Hilary St George Saunders, The Left Handshake, 1948

Chapter VII


The Boy Scout Movement and its Meaning

PLATO maintained that it is a education in virtue from youth upwards, which makes a man passionately desire to be the perfect citizen, and teaches him how rightly to rule and how to obey."

What, then, is this movement which in all the bravery of youth, guided by the enterprise of its founder, set out almost without realising it to conquer the world? What power and purpose is there in Scouting which was able to sustain those who practiced it during years of imprisonment, torture and oppression by an alien people, and gave them resolution to fight and endurance to the end ? Why has it established a partnership of men and boys whose happiness lies in the assurance that they can and do support and sustain each other? Why is Scouting generally regarded as an important factor in the education and reformation of Nazi and Fascist youth? Why does it arouse among so many such enthusiasm and devotion?

Each of the questions here asked contains one or more of the chapter headings used in this book. Not one of them is out of place. They denote the ideals for which Scouting stands or the service which it renders. It is perhaps in the happy combination of both that the strength of the Boy Scout lies.

Scouting is a game for boys, a job for men—"a school of citizenship through woodcraft," B-P. described it—and though it may not outwardly appear so, the stakes played for are high, nothing less than the training of a boy to take, not a place, but his place in a civilisation among the most complex the world has hitherto known. The normal desires of a boy are given a practical and attractive outlet, and in this way his character receives an impress which, as this book has striven to shew, is of a quality made to last.

As a rule he is unaware of what lies behind his training; to him it is a game played with friends, sometimes exciting, sometimes puzzling, at all times absorbing. It is only when he grows up that he may realise that his teachers were trying to make it easier for him to become "the good man;" that Kalos Kagathos, who was the Greeks’ ideal, the possessor of "virtue," that quality by which the Romans set such store, "a man of honour, self-disciplined and self-reliant, willing and able to serve the community."

From the outset the boy is set a standard of conduct which, when it was first published, aroused the mirth of a few, the praise of many and, now that it has been tested literally in the fires of torture, the admiration of all. This is the Scout Law:

  1. A Scout’s honour is to be trusted.
  2. A Scout is loyal to the King, his Country, his Scouters, his parents, his employers, and to those under him.
  3. A Scout’s duty is to be useful, and to help others.
  4. A Scout is a friend to all, and a brother to every other Scout, no matter to what country, class or creed the other may belong.
  5. A Scout is courteous.
  6. A Scout is a friend to animals.
  7. A Scout obeys the orders of his parents, Patrol Leader, or Scoutmaster, without question.
  8. A Scout smiles and whistles under all difficulties.
  9. A Scout is thrifty.
  10. A Scout is clean in thought, word and deed.

And here is the Scout Promise, which he makes on joining:

"On my honour I promise that I will do my best:

  1. To do my duty to God, and the King.
  2. To help other people at all times.
  3. To obey the Scout Law."

The order of these promises is important. "Duty to God" is the basis of religion, and though the Scout Movement itself is not committed to any one creed, the boys are encouraged to fulfil their obligations if they are already members of a church or cult. a Duty to the King" sums up that sense of responsibility to the community which it is the primary aim of Scouting to develop. The wording of this promise is different in those countries without a monarchy but the essential idea, loyalty to those in authority, remains. The daily good turn—probably the best-known feature of the Scout Movement—is the first step towards learning how "to help other people," how, in fact, to acquire and practice that virtue called unselfishness, so much belauded, so rarely encountered. The Law and Promise are not learnt by rote but by practice. Boys and many adults learn more by doing things than by listening. It is a fundamental principle of Scouting that the boy, by striving to attain the ideal set before him, should learn to discipline himself.

Once he has made his Promise, it is assumed that he will carry it out to the best of his ability, and this assumption is a great strengthener of resolve. Moreover, the Patrol system, under which the boys of a Troop are divided into small units or Patrols of from six to eight, in charge of a Patrol Leader, lends effective support to the insouciant who has hitherto been inclined to take a promise lightly. The Patrol Leader is given considerable responsibility in the training of the members of his Patrol, and with the other Patrol Leaders, in the general organisation of the Troop.

