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


DURING war there is not much time for resting, and B.-P. was soon active again in the field. Lord Roberts asked B.-P. to meet him at Pretoria; there the defender of Mafeking got some idea of what people thought of him and the siege; he was a popular hero, and many a man might well have become swollen-headed at the enthusiastic reception he had from everyone. But B.-P. took it all in his own good-natured way as part of the day’s work. He was only too eager to get on with the next job.

Roberts paid B.-P. the unusual compliment of riding part of the way with him when he returned to take up his new command. He had now to join in the pursuit of the most elusive of the Boer leaders—De Wet. The period of pitched battles was practically over, but the Boer Commandos—a name to become even more famous forty years later—were skilled in the art of dealing quick and effective blows at unexpected points, and in dodging the troops sent to round them up. The best account of this period of the war is given in Colonel Denis Reitz’s book Commando; he himself as a young man took part in the drawn-out guerrilla warfare, and finished it under the command of General Smuts.

B.-P.’s immediate task was to watch the Magaliesberg— a range of mountains with a few passes, by one of which it was believed De Wet must go to get clear of the encircling troops. For a time there was a risk that B.-P. would be besieged again, this time in Rustenburg. De Wet came close enough to send a message. He demanded the surrender of the British. B.-P.’s reply was typical. He said that he felt sure the messenger had made a mistake; he must have come to offer the surrender of the Boers. If so, he would gladly make the necessary arrangements!

Soon afterwards he was asked to undertake a bigger job. Already the authorities were looking ahead to the end of the war—actually it went on for a longer period than anyone expected. One thing at least was clear: there would have to be a well-trained body of police to take over control until things settled down. When Lord Roberts was asked to recommend a man to organize such a force, he at once suggested B.-P. "He is far and away the best man I know," he said. "He possesses in quite an unusual degree the qualities you specify, viz., energy, organization, knowledge of the country, and a power of getting on with its people."

So B.-P. was summoned to Cape Town to discuss the formation of the South African Constabulary. On his way he found himself the centre of attraction at every stopping-place; crowds gathered to cheer him; they swarmed into his carriage and lavished gifts on him; it seemed that nothing could be too much to mark their esteem for the hero of Mafeking. He was warned that great preparations were being made for a reception at Cape Town; he tried to avoid this by telegraphing that he would be two days late, but this fiction was not allowed to defeat his admirers. The station and all the approaches were massed with people; an attempt to give the Mayor and Corporation their due rights soon broke down, and B.-P. was seized by the crowd and carried to Government House. He gratefully recorded that "two excellent fellows seized hold of my breeches pockets on either side to prevent my money from falling out ".

On the long train journey B.-P. had already sketched in outline a scheme for the S.A.C., and this was approved when he submitted it to the Government. He then went off to Cecil Rhodes’ house, " Groote Schuur ", now the residence of the Prime Minister of South Africa. Here he settled down in peace to work out the hundred and one details of his scheme. It was a great undertaking, for there was nothing to guide him, and he had to think out such problems as recruiting and staffing, equipment, transport, supplies, horses, uniform, training, and so on.

He had a clear idea of the kind of recruits he wanted young men who would be willing to settle in the country when their terms of service expired. He wrote to friends in the Dominions and Colonies for help, and he soon had thousands of applications from farmers’ sons, planters, cowboys, stock-riders, and constables from all over the Empire.

They found that they could not easily bluff their new commander—he was too skilled at that kind of thing himself! For instance, he knew that, for the various tests, a man who was not sure of passing any particular one would get another man to act for him. To stop this B.-P. introduced the finger-print method instead of signature.

The supply of horses also presented difficulties; he knew that any good horses would be immediately snapped up by the army, so he ordered a type just below army standards—strong, sturdy cobs that could stand a lot of work. He paid the ships’ captains a pound for every horse landed in good condition—this ensured careful transport. Then the horses were first of all trained for several months at a height of 2,000 feet before being put to work at the usual 3,000 to 4,000 feet of the two colonies.

The designing of a uniform was not easy. It must not look too much like army uniform, or the Boers would at once hate it. Khaki was the natural and the uniforms had facings of green and yellow—the colours of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and later of the Boy Scouts. The hat was, almost inevitably, the cowboy type he himself had made so well known.

A system of quick training was devised rather like that he had used before Mafeking; again the men were divided into small groups under responsible leaders, and the training was intended to develop each man’s initiative and self-reliance to the full.

While the war lasted, the S.A.C. was used in military operations, and distinguished itself highly; the officers and men won an unusual number of decorations.

It was no wonder that following the strain of Mafeking and the intensive work in organizing the Constabulary, B.-P.’s health broke down. He never spared himself, and would often work on when others would quite reasonably have taken a rest. But at last the doctors intervened and he was sent home to England for a much needed holiday.

From the time he landed at Southampton until he left again, B.-P. spent much time avoiding, when he could, the demands of crowds to greet him as their hero. Some invitations he could not refuse; the one which pleased him most was to visit Charterhouse and lay the foundation stone of the War Memorial.

King Edward VII summoned him to Balmoral to confer on him the C.B. he had been awarded and to hear B.-P.’s own account of the siege and of the organization of the S.A.C.

