Chapter I: My
WHAT was my preparation for this life? What my education?
My education came from several sources home, school, travel, sport, etc.
Now, some of you will think—"Yes, that’s all very welt but you (meaning me) probably had a good start with lots of money and tons of luck."
I certainly had tons of luck. But luck is a thing like pluck, you may have some of it come to you, but you make it to a very large extent for yourself.
But I certainly had no money. When your father is a clergyman with fourteen children, and you are the last but two, there is not much money flying around for you.
From my father I derived but little in the way of education for he died when I was but three years old. This was a great loss to me for he was a man of many parts.
Fortunately for me my father’s character was attacked some nine years after his death, by Dr. Pusey, who wrote such imputations against his Christianity as drew a chorus of indignation and refutation from those who had known him and admired his broad-minded views.
If these were in advance of their time (for he was a scientist as well as a preacher) they were views which are freely discussed and generally accepted to-day.
Had it not been for this defence of him I might never have known his qualities.
The whole secret of my getting on lay with my mother. How that wonderful woman managed to bring us all up, so that none of us did badly; and how she did not kill herself with the anxiety and strain I do not know and cannot understand.
Not only did she, though a poor widow, feed, clothe and educate us, but she found time to do other work in the world particularly as one of the founders of the Girls’ High School Movement, which has done so much for our womanhood to-day. It was her influence that guided me through life more than any precepts or discipline that I may have learned at school.
As a youngster of course I wanted to be an engine driver as is the ambition of 99 per cent of boys I suppose. But I had the additional reason for it seeing that my godfather was Robert Stephenson, the engineer.
Funny to think that within a lifetime the idea of railways was laughed at! The elder Stephenson had to explain that it would be worse for the cow if she met a locomotive. John Leech caricatured the steam engine as a hobby for boys.
When I was only eight I became a reformer, and a red hot socialist. I wrote Laws for me when I am old.
My grandfather Admiral Smyth, wrote on this:
When I was thirteen I went up to Edinburgh and tried for a scholarship at Fettes College. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship as one of the original foundationers.
But I did not after all avail myself of it, for my luck went further. Only a week or two later I was granted a foundation scholarship at Charterhouse. This I accepted.
I was not a clever boy, nor, I grieve to say, was I as industrious a boy as I ought to have been. According to the school reports I began fairly well in my conduct but deteriorated as I went on.
The other day I wanted to inspire my son, Peter, to work harder at school and win good reports from his masters, so I pulled out my own old school reports and invited him to inspect them. "Now look at this "—I said—"um— er well p’raps not that one." (In it Monsieur Buisson had said of me—"Fair—could behave better.") "Well then this No." (In it Mr. Doone recorded me as "Unsatisfactory " and my classical master as "taking very little interest in his work.")
When, in spite of these uncomplimentary remarks, I succeeded in getting into the Sixth Form, my new classical master, the well-known Dr. T. E. Page, generously reported that I was "satisfactory in every respect "; but the mathematical authority countered this by saying that I "had to all intents given up the study of mathematics," and it was further stated that-in French I "could do well, had become very lazy, often sleeping in school," and in Natural Science that I "paid not the slightest attention."
Thus my form-masters generally do not appear to have had a very high opinion of my qualities. The headmaster, however, that characterful educationist, Dr. Haig-Brown, managed in spite of their criticisms to see some promise in me, and reported that my "ability was greater than would appear by the results of my form work, and he was very well satisfied with my conduct."
This spark of encouragement afterwards fanned itself into a flame of energy when later on I found it really necessary to work.
GREEK WAS GREEK TO ME
I have been comforted to find that greater men than I have also shown that they were no geniuses in school subjects. Winston Churchill, in his delightful book, My Early Life, confesses that he could not grasp either classics or mathematics when at school.
The Hon. John Collier admits that he gained nothing by his classical education at Eton, and Lord Darling recently gave it as his opinion that "Our country has got itself into no end of trouble in the East simply because Greek is a compulsory subject in the Public Schools. It has therefore misled a number of otherwise sensible persons, notably the late Mr. Gladstone, to involve his country in no end of obligations for the sake of the Greeks, all because they have read about Helen and Ulysses who, to my mind, was a most disreputable person."
