The Life of Our Founder, Chief Scout of the World
Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, more affectionately known as “B.-P.”, was born in London, England, on February 22, 1857. At the age of 12 he received a scholarship from Charterhouse School, one of England’s famous public schools. The school was then located in London, but it soon moved to Godalming in Surrey. There were some woods just outside the school; these were “out-of-bounds” for the pupils. It was here that B.-P. practiced stalking wildlife. He is said to have snared rabbits and cooked them over a small fire so that smoke didn’t give him away to the school masters. (This was to be valuable training for later in his career.)
Choosing a military career, B.-P. served in campaigns in India, Afghanistan and South Africa. He became world famous during the Boer War for the defense of Mafeking, a small town in South Africa. With 800 men, he was besieged by a force of 9,000 Boer soldiers. His small force held out against these immense odds for 217 days – until a relief column of British soldiers arrived.
At Mafeking B.-P. organized his “Messenger Cadets”. Trained in efficiency, obedience and smartness, they performed many tasks – relieving soldiers for active defense of the town. After the Boer War, B.-P. organized the South African Constabulary and designed a uniform for them that later became the basic Boy Scout uniform.
While still in Africa, B.-P. wrote “Aids to Scouting” – a manual designed to train soldiers to become army scouts. Many youth and organizations in Britain used ideas from this manual as the basis of adventurous programs. He discussed this matter with Sir William Smith, the founder of the Boy’s Brigade, and other Leading youth workers.
He planned a camp to test his program ideas. The camp was held from July 25 to August 9 in 1907 on Brownsea Island. The “Scoutmaster” was Lt.-Gen. Robert Baden-Powell. His assistants were B.W. Green, H. Robson and P.W. Everett. The camp was a tremendous success. Based on this experiment B.-P. wrote his book “Scouting for Boys” which was published in 6 parts starting in January, 1908. It has been printed in many editions – the current edition is the last one edited by B.-P.. By the end of 1908 this book was translated into five other languages. The skethes in teh book were all done by B.-P. – most of them based on his own exciting career.
In 1909, King Edward VII, who had taken a great deal of interest in this new movement, made the founder a Knight in recognition of his work for boys. At this time, B.-P. was Inspector General of Cavalry. King Edward noted the Boy Scout Movement was so important that B.-P. would do his country a great service if he would resign from the army and devote his life full time to Scouting.
B.-P. did so, and the Movement grew by leaps and bounds. It was King Edward VII who inaugurated the King’s Scout badge, later changed by Queen Elizabeth to Queen’s Scout badge. Scouting spread throughout England, the Commonwealth and other countries. Scouting came to Canada in May, 1908. It started in many communities at the same time and there is no way to know which community had Scouting first. Chile was the first non-Commonwealth country to adopt the Scouting program.
In 1912, B.-P. met and later married Miss Olave Soames, who later became the Chief Guide. In 1920, the International Conference of Scouting was formed and, at the World Jamboree in 1920, B.-P. was acclaimed as Chief Scout of the World – the only person to ever hold that title.
B.-P. devoted the rest of his life to Scouting and the promotion of world brotherhood. He believed that no better way could be found than by enrolling youth in Scouting – a Movement that had no national boundaries. In 1929, at the “Coming of Age” Jamboree, King George V made the founder a Baron. Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell took his title from Gilwell Park, the International Training Centre for Scouters. It is located in Epping Forest – just outside of London, England.
In failing health, B.-P. took up residence in Africa in 1937. On January 8, 1941, rich in both years and service, B.-P. died. His grave is in Nyeri, in the shadow of Mount Kenya. His tombstone bears the simple inscription: “Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World, born February 22nd, 1857, died January 8th, 1941”. Carved into the stone are cut the Scout and Guide badges and the familiar circle with the dot in the centre signifying “Gone Home”.