The Outspan Hotel, Nyeri, Kenya
From a Sketch by Sir Robert Baden-Powell

From: Eileen K. Wade,
27 Years with Baden-Powell, 1957

Chapter 19.

THE Chief Scout’s former Secretary, Eric Walker, to whom I have referred at the beginning of this book, was making a great success of his hotel, the Outspan, at Nyeri in Kenya. And he had long wanted the Chief to pay him a visit.

On November 17th the Chief, writing from S. S. Mantola, said:

Just approaching Mombasa, very warm after a perfect voyage, in a crowded ship, with over 20 children on board and 13 prams on the deck! Wireless from Wade to tell us to be prepared for a Rally at 9.30 a.m., rest of programme unknown so far.

(The ‘Wade’ here referred to was my brother-in-law, Armigel, Chief Secretary for Kenya and Scout Commissioner there.)

After Scout Rallies and the usual dinners at Mombasa and Nairobi, they went on to Nyeri, and had their first sight of the place which was to be the Chief’s last home.

Lady B.-P.’s letter of December 8th gives her first impressions:

Here we are at last—and in a young Heaven too. NEVER could we have imagined a more perfect place—exquisite view over 40 miles of wild Africa and the snow-covered peak of Mount Kenya beyond—just indescribably lovely.

And this Hotel is unique as we each have our own sort of little house with verandah, looking on to a garden ablaze with Cannes, roses, salvias, Madonna lilies, geraniums, arum lilies, stocks and snapdragons, and besides that all the lovely tropical things like Jacaranda, flamboyant tree, etc. QUITE DIVINE—and with the comfort of electric light, water laid on, and blazing sun by day; and cool (with fire and blankets on the bed) at night. It is absolutely perfect. We are going to spend the night in TREE Tops tomorrow, to look at rhino, lion, elephant, etc. etc. and it is all just lovely.

B-P wrote:

The Outspan Hotel,
6 Dec. 1935.

Dear Mrs. W.

Here we are, staying at Eric Walker’s Hotel. You would be amused to see him, just the same as ever in his ways, manner and speech, but gray-haired and slightly bald. But still the boy, full of schemes and inventions…. He has made a perfectly lovely place here, carved out of the wilderness in nine years. A line of stone-built little suites, each bedroom with its bath-room and cupboards, wood fire, electric light, hot and cold water, deep verandah and glorious view of the snow mountain, Mt. Kenya. A central dining hall, lounge, shop, billiard room, squash court, golf links, etc. A wonderful kitchen garden where he can grow all English vegetables and fruit as well as tropical. A lovely climate at 8,400 ft. Lady Bettie, a charming woman and very hard-working in running the Hotel—and with two perfectly lovely little daughters.

Then he has this wonderful annex to the Hotel in the shape of a wooden bungalow which he has cleverly built up in a tree, exactly as you see it in the picture, 10 miles distant from here. Heather and Betty are staying there tonight with Lady Bettie. Olive and I were there with him two nights ago and had a perfectly wonderful time of it. Although we saw 11 rhinos no elephants came along. Last night though a herd of them came and wallowed in the mud right at the foot of the tree….

P.S. Our two Secretaries are just back from Tree Tops and in addition to seeing rhino and various buck were able successfully to spit on to the backs of two big elephants.

Yours, B.-P.

(‘Tree Tops’—mentioned in this letter—is of course the place which the Queen was visiting when the news came through of the death of her father, King George VI, and her accession to the throne. It was burnt down in the troubles, but is now being re-built by Eric Walker.)

Lady B.-P. wrote:

Driving the 70 miles here yesterday we passed herds of impala, oryx, Thomson’s Gazelle, zebra, baboons, etc. in HUNDREDS, and Eric drove us hurtling across the grass chasing an enormous chignon literally bounding along at 32 miles an hour….

The Chief is loving it. I have never known him fitter or happier.

He is RADIANT and this trip is being quite lovely in every way.

