Chapter IV.
Spying and Scouting

From Baden-Powell,
Lessons from the Varsity of Life

Captain R. S. S. Baden-Powell,
13th Hussars



I now come to the most interesting work that lies amongst the duties of an Army Officer and which forms the thesis underlying my activities both in my first life and in my second, namely, Scouting.

Allied to Scouting is Spying.

Spying is secretly gaining military information in peacetime in preparation for eventualities. Spies are like ghosts. People seem to have a general feeling that there might be such things but they do not at the same time believe in them because they have never seen them.

But spies do exist, in very large numbers, not only in England but in every part of Europe. A spy is not necessarily the base and despicable fellow that the name implies; he is invariably both clever and brave.

The German spy, Carl Lody, when captured and tried by Court Martial in London during the War, said he "would not cringe for mercy. He was not ashamed of anything he had done; he was in honor bound not to give away the names of those who had employed him on his mission; he was not paid for it, he did it for his country’s good, and he knew that he carried his life in his hands in doing so."

He was shot as a spy, but even in our own House of Commons he was spoken of as "a patriot who had died for his country as much as any soldier who fell in the field."

SCOUTING on the other hand is the gaining of information in the course of military work in the field.


I had not been long with my Regiment after leaving school when we were ordered to Afghanistan, and while camped out there a sudden storm of wind and rain blew half our tents down and hurled a large tarpaulin up into the sky, and it eventually fell among the horses picketed out in the horse lines. The animals were naturally terrified, broke their head-ropes and stampeded all over the place.

Next day, when daylight broke, the Regiment was busy rounding them all up until only one was missing—the best horse in the Regiment, A.44, ridden by the Regimental Sergeant-Major.

There was considerable excitement about this, especially as the Colonel was very angry over its loss.

So I started out on my own, and got on to the tracks of a horse which I followed for some miles from the camp till they led up into mountains and, taking my eyes off the track and looking upwards, I spotted the runaway high up on the skyline at the top of a small mountain. Leaving my own horse at the foot, I clambered up the crag and eventually succeeded in bringing A.44 safely back to camp.

This little episode was in its after-results a big step for me.

While we were stationed in Baluchistan, near Quetta, the General at maneuver-practice posted a line of outposts and defied the cavalry to get information of what was going on behind their line.

It was an all-night business, and a very dark and cold night at that.

Among others I was told to try and find out where the enemy were posted and if possible to get through their line and report anything I could find out.

Then again patient creeping which I had practiced in the copse at school came in useful, and by slow degrees I wormed my way between the outposts and eventually found where their supports and reserves were posted. Having got as far as I could I marked the spot by planting a stick in the ground with one of my gloves on top of it, and then crept my way out again to my own force.

Next day at the conclusion of the operations we officers had to give our respective versions to the General of what we had done.

I explained where I had been and was told by the Officer Commanding the outposts that I had a touch of the Ananias about me—or words to that effect—as it would have been impossible for anyone to go where I said I had been.

So I told them of my glove, which was then found at the spot indicated.

From India the Regiment was moved to South Africa where an expedition was being formed under Sir Charles Warren against some Boer adventurers who were endeavoring to annex part of the territory lying to the north of Cape Colony in Bechuanaland

We were hurriedly sent from Bombay without our horses, and on arrival in Natal were supplied with remounts which were entirely unbroken and wild. Here again one night we had a stampede, and a number of the excited animals got away and were not found for a couple of days.

The Colonel chaffed me and told me to go to on my usual game and find those horses.

So, profiting by my former experience, though there was no snow or mud in which to track them, the country being grassy and mountainous I went uphill all the time looking for them on the mountain tops.

The only living things I was able to find after a day of searching were a herd of cattle high up on the mountain-side.

I took a look at these with my glasses, and happened to notice that one of the beasts was of a very peculiar yellow color. Then I spotted another yellow one, and very soon recognized that these were horses which had got among the cattle and were clothed in their yellow horse rugs.

So with great joy, I went up and captured the two which I had seen and brought them back to camp.

Peculiar-looking beasts.

Another pat on the back from the Colonel.

I was fortunate in having a very long eyesight which enabled me to see things in the distance where many other people had to use their glasses. My Colonel also had remarkable eyesight and used to enjoy spotting things which other people had not seen. One day when we were on the Rifle Range the Colonel suddenly said to me in his gruffest voice: "What is that man doing over there?"

I knew that he would be furious if I asked which man and where, so I took a quick squint round to see what he meant and I luckily spotted the head of a man bobbing along just behind the crest of a neighboring hill.

Noticing the direction he was taking, that was towards a big farm where I knew the sergeants obtained vegetables for their mess, I made a bold shot and said: "It’s Sergeant Russell, sir, the caterer of the Sergeants’ Mess, going out to buy vegetables."

