Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948

Chapter X


The Jamboree of Peace

HE STOOD outside his tent, a golden figure against the August sky. Between his white teeth was a green apple which from time to time he removed in order to take a large, satisfying bite. Presently he lifted his head and with eyes turned to the chalk bluffs beyond the river, smiled. He was youth laughing in the sunshine and he had come 10,000 miles from the Philippines to take part in the Jamboree of Peace.

It opened on 10th August, 1947, at Moisson, half-way between Paris and Rouen, and was the sixth Jamboree to be held since the foundation of Scouting. The hosts were the French Scouts, more than 10,000 of them. The request, made to them by the International Bureau in 1937 asking them to undertake this onerous but honourable task, was renewed in 1943 at a time when not a few were in prison, many in the ranks of the Resistance and all living in an atmosphere of terror and savage repression. All this was now forgotten. The world had become alive again and summer tarried to greet 40,000 whose youth, radiant and serene, might still, if man learns the lessons of two disastrous wars, proclaim the birth of a new age. On that Saturday evening, exactly forty years after the opening of the First Boy Scouts’ Camp at Brownsea Island, as dusk fell, the vanguard stormed into the arena where the flagstaffs pointed lean fingers to the first bright stars. On they came out of the fifteen sub-camps, each called after a province of France, pouring down the wooden ramps of the stands, cheering and shouting in twenty languages, each nation marching down together with linked arms. The Scots Scouts behind their pipes, the Czechs behind their loudly acclaimed band, American Scouts led by two Red Indians splendidly feathered, Scouts in green and white turbans from India, Hindustan and Pakistan, who five days later celebrated in touching and happy accord the independence of their two countries, Austrians and Italians a trifle shy and embarrassed by their welcome, plumed Hungarians, fezzed Egyptians skull-capped Swiss, Mexicans in all the splendour of serape, wide-skirted Greeks, Philippinos with straw hats, dark-skinned Moors. For three-quarters of an hour, while the day died in splendour above the pines and oak trees of the forest, nation followed nation until the great space was filled and silence fell for General Lafont, Chief Scout of France, to speak.

He welcomed boys and young men come from forty-two countries to prove that brotherhood—that overworked and overvalued word—could at Moisson, as everywhere else in the Scout world, be accurately defined as the expression of comradeship and community of feeling. He ceased and presently, when the speeches of the living leaders were over and the voice of the first Chief Scout speaking, as it seemed, from beyond the grave, for his words had been recorded four years before his death, had died away, "every one suddenly burst out singing." The old songs rolled round the arena as into it were carried relics of past gatherings, among them an ember of the camp-fire lit at Vogelenzang in Holland, where in 1937 the previous Jamboree had been held. Now, ten years later, it was kindled once more and from its flame 5,000 torches were lit and held aloft in the gathering night. The Jamboree of Peace had begun and for ten days the Scouts’ smile and left handshake "cut across all barriers of class, colour and creed."

The setting was a shallow saucer of sand washed on one side by the swift-flowing Seine, in the midst of which, on an island, the Sea Scouts had their habitation, and on the other by a line of chalk bluffs covered with small trees. Upon one of them stood a ruined castle to remind the Scouts of the storied past, and at its foot a more modern building where, in a less chivalrous present, Erwin Rommel lay when they brought him the news that Montgomery was ashore at Arromanches. Within this natural enclosure, half wood, half open space, the camp was pitched, a huge city—it needed more than an hour to traverse it on foot from one side to the other—built of tents as many hued as Jacob’s coat. Green, white, aquamarine, red, orange and olive, they stood "all orderly" in rows well spaced and open to the sun and air, and also to the dust. The soil of Moisson wood is sandy and rain-water drains quickly through it; but in dry weather such as prevailed throughout the Jamboree, it crumbles easily and its presence was soon universal. But in that shining August of good hope, who cared? The brown bodies flashed in the strong light, the flags, more multi-coloured even than the tents, fluttered or drooped from the poles, the light railway which, running in a circle round the camp, had been built for the Jamboree and carried rolling stock taken from the Maginot Line, transported more passengers to the square foot than any in the world.

Each sub-camp had its individual characteristics which were those of its inhabitants. The Jewish Scouts and the French Burgundian contingent set up their tents on platforms, thus making a two-storied dwelling; the Italians lived in double- shelled tents, the New Zealand Scouts decorated theirs with Maori work, the Scouts of Morocco strewed bright rugs upon the floor, those of Holland displayed the national colour, orange, those of Egypt the pale yellow of the desert. At the entrance to each nation’s quarters a gateway was set up or an emblem formed of poles or light canvas ingeniously disposed to recall some monument or legendary figure of their country. The Giant of Lille, his Scout badge upon his mighty chest, towered above the Flanders camp, and hard by was the outline of a cloth hall. St. Paul’s Cathedral, built of boughs and ornamented, surprisingly but very gaily, with the armorial bearings of the London boroughs, presided over the London Scouts; a tall square gateway gave access to Morocco, a huge wooden shoe, made of canvas, betrayed the whereabouts of Holland; a bull the place of Languedoc; a sphinx guarded the tents of Egypt; wigwams dotted America. The Scouts of Lorraine used ten cubic metres of pine wood, three kilometres of cord, four hundred and fifty square metres of sailcloth and a hundred of bunting to construct a life-size reproduction of the Pourquoi Pas, the vessel of Dr. Charcot, the explorer, and the Scouts of Britanny set up a calvary which their own hands had carved.