Patrol Leaders form a Court of Honour which meets regularly to plan and discuss the Troop’s activities. During the early stages of training, the Scoutmaster does much of the work, but as the Troop becomes more experienced he must and does leave much to his Patrol Leaders. The success of this method is strewn by the fact that during the war Troops found little difficulty in maintaining their activities under Patrol Leaders when their Scoutmasters had left to join the Forces. The Patrol system satisfies the instinct of boys to combine together in a gang or secret society, harmless or harmful according to their surroundings and the conditions of their family life. Scouting turns this instinct to good account, unashamedly offering to the Patrol romance and adventure, a uniform, exciting expeditions, Mercutio’s world of " breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades" transmuted into make-belief which has yet the stuff of experience in it and breeds self-reliance, courage and resource.

The first business of a Scoutmaster is to see that this natural craving for romance and adventure is satisfied. This may seem an impossible task in the mean streets of a great town, but experience has proved that the Scoutmaster with a touch of imagination can satisfy this need within the framework of the activities suggested in Scouting for Boys, whatever the surroundings of the Troop may be. No one can really understand the Movement without reading that book carefully. A glance at the titles of the "Camp-Fire Yarns" indicates the general nature of the practical training: Life in the Open, Pioneering, Camping, Observation, Stalking Animals, Plants, Healthgiving Habits….

A Scout is not taught these subjects as set lessons or lectures. They are all part of a great game with all the fun which the playing of it indoors or outdoors brings, and all the companionship. Scouting is primarily an outdoor game, and on Saturday afternoons, summer evenings, during week-ends and at the annual camp, the boy becomes the real Scout, skilled to care for himself, attentive to the lore of the woods and fields of which he learns ever more and more with each expedition, a hunter as mighty as Nimrod, and in winter when the games must be played indoors, a contriver as wily as Ulysses.

A system of badges leads a Scout from one practical achievement to another. The badges are of two kinds—those given for efficiency and those for proficiency. They are very numerous and much coveted. The first kind are gradually acquired by the Tenderfoot whose minimum age is eleven, then by the 2nd Class and finally by the 1st Class Scout. The efficiency tests must be passed to qualify for these various grades, but the Scout may acquire as well Proficiency Badges of his own choice. Certain of these are known as King’s Scout Badges as they are intended to give him training in various kinds of public service; the most important are Ambulance Man, Fireman, Handyman, Pathfinder, Public Health Man, and Rescuer. Another group of badges such as the Explorer, Stalker, Tracker, Forester, Naturalist, Pioneer, Starman and Weatherman, encourages the Scout to specialise in those outdoor activities peculiar to Scouting. For gaining certain of them he is awarded the coveted Bushman’s Thong. There are, too, Proficiency Badges intended to encourage boys to develop a skill or hobby, which may or may not help them to choose a livelihood, but which will certainly provide them with pleasant leisure-time pursuits. Artist, Bookbinder, Camper, Carpenter, Cook, Electrician, Engineer, Gardener, Musician, Photographer, Prospector and Wireless Man are among them.

Throughout the training great attention is paid to health, and each Scout is made personally responsible for his own health and physical development. The object of this rule is not so much to provide formal physical training as to inculcate healthy habits. No encouragement is given to the development of large muscles or the performance of complicated exercises, but a Scout is strewn that health is maintained by following good bodily habits, taking exercise, eating simple food and sleeping soundly of nights.

Scouting not only concerns itself with the normal boy; it is interested in the boy who may be blind, crippled, or through some physical defect unable to join in the active life of the normal boy. A scheme for Handicapped Scouts has proved very successful. By its operation such boys are enabled to take a place—often a high place—beside their more fortunate comrades.

