By Sir ROBERT BADEN-POWELL.
Illustrated by John Cameron.
From The Strand Magazine
IT is true that in my time I have seen many impressive sights, and not the least impressive that occurs immediately to one’s mind is the scene when we stood round the grave-side of one of our bravest and best officers in the South African Campaign. It was in the dead of night, without even a glimmer of a lantern that might draw upon us some of the shells which were flying near. There was a dark, silent crowd of men dimly seen in the starlight, shuffling round the body of one who, only six short hours before, had been full of life and strength, the soul and spirit of those who were now carrying him to his grave, who had led them on to face the death which he himself had met. After they had lowered him into the hastily-prepared grave, a husky voice broke the silence and growled out, with a sob, "Well, good-bye, Captain"; from those around there was a murmured response in the shape of "That’s it," "Hear, hear," which, though nearing the comic, was at that moment deeply pathetic, coming, as it did, from hardy, rough campaigners, and was more impressive than any "amen" of a cathedral service.
Then, too, I remember being present with a great Zulu impi about to make its attack upon an enemy’s stronghold. It was an inspiring sight to see this mass of savage warriors, decked out in war-paint, with the blood lust in their eyes, squatting round in a vast circle, straining eagerly to hear that chief giving them orders for the battle. It reminded one of nothing so much as a great bronze serpent, lying coiled ready to spring, for, although almost silent and motionless, there was a rhythmic heaving and sob amongst the men during the whole of their leader’s address, which, together with their straining eyes and twitching muscles, showed their whole-hearted earnestness in grasping every word that came from him, and at the same time their eagerness to be off to work his bidding. Then when the leader gave the word to go, the whole force rose as one man, for a moment in silence, and then, with a hiss from every one of the thousand mouths which gave a keen, cruel meaning to their move, they started to run. The young warriors sped out to either flank at top speed, racing each other for the place of honour which meant first blood to the winner. Then from the dense mass in the centre there came forward, in serried ranks, the older warriors, the reserve or "chest" of the force, and as they strode forward to support the whole move, there broke out like an organ pealing the deep chorus from a thousand throats
"If we go forward we die,
Many other stirring scenes crowd on my memory, but in the end they revert to that great day two years ago, when, in the Great Park, under Windsor Castle, the King reviewed the Boy Scouts.
On of the impressive features of that day was the army of young men working earnestly and cheerfully in the cause of the movement.
At the railway station one met with familiar faces of men well known in London society, but dressed in very different uniform to their society clothes, just the khaki and cowboy hat of the Scout Army. They were doing the work of the railway staff officers, receiving trains, telling the Scoutmasters what to do and the boys where to go, and getting them quickly away, ready for the immediate arrival of troop upon troop of other boys coming or returning by rail. The work of these men, peers of the realm some of them, was of the most arduous and harassing description, since it went on hour after hour without relief and without notice, for they were working behind the scenes — but they were working away, keeping a cheery face on it and good-natured tongue the whole time, and that in itself was an impressive sight.
Then out on the great grass plains under the shade of the oaks was arrayed an immense crowd of thousands upon thousands of boys, all dressed alike — all the same type — all working under suppressed excitement, though many of them had been travelling the whole of the previous night. Go where you would it was the same sight; after going through one enormous division of them you only realized that there were still three more similar divisions to be seen. All preparing themselves for the great moment when they were to see the King.
A few hours later these same boys were all massed in solid ranks in a vast horseshoe in the open park, and facing them was a great crowd of spectators, watching and waiting for what they might do.
What struck one at that moment was the mysterious hush which seemed to pervade the whole scene where these thousands of human beings were quietly waiting for something, and ready at any moment to burst out — no one could tell quite in what direction. Expectation had reached a kind of climax when at last the King and his Staff arrived upon the scene. He had arranged that he himself should be seen by every boy — that was what they came for all these hundreds of miles. This would not be possible if they marched past him in the usual fashion where only those on the flank could see him — the only way would be for him to ride round and show himself to all. It was his own idea, and when carried out proved how truly he had fathomed the wishes of the whole of the parade. For, steady as they were in their ranks, the King had not gone halfway round when the boys could no longer restrain themselves. A sudden tornado of cheers broke out where the King was — like a prairie fire, and it spread all round the great concourse in a moment so that the whole scene was a mass of cheering lads and tossing hats — their enthusiasm knew no bounds, and that, no doubt, was a sight which impressed itself on all who were there.
The King himself remarked on another feature of the scene which also, in its way, impressed a thoughtful onlooker, and that was the massed body of men formed in rear of the boys. These were the Scoutmasters — men who pulled the strings — the men who did the work — the men who were behind the scenes, in the background, and had done so much to train these boys and to bring them for their Sovereign’s inspection. There were men among of every kind — young and old, rough and smooth, high and low, rich and poor — all shoulder to shoulder in one great cause — the cause of the future generation of their country. Here was a distinguished colonel with cavalry bearing, many medals and orders on his breast. Alongside him was a pale curate of an East-end slum, rubbing shoulders with an old bluejacket and a bank clerk from Canada. The same kind of thing might be seen anywhere along that wonderful line. It was an indication of what there is in our fellow-countrymen of patriotism and good will for voluntary work where it is often not suspected.
But these and many other impressive incidents were swallowed up in the great moment of the day, when the King took his place under the Royal Standard at the saluting-point. There was a minute’s dead silent pause, and then a sudden scream rent the air, and the whole mighty horseshoe of thirty thousand boys with one impulse leapt forward from either side, rushing as only boys can rush, gathering speed and force as they came, a mighty roaring torrent of humanity, screaming out rallying cries of their different patrols as they came in a whole kaleidoscopic mass of colour, with flags fluttering, hats waving, knees glinting, in the great charge when they flew in towards the King.
Then, at a sign, the whole mass suddenly stopped its rush, up went a forest of staves and hats, and higher into the skies went the shrill, screaming cheers of the boys that gripped the throats of all onlookers — "God Save the King" — that apogee of patriotic fervour in young Britain, that surge of enthusiasm to do anything that might be demanded of them in the cause of their country and King. That was the most impressive sight that I have ever seen.