The birth of Baden-Powell
Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell was born in London, England, on February 22, 1857. We still celebrate his birthday during a special week in February known as Scout-Guide Week.
As a youth attending Charterhouse School in London, Baden-Powell had lots of energy, but he was not much of a scholar. He preferred music, acting, and sketching. He could use his left hand as well as his right hand and in later years astounded Scout audiences by sketching two pictures simultaneously with a pencil in each hand.
When his school moved to Godalming, Surrey, Baden-Powell loved the nearby wooded area known as “The Copse”. He developed many outdoor skills that he later brought to Scouting.
His experiment in the British army
Commissioned in the British Army at the age of 19, Baden-Powell served for many years in India, South Africa, and Afghanistan. Baden-Powell’s experiences in the British Army are what made Scouting possible. It was during his service in Africa that Baden Powell experienced many things that have become Scouting traditions. He acquired a long necklace of wooden beads that had belonged to the Zulu Chief Dinizulu.
Replicas of these beads are still presented at advanced training for Scouters. The idea of the left handshake also came to Baden-Powell when he learned that Ashanti warriors extended their left hands as a symbolic gesture of trust. The left handshake required that the shield, the Ashanti warrior’s means of defense, had to be put aside.
First scout manual
Also during this time in South Africa, Baden-Powell wrote a training manual called Aids to Scouting. It was used to teach soldiers basic survival skills, camping, and other backwoods lessons that led to self-sufficiency in the field.
When the Second Boer War broke out in 1899, Colonel Baden-Powell was ordered to defend Mafeking (known today as Mahikeng), a town in South Africa, with two battalions of mounted rifles (about 800 men). The town was besieged for 217 days until relief came. The conflict led to hundreds of fatalities. Boys as young as nine years old organized in small groups and helped out by running messages and serving as orderlies. They impressed Baden-Powell with their courage. Baden-Powell organized clever tricks that were used to fool the Boers, who were as many as ten times in number. As a result of defending Mafeking, Baden-Powell was regarded by many in Britain as a national hero.
After the Boer War, Baden-Powell commanded the South Africa Constabulary and organized them in small units under non-commissioned officers. The uniform he designed (shirt, shorts, scarf, and broad-brimmed hat) influenced the Scout uniform. Baden-Powell adopted the green and yellow colors of this uniform as Scout colors.
Aids in scouting
On his return from Africa in 1903, Baden-Powell found that his military training manual, Aids to Scouting, had become a bestseller, and was being used by young people, teachers, and youth organizations. Baden-Powell was involved in the Boys’ Brigade at that time and was asked to apply his Scouting skills to youth development.
First scout camp
In 1907, Baden-Powell ran an experimental camp to test out some of his ideas with 20 boys from all segments of society. It was held on Brownsea Island, off the south coast of England. He was so pleased with the camp that in 1908 he published Scouting for Boys. Hundreds of youth in all parts of the country read the book and set out to put Baden-Powell’s suggestions into practice. By 1909, the movement had grown and a rally at Crystal Palace was attended by 11,000 Scouts.
Girl guide movement
Scouting spread to many countries and Baden-Powell designed programs for both younger and older boys. Girls, too, wanted to become Scouts, and with the help of his sister, Agnes (and, later, his wife, Olave), Baden-Powell introduced similar programs for them, launching the Girl Guide Movement.
Scout around the world
In 1929, King George V made Baden-Powell a baron. Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell was his new title. William de Bois Maclaren donated Gilwell Hall, in Epping Forest, Essex, England, to the Scouting movement for a camp. Baden-Powell envisioned it as a training place for Scouters. It is still run like a camp and training facility to this day!
Baden-Powell continued to promote Scouting all over the world, encouraging each country to interpret the Movement in Scout symbols' way. He also continued to write on Scouting subjects, illustrating articles and books with his sketches. Today, Scouting is the largest youth organization in the world, with approximately 40 million members in over 200 countries and territories.
At the age of 80, Baden-Powell returned to his beloved South Africa, with Lady Baden-Powell. He died four years later, in Kenya, on January 8, 1941.
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