This journey to Africa was ostensibly for the Jamboree at East London; but actually a great deal more than that happened before they got back to England. Peter had married Cairn Birdman in Southern Rhodesia; Betty met her future husband on board ship, and the Chiefs found their place for retirement.

The long arm of coincidence had always wound itself round the B.-P. family—they loved coincidences—and when they found that Betty wished to marry a young man in the Colonial Service, met on board ship (as the Chiefs themselves had met) and with a birthday on her birthday (as was the case with themselves and with Peter and his wife Cairn), what could they do but agree?

Gervas Clay was on leave, and due to go back to Northern Rhodesia in September, so there was not much time if Betty was to return with him. The Chiefs had a busy enough summer ahead already, but a daughter’s happiness was a first consideration and, once he had steeled himself to the idea of losing half his travelling staff, he was delighted that Betty should be going to pioneer in a country which he knew and loved.

So arrangements were hurried along, and on a perfect day in September, when the hop-pickers were at work in the Bentley fields, the old Parish Church was the scene of a big wedding. The Dean of Westminster, an old Carthusian friend of the Chief’s, came to marry them, and with him came the choir-boys (all Scouts) and the organist and preceptor from Westminster Abbey to make lovely music in our village church. The whole of Bentley and a large part of Farnham and Alton turned out, and the church was packed with Scout and Guide friends, as well as members of the two families. My husband even imported his Fire Brigade to help with the traffic problems in the narrow lanes. The reception at Pax Hill was the last of many happy parties to take place on that lawn, and one which will long be remembered. The next day Gervas and Betty sailed for Northern Rhodesia, and the Chiefs were left with one out of their three children. Whether as secretary, chauffeur or companion to her parents, Heather remained a great tower of strength during the rest of their life at Pax Hill. Betty had, I think, inherited, with her looks, most of her mother’s qualities, and Heather her father’s so both had plenty of character. Heather had begun to model quite successfully in clay with much of the Chief’s keenness and skill.

India was the next place due for a visit, and there, as well as attending the Scout Jamboree, he was able to be present at the last mounted parade of the 13th/18th Hussars, shortly to be mechanised.

Yet another revival of old memories (he had won the Kadir Cup in 1883) came in this letter:

Dear Mrs W.,

Meerut. 21 March 37.

We have just had another red letter day in our lives! We four have been out in camp to see the Kadir Cup run, for three days. Yesterday was the final, over 100 of us on 30 elephants from 9 a.m. to sunset out on a vast yellow grass plain—the whole day under blazing hot sun wobbling along on elephants with the excitement of watching the competitors racing after pig and, in one case, hunting and killing a panther. Then a 38 mile motor ride home over bumpy tracks to late dinner at nine. To bed at 11. From 11.30 till 5, violently sick till I had nothing left to be sick with!! From 5 a.m. till now 5 p.m. I’ve been asleep. Now having tea and going to bed again so as to be fit tomorrow to travel to Delhi to see the Viceroy—and then on 23rd night train to Bombay. Awfully sorry to leave India and all its happy memories.

1937 was a year of farewells. The Regiment, India, and now—his last Jamboree.

The Jamboree in Holland in August took place at Vogelensang in Bloemendaal—’the place where the birds sing and the flowers bloom’.

We did not know that it was to be the Founder’s last Jamboree, but I think he did.

James, then a Scout at Lancing, went with me to Holland, and we stayed with the B.-P.s in a simple little hotel at Bloemendaal, and later in a more sumptuous one at Oud Wassenaar—once a summer royal palace.

Here the Chief could relax, and we were able to deal with his enormous post. He had been lent a car with an English chauffeur, so travel was easy and comfortable.

Wherever he went he was pursued by the ‘Jamboree Song’ played by orchestras or whistled by boys in the street. Holland seemed to be a land of Scouts, of bicycles and of autograph-hunters. Even James and I were hunted for our signatures when we went shopping.

Travelling with the Chief was of course a sort of royal progress, as all eyes were on him.