He roared "Nonsense" and sent off his orderly at a gallop to overtake the distant man and find out who he was.

The orderly returned with the information: "Sergeant Russell, sir, going to buy vegetables."

The Colonel rode off without saying a word, but he very shortly afterwards selected me for an important scouting mission which was one of the most interesting I ever had.


Forgive me for quoting these footling little yarns under such an important heading as "spying" but it is well to see how from small beginnings greater things may grow.

Shortly after this recovery of strayed horses, etcetera, the Colonel hurled a bombshell at me when he sent for me one morning and said that he was going to form a flying column of mounted troops and guns to be ready to move across country into the Boers’ territory, in the event of Sir Charles Warren’s expedition meeting with resistance in Bechuanaland

As a preliminary he wanted accurate information as to possible passes by which he could move over the Drakensberg Mountains which formed the frontier between Natal and the Boer Provinces of the Orange Free State and the TransvaaI, and I was to go and get this information. It had to be done in absolute secrecy.

There were two well-known passes through which roads ran into the Transvaal and Orange Free State respectively Naturally these would be held-by our adversaries.

There had been in old days other passes through the mountains, but these had been purposely blown up and destroyed by our engineers, in order to prevent raids into Natal by the natives of Basutoland.

I was to find out whether any of these could readily be made available on an emergency.

My expedition took me a month, involving a ride of six hundred miles. I rode one horse and led a second which carried my blankets and foodstuff. I grew a scraggy beard and must have looked an awful ruffian. At any rate my disguise was evidently effective, for one day I happened to meet the Major of my Regiment in a town through which I was passing, and which he was visiting on Leave. He was a grumpy old customer.

I rode one horse and led a second.

Quite forgetting my appearance, I greeted him with the customary "Good morning, Major." He turned and looked at me for a moment, and apparently thinking I was a tramp, out for money, he growled savagely: "Get out," and went his way; and I went mine, with the contented feeling that I was not likely to be taken for a British officer.

I generally put up at farms where I happened to find myself at nightfall, and my usual excuse for wandering about in this fashion was that I was a newspaper correspondent seeking information, with a view to recommending it for immigrants, and I thus got to know a good many Boer, as well as British, farmers, and their varied opinions about each other and about the prospects of the country.

I found that the map which I took with me for guidance was a very inaccurate one, and therefore I took it upon me to add a bit of surveying to my activities, and made a number of corrections which would be useful from a military point of view.

One of these, at any rate, was not taken notice of by the authorities to whom my reports were afterwards sent, for when the Boer War came on, and Redvers Buller fought the battle of Colenso, he believed a certain mountain to be on the far side of the Tugela River, as the old map showed it, whereas I had found it to be on the near bank.

Apparently, this error had not been corrected in the Government map, in spite of my pointing it out.

Also, I had expressly said in my report that, in the event of our column from Natal being driven back in its effort to advance northward, it should fall back south of the Tugela, and not attempt to hold Ladysmith.

Had that line been taken in the Boer War, I feel that Sir George White’s division would not have been held up as it was by the Boers for over four months.

It has often been argued that the Zulus could do longer marches than the ordinary British soldier. Of course the latter is handicapped by wearing heavy clothes and equipment but even without these, and without the practice, I doubt whether he could hold his own with the average Zulu on a walking tour.

On a particular day of my ride, I started out from Greytown at the same time as a fine young Zulu and his bride. I cantered off at my usual loping pace, and then pulled up after an hour or so, to off-saddle, graze the horses, and have a meal myself. Before long, the Zulu pair came trotting by, and went ahead of me. Later I overtook them again going merrily along, and again when I halted they once more overtook me.

This went on throughout the day, and when I eventually arrived at my destination forty miles from starting, there they were, quite cheery, and probably able to go on the next day at the same rate.

I met many interesting characters in the course of my journey, among the settlers and among the Police, many of whom were members of well-known families.

One storekeeper with whom I rested for the night, pointed to a distant grass fire on the veldt, which he said reminded him of the lights of Ryde in the Isle of Wight. He proved to be a keen yachting man, who every two years or so went to England on the funds he had been able to accumulate at the store, and his sole dissipation was to hire a yacht for the season, and enjoy himself sailing on the Solent.

He had married a very capable native woman, who kept house for him, and ran the store for him during his absence at Cowes.

I found that I had arrived on an unfortunate day, as there had been a funeral in the family. He said his little son had died the previous night, and he had buried him that day. Having no regular coffin, he had interred him in a wine packing case, labeled Heidsieck Dry Monopole, which he considered singularly appropriate, seeing that the child’s name was Bacchus.


My first essay in spying was so interesting that I repeated the experience so soon as I could get the opportunity.

The desire grew upon one as strongly as the desire for drink grows on some people, so, when quartered in England, I took every opportunity I could of traveling abroad and learning all that I was able to of foreign armies and their ways.

I attended maneuvers wherever I could, as an ordinary tourist going about the country, until finally employed for such work.

Then I visited the Dardanelles in a tramp steamer carrying grain from Odessa, a most comfortable ship with a delightful old Scottish captain and his still more delightful old wife who was an excellent cook and a motherly hostess.

The captain fully entered into my scheme and when we arrived opposite any fort in which I had any special interest he would come to anchor, and lower a boat for me to go " fishing."

Several times he was visited by patrol boats from the forts, telling him to clear out. He drew their attention to loud hammering going on in the bowels of the ship, informing them that his engines had broken down, and so soon as these were mended he would gladly get on his way again; meantime could they advise his nephew in the boat yonder what was the best bait to use for fish; his "nephew "meantime being busy angling in another sense of the word, that is in taking the angles of the different embrasures and facets of the forts.

Some of these forts were reputed to be armed with a brand-new kind of gun about which there was much question. I was able to get to the bottom of this through a friend of mine, a lady who lived in Constantinople and was on friendly terms with the Turkish Commandant of one of the most important of the defense works.

She persuaded him to invite her to tea in his quarters, and to bring me with her.

Strolling about the fort after tea, I drew attention to one of these mysterious guns all covered over with canvas sheeting, and he laughingly explained as he lifted a corner of the cover: "These are the same old guns that have been here for years, but we thought it advisable, in view of some moves by a certain neighboring power, to let them suppose that we had rearmed ourselves with something very new and very formidable."

The same old guns.

As I have recorded in my book, The Adventures of a Spy, I posed as an artist on another occasion, when I was gathering information as to the quality of the mountain troops on a difficult frontier.

I had met with one of these soldiers, who in conversation told me that the force to which he belonged, consisting of infantry and artillery, was high up on the snows carrying out field maneuvers against a similar force acting from another valley, and he roughly pointed out to me where his force was bivouacked near a high peak called "The Wolf’s Tooth."

He incidentally let out that the maneuvers were being kept very secret and such paths as led in that direction were guarded by the military police.

After dark that night I left my inn—discretely—and finding my way up a dry water-chute I clambered up, away from all mule tracks, simply aiming for the Wolf’s Tooth which I could see silhouetted against the stars.

It was a tough and arduous climb, and took me practically all night, but I got there by dawn, and as I topped the ridge I saw one of the most startlingly beautiful sights of my life—sunrise on a great snow mountain above me.

Here I actually carried out my presence of being on a sketching tour and made a rapid water color drawing of the scene, and here I was presently caught by an invasion of Staff Officers directing the maneuvers

Finding in me a harmless artist they became quite friendly, and showed me their maps and explained the proceedings, and I spent a day full of interest in watching the ingenious way in which they got over the difficulties of mountain climbing with their guns and mules, and in getting over glaciers and snows with their men roped.

It was my sketching that saved me from coming under worse than suspicion.

I had an exciting time in dodging gendarmes in a new naval dockyard where I had no business to be.

This again with the map of the chase, I have described in my Adventures of a Spy.

Map of Dockyard

I had slipped through the dockyard gate alongside a wagon which was entering screened by it from gendarme No. 1, but when the wagon farther on turned to the right near No. 2, No. 1 spotted me and called out to me. I took no notice but walked on till I was behind the Power House, then in the course of construction. Once out of sight I fairly bolted, and rounding the far end I gained a ladder leading up the scaffolding.

I was half-way up when round the corner came one of the policemen. I at once froze, without moving. I was about fifteen feet above sea level and not twenty yards from him. As I had learned from the masters at Charterhouse, unless they think of it men very seldom look upward, and I hoped breathlessly that this fellow would follow the fashion.

He stood undecided with his legs apart, bending over and peering from side to side in every direction, to see where I had gone, very anxious and shifty.

I was equally anxious but immovable.

Presently he drew nearer to my ladder and, strangely enough, I felt safer when he came below me, and he passed almost under me looking in at the doorways of the unfinished building.

Then he doubtfully turned and looked back at the shed behind me, thinking I might have gone in there, and finally he started off and ran on round the next corner of the building.

The moment he disappeared I finished the rest of my run up the ladder and safely reached the platform of the scaffolding quickly looking for another ladder as a line of escape, for it is always well to have an emergency exit when you are scouting.

I found a short ladder but it only led from my platform to the stage below, and not right down to the ground. Peeping quietly over the scaffolding I saw my friend the policeman just below, still at fault, so I sat back to take note of my surroundings and to gather all the information I could from this particularly good look-out place.

