An Excerpt from:
E.E. Reynolds, B-P: The Story of His Life,
London, Oxford University Press, 1943.


IN June, 1914, Queen Alexandra inspected 11,000 London Boy Scouts, and for the first time the juniors, the Wolf Cubs, were seen at a public Rally. This new development was almost inevitable. The younger brothers of Scouts naturally wanted to join in the fun; sometimes they were allowed to do so because the Scoutmasters were not hard-hearted enough to refuse. But small boys dressed as Scouts and carrying long staffs tended to bring ridicule on Troops and to keep older boys from joining. It was not long before some Scoutmasters began to experiment with Junior Scouts and to write to B.-P. to tell him of their problems. He encouraged them and examined reports on what was being done.

Later a scheme was published in the Headquarters Gazette in January, 1914. A special salute and badge (a Wolf Cub’s head), a very simple promise of duty and helpfulness, and some easy tests were devised suited to the age period of nine to eleven or twelve. A handbook by B.-P. was "shortly to be published ", but events delayed this for two years. The stroke of genius in the scheme, however, was the use he made of the Mowgli stories from Kipling’s Jungle Book to provide an imaginative background for the activities. This not only made an appeal to the small boys, but it gave the Wolf Cubs a private world of their own.

The new branch soon proved popular, and by the end of the year 10,000 small boys, wearing a distinctive uniform, were enthusiastic Wolf Cubs.

B.-P. was also thinking of the older Scouts, and for them he founded the Scouts’ Friendly Society to link them up with the National Health Insurance Scheme; the members were to be grouped in "Camps, and it was hoped that in this way they would be kept together and encouraged to go on with their Scouting. The development of this scheme, however, was hindered by the war.

Yet another Scout service occupied B.-P. s time and thoughts during the early months of 1914. At the beginning of February an appeal was issued for the establishment of an Endowment Fund for the movement; it had the support of the President, the Duke of Connaught. At the end of a letter to the Press, B.-P. said:

If you cannot give yourself for the work, will you give us a donation of such size as will mark your sense of its importance? Let us, in the words of the highwayman, have "your money or your life."

He toured the country to appeal for support; during the first six months the £100,000 mark was passed; then this effort too had to be abandoned on the outbreak of war.

War came at the beginning of August, 1914—so the plans for a South African holiday had to be abandoned. Scouts were at once mobilised, and one of the boys later recorded the following recollections.

On August 4th I was a member of a Sea Scout Troop in a village on the South Coast; for various reasons the village must be nameless, but it may give some clue if I say that it was midway between a very large seaside resort and an important Channel port. On the evening of the 4th the Scoutmaster cycled round to all members of the Troop and told us to be prepared for emergency work. He was unable to say what it would be, but at 5 a.m. the next morning we knew. The coastguards had been called up and we, together with a Troop from the big town, were in sole charge of the two coastguard stations until the military should relieve us. As it happened we were in sole charge for a period of ten hectic days.

No need to ask if we were thrilled—all of us except the Scoutmaster, who happened to be the village dentist. He felt just as unhappy as the coastguard would have felt faced with a painless extraction.

Our duties during those ten days were many and varied. They included the usual work of the station, and a constant patrol along the cliffs and foreshore. We did this in pairs day and night, covering a distance of six miles on each beat, and our eyes were ever open for suspicious customers. Needless to say, everyone we met came under that category, but we did actually have our share of spies.

One day we had news that a yellow car was heading for the village from the direction of the port, and that it must be stopped at all costs. It was— by one of our Patrol Leaders hurling his bicycle at the car as it swept over the cross-roads in the centre of the village. The car swerved and crashed into a house. The two occupants were only slightly damaged and they were speedily removed by some soldiers who were chasing them in another car.

Another day, five of us were rushed off to guard an aeroplane which had made a forced landing in the heart of the Downs.

But quite the most exciting adventure was the capture of three men who had been flashing messages from a small house on the cliffs. This house happened to be used as the local mortuary, and it had a lantern tower from which there was an uninterrupted view towards the harbour. Our orders were to surround the house and await the military. On no account were we to enter the building, as it was anticipated that the men were armed. The military were over two hours in reaching us—two hours which to us were full of exciting possibilities.

The Scouts were immediately engaged in all kinds of national service jobs: acting as messengers in Government offices and elsewhere; patrolling railway lines; guarding bridges; helping hospitals; collecting waste paper and other salvage; flax harvesting; and as buglers to sound the "All Clear" after air raids. These are but some of the great number of tasks undertaken by Scouts during the four years of the war.

The finest work done by the Scouts, however, was in coastguard service. Lord Kitchener had suggested that Sea Scouts should be used for this work to free the coastguard men for service afloat, where the need for men was urgent. The scheme was organized under the Admiral Commanding Coastguard and Reserves, and it was in force from the 5th August, 1914, to the 7th March, 1920, during which period some 30,000 Scouts passed through the service.

B.-P. inspected as many stations as he could, and he must indeed have felt that all his work was more than fully justified when he found how reliable the boys proved under service conditions. Here is part of an account he wrote at the time of what he had seen:

It revived old memories of night reconnaissance when I found myself walking along for a short spell with the Night Patrol of Coast Watching Scouts Their energetic Commissioner was with them, nor was it the first time he had turned out to share their nocturnal tramp. Down by devious tracks along by the shore we went, the boys evidently knowing every inch of the ground: and well they might, for the despatch that they were carrying, that is the extract of their day’s log and that of the next Patrol beyond them, was numbered 1119. For eleven hundred and nineteen consecutive nights since the war began had these Patrols passed on their despatches all down that rough coast, m foul weather as well as fair, m spite of storms and snowdrifts, until they reached the Naval Base Commander. The despatch carrying is not their only task. As we went along my guide suddenly remarked a light shining in a farmhouse window and thither we made our way. He knocked and politely but firmly desired them to screen the window. When I turned to go I found he remained behind; as he afterwards explained, it was to see that the order was carried out, as ‘he did not trust those folk one yard’. The culverts of the railway line where it ran close beside the sea all had to be examined, as also the underground cable and the overhead wire.

