An Excerpt from:
CHAPTER XV. LAST YEARS
IT is sometimes said that the best part of travelling is arriving back home, and however often B.-P. and Lady B.-P. set off on one of their tours, they were glad to enjoy their own home again. As B.-P. once wrote:
Soon the call would come again, from India perhaps, or one of the Dominions, and once more the Chiefs would be off on their journeys of goodwill. People marvelled at B.-P.’s amazing energy, which seemed in no way to decrease as the years passed. At the age of seventy-seven, the Chiefs and their daughters set off on a world tour which took them to Australia and New Zealand and back by way of America and Canada. The Scouts of the United States were always glad to welcome the man who had created the movement which has developed so wonderfully in that country. This was his fifth, and proved to be his last Scouting visit to Canada, and it ended a quarter of a century after the first French-Canadian Scout had greeted him in Quebec when he arrived there with a party of Boy Scouts in 1910.
The year 1935 was a busy one. There was an International Rover Moot in Sweden, and this was followed by a call to South Africa—one which he always found it difficult to resist. He was most anxious that Scouting should continue to play its part in bringing together his old friends the Boers and those of English descent; there were, too, possibilities of developing better relationships between the native Africans and the white people. It was a great joy to him that he was able to do something towards these objects. Unfortunately he had an attack of malaria which prevented him from doing all he had planned.
One of the pleasures of travel in Africa was seeing places which had meant so much to him in his early life, nor did the passage of years lessen his enjoyment of the wonderful scenery. Here is a note he wrote when visiting the Victoria Falls.
He sent this message to the Scouts at the end of his visit.
The few months he spent in England during 1936 saw the marriage of his daughter Betty, who later left with her husband for Rhodesia, B.-P.’s Matabeleland, where her brother Peter was already settled. Later in the year the Chiefs, with Heather, set off for India, where the Scouts were to hold their first All-India Jamboree at Delhi. This was like a dream come true, for Indian Scouts of all creeds and castes came together under the one banner of Scouting to greet their Chief. The Scouts of that vast country had already proved the value of their training in citizenship by the health campaigns they carried out in the villages and at the religious festivals; and the dreadful Quetta earthquake showed that they could forget the differences of creed and caste in the common work for the relief of suffering.
It was a particular satisfaction to B.-P. that he was able to spend his eightieth birthday with his own regiment, the 13th/18th Hussars, which was then stationed in India. Once more he wore his Hussar uniform at a Ceremonial Parade at which he presented new drum banners. "I felt forty years younger on the spot" he wrote. "It was for me my last mounted parade."
A heavy programme faced B.-P. on his return to England. He attended the St. George’s Day Service for Scouts at Windsor. Then followed the Coronation, when the Scouts won praise for the way in which they organized the sale of the Programme, and the Rover Scouts for the work they did in controlling the crowds.
Honours were bestowed on this wonderful man of eighty. The King conferred upon him the rare Order of Merit, and the President of the French Republic the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honour, while from America came the Wateler Peace Prize—fitting recognitions of his great achievements in bringing together the boys and girls of the world.
In August the World Jamboree was held in Holland at Vogelenzang, when 28,000 Scouts of thirty-one nations camped together. Once more the youth of the world gave a message of hope, but it could be but a faint beam in a darkening sky. At the conclusion B.-P. gave his last Jamboree message; all there must have realized that the sands of his life were running out, and his final, "Now good-bye. God bless you all," was charged with a deep emotion of affection which made itself felt throughout the vast assembly.
Many who listened to him then must have realized that it was the last Jamboree at which they would hear his voice, and the depth of feeling with which he spoke suggested that he felt that this was indeed his last Jamboree.
In September the Chiefs camped at Gilwell for the Reunion—an event he never missed unless out of the country or ill. Once again the ‘Jam-Roll’ with ‘ Eccles’ the caravan was drawn up on his usual camp site in front of the house, and hundreds of Scouters had the joy of meeting him as he strolled about with his dogs amongst the tents.
In October he was present on board R.R.S. Discovery, Captain Scott’s old ship, to meet the Duke of Kent when the ship was handed over to the Boy Scouts Association. This was followed soon afterwards by a pleasing ceremony when, at a gathering of Scouters and Guiders, a Silver Wedding Present was made to the Chiefs. Soon after he sailed once more for South Africa; he had hoped to see how the various Scout organizations were settling down in the Federation, but his strength failed him, and instead he went to Kenya and rested for the winter at Nyeri; the country so suited him that they decided to build a cottage, which was named ‘Paxtu’, as an offshoot, as it were, of Pax Hill, Bentley. There was, however, one outstanding incident when Peter Baden-Powell, his wife, and son, Robert, came down to meet the boat at Beira.
During 1937 an appeal had been launched for a Boy Scout Fund to safeguard the Movement. This was well in hand when B.-P. returned in May, 1938, but he was a sick man. A traveller on the same boat has said what a deep impression was made on him by the gatherings of Scouts and Guides who assembled on the quay-sides to pay tribute to their Chief: they had been warned that he was too ill to see them, but they were content to see the boat which was taking him back to England.
In August he accompanied some Scouters and Guiders on a cruise to Iceland, but he was unable to land, and later he and Lady Baden-Powell left England for the last time to set up a winter home in Kenya. His days were pleasantly occupied—sketching, reading, going out on expeditions to see the wild animals, gardening, and of course letter-writing. B.-P. was an industrious correspondent; his friendship once given was not allowed to rust.
He began a series of pictures of wild animals in their natural haunts. He also produced three books for boys and girls mainly about animals, Birds and Beasts in Africa (1938), Paddle Tour Own Canoe (1939), and More Sketches in Kenya (1940). These contained many of his sketches of men and beasts in colour and in line, and there is a pleasant vein of happiness running through the pages as he talks of his pet hyrax, or the antics of the birds as he watches from his veranda, or of beasts of the surrounding country.
There were expeditions by car to observe wild life. On one of these he met a farmer whose boyhood had been spent at Gilwell Park; on another occasion a friend took him farther afield and once more he saw the beloved veldt; "And I thought," he exclaimed, "that I was never going to see it again!"
But as the months passed so his strength slowly ebbed. The coming of the War may have seemed to some that much of his work had been destroyed, but he knew better. During his more than eighty years he had seen so much that his faith in the future never weakened. He thought of that last Jamboree in Holland, and he sent this message of hope to Scouts everywhere.
The end came on 8th January, 1941. He was escorted on his last journey by soldiers and Scouts, and they laid him in view of Mount Kenya in the country which he loved so much. On the gravestone is the plain inscription between the carved badges of the Scouts and the Guides: