our camp had been established in a corner of the vast Jamboree area, and we had set out along narrow canals. and over numerous temporary bridges to the gathering point of the youth of the World, the space behind the Jamboree arena, from which we were to make our grand entry.

From far across the fields came the sound of the church bell in Bloemendael—two o’clock Holland summer time, on July 31st in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Nine Hundred and Thirty Seven—and almost at the same instant a roar went up from the multitude that had filled the grandstands of the arena to capacity. From the distance we could see a lady in gray mounting the steps of the Royal stand. The Queen of Holland had come to join us in opening the World Jamboree.

The signal sounded, and Amerika moved forward, leading the procession of youth from all around the globe. As we entered the arena, enthusiastic applause greeted us from the thousands of people in the grandstands, a greeting to the Stars and Stripes and to the boyhood of America. Passing the Royal box each of our Scouts whipped out of his pocket a small American Flag. They were swung overhead as we saluted the Queen and the Chief Scout of the World and cheered them with a genuine American cheer.

America had started the grand parade, and now followed Scouts, Scouts and still more Scouts.

Armenia came next, a small band in blue Uniforms. Then a vast group from Holland’s neighbor country, Belgium. China with the flag of the republic, Denmark with old musical instruments of the Vikings carried before them, and Egypt in red fezzes. England—and by England, according to Dutch vocabulary, was meant the whole British Empire entered the arena, eight thousands strong, the largest British contingent ever to leave the home shores. From every point of the compass they came: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Irish Free State, Newfoundland, India, Barbados, Bermuda, British Guiana, Ceylon, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Malta, Northern Rhodesia, Palestine, Trinidad, England herself, Scotland in swishing kilts, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Estonia next, Finland with blue and white skull caps, France carrying staves decorated with large artificial flowers in the national colors, Greece in native costumes. The Hungarian Scouts followed, led by their own band and with white grass plumes waving from their hats. Then, in alphabetical order, the boys of Iran, of Japan, Yugoslavia, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico in hip, sombreros, Norway in blue-green shirts, Austria (Oostenrijk in Dutch) in white stockings that make tanned knees even more tanned. Poland in long, flowing capes, Portugal, Romania. Siam with the brims of their black Scout hats pinned up with golden emblems, Czechoslovakia, Iceland and Sweden (Tsjecho-Slovakije, Ysland and Zweden), the blue-clad Swedish Scouts led forward by their popular Prince Gustav Adolph, the Scouts of "Zwitserland" with red and white neckerchiefs.

And finally, the Scouts of the host country, of Holland itself, preceded by groups from the Dutch Colonies: from the Dutch East Indies, from Saba and Curacao, Troop flags, Patrol flags and National flags all waving in the breeze.

For a hundred minutes the grand parade went on, with cheers from the Scouts and from the audience, with bands playing, and with everyone present joining in the rollicking Jamboree song that was on the lips of every Dutch man and woman, from the tiniest tot to grandma herself.

The arena was again empty. But not for long. A roar, and twenty-six thousand Scouts stormed into the field in one surging mass of youth. It was an inspiring sight and a colorful one, of boys from all the world enthusiastically rallying around their leader and the Queen of the country they were visiting.

Another signal, and out of chaos came perfect order as everyone listened to the message of welcome from the Queen of the Netherlands. She told us how glad she was to see us, reminded the Dutch Scouts in their own tongue of their obligations as hosts, and wished for the rest of us, in excellent English, that the days of the Jamboree would be marked by true Scout Spirit. As she finished by declaring the Jamboree opened, the solemn notes of the "Wilhelmus," the National Anthem of Holland, rang over the field, and everyone came to attention. Then another wave of cheers broke loose. Someone started the cry of "B-P, B-P!" and in a moment the whole arena resounded with the chant.

Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting and the Chief Scout of the World, lifted his hand, and we listened in silence, while he expressed our thanks to the Queen for her presence and to the Dutch people for having undertaken this great Jamboree. More cheers followed his speech and still more cheers. The Jamboree wits officially opened, there were days ahead of seeing the world, of making friends and of going in for that popular sport of all Jamborees: "Change" —swapping and trading, whenever two boys met, the word "change" was the key-word that started friendships between Scouts who possibly could not speak each others’ language, but who nevertheless managed to get along famously

Walking through the Jamboree camp was an experience in itself. America was at one end of the world, the northernmost part of it. And we were rather proud of our part of the world. It had a greater variety of foreign nations than any of the others. Right next door was Belgium with its many small green tents and miniature camp altars, and Switzerland with its cow-bell gateways. In one corner, the Chief Scout of Estonia would invite you in to view the Estonian exhibit of Scout photographs, while next door you might walk under a portal with a stately Viking ship into the camp of Norway. Over Egypt flowed the green flag with the white half moon and over the large Japanese tents the big, hollow paper fishes that are displayed in that land on the yearly celebration of boy’s day. Liechtenstein displayed a large map on which you could readily find the smallest principality in the world, and Mexico had constructed its gateway of brightly embroidered Mexican blankets.

And then there were the Troops of our host country camping to the left, and to the right of us, with picturesque gateways, numerous interesting camp gadgets and Scouts always ready with a helping hand. Further on was one of the large British sections, tents of every description, and the camp of Hungary, with its imposing gateway and its spectacular exhibit.

But after all, our part was only a fourth of this amazing Jamboree world. After passing the building that housed the Headquarters, we ran into still more camps, still more countries.

Poland, with large red and white national flags on high masts, Luxembourg with picture posters of the country’s attractions, the exotic camp of the boys from the Dutch East Indies with palm covered huts and bamboo camp gadgets, France with decorated tents, Iceland with a gateway of volcanic lava from its mountains, Denmark with its name spelled out in mighty letters of long pine trees, with the capital M the unique gateway, Scotland with fortresses and more of Holland with the tower of Utrecht.

Every day of the Jamboree great activities were going on—encouraged by a most amazing weather—not a rain-drop during the whole period. In the World Theatre, Scouts of the world put on stunts and national dances several times each day. In the evening, camp fires were lit in the subcamps and in the large camp fire circle, and Scouts joined each other in singing the ever popular Jamboree song, and songs of their home countries.

In the afternoons, the grandstands of the arena were filled with thousands of visitors who had come to witness the pageantry and Scoutcraft displays performed by the foreign contingents.

On August Sixth, America took over the arena. Thousands of spectators had come to see us, and we were happy to have present also the Chief Scout of the World and the Honorable Grenville F. Emmet, American Minister to Holland.

The display started with the march-past of the whole American contingent, led by the American band, organized and directed by Dr. Harold Lowe. The contingent came to attention before the grand stand, and while the orchestra played the National Anthem, the Stars and Stripes went to the top of the arena flag pole. Then suddenly, in a grand rush, our eight hundred Scouts distributed themselves over the vast arena and started demonstrations of genuine Scoutcraft. Everywhere one looked things were happening. Signal towers were shooting up and large rustic bridges being built. Scout Requirements were shown—fire by friction, signaling, first aid, and many others. The arena was a ten ring circus

On a signal the arena was cleared and a row of Scouts lined up in one end of it for a dressing race. They rushed down the field, undressing down to bathing suits as they went, then dressed running back. And the audience was laughing and cheering, maybe mostly because all the running was done in large, Dutch wooden shoes, "clogs," that felt quite unfamiliar on American feet.

After this Dutch touch, we turned American again as a large group of Scouts in Indian costumes entered to thrill the audience with a colorful display of Indian ceremonies and dances under the expert guidance of Melvin Tudor. Finally, a camp fire blazed in the middle of the Arena, and America closed its display with the singing of some of our finest Scouting songs. The display had been a success, due largely to the leadership of Charles Mills, our display director.

With fun and friendship-making the days of the Jamboree went on. The ten days slipped all too quickly by. The end drew near, and we gathered again—the twenty-six thousand of us in the vast arena to say good-by. Every square inch of the field was filled, every seat in the grandstand occupied. In the background, the flags of the nations were snapping in the breeze, and before them, on a large pole, was raised a giant model of the Jamboree emblem, the Jacob’s Staff, the primitive instrument by which the early Dutch navigators found their way over trackless seas.

The Chief Scout of the World arose in the royal box and, followed by representatives of the Scout countries of the world, he walked through a lane formed through the sea of Scouts to a platform in the middle of the arena. Here he raised his hand, and immediately an expectant silence fell over us.

"We have come to the end of our Jamboree!" he began. "it seems as if we were only beginning it yesterday, and here we are already at the end. But during these few short days, I am very glad that all of you Scouts gathered from all parts of the world have been making the most of your opportunities to make friends. After all, that was the main object of the Jamboree.

Then he went on to tell of the Crusades of old and to compare them with our Movement of today: "This brotherhood of Scouting is in many respects similar to those Crusades. You Scouts have assembled as ambassadors of goodwill, breaking down barriers of race, of creed or of class. That surely is a great Crusade. I advise you now to continue that good work, for soon you will be men, and if quarrels should arise between any nations, it is upon you as the men of those nations that the burdens of responsibility will fall.

"If you are friends, then, of course, you will not want to be in dispute, and by cultivating the friendships you have been cementing at this Jamboree, you are preparing the way for the solution of International problems by discussions of a peaceful character. This will have a vital and very far reaching effect throughout the world in the cause of peace. And so pledge all of you here in this great assembly of youth to do your absolute utmost to establish friendships among Scouts of all nations."

The representatives of the different nations now approached the platform and received from the hands of the Chief a replica of the camp totem, the Jacob’s Staff.

"This emblem will be a reminder and an inspiration," continued B.-P., "of the happy times we have spent together. By observing the significance of the totem, it will aid you in your quest to help bring about God’s Reign of peace and goodwill. It will help you to be equipped to carry out the Scout Law all your days and to spread ever further our Scout ideals of goodwill and of the helping hand of fellowship to all we meet. And now-Good-by and God bless you all."

For a moment silence reigned. Then, as the Chief stepped down from the platform a wave of cheers burst forth with yells of "Chief! Chief! Chief!" Staves were raised, hats thrown in the air. The loudspeakers broke into the Jamboree song and while everyone was singing it, the large assemblage slowly dispersed,

The Jamboree was over! Yet not quite, for in the evening’ we met for one tremendous camp fire of fellowship.

Right in the middle of this program a commotion started in the back of the great gathering, Scouts stood up and cheered. And down through the crowd walked Princess Juliana of Holland and her husband of a year, Prince Bernhard. They had come unexpectedly to join us at our last camp fire and sat down on the ground in the front with us, chatting with the Scouts around them.

The long twilight faded into night as stunts and songs went on and as the camp fire flames licked toward the sky.

And so we parted with the last singing of "Jamboree" and of Auld Lang Syne. Many of us may never meet again, but the spirit of the Fifth World Jamboree will live on as we do our best to follow the message of the Chief Scout "to spread friendship and Brotherhood throughout the world."

From: The National and World Jamborees in Pictures, Boy Scouts of America, 1937

link-1937-home.jpg (2349 bytes) Home Page of the 5th World Jamboree
at Vogelenzang, the Netherlands, 1937
Baden-Powell Photo Gallery
Baden-Powell at the World Jamborees
Links to the World Jamborees, 1920-1937
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Last Modified: 9:40 AM on June 6, 1998