Apart from the Jamboree they made it a really interesting and educative time for James. We visited picture-galleries and zoos and porcelain factories, and on one unforgettable day went up to the Zuyder Zee, mixed with the people in their national dress and peeped into their homes, with the cupboard beds in the walls of the living-room and their wonderfully shining brass and bright colours.

At Volendam an old gentleman dismounted from a tram, rushed at the Chief, embraced him, and carried him in triumph to his restaurant, where, many years before, he had stayed and had helped to decorate the wall with sketches. The joy of this old friend at meeting him again was good to behold.

Many things about that Jamboree will live in the minds of all who were there. The camps with their lovely Scout-made gateways and hundreds of happy inhabitants; the market; the arena with its daily displays and thronged Sunday services—but what I personally shall never forget was the last camp-fire out on the dunes.

Princess Juliana (now Queen of the Netherlands) was there with her husband, Prince Bernhardt; and the displays and singing were of a particularly high order; but it was the final scene, when we were trying to get away, that stays with me through the years. No car could travel on the dunes, which after a fortnight’s cloudless weather were a mass of dusty, shifting sand. So, on leaving the camp-fire, we had to walk a few hundred yards to meet the car. This would have been simple if 10,000 Scouts had not decided to leave it at the same minute to have a farewell look at the Chief.

We took to our heels and ran through the dark, shifting sand, but the Scouts ran faster. Then, as if by a miracle, a chain of arms, made by stout Rovers, fended them off, and the crowd, which was ready to tear the Chief to pieces in its excitement, was held back. A way was made, and the Chiefs almost fell into the waiting car, followed by dames and me, the doors held open by Prince Bernhardt of Holland, Prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden and J. S. Wilson of Britain. Somehow we got away, our eyes, noses and throats completely lounged up with sand, leaving behind us the boys waving, cheering and yelling in every tongue their farewells to their great Chief.

It had been a perfect fortnight—in weather as well as in everything else; but next day the rain came. When we went over to look at the camp ground we found that the tents had been removed just in time. The whole place, completely empty, was swimming in water, for the dykes had overflowed. Nothing could have been better timed for cleaning up the camp.

We returned to England with the usual pile of presents and souvenirs—a Delft dish bearing his portrait hangs on the wall behind me now.

After the Jamboree, the Silver Wedding, with the usual heap of presents and hundreds of greetings from Scouts everywhere.

The Princess Royal came to the Dinner, and made the Scouts and Guides’ presentation of silver plate to the Chiefs—who had incidentally lost quite a lot of their silver through a recent burglary at Pax Hill.

Another event which delighted us all in that eventful year was the award to the Chief of the Order of Merit—a rare distinction— by King George VI. We had always wanted him to have this, and I think he liked it best of all his awards.

A day which stands out vividly in my own memory was a fine Sunday in April 1938 when the Scouts were, as usual, to hold their St George’s Day parade at Windsor.

The Chiefs were to lunch with the King and Queen first, and the rest of us—two car-loads, which included my two children, Heather and one or two friends—ate our lunch in Windsor Great Park before repairing to the Quadrangle where the picked King’s Scouts were to march past the King.

I was standing among the Scouters from other countries who had been specially invited, and we were lined up two or three deep on the grass in front of the Castle. I was wearing uniform, which I did not often do, but, having lately been awarded a Silver Wolf, I had an idea that it might be presented that day. But it wasn’t. The Chief did something else instead.

He was talking to the Queen when I suddenly heard him say: ‘Mrs Wade, where are you?’ I was absolutely horrified, because it came to my mind that some paper or award with which I ought to have provided him must be missing through my fault. I felt awfully inclined to answer in the words of my son, who, at the age of six, had replied to a long scolding, ‘I’m not going to hear what you’ve just said!’

But there was nothing for it. I had to weave my way through from the back to the front of the row. The Chief said, ‘Oh, here she is,’ and proceeded to present me first to the King and then to the Queen, who shook hands and talked to me about Scouting and my special work of looking after the Chief. Our present Queen and Princess Margaret were with them, in Guide and Brownie uniform.

