B-P and the Beginnings of Scouting
An Excerpt from:
CHAPTER VIII. BROWNSEA ISLAND
Mafeking made B.-P. the boys’ hero, and it was not surprising that many wrote to him for advice and help. He took a great deal of trouble to answer these letters. Here is part of his reply to one from a Boys’ Club in London:
Letters of this kind set B.-P. thinking of how he could do more to help boys and how they could best be trained. He had had many years of experience in training soldiers and, as we have seen, he made some successful experiments. He found in India, for instance, that scouting was a subject that made a great appeal and brought out the best in the men. At Mafeking he had watched and noted the success of the boy cadets who had done fine work when given the chance and the responsibility. Why not draw up a scheme of training for all boys on the same lines? Why not train boys as peace scouts, ready at all times to help others?
The training would have to be attractive and interesting. Here his own boyhood gave him a clue. He remembered the fun of boating and tramping with his brothers — the B.-P. Patrol — and the eagerness with which at Charterhouse he had slipped away into the copse to watch animals and make fires and cook rabbits. To all this he could now add his own experiences as a practical pioneer and scout in the army.
On his return from South Africa in 1903 two things helped to point the way towards the Boy Scouts. First he heard to his surprise that the little book he wrote for soldiers, "Aids to Scouting", was being used for the training of boys in observation. One instance concerned Brigadier-General Allenby — later Field-Marshal Lord Allenby — and his son. As he rode home after a field day, the General was surprised to hear a voice call out, "Father, you are shot. I am in ambush, and you haven’t seen me. You should look up." The General did so, and there was his son lying along the branch of a tree, and higher up was the boy’s governess. It was she who in her work had made use of B.-P.’s ideas on observation. Then the editor of a boys’ paper, "Boys of the Empire", had also seen the interest of the book, and had serialized it under the heading "The Boy Scout" — probably the first use of the term.
The next important fact was that B.-P. was invited to take the chair at the annual display given by the Boys’ Brigade at the Albert Hall, and later to review the Brigade in Glasgow. The sight of all these boys, so smart and keen, made him wish that thousands of others would come along and be trained in the same way. He talked of this to Sir William Smith, the Founder of the Brigade; as a result he promised to work out a scheme of training which could be used by the Brigades to add to the attractiveness of their work and so bring in more boys.
The chief subject he suggested was scouting, especially training in observation and deduction. He had no idea of starting a new movement; his aim was to give some ideas to the Brigade officers to help them in their work. They did in fact do this, and found that the boys like it. B.-P.’s first suggestions were published in the "Brigade Gazette" in 1906, and the following tests he put down are of great interest.
The more B.-P. thought about this training of boys, the more enthusiastic he became. He discussed his ideas with all kinds of people, and he watched how the suggestions worked in those companies of the Boys’ Brigade where they were tried. He was never content to sit by and watch other people, so he decided to try out the scout training himself with some boys in camp. He found a site on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, and there he pitched his camp on 25th July, 1907 — a red-letter day for Boy Scouts. The Boys’ Brigade helped him to collect a mixed party of boys. The did not, of course, wear uniform; some wore trousers and others shorts with collars and ties. For shoulder-knots they had long twists of coloured wool hanging almost down to the elbow.
It was not an ideal camp-site, but there was plenty of woodland on the island for scouting games. B.-P.’s nephew, Donald, was present as orderly; Major Kenneth Maclaren — one his fellow-subalterns in the 13th Hussars — came to help, and Mr. P. W. Everett there saw Scouting in action for the first time.
The following is B.-P.’s report on the camp:
The boys were roused in the mornings by the koodoo horn which B.-P. had captured in the Matabeleland Campaign.
The camp was not without its amusing incidents. Thus when B.-P. was stalking a Patrol, he failed to observe one of his own injunctions, "to look up", and he was captured by his own nephew who had concealed himself up in a tree. One evening the male members of a house-party which the owner of the island, Mr. Van Raalte, was entertaining, decided that they would try to pay the camp a surprise visit. They had not gone far, however, before two of the boys sprang out from cover and "arrested" them; the prisoners were marched into camp and had to pay a suitable ransom.