I realized that I was on the new Power House, whence I had an excellent view over the dockyard, and within a hundred feet of me was the excavation for the new dock, whose dimensions I could easily estimate.

With my prismatic compass I took the bearings of conspicuous points on the neighboring hills, and so fixed the position of the Power House, so that it could be marked on a large scale map for purposes of being shelled if necessary.

Through a crack between two of the footboards I watched my pursuer and his comrade in confabulation. They presently examined a goods shed close by, one going inside while the other waited to catch me if I came out, but he remained accidentally close to the foot of my ladder.

While they were thus busy they were leaving the main gate of the enclosure unguarded and I saw that now was my time to get out if I could.

So I silently moved along the scaffolding, till I reached the short ladder, got down on to the lower storey, and then quickly slid down one of the scaffolding poles and landed on the ground just out of sight of the policeman guarding the ladder, and, keeping the corner of the building between us, I slipped out of the gate without being seen.

I was, owing to the carelessness of over-confidence, actually captured on one occasion. It was in my early days—in Russia.

I had spent about a week watching night maneuvers which embraced interesting experiments with searchlights, and I had made myself familiar with these and their working by actually going into the fort from which they were shown.

It was the last night of the maneuvers when the Tsar himself was to be present.

I had really gathered all the information that I wanted, but as this promised to be an extra special display I went out to see something of it.

My brother was working with me on this occasion and he agreed to go with the troops which were to attack the fort while I went to observe the defense. On entering the place I found that this special occasion had attracted such an extra number of staff officers and police that I thought it wiser to clear out again—which I did.

As I walked back along the road in the dark I saw the lights of a number of carriages of the Tsar’s entourage coming to the fort. As the first carriage passed me I did a stupid thing; I bowed my head to avoid being recognized.

This made the occupants of the carriage suspicious. They were Staff Officers.

They stopped the carriage, promptly seized me and hustled me into it and drove on without a word so as not to check the progress of the rest.

Then they questioned me as to who I was and why I was there, and finally handed me over on arrival at the fort to some officers in the garrison.

I truthfully told them that I was an Englishman, that I had been looking on at the maneuvers as a spectator and had lost my way to the station, and I should be glad if they would direct me how to get there.

They did that by sending me back in charge of an officer to be handed over to the police and removed to the capital.

Arrived here I was placed in open arrest, that is, allowed to live in an hotel, but not allowed to leave the town. I was there befriended by a German officer, who was acting as waiter in the hotel for reasons of his own, and he kindly told me which of the hotel frequenters was the detective specially charged with watching me.

I received warning that I had better get away without delay, as the charges against me would mean five years’ imprisonment without trial, but that arrangements had been made with the Captain of an English ship, sailing from a neighboring port, to take my brother and myself as members of his crew.

I evaded the attentions of the watchful detective, and we made our way deviously so as to put any follower off the scent, and succeeded in getting on board ship, where we passed muster, when passports were examined by lining up with the crew.

I have now nothing more to add about spying, because I was apparently eventually caught and shot as a spy during the Great War.

The following is the complete account of my death as reported in the American press.

The first intimation of it was the following cable:

"Sunday papers report Baden-Powell shot in Tower of London as German spy upon return from Germany. Was caught with maps of fortifications which he was trying to dispose of to the enemy. Mr. Walterbury, returning to Pittsburgh, tells of the above knowledge gleaned from brother, an English officer who was present at the trial and saw him shot to death."

The press account of the unhappy episode reads as follows:


January 15th, 1916. Pittsburgh, Pa.

Shot to death by English soldiers on his return to England as a German spy.

That is what happened to Major-General Robertson Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, hero of the defense of Mafeking in the Boer War, and organizer of the Boy Scouts, when he went back to London and was caught with papers in his possession, showing maps of Great Britain’s fortifications that he is said to have been selling to the enemy of England. This statement is made by a man who says he is a Britisher and that the execution was witnessed by his brother.

"My story is a true one," he declared to-night. "I can tell you nothing else. My brother saw the execution with his own eyes. My brother explained that Baden-Powell marched to his place of execution without a quiver, and, as the cover was being placed over his eyes, said only these words: " May God have mercy." If reports be true, and I am sure that my brother is to be relied upon, England has put into his last sleep one of the bravest soldiers who ever headed her armies in foreign lands."

It was really worth being shot as a spy to gain so sweet an epitaph as that.

Apropos this slight mix-up of my nationality the case is rather on a par with that of my being burned in effigy by the factory girls of a Scottish city on the night of the relief of Mafeking just an awkward little case of mistaken identity between President Kruger and myself.

I have, however, quite recently had a possible explanation of this from General Smuts, who told me that after the Boer War an old back-veldt Boer at Rustenburg said he was a bit confused in his mind as to the relationship between "Oom Pole" (Kruger) and one called "Baden Pole."