Lord Darling, like Mr. Winston Churchill, is glad that he "did not waste his time learning Greek, but spent it on the far more useful pursuit of learning English."
Similarly the late Lord Birkenhead, with his brilliant intellect, confessed to an entire ignorance of the classics.
Lord Balfour, in his autobiography, might have been speaking for me when he wrote—"You know—when I look back at myself I am appalled by how little I have changed in seventy years. If I have to write about myself I shall have to show people what I am, a lazy man, who has always had a job on hand. I am not erudite, but I have got a smattering of a lot of things…. Through no fault of my teachers I failed to master either Greek or Latin; through no fault of my own no other languages were ever taught me."
Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson failed twice to pass the Army Entrance examination!
My classical knowledge was of no higher order than my mathematical, but I cannot see how or where it would have benefited me later on in life. I do see, however, where a real knowledge of a foreign language or two as well as of English, of science, of book-keeping, and of general history and geography, or at any rate the method and practice of acquiring these, would have been invaluable.
To impose both Greek and Latin grammar on young boys not a bit interested in them seems to me as stupid a waste of time as making unmusical girls spend endless hours in learning to play scales on the piano.
I know that I am displaying my ignorance of the science and theory of education by saying this, but I am merely speaking from results I have seen in the world.
Someone has bluntly said that the "main point in Public School Training is that it supplies Commonsense, Manners and Guts, even if it does not supply knowledge."
At any rate it has shown that it can produce men proof against graft and bribery, men who can use initiative, discipline themselves, and take responsibility, and, as Mr. Roxgurgh has said in Eleuthros, "men who are acceptable at a dance and invaluable in a shipwreck."
Of course, my strictures don’t apply to-day. Educational progress and improvement have developed in the half century since I was at school, but traditional methods die hard, and they fail to produce so many able leaders or social servants as they should do out of the thousands of young men that the schools send into the world each year.
There are too many drones as yet in our hive, there is too great a waste of that human material which, especially at the present juncture, would be invaluable to the country if adequately educated to the joy and adventure of energetic SERVICE.
Through the whole of my career in the Army there ran a vein—a fad or whatever you like to call it—that obsessed me and which, while adding zest to my work, came to be of use for the service.
Later on it proved the connecting link between my two otherwise dissimilar lives.
This was Scouting.
Scouting includes a rather wide range of work. Briefly, It is the art or science of gaining information. Before or during war information about the enemy’s preparations, his strength, his intentions, his country, his circumstances, his moves, etc., is vitally essential to a commander if he is to win success. The enemy, therefore, on his part, naturally keeps such details as secret as he can.
Thus the job which falls to the fellow who has got to find these out is a difficult one and risky. If he does it in disguise he is called a spy, and is liable to be shot, while in uniform he is the more conspicuous as a Scout and equally liable to meet his end.
To do effective work demands a good knowledge of military tactics and organisations. It demands also, to a very high degree, the qualities of personal initiative and imagination, as well as of the four Cs, which I have elsewhere said go to make a soldier, namely, Courage, Commonsense, Cunning and Cheerful Co-operation.
Consideration for self, for one’s ease or one’s safety doesn’t come in.
Scouting is certainly a fascinating game for the performer and worth all the risk, because of its immense value to his side.
In addition to what I learned in school which wasn’t an overwhelming lot—there was a great deal that I learned at school, outside the classroom, which was of value to me. Also I learned more still in my holidays, from my brothers.
These additional sources of education were: Theatricals, The Woods, Seamanship. Later on I got more advanced lessons through: Foreign Travel, Big Game Hunting, Active Service.
Now, before I go any farther, may I say that I had thought of calling this book Bombshells of My Life. My reason for doing so was that most of the important steps in my career have been unexpectedly sprung upon me by fortune or outside agencies.
My first bombshell fell upon me when, as a small boy at Charterhouse, I suddenly found myself ordered to play the leading part, Bob Nettles, in a comedy called — To Parents and Guardians.