While the care and training of the boys from eleven to eighteen years of age is and will always be the first concern of the Movement, there have been various developments, the result of special needs. Younger boys desired to become Scouts, so for them the Wolf Cubs, children between the ages of eight and eleven, were formed. Their activities are set in the imaginative framework of the Mowgli stories in Kipling’s Jungle Books. Older boys wished to remain in the Movement on reaching young manhood, so the Rover Scouts, who are seventeen years of age and over, were formed. Their activities are those of Scouts in a more strenuous form—hiking, climbing, pioneering, and so on. theoretical training they receive is based on the needs of citizenship, and special emphasis is Laid on personal responsibility as a member of the community. Sea Scouts devote much of their activity to boating and sailing; Air Scouts specialise in all things connecting with flying.

From this brief summary it will be seen that Scout training, if persisted in, is a major influence in a boy’s life from the age of eight to early manhood, one stage of training leading to the next. Two breaks are made at points which are recognised as of importance psychologically—eleven and eighteen. Boys, of course, enter and leave the Movement at varying ages, but it may safely be claimed that any boy who spends five or six years as Cub and Scout has derived considerable benefit from Scouting, even if he leaves before the Rover stage is reached. The progressive nature of the training, if he responds to it—and if he does not, his interest flags and he quits the Movement—makes him ever more and more skilled in looking after himself and enables him to discover abilities which he might never have suspected and interests he might otherwise have left unnoticed. Above and beyond all is the fact that, however long or short has been his life as a Boy Scout, he has been trained to take account of the needs and desires of his fellows and has learned something of the happiness of service.

On paper the organisation of the Boy Scouts looks formidable; in practice it is simple, and based on the principle of decentralisation. The Group is the most important unit. There are two kinds: the sponsored Group which is formed in direct association with a church, school or other institution and limited to those boys attending it; and the " open" Group without such affiliations. A Group consists of a Wolf Cub Pack (8-11), Boy Scout-Troop (11-15) (this may be partly or wholly of Sea Scouts or Air Scouts), Senior Scout Troop (15-18) and a Rover Scout Crew (17-25).

A number of Groups form a local Association—the area covered being a matter of local convenience; a District under a Commissioner may contain one or more Local Associations. Each District is part of the County Organisation under the County Commissioner and a County Scout Council, who are the personal

representatives of the Chief Scout and are responsible to him and to Imperial Headquarters in London. Each unit, from Imperial Headquarters down to the Group, must finance its own activities, following the general principle that each unit should be self-supporting.

The International Bureau, formed in 1920, promotes cooperation and understanding between the Boy Scout Associations of all countries. In 1939 there were forty-seven such Associations registered by the Internationa1 Bureau, with a total membership of over 3,250,000. In 1946 the number of Associations had risen to forty-nine, and the total membership by nearly 800,000 to 4,404,927 Boy Scouts.

At Gilwell Park, near Epping Forest, leaders, known as Scouters, twenty-one years of age or more, from all over the world, are trained in the methods which B-P. laid down in Scouting for Boys. From this training camp hundreds of selected Scouters have gone out to organise similar training courses in their own counties or countries, and hundreds more will do so.

The place of the Scouter in the scheme of Scouting is of the highest importance. No one knew this better than the Founder himself who, from his last home in Kenya, sent this message to Scouters in 1939 :

"Let us, in training our Scouts, keep the higher aims in the forefront, and not let ourselves become too absorbed in the steps. Don’t let the technical outweigh the moral Field efficiency, backwoodsmanship, camping, hiking, good turns, Jamboree comradeships are all means, they are not the end.
"The end is character—character with a purpose.
"And the purpose, that the next generation be sane in an insane world….
". . . That the next generation be sane . . ." these are surely the operative words."

Before the war Scouting was usually no more than an accompaniment to a boy’s normal life, supplementing the influence of his family, his school, his friends and his general environment. There were many boys, it is true, who lacked a normal background and on whose behalf the Scoutmaster made a special effort. But, as a general rule, Scouting was still a game —to be played from the safe base of home, supported by parents who approved of Scouting because it kept their sons out of mischief, or made them cleaner, or quieter, or more interested in interesting things. With the Second World War, however, came the test. Would Scouting survive prohibition, propaganda and persecution? Occupied Europe, German concentration camps, the prisons of the Far East supplied the answer. In those dark places men, women, boys and girls throughout those years of horror maintained their faith in Scouting and drew from its ideals and traditions the strength of mind and of purpose to endure. The Promise and the Law gave them courage and steadfastness, the Scout training ability to resist. Scouting not only survived, but those practicing it greatly increased in numbers. Here are the figures:

    1939   1946    
Belgium   16,924   53,495    
Czechoslovakia   20,000   67,200    
Denmark   18,116   36,675    
France   93,985   211,727    
Luxembourg   2,192   4,864    
Netherlands   36,212   116,000    
Norway   14,934   22,534    
Poland   130,541   Unknown   (About 150,000)

These figures are conclusive, and in considering them it must be remembered, a most important point, that the Scout Movement was not a Resistance Movement. The aims of Scouting are instinct with peace and goodwill, and Scout organisations in all countries did their utmost to carry on the work of training the boys as Scouts. In many this work had to be done underground, and every effort, not always successful as has been seen, was made to ensure that young boys ran no danger by being Scouts. It was left to the conscience of the individual to decide in what way he could best serve his country, and if the fact that he was a Scout helped him to serve it well, no further justification is needed for Baden-Powell’s insistence that the Scout must be trained in duty to God, country and neighbour.

The main reason for the increase in the number of Scouts during the occupation of Europe is the simple fact that, in the years between the wars, both the adult and the youthful population of the countries concerned had a respect for the Boy Scouts. The first may not have been enthusiastic—though many of them, parents in particular, were—the boys may not have belonged— though many of them did—but when both discovered that the Boy Scout Organisation of their country was among the first victims of suppression, when they saw that in spite of this suppression Scouting continued and that those who adhered to it attained the highest standards of service, the urge to join it became great and, as the war went on, overwhelming. The importance attached by their totalitarian conquerors to youth movements, of which the sole object was to create as many young Nazis and Fascists as possible, shewed how necessary it was to provide a different kind of education, one based on the principles of justice and charity.

From the parents, therefore, came encouragement. To protect home life was as difficult as it was to educate their children along the lines to which they had been accustomed and which they believed to be right. To Belgian, Czech and other oppressed men and women of sober thought and clear understanding, it was obvious that the temptations and confusions with which children were faced in their countries required a counter-balance If the home and the school could not supply this, then the Boy Scouts might. The life that children in Europe between 1940 and 1945 were compelled to live was one of Germany’s major crimes against humanity, though it did not appear in the Nuremburg indictment. Homes and schools were broken up in thousands and parents and teachers disappeared—to prison, to the concentration camp, into the Resistance, or merely into hiding. Many children experienced the shock of seeing their father or elder brother at breakfast, and at supper of finding him gone, to return in a year or two perhaps, perhaps never. Others knew the agony of quisling parents whose conduct made their children a hissing and reproach to their fellows who belonged to stouter-hearted or less selfish homes. In their loneliness and confusion, what was more natural than for boys to follow the herd instinct inherent in the young and join a Scout Patrol even though it might only meet very occasionally? There was comradeship to be had and sometimes a forbidden camp in a wood under steadfast stars.

Pitfalls more insidious than those dug by the Germans, strewed their path. The children of occupied countries had to learn to lie, to cheat, to steal. The moral rules, which they had learned at home or at school, became all at once invalid, not to be obeyed. Parents, schoolteachers, Scoutmasters, made a virtue of deceit. A lie might save a life or betray an enemy. Children had to learn not to repeat what they heard said at home, or, worse still, not to repeat at home what they had heard outside. To live it was necessary to cheat. To deal in the black market was often the only means of obtaining even the barest necessities. Boys were taught to use their intelligence to procure them for their family, and enjoyed exercising an ingenuity which in normal times would have landed them in gaol.

