Woodbadge History PDF Print E-mail
ImageIn 1911, 4 years after Scouting began in Great Britain, General Baden-Powell (B-P) began training Scouters through a series of lectures. In 1919, Mr. W.F. de Bois Maclaren a district commissioner in Scotland, purchased an estate in Epping Forest, near London, called Gilwell Park and presented it to the Scouting Association of Britain. He wanted "to provide a training ground for the officers of the Scouting movment." The ax and log symbol associated with Wood Badge is actually the totem of Gilwell Park. In feudal times, all property was owned by the wealthy nobles. Men who were bound to the land and owned by a nobleman were known as serfs, who were slaves. It was a crime for the serfs to cut wood from the forests owned by the nobles. Serfs could gather the scarce wood only from the floor of the forest. Warfare was dominated by these kings and lords. Men who served valiantly in their lord's army were rewarded by being declared freemen. Freemen were given the right of loppage, or permission to cut limbs from the nobleman's trees as high as they could reach with an ax. An ax carried in a nobleman's forest became the badge of a freeman, one who had earned the right by service. The grain of the handle of an ax is straight and true and set square in the eye of the head. The head has the proper temper, not too soft or too hard, and sharpened to a point of usefulness. The ax is well balanced and a very efficient tool in the hands of an experienced ax man. The ax in the log reminds us that those who wear the symbol have allowed their lives to be placed in the hands of God. They have proven themselves on service to others and walk the straight trail as examples to others. They have committed themselves to strengthen others through service and example.

On the morning of September 8, 1919, the 61 year-old retired general of the British Army stepped out into the center of a clearing at Gilwell Park. He raised to his lips the horn of a Greater Kudu, one of the largest of African antelopes. He blew a long sharp blast.

ImageNineteen men dressed in short pants and knee socks, their shirt-sleeves rolled up, assembled by patrols for the first "Scout Officers" (as they were then called) training camp held at Gilwell. The camp was designed and guided by Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the World Scouting Movement. When they had finished their training together on September 19, 1919, B-P gave each man a simple wooden bead from a necklace he had found in a deserted hut of a Zulu chieftain (see the history of the Wood Badge (beads)). The Scout Officers training course was a great success and continues to be held year-after-year. It continues to this day in England and around the world as the advanced training course for leaders in Scouting. In 1929 at the Third World Jamboree at Birkenhead, England, Sir Baden-Bowell was made a baron by his king, and became Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell.

In 1936, an experimental Wood Badge Course was conducted in the United States at the Schiff Scout Reservation. Then in 1948, the first American Wood Badge Course was introduced in the United States as advanced training for trainers of Boy Scout leaders. Later, the program was extended to include troop committee members, commissioners, and Explorer leaders. Experiments began in the late 1960's with a leadership development Wood Badge course emphasizing 11 leadership skills or "competencies." This program was launched in 1972 in support of a major revision of the Boy Scout phase program. The first experimental Cub Scout Trainer Wood Badge was field tested in 1976 and was established as the official advanced training program in Cub Scouting. In 1978, an evaluation of Boy Scout Leader Wood Badge revealed a need for greater emphasis on the practical aspects of good troop operation, mixed with a variety of leadership exercises. The course content was revised in 1994 to incorporate key elements of Ethics in Action introduced into Boy Scout training and literature.

In 2000, Wood Badge for the 21st Century was introduced. This course was completely new, building upon the traditions of Wood Badge, but incorporating the major revisions and encompassing all BSA program areas. Wood Badge for the 21st century may be delivered to all Scout leaders. It has been developed for Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, and Venturing leaders, as well as council and district leaders. Its focus is on leadership, not out-of-door skills.

The history of the WOOD BADGE (the beads)
At the end of the training of the first "Scout Officers" on September 19, 1919, B-P gave each man a simple wooden bead from a necklace he had found in a deserted hut of a Zulu chief named Dinizulu, in 1888. On state occasions, Dinizulu would wear a necklace, it was 12 feet long, containing, approximately 1,000 beads made from South African Acacia yellow wood. This wood has a soft central pith, which makes it easy for a rawhide lace to be threaded through from end to end and this is how the 1,000 beads were arranged. The beads themselves in size from tiny emblems to others 4 inches in length. The necklace was considered sacred, being the badge conferred on royalty and outstanding warriors. B-P felt that "Scout Officers" should receive some form of recognition. Originally, he envisaged that those who passed through Gilwell should wear an ornamental tassel on their Scout hats, but instead the alterative of two small beads attached to the lacing on the hat was instituted and designated the WOOD BADGE. B-P had got the idea for wearing beads on the hat during the First World War after seeing officers of the U.S. Expeditionary Force wearing broad-brimmed B.P. Stetson hats (not named after Baden-Powell but a Stetson trade name: 'Boss of the Plains') with acorns attached to the two ends of a thong that kept the hat from blowing off the head in a strong wind. He thought originally of having two beads attached in the same way on the Scout hat but changed his mind, when it was brought to his attention that Scout Leaders only wore their hats outdoors. B-P remembered that during the siege of Mafeking, B-P met an elderly African who queried his unusual depression. The man took from his neck a leather thong, placed it in B-P's hand and said, "Wear this. My mother gave it to me for luck. Now it will bring you luck." Taking two wood beads from the necklace and knotting them on the thong, B-P created the now famous Wood Badge to be worn around the neck and to be the only proficiency badge worn by Scoutleaders.

The first sets of beads issued were all from the original necklace but the supply soon ran short. So one exercise on the early courses was to be given one original Acacia bead and be told to carve the other from hornbeam or beech. Eventually beech wood beads became the norm and for many years were made by Gilwell staff in their spare time. Again, in the early days Wood Badge participants received one bead on taking the practical course at Gilwell and received a second bead on completing the theoretical part (answers to questions) and a certain length of inservice training. At Gilwell certain variations soon came about. Two bead necklaces were worn by Scouters, three beads by Assistant Leader Trainers (formerly called Assistant Camp Chiefs) and four by Leader Trainers (formerly called Deputy Camp Chiefs). With a revision of the pattern of Trainer Training, in recent years, the practice of awarding three and four bead necklaces has ceased. For a brief period, Wolf Cub Leaders (Cub Scout Leaders) had their own system. From 1922 until 1925, Wolf Cub Leaders were awarded a Wolfs Fang or an Akela Badge, comprising a single fang on a leather thong. Wolf Cub Leader Trainers, known also as Akela Leaders, wore two fangs. These fangs were bone tooth fangs -or wooden replicas and very few of them survive today. The use of the Akela Badge was short-lived for on 13th November 1925 the Committee of the Council decided that there should only be one type of badge for Leader Training, the Wood Badge but that it should, be worn '... with a distinctive mark...' to denote the section of the Movement with which the Leader was working. This mark took the form of a small colored abacustype bead, placed immediately above the knot on the leather bootlace. The beads were yellow for Cubs and green for Scouts did not last long. When foreign countries established Wood Badge training after the pattern set by Gilwell, the person in charge of originating the course was designated a Gilwell Deputy Camp Chief, representing Gilwell Park in his own country. According to a tradition supposedly established by BadenPowell, that person, could wear five beads. Most of these fifth beads were presented in the 1920s and 1930s but what happened to them and who wore them is not known. Baden-Powell himself wore six beads. However, B-P did also award a set of six beads to Sir Percy Everett. Sir Percy had been a friend of B-P since the original camp on Brownsea Island in 1907 and he became the Commissioner for Training and eventually the Deputy Chief Scout, B-P wish to acknowledge the tremendous debt that he owed to Sir Percy and so presented him with a six-bead necklace. In 1949, Sir Percy presented his sixbead necklace back to Gilwell to be worn as the badge of office of the Camp Chief, i.e. the person on the Gilwell staff responsible for Leader Training. John Thurman, then the Camp Chief, wore the necklace until his retirement in 1969. Today, it is worn by Stephen Peck, Director of Program and Development.

ImageHere in the BSA, upon successful completion of the Wood Badge Course and the Wood Badge Ticket, the participant will be presented with the Wood Badge (two beads on a leather thong), a certificate, neckerchief with the Maclaren tarten and leather woggle, at an appropriate public ceremony.

A three bead Wood Badge, are worn by Woodbadgers that have serve as a member of the staff on a Wood Badge Course. The four bead Wood Badge, are worn by Woodbadgers that have serve as Course Director of a Wood Badge Course.
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