I don’t happen to have been in Germany during the War although I have been assured on good authority that I was there.

A naval officer, for instance, told me only recently that he had escorted me home during the War when I came from Norway. He knew the name of the ship that I had traveled in (one that I had never heard of myself) and that his patrol boat took special care to prevent my being captured or torpedoed en route.

The German Staff also knew that I was in Germany and issued some special orders for my capture.

I think the foundation for these rumors may probably have lain in our War Office, where sometimes it was found useful to start a hare to see whether and how far confidential information leaked out.

Spies are not only used in peace time but in the field in time of war as well. In the Great War all fronts were teeming with them on both sides.

I have an interesting relic hanging on my wall in the shape of a notice board on which was written in the three languages, French, English and Flemish, the history of the owner, a cripple.

"Kind Friends . . . I stood in the ice cold water and rescued a child from drowning, and have no use of my limbs. Help me . . ."

He sat on a small trolley in Ypres during the War and people out of pity used to throw him an occasional franc note. One day one of these notes blew away and a soldier of the Durham Light Infantry picked it up and in handing it back to him noticed that it was not a money note but a letter in German writing.

This he reported, and the man was found to be no cripple at all but a very active agent or "post-box" for the German spies of the neighborhood, whose reports he used to collect in this way under presence of their being banknotes, and transmit after dark to the German lines.

He was tried and shot; and I kept his placard as a memorial of a brave man.

A tremendous lot of your success in spying naturally turns on the disguise adopted.

I don’t mean by that merely the actual theatrical "make- up," but the ability to assume a totally different character from your own and also the repression of any little mannerisms you may happen to have, or the adoption of some special one for the occasion.

This may mean a limp in your walk, a habit of sniffing, a croaky voice, etc., etc.

A very important point in your make-up is to alter your appearance as seen from behind.

I was at one time under the surveillance of a detective who changed his appearance each day; one day he was a soldierly-looking man; the next an invalid with a patch over his eye; and so on; but I recognized him as being the same man when I watched him from behind, and saw him walk.

Sometimes it may be necessary to make a quick change of appearance as I have had to do more than once.

You know how, when you are addressing a man, you notice his necktie more than anything else—and probably his hat.

I was interviewed one day by a newspaper man at a railway station. A few minutes afterwards I found myself close to my interviewer in the crowd, where he was re-telling the incident to a brother journalist who was also anxious to find me—and I was not anxious to be found.

"He is down there in one of the last carriages of the train. You will know him at once. He is wearing a green hat, a red tie, and a blue serge suit."

Fortunately I had a gray overcoat on my arm, in the traveling cap and comforter. Diving into the waiting room I effected a quick change into these, crammed my hat into my pocket, and tottered back, with an invalid’s shuffle, under the very nose of the waiting reporter, into my carriage.

Quick change of hat, coat, tie, and trouser legs.


Scouting differs from spying in that it is gaining information about an enemy or his country in the ordinary course of military practice.

The definition of a Scout, AD 1560 by Machiavelli in his Arts of Warre.

"I have not founde that for to warde thei campe at night thei have kept without the trench, as thei use men now a dais whom them call Scoutes. All the strength of the watche was within the trench. Their feared that with men stationed in front the armie within might bee deceived in seeing them coming in, or that they might be oppressed or corrupted of the enemie."

This means that Scouts were used instead of outposts. It has been said: "There is scarcely a battle in history which has not been won or lost in proportion to the value of the previous reconnaissance."

In spite of such importance of Scouting there was, when I joined the Service, no specific trig in this essential science. We were taught, it is true, to draw maps and make reports, but we were not taught how to get the data for these in an enemy’s country, nor how to achieve the more important job of getting information about the enemy himself.

I have seen the ordinary British officer of those days described "as ignorant of Scouting as a chimpanzee is of skating."

Personally I got hoicked into Scouting, as I have indicated, through my Colonel sending me to gather information because I had apparently acquired a habit of noticing small signs and reading a meaning from them: in other words, Observation and Deduction.

Thanks to this I gained some of the most exhilarating experience that any soldier can wish for in a kind of glorified detective work.

The following is not a fable but is actually what happened not long ago. A party of savants and explorers were carrying out a scientific expedition into the interior of Australia, and very nearly came to a tragic end in the great thirstland in which they found themselves.

That they came out alive was due to the powers of observation and deduction and ingenuity on the part of a little native girl of fourteen whom they met. Half-perished with thirst they were searching the plain for a drop of water when the girl noticed some ants creeping up the stem of a tree, and making their way into a small hole in the bark. She at once inferred that they were going there for some purpose, and, passing a twig into the hole, she discovered that there was water in the hollow tree-trunk. She thereupon stripped the bark from some green twigs so that they formed a succession of small tubes, which she tatted one within the other, and, passing the end of this tube down through the hole in the tree, she provided an instrument by which each one of the party was able to suck up his of water..