The centre of all was the great stadium with the world, a green globe, anchored at the end of the avenue leading to it, and hard by were the markets filled with merchandise. Here food was distributed to be taken away by each Troop and cooked according to their country’s fashion, and near at hand were the centres of worship where Scouts of all creeds could adore their: God each as his conscience bade him.

The main rule of the Jamboree was that there should be no rules. Within the limits of such common discipline as is necessary to lead a life in common, all were free to do what they liked from ten in the morning to ten at night. In this atmosphere of freedom, the exact and planned antithesis to the grim junketings of the Ballila and the Hitler Jugend, the August days went by. They were passed in national displays staged before international audiences, in Patrol competitions and explorations, in the technical workshops, in climbing ‘Mont Blanc’ a perilous mountain of poles and canvas, or leaping from a parachute tower, tests of nerve and sinew, in swimming close to where the ‘Minotaur’ of Dunkirk fame had her moorings, in visiting the nearby cities of Paris and Rouen, but above and beyond all in making friends. That was, indeed, the first and last object of the Jamboree of 1947, as it was of all the others. To the old adage "Know thyself," Baden-Powell added the corollary, "Know other people," and at Moisson 30,000 set themselves with joy to this’ congenial task. They exchanged or bartered possessions—badges were the main attraction—they taught each other each other’s games and so each other’s language; in the evenings they sang together the Scout songs while the flames of the camp-fire roared and crackled and the smoke set the stars blinking, and, surely the ghosts of their dead comrades, whose spirit could not be slain, laughed with them from the shadows.

Soon the easy intimacy of youth was established and camp jokes were cracked and tall stories told.. It was said that the American Scouts had brought collapsible rubber refrigerators, automatic tin-openers and jet-operated tent-peg mallets. The Swiss Scouts set large sails about their camp to provide the passers-by with an opportunity to make an easy jest concerning the Swiss Navy; more macabre in temperament, the Scottish Scouts hung up a wooden skeleton with the inscription, "He burnt the porridge." As at other Jamborees, the Scouts discovered many things from their brothers of other races. Let a 1st Class Scout from Southend speak for all. "The Norwegians," he said, "are smarter than we are, the French have shown us that we can’t climb as well as they can, and I wish we could sing in harmony like they do when we start a chorus. The Belgians shewed us how to make ornaments and Scout insignia much better than we can, and they teach chaps who don’t know anything about it how to play all sorts of musical instruments quite easily." This boy from Essex sounded a modest but an inquiring note, and it was repeated da capo throughout the camp in every tongue and accent. For these boys were as eager to learn as to teach, and in doing both they found that the words "brotherhood" and "comradeship," hackneyed from repetition and often unavailing from misuse, had for them a literal meaning of the happiest augury for the future. At Moisson they learnt in a few days a lesson which their elders are still slow to apprehend, and in so doing set an example the world would be well advised to follow.

So did the Scouts attending the sixth World Jamboree fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world, and with their well-deserved rejoicings let this brief history of a grim, prolonged but transitory period in the story of Scouting end. Through six years of war, in the torment of prison-house and torture chamber, amid the slow starvation of concentration camps, even in the choking death of gas chambers, its spirit flamed undaunted and throve upon more ills than any flesh has been heir to since Attila scourged Europe and Genghis built his pyramid of skulls at the gates of Samarkand. B-P., that old and gentle warrior, who did not live to see the happy harvest of his faith reaped at Moisson, sowed a fecund seed and a strong. The early drought of cynicism or indifference could not stifle it, and two wars in twenty years did but serve to stimulate its growth. Is it too much to hope that the day may dawn when, like the tree of mustard seed, it may spread out its branches and cover the whole world?

Table of Contents

  Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948
      Forward by Lord Rowallan, Chief Scout of the British Commonwealth and Empire.
      Chapter I: Bravery. The Story of Jan van Hoof
      Chapter II: Enterprise. Lord Baden-Powell
      Chapter III: Purpose. Scouting in the British Isles
      Chapter IV: Resolution. Scouting in Occupied Countries
      Chapter V: Endurance. Scouting in Captivity
      Chapter VI: Partnership. Scouting in the Empire and in the U.S.A.
      Chapter VII: Assurance. Scouting in Refugee and Displaced Persons’ Camps
      Chapter VIII: Reformation. Scouting in the Defeated Countries
      Chapter IX: Enthusiasm. The Movement and its Meaning
      Chapter X. Devotion. The Jamboree of Peace
      Appendix I. Services Rendered
      Appendix II. Census of Boy Scout Associations in 1939 and 1947

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