B.-P.’s own comment on the war was in these words:

It shows how little are the people of these countries as yet in sufficient mutual sympathy as to render wars impossible between them. This will be so until better understanding is generally established. Let us do what we can through the Scout brotherhood to promote this in the future. For the immediate present we have duties to our country to perform.

Some people were rather surprised that B.-P. was not given a command during the War, but Lord Kitchener was strongly of the opinion that the organization of the Boy Scouts was of such great importance that B.-P. could not be spared. Many times it has been said that he did secret service work in Germany during the war, but there was no foundation for such statements. Actually he was far too busy in other ways to undertake such work. At the other extreme came the news from America that he had been shot as a German Spy !

The announcement in one American newspaper was as follows:


January 15th 1916.
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Shot to death by English soldiers on his return to England as a German spy.

That is what happened to Major-General Robertson [sic] Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powel], hero of the defence of Mafeking in the Boer War, and organizer of the Boy Scouts, when he went back to London and was caught with papers in his possession, showing maps of Great Britain’s fortifications that he is said to have been selling to the enemy of England.—This statement is made by a man who says he is a Britisher and that the execution was witnessed by his brother.

"My story is a true one,’ he declared to-night. ‘ I can tell you nothing else. My brother saw the execution with his own eyes. My brother explained that Baden-Powell marched to his place of execution without a quiver, and, as the cover was being placed over his eyes, said only these words: "May God have mercy." If reports be true, and I am sure that my brother is to be relied upon, England has put into his last sleep one of the bravest soldiers who ever headed her armies in foreign lands."

B.-P.’s comment was, "It was really worth being shot as a spy to gain so sweet an epitaph as that."

Those who know how fully occupied he was during the war period realize that there was little, if any, spare time for spying expeditions. He was not only very active in the Scout movement; during 1915, for instance, he gave much time to the provision of huts in France in association with the Y.M.C.A. He was naturally most interested in the Mercers’ Hut which he had been instrumental in getting, and later in the Scout and Guide Huts, as well as their Ambulance Cars. By the end of 1916 the Scouts provided four huts in France and seven ambulances. Lady Baden-Powell was very actively engaged in the same work, and together they ran the Mercers’ Hut for some months. When the first Scout hut was opened at Etaples, he wrote:

We are awfully busy here. We opened the Scouts’ Hut at Etaples yesterday with greatest success. Though supplies are scarce and no Scoutmasters have come to take up work, we thought it best to get the hut under way if only to give the men shelter and warmth in this filthy weather. And I am glad that we did, for it has been a big success. The place was crammed to standing room yesterday the moment that the doors were opened, and has been so all day.

We got a very good concert entertainment for them last night after the Commandant here had formally opened the place—and the trade done at the bar was tremendous. My wife, Miss B. A., a Scoutmaster from another hut, a man we picked up here, and a helpful ex-Scout or two—-as well as myself—had as much as we could do in serving the men in the evening. The men are delighted with the place.

My wife and I gave a tea to ex-Scouts before the place was opened and about 40 turned up.

He paid visits to his regiment in France until they were sent to the Middle East, and then he received long letters from the Commanding Officer telling him how they were getting on. The regiment was proud to have B.-P. as its Honorary Colonel, and knew what a keen interest he took in its welfare.

Meantime, the movement was developing rapidly, and the Chief was full of ideas for the future. The Girl Guides too flourished as never before; Lady B.-P. soon showed that she had considerable organizing powers of her own, and it was not, therefore, surprising that in 1918 she was elected Chief Guide.

At last the war came to an end. The Boy Scouts had proved themselves; 150,000 served in the Forces, and of these 10,000 were killed in action. The long list of awards and decorations included no fewer than eleven Victoria Crosses. The best known of these was Jack Cornwell, who served and died so gallantly in the battle of Jutland. His name is perpetuated in the movement by the Cornwell Scout Decoration for bravery. Another was Piper Laidlaw, who, during the first gas attack in France, rallied the men by marching up and down the parapet of the trenches, playing his pipes.

B.-P. had reason to be proud of the achievements of the movement he had created only six years before the war broke out. But his eyes were always looking ahead, and as the dawn of peace came he sent out this message of hope:

The Boy Scout Movement, though on a comparatively small scale at present, yet has its branches among the boys in practically every civilized country in the world and it is growing every day. It is conceivable that if in the years to come a considerable proportion of the rising generation of citizens of each nation were members of this fraternity they would be linked by a tie of personal sympathy and understanding such as has in the past never existed, and such as would in the event of international strain of difference exert a strong influence on its solution.

The future citizens of the different countries, through being Boy Scouts together, would be habituated to the idea of settling their mutual differences by friendly means.

They would view the situation in terms of peace and not, as heretofore, in terms of war.

To some, that seemed an idle dream, but it is no exaggeration to say that he devoted the rest of his life to its realization.

  E. E. Reynolds, B-P: The Story of His Life is a major source of biographical information about B-P. It is one of several works by E. E. Reynolds documenting the life of the Chief Scout and the early days of the Scout Movement.
  The Baden-Powell Library. A Selection of excerpts from the works of Sir Robert Baden-Powell and works relating to his life and career
  Sir Robert Baden-Powell, Founder of the World Scout Movement, Chief Scout of the World. A Home Page for the Founder. Links Relating to Baden-Powell on the Pine Tree Web and elsewhere. Text Only Index.

  Return to the Pine Tree Web Home Page

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