The camp was so encouraging, and the boys so enthusiastic — it was indeed a thrill to be trained by the defender of Mafeking! — that B.-P. decided to make the general scheme more widely known. While he was looking about for means to do this he met Mr. Arthur Pearson, the head of the publishing firm of that name. He was at once interested, and arranged for B.-P. to go about the country lecturing to audiences of interested people, and at the same time to write a handbook for the boys. Mr. Pearson himself undertook to publish the book, and to start a paper, The Scout, in which B.-P. promised to write a weekly yarn — this he continued to do for many years, and some of his best articles on Scouting are to be found in old volumes of The Scout.
In order to be free from interruptions while writing the book, B.-P. rented a room in the Windmill on Wimbledon Common, London. There he got down to work to produce one of the most popular boys’ books of the century. Mr. P. W. Everett supervised the publication, and this early close contact with B.-P. was later to lead to his taking a large part in the growth of the movement.
Scouting for Boys was published in six fortnightly parts, the first appearing in January, 1908, at a cost of four-pence. The first issue of The Scout was published on 14th April, 1908. Then the fun began! B.-P. still thought of Scouting as an extra activity that could be done by existing clubs and other boy organizations, but the boys themselves soon made it necessary to begin a separate movement.
Thousands of boys bought the first part of Scouting for Boys; it was sufficient for them that the magic initials B.-P. appeared on the cover. But they were not content with reading about Scouting; they wanted to do it, and if they were not members of a Brigade or Club, they got together in little gangs, formed themselves into Patrols, and got down to practical, out-of-doors Scouting. Then they would try to persuade some grown-up to become Scoutmaster. In this way Scouting spread, and as the numbers of boys rapidly grew, it was obvious that something would have to be done about it.
Mr. Pearson again helped; he provided a one-room office as a center for the Boy Scouts, as they were soon named. The first Manager of the office was Major Kenneth Maclaren, and he was followed by Mr. J. A. Kyle. The movement grew at a most astonishing rate. By the end of 1908 there were 60,000 Scouts enrolled; there were probably many more actually going through the training, but it took some time for all to be brought into touch with the new head office.
The problem of uniform had to be faced very early, and B.-P. thought out the details in his usual practical fashion. In the following note he set down the whys and wherefores:
The origin of the Scout staff — its usefulness in Ashanti — has already been noted.
The question is sometimes asked, "Which was the first Troop?" A number of Troops have claimed to hold that distinction, but it is impossible to make any definite decision because some Troops had been formed long before there was any proper system of registration. The honour of being first is really shared by a number of pioneer Scouts who by their enthusiasm made an organized movement necessary.
The Scout ran competitions in 1909 to select Scouts for B.-P.’s second camp; this was held at Humshaugh in Northumberland in the August of that year.
B.-P. had himself taken a holiday earlier in the year in South America, and found that Scouting had already reached that part of the world. As a result of his visit the first foreign Scout Association was formed in Chile.
In 1909 the movement gathered speed. A party of British Scouts toured Germany — the first foreign visit of the Boy Scouts. Then came the summer camp under B.-P. This time it was partly on land, at Buckler’s Hard, Beaulier, and partly on C.B. Fry’s training ship, the Mercury. This was the beginning of Sea Scouts as a distinct activity. B.-P.’s eldest brother, Warington, wrote the handbook for the new section, and his expert advice was of the greatest value.
The same year saw two rallies. At the Crystal Palace in September 10,000 boys marched past their Chief Scout, and shortly afterwards 6,000 Scotch Boy Scouts were inspected by him at Glasgow in company with Sir William Smith, the founder of the Boys’ Brigade.
The Scout competition in 1910 was for a party of Scouts to tour Canada, and the lucky winners crossed the Atlantic with B.-P. They were greeted at Quebec by French-Canadian Scouts — the first Empire Scouts outside Great Britain to meet B.-P. on their native soil.
By the end of 1910 there were over 100,000 Scouts in Great Britain; the movement had established itself as one of the leading boys’ organizations within little more than three years of that first camp at Brownsea Island.