Today is the joint birthday of Lord Baden-Powell (1857) and his wife Olave (1889). B-P, as he was often called in the scouts, was an army general, distinguished for his actions during the siege of Mafeking during the Boer War, and for his role in the creation of the Boy Scout movement. In many ways his life is an enigma, not merely because he was a Victorian colonial soldier whose mores are largely unfathomable, and occasionally objectionable, to the modern mind, but because so much about him seemed quirky even to his contemporaries. Marrying Olave when he was 55 and she was 23 is a tame example. He praised Hitler’s Mein Kampf although he grumbled that Hitler did not follow his own precepts. All in all, I believe that B-P was a simple man, bordering on innocence, with little guile or introspection, yet a dogged believer in basic Victorian values such as bravery, honesty, patriotism and whatnot. He was fiercely opposed to snobbishness and racism, believing firmly in equality. I was a wolf cub, then boy scout, from age 9 to 17 in Australia and England, so that most of my boyhood was infused with B-P’s doctrines. I was given a copy of Scouting for Boys when I left the cubs and entered the scouts, and read it cover to cover many times over. My tenderfoot certificate had a large, classic photo of B-P on it, and his name was often invoked in meetings. I attended the 12th World Scout Jamboree in Idaho where Olave was a featured speaker. I can’t recall much of her speech except that it was the usual “do your best” stuff, and she was very warmly received.
Baden-Powell was born as Robert Stephenson Smyth Powell, familiarly called Stephe (pronounced “Stevie”), at 6 Stanhope Street (now 11 Stanhope Terrace), Paddington, in London. He was named after his godfather, Robert Stephenson, the railway and civil engineer. His third name was his mother’s name before marriage. After attending Rose Hill School, Tunbridge Wells, during which his favorite brother Augustus died, 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. He spent holidays on yachting or canoeing expeditions with his brothers.
In 1876, R.S.S. Baden-Powell, as he styled himself then, joined the 13th Hussars in India with the rank of lieutenant. He enhanced and honed his military scouting skills amidst the Zulu in the early 1880s in the Natal province of South Africa, where his regiment had been posted, and where he was Mentioned in Despatches. Baden-Powell’s skills impressed his superiors and he was brevetted Major as Military Secretary and senior Aide-de-camp of the Commander-in-Chief and Governor of Malta, his uncle General Sir Henry Augustus Smyth. He was posted in Malta for three years, also working as intelligence officer for the Mediterranean for the Director of Military Intelligence. He frequently travelled disguised as a butterfly collector, incorporating plans of military installations into his drawings of butterfly wings.
Baden-Powell returned to Africa in 1896, and served in the Second Matabele War, in the expedition to relieve British South Africa Company personnel under siege in Bulawayo. This was a formative experience for him not only because he commanded reconnaissance missions into enemy territory in the Matopos Hills, but also because many of his later Boy Scout ideas took hold here. It was during this campaign that he first met and befriended the U.S. army scout Frederick Russell Burnham, who introduced Baden-Powell to stories of the American Old West and woodcraft (i.e., scoutcraft), and here that he wore his signature campaign hat and neckerchief for the first time (adopted by British Boy Scouts).
Baden-Powell was accused of illegally executing a prisoner of war in 1896, the Matabele chief Uwini, who had been promised his life would be spared if he surrendered. Uwini was shot by firing squad under Baden-Powell’s instructions. Baden-Powell was cleared by the intervention of a military inquiry but the colonial civil authorities wanted a civil investigation and trial. Baden-Powell later claimed he was “released without a stain on my character.” Baden-Powell was also accused of allowing native African warriors under his command to massacre enemy prisoners including women, children and non-combatants.
After Rhodesia, Baden-Powell served in the Fourth Ashanti War in Gold Coast. In 1897, at the age of 40, he was brevetted colonel (the youngest colonel in the British Army) and given command of the 5th Dragoon Guards in India. A few years later he wrote a small manual, entitled Aids to Scouting, a summary of lectures he had given on the subject of military scouting, much of it a written explanation of the lessons he had learned from Burnham, to help train recruits. Using this and other methods he was able to train them to think independently, use their initiative, and survive in the wilderness.
Baden-Powell returned to South Africa before the Second Boer War and was engaged in further military actions against the Zulus. He organized the Legion of Frontiersmen to assist the regular army. Although instructed to maintain a mobile mounted force on the frontier with the Boer republic, Baden-Powell amassed stores and a garrison at Mafeking. While engaged in this, he and much of his intended mobile force was at Mafeking when it was surrounded by a Boer army, at times in excess of 8,000 men.
Baden-Powell was the garrison commander during the subsequent Siege of Mafeking, which lasted 217 days. Although Baden-Powell could have destroyed his stores and had sufficient forces to break out throughout much of the siege, especially since the Boers lacked adequate artillery to shell the town or its forces, he remained in the town to the point that his intended mounted soldiers ate their horses. The garrison held out until relieved, in part thanks to cunning deceptions devised by Baden-Powell. Fake minefields were planted and his soldiers pretended to avoid non-existent barbed wire while moving between trenches. Baden-Powell did most of the reconnaissance work himself. In one instance noting that the Boers had not removed the rail line, Baden-Powell loaded an armored locomotive with sharpshooters and successfully sent it down the rails into the heart of the Boer encampment and back again in a strategic attempt to wipe out the Boer leadership.
