The Windsor Rally, July 4th, 1911
XVIII. A SCOUTING THRILL
THE thrills of which I have hitherto written in this book have all been connected with what I call my "first life" a happy, eventful life of soldiering and pioneering, of sport and good comradeship.
In my "second life," i.e. since leaving the Service, I have had moments no less thrilling to myself if less dramatic in the telling.
One such thrill came to me on the fourth of July 1911 when the first great rally of Boy Scouts and the biggest meeting of boys then on record was held in Windsor Great Park.
Only three years previously the first Scout camp had been held on Brownsea Island to try out the scheme of Scouting for boys. Eton boys had mingled there with boys from the East End, with members of the Boys’ Brigade and shop boys.
A curious pudding in the pot, but the proof came with the eating, and it was good. A mushroom wasn’t in it for the rapidity of growth of the movement. Throughout the United Kingdom the Scouting disease caught on, and before long the Overseas Empire had got it too….
…. King Edward VII had been one of the first of all men to recognize that there was something in this curious impulse of Scouting. Only the day before his death I had been at Buckingham Palace conferring with his private secretary on the subject of a big review of Scouts by His Majesty. The King was unwell, but had sent for me to let me know that he wished to have a rally of the Scouts at Windsor Great Park in June. It was not to be, for he died the following evening, and in him the Boy Scout Movement lost a friend who had had a real appreciation of our aims and methods.
King George, on his accession, agreed to carry out the review which had been planned, and the date was duly fixed for the fourth of July.
A day of blazing sunshine dawned, and with it assembled the biggest and most representative gathering of boys that our country had yet seen. Those of us who had been working in the movement during the three years of its existence, and had inspected small groups of scouts in various districts, knew that we had some good material; but even we were taken by surprise at the quantity and the quality of the Scouts who came to Windsor.
Out on the great grass plain 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 were preparing themselves for the great moment when they were to see the King.
That was at midday.
Two 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 the 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 in what direction none could quite tell.
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 it was for this that they had come all these hundreds of miles.
This would not have been possible if they had marched past him in the usual fashion, where only those on the flank could see him. He decided that 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 parade, for, steady as they were in the ranks, the King had not gone half-way round when the boys could no longer restrain themselves.
A sudden tornado of cheers broke out where the King was and it spread like a prairie fire 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 it was a sight which cannot have failed to impress itself on all who were there.
The King himself remarked on another feature of the scene which also in its way impressed the thoughtful onlooker, and that was the massed body of men formed in rear of the boys.
These were the Scoutmasters the men who pull the strings the men who did the work the men who were behind the scenes, in the background, and who had done so much to train these boys and to bring them for their sovereign’s inspection.
Men there were 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 a pale curate from an East End slum, rubbing shoulders with an old bluejacket and a bank clerk from Canada.
The same sort of thing might be seen anywhere along that wonderful line. It was an indication of what there was in our fellow-countrymen of patriotism and goodwill for voluntary work yes, even in those days before the Great War had stirred us up.
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 moment’s pause of dead silence, and then a sudden roar filled the air, and the whole mighty horseshoe of thirty-three thousand boys with one impulse leapt forward from either side, rushing as only boys can rush, gathering speed and force as they came, screaming out the 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 towards the King.
Then, at a sign, the whole mass stopped its rush, up went a forest of staves and hats, and higher into the sky went the shrill screaming cheers of the boys in a cry that gripped the throat of every onlooker— "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 name of their country and King.
That was one of the most thrilling moments of my life.
I dislike delivering myself of personal impressions. They are generally presumptuous, often out of perspective, sometimes they are sacred. My impression of the Windsor Rally was probably something of all three.
To me it was like watching a flower bursting from the bud into bloom: a miracle of nature but none the less a miracle. A seed had been dropped but three years back. It had taken root and, tended by enthusiastic gardeners, was beginning to grow into a sturdy wide-spreading plant.
In that unique gathering at Windsor it was already blossoming forth and giving promise of fruits yet to follow.
The secret of its growth, as I have said, lay in that indeterminate force which we only know as the "Scout spirit."
It was a definite call to me when the movement was a seedling to leave what I was doing and come and help to tend it. It was a call which has since brought men of all countries, classes, colours, and creeds to work their souls out in cultivating it, from no personal motives but for the sake of one thing only their younger brother, the boy.
From Sir Robert Baden-Powell, Adventures and Accidents, 1934
The ribbon to the left displays the colors of the King George V Coronation Medal. The Windsor Rally was held less than two weeks after the Coronation of George V on June 22, 1911.