Happy Birthday Baden Powell
By Darryl Alder
Feb 22, 2016

Happy Birthday to Baden Powell, Our Founder

Chief ScoutFor Christmas, my son gave me a copy of “The CHIEF SCOUT Sir Robert Baden Powell,” by W Francis Aitken. The book is a collector’s item published in 1912, though mine is a bit worn. In fact, it is so fragile I hardly dared open it. When I did, I found an early biography of BP, which was written just five years after Scouting started.

By the author’s words, it was clear BP was still a war hero and Aitken explained how he used his celebrity to start the Boy Scouts. To me it only seems fitting on this, his 159th birthday, to share some of BP’s life with our readers.

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (properly pronounced bayden-poēl), was born in London February 22,1857. According Aitken, at that time BP, as he was known,  “…is one of our a few really great Londoners.”

He was the eighth of ten children born to Professor Baden and Henrietta Powell. Aitken shares this of his family:  “He belongs to a family, every member of which has made some mark in the world. His father the Rev. Prof. Baden Powell was a distinguished scholar and scientist; his mother an exceptionally gifted” woman, his brothers and sister were all major players in English society. Sir George Baden Powell was important in negotiations between Great Britain and the Transvaal and was adviser to the British government in the Bering Sea controversy of 1893. Another brother, Major B F S Baden Powell (formerly of the Scots guards) made a great study of military ballooning. Henry Warrington  took up the practice of law as a barrister (specialists in advocacy who represent individuals or organizations in court, as independent sources of legal advice). His brother, Frank Smyth,  exhibited many of his works of art at the Royal Academy in London, the salon in Paris and many other galleries. His only sister A S Baden Powell pursued the arts, music, languages, astronomy and the study of natural history.”

“The last thing,” according Aitken, “thought up by the professor and his wife in the early training of their children was ‘book learning.’ The first schooling of these happy young people was in the open air in the quest of wild plants, flowers and butterflies, becoming familiar with the names of foliage and of the trees, the notes of song birds, the habits of animals and fishes. and the signs of the zodiac, all to be discussed at the mothers knee.”

His father died when B-P was only three years old, leaving the family in a challenging situation, but the outdoor education continued with other lessons given by his mother. At twelve, he attended Rose Hill preparatory school, where he earned a scholarship to Charterhouse School. There he was known for his jolly and likable disposition, pranking both students and headmasters. However, he was always eager to learn new skills, including piano and the violin. He also pursued his interests in drawing and trained himself to draw with each hand at the same time, sketching two different images at the same time.


B-Ps sketch of Matabelaland

He made good marks while at Charterhouse. There he began to exploit his interest in the arts of scouting and woodcraft in the woods around the school. B-P would hide from his masters and catch and cook rabbits, being careful not to let tell-tale smoke give his position away.

The holidays were not wasted either. With his brothers he was always in search of adventure. One holiday they made a yachting expedition round the south coast of England. On another, they traced the Thames to its source by canoe. Through all this Baden-Powell was learning the arts and crafts which were to prove so useful to him professionally.

At the end of school he took an examination for the army and placed second among several hundred applicants. He was commissioned straight into the 13th Hussars, bypassing the officer training establishments. Later, he became their Honorary Colonel.

Military Life

BP at Makeking during Boer War

BP at Makeking during Boer War

In 1876, he went to India as a young army officer and specialized in scouting (reconnoitering), map-making and reconnaissance. His success soon led to his training other soldiers. B-P’s methods were unorthodox for those days; small units or patrols working together under one leader, with special recognition for those who did well. For proficiency, B-P awarded his trainees badges resembling the traditional design of the north compass point. Today’s universal Scout badge is very similar.

Later he was stationed in the Balkans, South Africa and Malta. He returned to Africa to help defend the town of Mafeking during its 217-day siege at the start of the Boer War. It provided crucial tests for B-P’s scouting skills. The courage and resourcefulness shown by the young soldiers at Mafeking made a lasting impression on him and brought him fame throughout the United Kingdom.

After returning home as a military hero from service in Africa in 1903, he found that he had become a national figure. He also found that Aids to Scouting, the small handbook he had written for soldiers, was being used by youth leaders and teachers all over the country. To his surprise, English boys were reading his manual on stalking and survival in the wilderness for his military regiment.

During this same time, he spoke at many meetings and rallies, While at one such, a Boys’ Brigade gathering, he was asked by Sir William Smith to work out a scheme for giving greater variety in the training of boys in good citizenship.

Beginnings of the Movement

AIds to ScoutingB-P set to work rewriting Aids to Scouting for a younger audience. He rewrote the manual as a nonmilitary, nature skill book and called it Scouting for Boys, but not before meeting with many youth leaders from around globe, including gathering ideas from Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard, who were successful youth organization leaders.

To test his ideas, Baden-Powell brought together 22 boys to camp at Brownsea Island, off the coast of England. This historic campout was a success and resulted in the advent of Scouting. Thus, the imagination and inspiration of Baden-Powell, later proclaimed Chief Scout of the World, brought Scouting to youth the world over.

Scouting for Boys was published in 1908 in six parts sent out every two weeks. Sales of the book were tremendous and in just weeks boys throughout the UK formed themselves into Scout Patrols to try his ideas. What had been intended as a training aid for existing organizations became the handbook of a new and ultimately worldwide Movement.

In September 1908, B-P had to set up an office to deal with the large number of inquiries which were pouring in. Scouting spread quickly until it was established in practically all parts of the world. Scouting for Boys has since been translated into the major languages of the world and is used to build the program world-wide.

The Scoutmaster teaches boys to play the game by doing so himself. --Robert Baden-Powell

Sir Robert Baden-Powell

He retired from the army in 1910, at the age of 53, on the advice of King Edward VII, who suggested that he could now do more valuable service for his country within the Scout movement. With all his enthusiasm and energy now directed to the development of Boy Scouting and Girl Guiding, he traveled to all over the globe to encourage growth and give inspiration to fledgling Scouting movements every where.

In 1912, he married Olave Soames, who became his constant help and companion in all this work. She became greatly involved in Guiding and Girl Scouting. They had three children (Peter, Heather and Betty). Lady Olave Baden-Powell was later known as World Chief Guide.

Chief Scout of the world

bpworldThe first World Scout Jamboree took place at Olympia, London in 1920. At its closing scene B-P was unanimously acclaimed as Chief Scout of the World.

At the third World Jamboree, also held in England, the Prince of Wales announced that B-P would be given Peerage by His Majesty the King. From there B-P took the title of Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwel—Gilwell Park being the international training center he had created for Scout leader training and camping outside of London.

In his life, B-P wrote no fewer than 32 books, most outside of Scouting subjects. He received honorary degrees from at least six universities. In addition, 28 foreign orders and decorations and 19 foreign Scout awards were bestowed upon him.

In 1938, suffering from ill health, B-P returned to Africa, which had meant so much in his life, to live in semi-retirement at Nyeri, Kenya. Even there, he found it difficult to curb his energies, and he continued to produce books and sketches.

BPs GraveOn 8 January 1941, at 83 years of age, B-P died. He was buried in a simple grave at Nyeri within sight of Mount Kenya. On his head stone are the words “Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World” with emblems of the Boy Scout and Girl Guide Badges at its top. Lady Olave Baden-Powell carried on his work, promoting Scouting and Girl Guiding around the world until her death in 1977. She is buried alongside Lord Baden-Powell at Nyeri.

B-P prepared a farewell message to his Scouts for publication after his death. His advice of “try and leave this world a little better than you found it” is as relevant—if not more—today and continues to inspire young people all over the world.

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