Boy Scouts: BSA and Robert Baden-Powell
(At least in America.)
(The Scout pledge is to stay morally straight.) It is such a great program for boys. If your sons can be involved in church based troops where traditional values are honored, it is well worth it. ~C.D.
Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell 22 February 1857 – 8 January 1941), also known as B-P or Lord Baden-Powell, was a lieutenant-general in the British Army, writer, founder and Chief Scout of the Scout Movement.
After having been educated at Charterhouse School, Baden-Powell served in the British Army from 1876 until 1910 in India and Africa. In 1899, during the Second Boer War in South Africa, Baden-Powell successfully defended the town in the Siege of Mafeking. Several of his military books, written for military reconnaissance and scout training in his African years, were also read by boys. Based on those earlier books, he wrote Scouting for Boys, published in 1908 by Sir Arthur Pearson, for youth readership. In 1907, he held the first Brownsea Island Scout camp, which is now seen as the beginning of Scouting.
After his marriage to Olave St Clair Soames, Baden-Powell, his sister Agnes Baden-Powell and notably his wife actively gave guidance to the Scouting Movement and the Girl Guides Movement. Baden-Powell lived his last years in Nyeri, Kenya, where he died and was buried in 1941.
Baden-Powell was born as Robert Stephenson Smyth Powell, or more familiarly as Stephe Powell, at 6 Stanhope Street (now 11 Stanhope Terrace), Paddington in London, on 22 February 1857. He was named after his godfather, Robert Stephenson, the railway and civil engineer; his third name was his mother’s maiden name. His father Reverend Baden Powell, a Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford University, already had four teenage children from the second of his two previous marriages. On 10 March 1846 at St Luke’s Church, Chelsea, Reverend Powell married Henrietta Grace Smyth (3 September 1824 – 13 October 1914), eldest daughter of Admiral William Henry Smyth and 28 years his junior. Quickly they had Warington (early 1847), George (late 1847), Augustus (1849) and Francis (1850). After three further children who died when very young, they had Stephe, Agnes (1858) and Baden (1860). The three youngest children and the often ill Augustus were close friends. Reverend Powell died when Stephe was three, and as tribute to his father and to set her own children apart from their half-siblings and cousins, the mother changed the family name to Baden-Powell. Subsequently, Stephe was raised by his mother, a strong woman who was determined that her children would succeed. Baden-Powell would say of her in 1933 “The whole secret of my getting on, lay with my mother.”
After attending Rose Hill School, Tunbridge Wells, during which his favourite brother Augustus died, Stephe Baden-Powell was awarded a scholarship to Charterhouse, a prestigious public school. His first introduction to Scouting skills was through stalking and cooking game while avoiding teachers in the nearby woods, which were strictly out-of-bounds. He also played the piano and violin, was an ambidextrous artist, and enjoyed acting. Holidays were spent on yachting or canoeing expeditions with his brothers.
On the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Baden-Powell put himself at the disposal of the War Office. No command was given him, for, as Lord Kitchener said: “he could lay his hand on several competent divisional generals but could find no one who could carry on the invaluable work of the Boy Scouts.” It was widely rumoured that Baden-Powell was engaged in spying, and intelligence officers took great care to spread the myth.
On his return from Africa in 1903, Baden-Powell found that his military training manual, Aids to Scouting, had become a best-seller, and was being used by teachers and youth organisations. Following his involvement in the Boys’ Brigade as Brigade Secretary and Officer in charge of its scouting section, with encouragement from his friend, William Alexander Smith, Baden-Powell decided to re-write Aids to Scouting to suit a youth readership. In August 1907 he held a camp on Brownsea Island to test out his ideas. About twenty boys attended: eight from local Boys’ Brigade companies, and about twelve public school boys, mostly sons of his friends.
Baden-Powell was also influenced by Ernest Thompson Seton, who founded the Woodcraft Indians. Seton gave Baden-Powell a copy of his book The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians and they met in 1906. The first book on the Scout Movement, Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys was published in six instalments in 1908, and has sold approximately 150 million copies as the fourth best-selling book of the 20th century.
Boys and girls spontaneously formed Scout troops and the Scouting Movement had inadvertently started, first as a national, and soon an international phenomenon. The Scouting Movement was to grow up in friendly parallel relations with the Boys’ Brigade. A rally for all Scouts was held at Crystal Palace in London in 1909, at which Baden-Powell discovered the first Girl Scouts. The Girl Guide Movement was subsequently formalised in 1910 under the auspices of Baden-Powell’s sister, Agnes Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell’s friend Juliette Gordon Low was encouraged by him to bring the Movement to the United States, where she founded the Girl Scouts of the USA.
In 1920, the 1st World Scout Jamboree took place in Olympia, and Baden-Powell was acclaimed Chief Scout of the World. Baden-Powell was created a Baronet in 1921 and Baron Baden-Powell, of Gilwell, in the County of Essex, on 17 September 1929, Gilwell Park being the International Scout Leader training centre. After receiving this honour, Baden-Powell mostly styled himself “Baden-Powell of Gilwell”.
In January 1912, Baden-Powell was en route to New York on a Scouting World Tour, on the ocean liner Arcadian, when he met Olave St Clair Soames. She was 23, while he was 55; they shared the same birthday, 22 February. They became engaged in September of the same year, causing a media sensation due to Baden-Powell’s fame. To avoid press intrusion, they married in secret on 31 October 1912, at St Peter’s Church in Parkstone. The Scouts of England each donated a penny to buy Baden-Powell a wedding gift, a car (note that this is not the Rolls-Royce they were presented with in 1929). There is a monument to their marriage inside St Mary’s Church, Brownsea Island.
Baden-Powell and Olave lived in Pax Hill near Bentley, Hampshire from about 1919 until 1939. The Bentley house was a gift of her father. Directly after he had married, Baden-Powell began to suffer persistent headaches, which were considered by his doctor to be of psychosomatic origin and treated with dream analysis. The headaches disappeared upon his moving into a makeshift bedroom set up on his balcony.
The Baden-Powells had three children, one son (Peter) and two daughters. Peter succeeded in 1941 to the Baden-Powell barony.
- Arthur Robert Peter (Peter), later 2nd Baron Baden-Powell (1913–1962). He married Carine Crause-Boardman in 1936, and had three children: Robert Crause, later 3rd Baron Baden-Powell; David Michael (Michael), current heir to the titles, and Wendy.
- Heather Grace (1915–1986), who married John King and had two children: Michael, who died in the sinking of SS Heraklion, and Timothy;
- Betty (1917–2004), who married Gervas Charles Robert Clay in 1936 and had a daughter: Gillian, and three sons: Robin, Nigel and Crispin.