It was for me the great surprise of a lovely day, and as we went into the Chapel for the service, I was bursting to get back to my children, who were part of the crowd outside, and to say, however ungrammatically, ‘Guess who I’ve been talking to.’

It had been a long and exhausting day for the Chief, who had many other things to think of and many people to say just the right words to. He was then over eighty. But he had the great gift of being able to relax once an occasion was over; and on the way back in the car he discarded his hat, leaned back and went to sleep, while we discussed the day’s doings. Though they had had ice-pudding for lunch at the Castle, Lady B.-P. stopped the first ‘Stop-me-and-buy-one’ and bought choc. bars for us all; and, eating ices like any trippers, we returned home, a sweet ending to a memorable day. This reminds me of the Chief’s story of the Americans who having chewed gum all the way round Hampshire remarked that they liked the scenery because it ‘added so’ (to the gum, he supposed!).

The B.-P.s all enjoyed picnics, and I have shared many al fresco meals with them, by the river, when he was fishing; or on the roadside on the way to some Scout or Guide affair; or on the lawn with parties of visiting Scouts.

Once we spent a day at the Derby. We went off early in the big car, taking lunch with us, and had a lovely day on Epsom Downs, though we saw very little racing and placed no bets. But we saw what we had really come for—the crowds, the gipsies, the hawkers, the touts, the bookies, and the vendors of this, that and the other.

A gipsy woman thrust a small and dirty baby on to the Chief’s knees as he sat in the car, and asked him to cross her palm with silver.

‘Take that squalling brat away,’ said the Chief indignantly, and then, as she began to shout curses at him, he added: ‘All right, keep your hair on. I was a squalling brat myself once,’ and she retired soothed and comforted.

The next winter the B.-P.s were in Africa again, but the Chief was ill, and the Scout tour so carefully arranged had to be abandoned altogether. He was not even able to go to see Peter and Betty as planned, but spent the time quietly resting a ‘tired heart’ at Nyeri.

I think—I THINK [wrote Lady B.-P.], that this means that his working days are over. And why not? If anyone deserves to be idle he does—and it is not going to be the PRETENCE knocking off that we have had before.

They made one last ‘visit’ to England, and the Chief was able to cruise with us in the S.S. Orduna to Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Belgium, and was all the better for doing so. On this cruise I took both my children. The Chief did not land anywhere, but it was enough for the Scouters and Guiders aboard, and for those on shore, to feel that he was there among them, even if they could not talk to him. The Scouts of Iceland brought a piece of their volcanic land to the ship so that he might ‘set foot in Iceland’. The rest of us had a grand time exploring that country and bumping in bus-loads over the unmade roads. At each port of call the Scouts and Guides from the ship joined in the ‘march past’ of the local ones, and in the evening there were camp-fires and concerts ashore, and guests to dinner in the ship.

James spent his sixteenth birthday in Iceland, and had a tea-party on board with a special cake provided by Lady B -P The whole outing was for us a present from the Chiefs to mark my quarter-century with them. It also marked the last year of peace.

Antwerp was our last port of call, and most of the party went off to Bruges for the day. But we three Wades decided to explore Antwerp instead, and spent the whole day there, getting to know the place quite well.

Six years later James was there again—in hospital after being blown up by a German shell. A changed world indeed.

  Eileen K. Wade, 27 Years with Baden-Powell, 1957.
  Chapter 5. Pax Hill
Life and times at the B-P’s home in Hampshire.
  Chapter 12. Why the Uniform?
About B-P and the Scout Uniform.
  Chapter 19. Kenya
B-P’s home in Africa in his last years.

  Eileen K. Wade, The Piper of Pax: The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, 1924
Foreward and Contents
  The Baden-Powell Library. A Selection of excerpts from the works of Sir Robert Baden-Powell and works relating to his life and career
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Last Modified: 7:57 PM on September 8, 1997