During the siege, the Mafeking Cadet Corps of white boys below fighting age stood guard, carried messages, assisted in hospitals, and so on, freeing grown men to fight. Baden-Powell did not form the Cadet Corps himself, and there is no evidence that he took much notice of them during the Siege. But he was sufficiently impressed with both their courage and the equanimity with which they performed their tasks to use them later as an object lesson in the first chapter of Scouting for Boys.
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 organizations. 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. There is some question as to whether Baden-Powell plagiarized segments of Seton’s work, but I think this is overblown. Both worked together and Seton became chief scout of the Boy Scouts of America which arose at the same time as scouting in Britain, on similar guidelines.
Boys and girls in Britain 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 formalized 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 in West Kensington, 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 honor, Baden-Powell mostly styled himself “Baden-Powell of Gilwell”.
In 1929, during the 3rd World Scout Jamboree, he received as a present a new 20-horsepower Rolls-Royce car (chassis number GVO-40, registration OU 2938) and an Eccles Caravan. This combination well served the Baden-Powells in their further travels around Europe. The caravan was nicknamed Eccles and is now on display at Gilwell Park. The car, nicknamed Jam Roll, was sold after his death by Olave Baden-Powell in 1945. Jam Roll and Eccles were reunited at Gilwell for the 21st World Scout Jamboree in 2007. Recently it has been purchased on behalf of Scouting and is owned by a charity, B-P Jam Roll Ltd.
At the 5th World Scout Jamboree in 1937, Baden-Powell gave his farewell to Scouting, and retired from public Scouting life. 22 February, the joint birthday of Robert and Olave Baden-Powell, continues to be marked as Founder’s Day by Scouts and Thinking Day by Guides to remember and celebrate the work of the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World.
In his final letter to the Scouts, Baden-Powell wrote:
I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have a happy life too. I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness does not come from being rich, nor merely being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so you can enjoy life when you are a man. Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one. But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. ‘Be Prepared’ in this way, to live happy and to die happy — stick to your Scout Promise always — even after you have ceased to be a boy — and God help you to do it.
People often get the pronunciation of Baden-Powell wrong. Here’s what he wrote:
Man, Matron, Maiden,
Please rhyme it with Baden.
And as for Powell
Please rhyme it with Noel.
One of the first merit badges that I earned in Australia was the cook’s badge (no big surprise). When I became a senior scout I went on to earn the master cook badge. The main tests for both badges involved campfire cooking, of course, a pursuit which I’ve continued all my life. In these posts I’ve occasionally mentioned campfire cooking which admittedly requires a degree of experience. Chief of the skills needed is the ability to light a fire and maintain it. This was one of the most basic woodcraft skills, tested very early on in the scouts. When I took my test we were allowed one sheet of newspaper as a starter, and TWO matches only. We had to gather the wood and build the fire ourselves. I’ll admit that I nearly failed first time around, but a mate cheated and helped me. This follows Baden-Powell’s original Scout Law (#3):
- A SCOUT’S DUTY IS TO BE USEFUL AND TO HELP OTHERS.
It wasn’t quite in the spirit of the test to have someone essentially do it for me, but no one minded, and I passed. Likewise, when I was doing the cook’s badge and trying to make a twist, which I describe here, (https://www.bookofdaystales.com/australia-day/ ) the stick I had prepared for it was way too dry and would have burnt instantly when I started to cook, but a mate said “hold on” and went off and cut a good stout green stick that was perfect.
Obviously if you are going to indulge in campfire cooking you need a place where you can light a fire and keep it going, without the neighbors complaining and without starting a wildfire. I’ve shown my fire pit before. Here it is again (with my smoker in the background). It’s built in a circle using river stones around the edge. These keep the fire contained, keep the heat inside, and act as a wall on which to place grills and other supports for cooking equipment.
Ideally you should have cooking stones, such as slate, a griddle, and pots that can withstand the flames. I use cast iron pots. You also need to master lighting a fire and maintaining a constant heat. This is a sheer matter of practice. For fire lighting there are two rules I follow. First, I never use an accelerant such as kerosene or a commercial fire starting liquid. This soaks into the wood and imparts a nasty flavor to the food cooked over it. Second, I always keep old ash and half burnt logs in the pit because they act as a catalyst for a new fire. Starting a new fire without them is possible but takes a lot longer. Maintaining a constant heat just takes practice. One good method is to build two fires, which is the normal practice with Argentine open fire cooking. The first is made of new wood burning brightly and the second – the cooking fire – is made of hot coals constantly replenished from the first.
You can cook just about anything you want on a campfire, but there is little point in making toast, scrambled eggs, or spaghetti on a campfire at home when you can make them more efficiently in the kitchen. I’ve done it to amuse my son when he was a little boy but only to teach him the wide utility of a campfire. One chief advantage of a wood fire is the smoky flavor it imparts to things cooked over it: meats, obviously, but also vegetables. For my son, the great treat was toasting marshmallows. For this we used a long green stick, pushed the marshmallow on the end, and held it over the flames. It quickly turns brown and can be eaten – crisp and caramelized on the outside; melted in the middle. We also made s’mores. A simple method is to toast a marshmallow then place it between two graham crackers with some chocolate and squeeze a little. I always preferred to make them by making the same kind of sandwich but then wrapping it in foil and placing it on or near the fire so that the whole filling melted to make a gooey mess. Choice of ingredients is up to you. I prefer dark chocolate and plain marshmallows, but milk chocolate and flavored marshmallows work just as well. Try adding some sliced banana, or peanut butter. Live it up !!