Dr. Haig-Brown, who had very far-sighted views, looked upon play-acting as a useful means of education for certain intellects among the boys, and so he encouraged, in fact almost ordered, theatricals among us.
I was thus among the fortunate ones commandeered, and have ever been thankful for the start it gave me in that line, and which ultimately afforded me a helpful training towards public speaking and self-expression, but more especially towards efficiency in spying by developing the essential ability to change one’s character, voice and appearance to meet the occasion.
When I was a small boy at Charterhouse, outside the school walls was "The Copse," a long stretch of woodland on a steep hill-side, extending for a mile or so round the playing fields.
It was here that I used to imagine myself a backwoodsman trapper and Scout. I used to creep about warily looking for "sign" and getting "close up" observation of rabbits, squirrels, rats and birds.
As a trapper I set my snares, and when I caught a rabbit or hare (which wasn’t often) I learned by painful experiment to skin, clean and cook him. But knowing that the Redskins were about, in the shape of masters looking for boys out of bounds, I used a very small non-smoky fire for fear of giving away my whereabouts.
Incidentally, also, I gained sufficient cunning to hide up in trees when danger of this kind threatened, since experience told me that masters hunting for boys seldom looked upward. The Greeks made a bloomer when they styled man "anthropos," or "he who looks up," since in practice he generally fails to look above his own level.
Thus, without knowing it I was gaining an education that was to be of infinite value to me later.
It proved not only a help to me in the hunting of big game and also in the conduct of Scouting, but incidentally it started in me the habit of noticing small details or "sign" and of putting this and that together and so reading a meaning for them in other words the invaluable habit of Observation and Deduction.
Although I had missed the guidance of a father, I, as seventh son, got a good training at the hands of my brothers during my holidays. These all had the sporting instinct strongly developed and were good comrades together, first-rate swimmers, footballers, oarsmen, etc. All were good at devising things that they could not affordto buy, even to building a boat.
We built our own huts, made our fishing, rabbit and ‘bird-trapping nets, and thus caught and cooked our own food to our hearts’ and stomachs’ content.
In all of this I, as junior, had to take my share of the work especially that part of it which would naturally be delegated to a junior, such as gutting the fish and rabbits (a really filthy job!), some of the cooking, and very much of the washing up.
But it was all very good for me.
As money came in we were able to buy a collapsible boat, in which three of us, among other expeditions, made the journey from London up the Thames to practically its source, then with a portage over the hills we went down the Avon via Bristol, across the Severn, and up the Wye to our then small home in Wales. A fairly adventurous journey, especially when crossing seven miles of Severn in our canvas cockle-shell, but at the same time a very educative one for me.
Eventually, when our money ran to it, we brothers became owners of a ten-ton cutter, built to my brother Warington’s design, and in her we had the time of our lives cruising round the coasts of Scotland and England at all seasons of the year. Many a scrape—in both senses of the word—we got into and got out of and thereby gained a lot of useful experiences.
Some of these I will deal with later, but from the educational point of view the discipline, the endurance of hardships and the facing of danger involved in this cruising, were points of lasting value in one’s training for life.
TRAVEL AND SPORT
The remaining schools through which I passed came later, after my actual schooldays were over—namely Travel, Big Game Hunting, and Active Service.
Through travel I gained the opportunity of seeing how other nations live and how we, in our own country, compare with them.
And more particularly I gained from those whom I met on my travels new views, fresh experiences, and a widened outlook which were very much needed items in my education.
Then through sport in the jungles I got nearer to Nature, which is a soul-opening experience, and, incidentally, gained practice in tracking and stalking as well as in camper-craft and in facing risks, which were all invaluable for successful Scouting.
Then on Active Service I completed my education by practice in the real thing.
If you look back on your past life which bit of it attracts you most?