B.-P. learned that on his journey to Balmoral arrangements had been made for big receptions wherever the train stopped. So he worked out an alternative route and arrived at Balmoral without any fuss, much to the king’s approval.

When he was leaving, the king presented him with a haunch of venison with the remark, "I have watched you at meals, and I notice that you don’t eat enough. When working as you are doing you must keep up your system. Don’t forget—eat more."

During his leave B.-P.’s portrait was painted by two famous artists. George Frederick Watts wanted to present a portrait to Charterhouse, and B.-P. sat for the one which can be seen there now. It was one of the last pictures painted by Watts. Sir Hubert Herkomer also asked him to sit to him, and that portrait is now at the Cavalry Club.

It was a custom with B.-P. to pick up useful knowledge wherever he went, and while he was in these artists’ studios he got some suggestions from them about modelling. On his return to South Africa at the end of 1901 he took a lump of clay with him; he practiced on the boat, and found modelling a most interesting change of occupation when he got back to work with the S.A.C.

One result was a bust he did of Captain John Smith— who is so often referred to in Scouting for Boys. This was later exhibited in the Royal Academy, and some years afterwards B.-P. presented it to the Boy Scouts of his old school as an Inter-Patrol Competition trophy.

Peace between the British and the Boers was signed in June, 1902, and the S.A.C. were then free to carry out the duties originally laid down for them. They were stationed all over the country, and were soon busily engaged with all the problems that cropped up as farms were re-occupied. They carried out B.-P.’s instructions to make themselves really useful and to act on their own initiative instead of waiting for instructions from someone higher up. B.-P. hated red tape and the practice of "passing the baby" to someone else. As long as a trooper used his common sense, he would back him up, even if he made mistakes at times; he quoted with approval Napoleon’s saying that "The man who never makes mistakes, never makes anything"; the kind of man he had no use for in the S.A.C. was the one who refused to tackle a job because he had no instructions.

The troopers had lots of queer things to do: they carried parcels and letters from farm to farm; they told the people how to get what help they needed for obtaining seeds and cattle to make a fresh beginning; they dealt with all kinds Or disputes, so much so that one magistrate complained that he had nothing to do, as the local S.A.C. sergeant settled everything himself.

B.-P. rode thousands of miles inspecting his far-flung constabulary. He had his own railway coach, which was detached at points from which he set out on his tours. Relays of ponies were supplied by the posts. For several months he rarely slept for more than two nights running under the same roof. It was just the kind of life he loved, and his success was considerable.

Then early in 1903 he was offered the highest rank in the cavalry world as Inspector-General. He was at first reluctant to leave the S.A.C., but actually he had laid the foundations so well that there could be no doubt of the future. So he left South Africa to return to England and take up his new appointment, bearing with him the good wishes of his men and of the Government.

B.-P. once said, "I was not built for a General. I liked being a regimental officer in personal touch with my men." His new post of Inspector-General of Cavalry did not appeal to him as much as being Colonel of the 5th Dragoon Guards, or in charge of the S.A.C. But he none the less set to work with his usual thoroughness and enthusiasm. He paid many visits abroad to see how other nations carried out their cavalry training, and from these tours he got many useful hints for his guidance. His inspections were never mere formalities; he liked to spend a few days with a regiment to see their usual methods; he knew that a special visit, announced long beforehand, would mean a lot of window-dressing. Any officer, especially a young man, who showed originality in his methods of training tending to make it more enjoyable to his men, would be sure of his praise.

In I906 he accompanied the Duke of Connaught on an official tour of South Africa. At Mafeking the Duke wanted to see everything connected with the siege, and amongst other places they visited the Convent. He noticed a number of patches on the walls, each marked with an "S", and asked what they meant. The Mother Superior replied, "Shell, your Highness, and if you’d been here yourself, you’d have spelt it without the S."

After this tour B.-P. came back to England travelling northwards through Africa to Zanzibar and then by sea to Aden and Egypt. He published a delightful book of sketches made on this trip, and these were later exhibited in London.

His appointment as Inspector-General ended in May, 1907, and he retired on half-pay. It was in the August of this year that he held his first Boy Scout camp at Brownsea Island; but we shall come to this event in the next chapter.

He had not quite done with the army, for he was now asked by the Secretary of State for War to take command of the new Territorial Division in Northumberland. Once more he had something new to develop and the kind of training he gave the men was not unlike that given in the Home Guard more than thirty years later. He had a motor caravan built so that he could tour the area and be independent of hotels. His head quarters were at Richmond Castle, where he lived, as a visitor remarked, "in stark simplicity".

By 1909 the Boy Scouts had grown to such great numbers that he had to make up his mind whether to remain in the army or leave to take control of this new organization. He consulted King Edward, who thought that the development of the Boy Scouts was of first importance. So B.-P. resigned in May, 1910. He had been knighted in the previous year in recognition of his services as a soldier and as the founder of the Boy Scouts

It did not entirely end his connection with the army for in 1911 he became Honorary Colonel of his old Regiment, the 13th Hussars, and he retained that position until after his eightieth birthday.

  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

Your feedback, comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Please write to:
Lewis P. Orans

Copyright © Lewis P. Orans, 1997
Last Modified: 4:24 PM on August 31, 1997

Site Created with Microsoft ® FrontPage TM