Savants in the wilderness—a child shall lead them.

It was not the knowledge of Greek or of higher mathematics which this eminent party possessed that saved them, but the natural knowledge of one who had been brought up to some of the essentials of life.

Like these savants I too learned a lesson in observation and deduction from a native.

This occurred when reconnoitering the enemy in Matabeleland many years ago.

Early one morning my Zulu tracker and I were riding across an open grass plain when we came on the footmarks of several women proceeding towards some hills some miles distant, where we believed the enemy to be hiding.

A Mahobahoba leaf was lying about ten yards off the track. There were no trees near us but we knew that some of this kind existed in a village fifteen miles distant in the direction from which the tracks led.

The "sign" pointed to these women having come from that village, bringing the leaf with them, and having gone on towards the hills.

The leaf was damp and smelt of native beer and we inferred that they had been carrying pots of native beer on their heads, the mouths of these pots being as usual stopped with bunches of leaves.

This leaf had fallen out and had blown ten yards off the track. But no wind had been blowing since five a.m. and it was now seven.

Thus we read the news that a party of women had brought beer during the night from the village for the enemy in the hills, where they would have arrived at about six o’clock. The men would probably start drinking at once (as the beer goes sour if kept very long), and they would, by the time we could get there, be getting sleepy from it; so that we should have a favorable opportunity for reconnoitering their position.

We acted on our information accordingly, with complete success

Tell-tale leaves from a beer pot.

It doesn’t seem right, somehow, that this science of observation and deduction which forms so valuable an asset in a man’s character is not as yet included in the school curriculum—except in such schools as have adopted the Boy Scout training.

To begin with it has great educational value for the boy or girl, according to one authority who says:

"OBSERVATION develops to a remarkable degree the alertness and efficacy of the senses; by continual practice the eyesight becomes quickened and strengthened; so also the hearing and sense of smell and touch.

"DEDUCTION promotes in a still more effective way alertness of the mind through development of reasoning power, imagination, patient research, common sense and memory.

"It is a science which has the further benefit of being full of attraction and interest for the youngster, so that once he has been introduced to it he takes up the study with increasing keenness and practices it for himself."

And so do old ‘uns for the matter of that.

The practical value of such education in supplying a new quality in the character of a man is incalculable, no matter what line of life he may select. Whether he takes up law or medicine, exploration or research, business or soldiering, police work or big game hunting, or what you will, its uses come in every day.

It is essential to him if he would gain knowledge of material facts or if he would read the character or enter sympathetically into the feelings of other men; if he would enjoy the many little pleasures that Nature offers to the discerning eye; and indeed if he would make full use of the talents which God has given him.

Another time, during the siege of Mafeking, we had a fortnight of close contact between ourselves and the Boers’ trenches, at sixty-eight yards apart. We finally made a determined effort to get into their works, mainly by cutting our way into the communication trench which led from their advanced work back to their base.

In the middle of our effort at about three a.m., we heard the Boers making a considerable noise, calling to each other to retire, and we could hear them making their way through their communication trench, evidently vacating their front line.

My men were wild with joy and eager to rush in to take possession, but I stopped them.

Observation. Why should the enemy be leaving noisily, when one would expect them to creep away quietly ?

Deduction. There was something suspicious and caution was necessary.

So we sent forward two trusty scouts to discover what was up. They got into the communication trench and were feeling their way along it towards the main work just vacated, when they found that the wall of the trench was wet to the touch, and presently they discovered that a wire ran along inside the wall in the trench and was just recently plastered over with mud, evidently to hide it.

We cut the wire, and then followed it up into the main trench, where it led to a beautifully laid mine of two hundred pounds of nitroglycerin, which would have blown us sky-high had we gone in a body.

Not content with discovering this we got hold of the end of the wire, and reeled in nearly a hundred yards of good copper wire with which we were now able to lay mines, using the nitroglycerin in smaller proportions.

Our men gave three cheers for the Queen, while our friends at the other end were trying to touch off their mine and cursing their luck at its very greatly delayed.


From all that I have been saying about Observation you can probably realize how all-important for Scouting is the art of tracking.

It has been said that Scouting without tracking is like bread and butter without the bread. With a Scout tracking becomes habitual; subconsciously he is looking for and reading signs all the time even when engaged in other things.

He is leading a column perhaps along a path to surprise a kraal some fifteen miles away. Away in the grass to the left of the path he notes the indented mark of a toe and on the right a heel mark, recently made (grass still bent down) by a man running (pronounced toe marks at long intervals) going diagonally in the same direction as the column, and going secretly (jumping the path to avoid showing spoor).

The Scout stops and says it is no use going on—they have got news of our coming.

This, and incidents like it, occur every few minutes of the day with the trained Scout.

Scouting is an art which you can go on practicing for ever, and though you keep improving yet a white man seldom reaches the acme achieved by native trackers, like those in the Sudan or the bushmen in South Africa, the Ghonds in India, and the blacks in Australia, who are brought up to it from infancy, using tracks as their newspaper and as their infallible guide in hunting and in war.

Where the white man scores is in the application of his intelligence to read the meaning of the tracks.

When I went scouting with Fred Burnham he was quicker than I in noticing "sign," but in pointing it out to me he would ask: "Here, Sherlock, what do you make of this ? "

Unfortunately we British make very little use of the art, either in our military or civil training, so when we go on service, not being accustomed to tracking habitually, we often neglect to use it, even when the ground before us lies open like a book, full of information.

I was sent to join a column on the march in Matabeleland, and riding along with the Commanding Officer I noticed the fresh tracks of natives, evidently moving in our neighborhood. These became so intriguing that I asked the Colonel whether his Scouts had brought in any information. He replied that he had no Scouts out, as it wasn’t worth while tiring men and horses in a country where no enemy were visible.

I was horrified and assured him that if he did not see them he would in a very short time feel them, since as far as I could see they were all round us.

Mercifully they did not attack us and later I found from this impi, when it surrendered, that they had allowed the column to go through that part of the country undisturbed because they did not want to draw attention to their presence there where they were getting good feeding; but, having seen the column wandering about with its Commander riding in front, they had given him the nickname of "The Bell-weather leading his flock."

"Sign "does not consist merely in foot tracks, but also includes clues of any kind that can be discovered by the senses. Thus, a match struck high up on the hillside in the middle of the night which informed one that that height was held by the enemy, would be "sign."

I was taken down a peg in my boasted tracking by a young Lady in England. She was the daughter of the late Lord Meath. As we were walking in the gardens of Sion House she suddenly pointed to footprints on the path and asked what they meant.

I said indulgently: "A common or garden cat has recently passed this way."

"Yes, even I could tell that," she replied, "but I can further tell what was the color of the cat—can you?"

Thus put on my mettle. I set to work to examine any twig or spray that might have caught a hair from the animal much on the principle by which Zadig was able to say that a roan horse of sixteen hands high had passed through a wood.

But search as I would I could find no clue that would indicate the color of that cat. My companion looked at the track again closely, and said: "Yes, I am not mistaken. It was a light tortoise-shell cat."

I also looked more searchingly on the ground but it gave back no helpful sign. At long last I confessed myself beaten. " How did you arrive at the color? "I asked. "I saw the cat," she replied.

An Arab tracker.

A good instance of tracking by an Egyptian tracker was when, in returning from a field day on the desert, I found that I had lost my field-glasses. A tracker was brought along who examined my horse’s feet and watched its gait when it was ridden up and down for his inspection.

As I had been riding at the head of a Regiment it was probable that my tracks would be fairly well obliterated. However he went off full of confidence and eventually returned with my glasses. He found my horse’s tracks showing where I had gone off alone to view the field operations, recognizing them amongst the many others about the plain, and they had eventually led him to the glasses.

A great part of one’s Scouting work was done by night. This again is an art which requires a lot of practice such as we seldom get in civilized countries. Personally I believe that I have done more work by night than by day when on active service, and certainly when engaged in Scouting.

For one thing, in Matabeleland and Zululand at any rate, one had to make one’s way until close to the enemy’s position under cover of darkness, and then go into hiding during daylight where one could watch the enemy’s proceedings unobserved getting away again after nightfall.

It often followed that one had then to guide a column by night and to get it into position for an attack by daybreak. One felt a horrid lot of responsibility on one’s shoulders when doing this lest one should take a wrong line or lead the whole body into an ambush.

Such leading needs every ounce of concentration one can put into it. I am not constitutionally rude but I was never so rude to anybody in my life as when one young officer, thinking I looked lonely walking along by myself, came up with me and, meaning well, started a merry and bright conversation. My response was not courteous and he fell back to his place feeling a little hurt.

Landmarks by night are very different from those by day, and that is a thing that a beginner does not realize. Then there are those infallible guides the stars, infallible until the important night when they are invariably covered by clouds; and then you thank goodness that you made notes of landmarks as well.


…. Jan Grootboom came to me in Rhodesia. He was a Zulu who had had some education and a pretty wide experience, having traveled and mingled with Europeans of the right sort.

Though I knew Zululand, I was new to Rhodesia and its people, and I needed therefore a really reliable guide and Scouting comrade.

When you are choosing a man for a job like this, where your life is going to depend on him, and, what is also considerably to the point, where he at times will have to rely on you for his life, the selection is not one that can be lightly made.