For my part, although my life has been to a large extent a series of enjoyments, when I ask myself which bit of it I most enjoyed, memory, without any hesitation, flies back to blazing sunshine on a hot, parched, thorn-scrub plain in Rhodesia, where the only shade from the scorching heat was got by hanging your coat over a little bush, where one’s clothes were in rags, one’s food a small portion of horse and a double handful of flour (which for want of time we usually mixed with water and drank down), and where we were tired and worn out with constant night marching against a crafty savage foe.
Veldt sores, roughly dressed with a fingerful of grease out of a wagon wheel, adorned our faces and hands. Our horses were drooping bags of bones, and they were tired, very tired.
And yet—we were fit and hard, there was new adventure, new excitement or anxiety every day, and we were good tried comrades all. It was all a glorious care-free adventure.
And then the nights; those clear frosty nights under the dark overhead vault, with its stars big and brilliant, twinkling humorously and watching you as you creep along in your crafty, silent stalk (with all the possibility of being yourself at the same time stalked).
You feel your way in the bitter darkness, suspicious of every rock or bush, with all your senses on the strain, eyes, ears and nose, to catch sight, sound or scent of an enemy.
On you creep, lying low; pausing; creeping again with deadly patience, in a blindfold game of hide and seek. You are alone, dependent wholly on your own Scoutcraft for guidance, for safety, for your life, but above all for not coming back empty-handed.
Risks? Of course, there are risks. They are the salt that gives the savour to it all. Didn’t my heart go pit-a-pat the first time that the Matabele saw me on foot among hillside boulders
But when I found that I could, with my rubber-soled shoes, skip away faster than they could follow, it became a cheerier adventure, which eventually came to be indulged in on nine different occasions.
But it gave one "an emotion," as the French would say, when they came after one full-cry, exactly like a pack of hounds running to view.
The ominous call of their Chiefs to the runners— "Don’t shoot him—catch him with your hands" was a spur if spur were needed. Just one false step or a twisted ankle would have brought the same result—a long drawn out torture before the finishing blow brought merciful ending.
But for such thoughts as these there was no room in the crowded excitement of the moment. AL I know is that memory takes me back there still with the elated feeling that the Scout’s life is a life worth living.
It is a MAN’S job and I loved it.
Having talked of War Scouting, its hazards and its joys, I must explain that there is also such a thing as Peace Scouting equally endowed with thrills and hardships.
Just as an Army Scout goes out ahead of his army to find the way for it, to gain information, and to open up the situation for its advance, so the Peace Scout goes out ahead into unexplored regions to gain information and to open up new countries for the advance of civilisation.
Such Scouts are the explorers, prospectors, pioneers, missionaries, trappers, end frontier constabulary. These men have to be plucky, hardy, resourceful fellows, relying on their own ability to make their way without help from others. They must be able to stick it out when times are bad, and be ready to push on with their job the moment opportunity arises.
They have to maintain a cheery, hopeful outlook, even when things look blackest for them, and they have to be men who can be trusted to do their job away from all supervision or applause.
In practice one finds these frontiersmen ever ready to lend a hand to others where danger or difficulty threatens.
In every part of the world have I seen these British Peace Scouts at Work, whether in their schooners among the islands of the South Seas or the icebergs of Newfoundland, or harnessing rivers in far away Canadian backwoods to provide power for the coming population; coaxing two blades of corn to grow where none grew before in Kenya, prospecting for coal and iron for future uses in Rhodesia, conquering the deserts in Australia and South Africa, or bringing peace and enlightenment to the natives of Nigeria or the Sudan.
These Scouts are pressing forward all the time unseen, unpraised, but ever persistent.
The attributes of War Scouts are largely essential to the Peace Scouts of the backwoods, namely energy, self-reliance, courage, reliability and cheerful self-sacrifice in service.
But equally these qualities are desirable among our citizens in civilised parts.
They are not, however, qualities that can be taught to a class in school; they have to be picked up and developed by the individual. You cannot take every boy and girl to the backwoods to teach them, but it is possible to bring something of the backwoods within their reach as we are doing through the medium of the Boy Scout and Girl Guide Movement.
And that is how my own two lives, number one military, and number two civil, are linked by the common bond of Scouting which has pervaded both of them.