"B-P" CHIEF SCOUT
OF THE WORLD
The name of Baden-Powell is known and respected throughout
the world as that of a man who in his 83 years led two
separate and complete lives, one as a soldier fighting
for his country, and the other as a worker for peace
through the brotherhood of the Scout Movement.
Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, known as B-P,
was born at 6 Stanhope Street (now 11, Stanhope Terrace)
Paddington, London on 22nd February 1857. He was the
sixth son and the eighth of ten children of the Reverend
Baden Powell, a Professor at Oxford University. The
names Robert Stephenson were those of his Godfather,
the son of George Stephenson the railway pioneer.
His father died when B-P was only three years old and
the family were left none too well off. B-P was given
his first lessons by his mother and later attended Rose
Hill School, Tunbridge Wells, where he gained a scholarship
for admittance to Charterhouse School. Charterhouse
School was in London when B-P first attended but whilst
he was there it moved to Godalming in Surrey, a factor
which had great influence later in his life.
He was always eager to learn new skills. He played
the piano and the violin. He acted - and acted the clown
too at times. While at Charterhouse 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 as well as 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. In all this Baden-Powell was learning
the arts and crafts which were to prove so useful to
B-P was certainly not known for his high marks at school,
as his end-of-term reports revealed. One records "mathematics
- has to all intents given up the study", and another
"French - could do well but has become lazy, often
sleeps in school".
Nevertheless 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.
In 1876 he went to India as a young army officer and
specialized in scouting, map-making and reconnaissance.
His success soon led to his training other soldiers
for the work. 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 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 boys in
the corps of messengers at Mafeking made a lasting impression
on him. In turn, his deeds made a lasting impression
Returning home in 1903 he found that he had become
a national hero. He also found that the small handbook
he had written for soldiers ("Aids to Scouting")
was being used by youth leaders and teachers all over
the country to teach observation and woodcraft.
He spoke at meetings and rallies and whilst at a Boys'
Brigade gathering he was asked by its Founder, Sir William
Smith, to work out a scheme for giving greater variety
in the training of boys in good citizenship.
OF THE MOVEMENT
B-P set to work rewriting "Aids to Scouting",
this time for a younger readership. In 1907 he held
an experimental camp on Brownsea Island, Poole, Dorset,
to try out his ideas. He brought together 22 boys, some
from private schools and some from working class homes,
and put them into camp under his leadership. The whole
world now knows the results of that camp.
"Scouting for Boys" was published in 1908
in six fortnightly parts. Sales of the book were tremendous.
Boys formed themselves into Scout Patrols to try out
ideas. What had been intended as a training aid for
existing organizations became the handbook of a new
and ultimately worldwide Movement. B-P's great understanding
of boys obviously touched something fundamental in the
youth of England and worldwide.
"Scouting for Boys" has since been translated
into more than 35 languages.
Without fuss, without ceremony and completely spontaneously
boys began to form Scout Troops all over the country.
In September 1908 Baden-Powell had set up an office
to deal with the large number of enquiries which were
Scouting spread quickly throughout the British Empire
and to other countries until it was established in practically
all parts of the world. It was abolished later in countries
which became totalitarian (Scouting is essentially democratic
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.
So all his enthusiasm and energy were now directed
to the development of Boy Scouting and Girl Guiding.
(Girl Guiding had started in 1909 when girls attended
the first Scout rally at Crystal Palace in London and
asked B-P how they could become Scouts.) He travelled
to all parts of the world, wherever he was most needed,
to encourage growth and give the inspiration that he
alone could give.
In 1912 he married Olave Soames who was his constant
help and companion in all this work. They had three
children (Peter, Heather and Betty). Olave Lady Baden-Powell
was later known as World Chief Guide.
The first international Scout Jamboree took place
at Olympia, London in 1920. At its closing scene
B-P was unanimously acclaimed as Chief Scout of
Successive International gatherings, whether
of Scouts or of leaders proved that this was not
an honorary title, but that he was truly regarded
by them all as their Chief. The shouts that heralded
his arrival, and the silence that fell when he
raised his hand, proved beyond any doubt that
he had captured the hearts and imaginations of
his followers in whatever country they lived.
At the third World Jamboree, held in Arrowe Park,
Birkenhead, England, the Prince of Wales announced
that B-P would be given Peerage by H.M. the King.
The news was received with great rejoicing. B-P
took the title of Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell.
Gilwell Park was the international training Centre
he had created for Scout leaders.
Scouting was not B-P's only interest. He enjoyed
acting, fishing, playing polo and big game hunting.
He was a very good artist, working in pencil and
water-colours. He also had an interest in sculpting
and making home movies.
B-P wrote no fewer than 32 books. He received
honorary degrees from at least six Universities.
In addition, 28 foreign orders and decorations
and 19 foreign Scout awards were bestowed upon
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.
On January 8th, 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" surmounted by the Boy
Scout and Girl Guide Badges. 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 this farewell message* to his Scouts,
for publication after his death:
"Dear Scouts - If you have ever seen the
play "Peter Pan" you will remember
how the pirate chief was always making his dying
speech because he was afraid that possibly when
the time came for him to die he might not have
time to get it off his chest. It is much the
same with me, and so, although I am not at this
moment dying, I shall be doing so one of these
days and I want to send you a parting word of
Remember, it is the last time you will ever
hear from me, so think it over.
I have had a most happy life and I want each
one of you to have as happy a life too.
I believe that God put us in this jolly world
to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn't
come from being rich, nor merely from 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
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
when you have ceased to be a boy - and God help
you to do it.
*This message is undated but probably was written
before 1929 because it was signed "Robert
Baden-Powell" instead of "Baden-Powell
of Gilwell". Lady Baden-Powell said that
this letter, in an envelope addressed "to
the Boy Scouts," along with other papers
was always carried with them on their travels
in an envelope marked "In the event of my
This fact sheet is adapted from one of the
same name published by The Scout Association,
World Organization of the Scout Movement
Box 91, 1211 Geneva 4 Plainpalais, Switzerland Telephone (+41 22) 705 1010 Telefax (+41 22) 705 1020