At school they had to learn new subjects; the German language, the history of Nazi-ism, the duty of children to the State. At home, if their parents were "good"—in other words, if they were not quislings (and how much more difficult and confusing it was for children whose parents were)—they were encouraged to be absentees and do no work. If the teacher was "good" he encouraged children to neglect their work, for to study the text-books of the enemy was unpatriotic. Sabotage was looked on with approval. To work slowly and carelessly was an easy and safe form; to misuse tools, destroy machines, to do bad work was more dangerous. Both, however, were patriotic and as such encouraged, as was the disobedience, whenever possible, of orders; for whether reasonable or not, they had been issued by the occupying Power.

By extending and continuing its fellowship, Scouting was able to make a most important contribution to the removal or alleviation of the dangers caused by this manner of life. The spirit of adventure drew the boys to Scouting; as the years went on it appeared as a "mouvement de resistance." They enjoyed the practice of deceit; the secret salute, the hidden camp, the camouflaged hike, the wearing of the forbidden scarf. They were attracted to it because it was underground and by joining it they could join in the fight against the invader. They were used wisely and well, for their leaders avoided as far as possible risking their lives. It was Scouting at its best because it turned to good purpose the evil conditions of the time; too much leisure, too little control; too many temptations, too little discipline; no possibility of travel, no change of scene; these were neutralized by sharing in the real work of resistance which the grown-ups carried on at peril of life and liberty. More than one—many more indeed —who was a Scout of thirteen or fourteen when war began, became a trusted leader of the Resistance. Though there is no military training in Scouting, Scouts learn to observe, to remark and to handle all kinds of situations. It was often observed that Maquisards who came from towns were not so efficient as the local men unless they were, or had been, Scouts.

Long before the end of the war it was generally prophesied that Scouting would "rise again of its own free will and accord. There is no need to force the growth. The plant is indigenous in almost every country in the world. Here and there it may— it will—need tending and strengthening." As the armies of liberation advanced across Europe, the truth of these words became more and more apparent. " The dark curtain of oppression has been lifted from many parts of Europe," cries the voice of a liberator. " The scene disclosed is as we expected. Scouting lives and has been revitalised. It has continued to flourish despite— perhaps because of—opposition."

As soon as the war ended, the Boy Scouts Association sought to maintain contact with many world organisations and bodies. The degree of liaison differed as between one body and another, and care had to be exercised to prevent Scouting from being associated with any body of a particular political complexion. Scouting worked with UNRRA in many different countries on relief and rehabilitation work; but always tried to do so directly and not through one of the numerous official or voluntary co-ordinating bodies. Friendly messages were exchanged between the International Bureau and the United Nations Organisation, and the Boy Scouts of America agreed to undertake any direct liaison with U.N.O. headquarters. The International Bureau appointed the International Commissioner of Scoutisme Francais to be liaison officer with the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris. At the moment of writing there are forty-nine Scout Associations recognised as members of the International Conference and registered with the Boy Scouts’ International Bureau. They represent forty-two different countries, six fewer than in 1939.

The strength of World Scouting is shown in the table appearing in Appendix II, where the total active membership of the World Scout Brotherhood can be seen. The figures are incomplete, for there is no mention of Displaced Persons Scouts or of Scouts in countries where associations have not yet been registered, but they are significant for they shew how the Movement has grown. The great increase in the numbers of Scouts during the war has brought to a head the problem of finding suitable leaders and providing for their training. It will take time to solve; but the will and the men are there. "In an emergency," runs a paragraph in The Times "it is often found that resources can be drawn upon, whether physical, mental or spiritual, the possession of which has been entirely unsuspected. What is needed is the assurance that these inner resources are always there and always available, for the needs of every day as for the critical tests of emergency." That assurance, as the Jamboree of 1947 proved, is not lacking.

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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