It’s as bad as choosing a horse—or a wife. There is a lot depending on it.

But in my case there was no time for having a dress rehearsal or preliminary trial with likely men, and I had to take this man on his reputation and his face value. As it happened both appealed to me, and I never had to regret my choice. The character given him in the first instance exactly described him; he proved the bravest man I ever saw.

Many young fellows, on first going overseas, are only too ready to show their "superiority…." Older hands who have shared danger and sport with the native know his good points and promptly recognize the very raw tenderfoot in the newcomer who runs him down.

So I tell you of Jan Grootboom.

To do our job he and I used to ride out from our outposts as soon as night had set in. This enabled us to get through the intervening twenty-five miles of country in good time to conceal ourselves near the enemy’s position at dawn, and then to ascertain his exact whereabouts by observing his camp-fires as they lit up for cooking the morning meal.

There was a lot of Sherlock Holmes work to be done in our job.

For instance one morning we had some difficulty in creeping through the enemy’s outlying posts, and, thus delayed, we did not arrive on the more dangerous ground near his main camp till after daylight.

When we had found a good hiding-place for ourselves and horses we took it in turns to examine the enemy’s position.

But Jan was not much of a mountain climber and as the whole of our work lay among rocky kopjes I found that with my rubber-soled shoes I was able to get about more rapidly than he could, and, indeed, than the enemy could—as I have already told you.

In this way the enemy got to know me fairly well; they gave me the name of "Impeesa "the beast that creeps about by night.

One night we had crept down to near the enemy stronghold and were waiting there to see his morning fires so as to ascertain his position. Presently the first fire was lit and then another and yet another.

But before half a dozen had been lighted Jan suddenly growled: "The brutes, they are laying a trap for us."

I did not understand at the moment what he meant, but he said: "If you stay here I will go and look."

He slipped off all his clothing and left it lying in a heap and stole away into the darkness practically naked. Evidently he was going to visit them to see what was going on.

The worst of spying is that it makes you always suspicious, even of your best friends; so as soon as Grootboom was gone in one direction I crept away in another, taking the horses with me, and got among some rocks on a small rise where I should have some kind of chance if he had any intention of betraying me and bringing the Matabele back to capture me.

For an hour or more I lay there while the sun rose, until at last I saw Jan crawling back through the grass alone. Ashamed of my doubts I putting out to him and found him grinning all over with satisfaction while he was putting on his clothes again.

He said that he had found, as he expected, an ambush laid for us. The thing that had made him suspicious was that the fires, instead of flaring up at different points all over the hillside simultaneously, had been lighted in steady succession, one after another, apparently by one man going round to light them.

This struck him as suspicious and he assumed that the enemy expected that we might be in the neighborhood and were trying to lead us on to examine the place more closely.

He himself had pressed in towards them by a circuitous route from which he was able to perceive a party of them lying low in the grass close to the track which we should probably have used had we gone on.

He therefore passed them unseen and reaching a point near to their stronghold he came back to them pretending to be one of themselves; and after chatting with them he found out what was their intention with regard to us, and also what were their plans for the near future.

When he left them he walked boldly back towards the stronghold, and, once out of their sight, he crept away among the rocks and quietly made his way back to me.

A job like that carried out in cold blood, with the certainty of death if he failed, demanded a pretty high form of courage—higher even than that of a soldier who goes forward in the charge in the height and excitement of battle.

Many and many a time Jan risked his life in similar ways.

When at the end of the campaign I left Matabeleland we parted as real friends.

Three years afterwards, in the midst of the Boer War, I was commanding a column in an out-of-the-way corner of the Transvaal when I was told that a native wanted to see me.

It was Jan. He had made his way down from Matabeleland through the Boer country, and he appeared in camp with a splendid horse and a very good mule and two first class rifles and any amount of ammunition.

When we met neither of us could speak for a moment and some brutal fellow snapshotted us. We were simply, each of us, a huge grin.

When I asked him how he had managed to get there so well equipped he said that he had heard that I was in the Transvaal, had started out on foot to find me; and had appropriated several enemy’s horses, rides, and ammunition en route, which he displayed with some satisfaction.

When I left South Africa, Jan attached himself to George Grey, the celebrated lion hunter and a great friend of mine. Jan served him well and was eventually killed defending him Grey himself was afterwards killed by a lion.

Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Contents and Introduction
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter III: Sport
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter V: Soldiering
"Early Days in India"
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter V: Soldiering
"Zululand, 1896"
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter V:Soldiering
"With a Native Levy in Ashanti"
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter VII:The South African War
Mission to South Africa
Lessons from the Varsity of Life
Chapter VII:The South African War
Mafeking: Defense and Relief

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