Major Baden F S Baden-Powell - 1860-1937
ANOTHER similarity with the Sea Scouting Milestone Page is that this also begins with a profile of one of Baden-Powell's brothers. It is reasonable to suppose that the Chief Scout would look to those around him, especially his nearest and dearest, to provide expertise when he thought it was relevant to the cause. Warington Baden-Powell's credentials were not found lacking in Sea Scouting and his influence was profound. I believe that many people will be surprised to find that the same holds true for Baden Baden-Powell and Air Scouting.
Firstly, an explanation of the name is in order. The Chief Scout was not baptised Robert Baden-Powell. He was the son of the Reverend Professor Powell whose Christian name was Baden. The Rev. Baden Powell died in 1860 when Robert was only three, but not before he had fathered the last of his ten children, Baden Fletcher Smyth Powell. Baden-Powell's Biographer, William Hillcourt, says kindly that Mrs Henrietta Powell decided to change the family name to honour her dead husband. However, she did little without good reason and much of what she did was to improve her own, and her children's status in society. A double-barrelled name would help. So, the youngest son, on September 21st, 1869, took on the unlikely name of Baden Baden-Powell. We are not told what his school friends made of that!
Invitation to a Balloon Garden Party
IN 1880 Baden Baden-Powell witnessed his first balloon ascent, and was enthralled. He made a point of getting to know some of the Balloonists and joined the Aeronautical Society, as it was then called. In 1882 he was commissioned in the Scots Guards, but his passion for things aeronautical was unabated. Aged only 23, he gave a lecture to his elders and betters at the Royal United Services Institution on Ballooning - and what he had to say on that occasion, as indeed was the case often in his life, turned out to be prophetic.
"It seems surprising that a body of aeronauts does not form a regular branch of every civilised army."
Baden B-P seized the opportunity of going to see anything that had the potential to fly and, like his mother and brother, was very good in making important connections with the great and good of the day. He visited the Zeppelin works in Germany, was present at many major pioneer balloon ascents in Europe and the USA and developed and proved his own design for man-lifting kites. At Pirbright Camp in 1894, Baden constructed a huge kite 36 feet tall, which raised him off the ground. Later that year, with five smaller kites only 12 feet high, his 11-stone (150-pound) body was lifted to an altitude of 100 feet.
Baden Baden-Powell is either in the air, on at the forefront of the picture as his kite lifts its human load
In 1886, with only six active members left in the dwindling society, Baden was elected a member of the Council of the Aeronautical Society, a role he was to fill for over 50 years. Around this time however, his duties in the army led him to travel to even more countries than his more illustrious older brother. They were, though, both in South Africa during the Boer War, resulting in an amazing coincidence at the Relief of Mafeking on May 17th, 1900. Baden Baden-Powell entered Mafeking with the Relief forces and reportedly woke his brother from his slumbers to tell him that Mafeking had been relieved!
In 1901, Marconi used one of Baden Baden-Powell's 'Levitor' kites to help make the first electronic wireless transmission and this apparatus, complete with 'Levitor' kite, was used in the field in the later stages of the Boer War. Baden's kites were also put to use in transferring mail from the destroyer Daring to another ship.
On his return from South Africa in 1902, Baden Baden-Powell became President of the Aeronautical Society and the Society prospered. It became the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1918 and today has a membership of over 18,500. His interest spread to powered flight and in 1908, just before the first powered flight in England, he went to France to fly with Wilbur Wright, one of the two Wright brothers who were the first to achieve powered flight in the US in 1903. He wrote at the time:
"That Wilbur Wright is in possession of a power which controls the fate of nations is beyond dispute."
He developed his own plans for a military plane, which he tried to sell to the War Office. At the 1909 Olympia Air Show, he successfully demonstrated his own semi-rigid air ship and clockwork aeronautical camera. Baden Baden-Powell was also an early glider pilot and in 1910 designed and flew his own lightweight powered monoplane 'The Midge'. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society in 1919, a position he retained until he died 1937.
This is only a very brief account of Baden Baden-Powell's achievements, the significance of which are certainly recognised by the Society he served so well. The Royal Aeronautical Society still has his portrait as the major exhibit in the reception area of their London offices and they are proud to recognise the pioneering role he had in the history of flight. (See Sources below)
Baden Baden-Powell was without doubt a visionary and, like most prophets, attracted a fair amount of scorn and derision at one time or another. In answer to his critics in the early days of the 20th Century he wrote:
"What will the good citizens of London say when they see a hostile dynamite-carrying aerostat hovering over St Paul's?"
These words came to have a terrible significance in both the First and Second World Wars.
FROM around the same time that Baden Baden-Powell was designing his own flying machines comes this early example of Scout air-mindedness. The rare postcard reproduced here, features possibly the first photograph ever captured of Scouts and Air Activity. It was taken about 1911, possibly at an Air Show where the Scouts might have been used as 'pushers and tuggers' to move the machines around on the ground. The plane on the ground is a Bleriot (also shown on the Cigarette Card below) and Grahame-White is in the air flying a Farnam biplane. (Any more information about this image would be very much appreciated.)
Claude Grahame-White (b. 1879) was one of the foremost British aeronautical pioneers.He survived into old age, where so many of the other early aviators, such as the Hon. C S Rolls, were killed in accidents. Grahame-White was the first Englishman to gain an aviator's certificate in 1909, was the first British pilot to fly at night and to carry mail. He won the prestigious Gordon Bennett Cup with the then record speed of 60½mph in 1910 and would have won a £10,000 prize offered by a newspaper for the fastest flight between London and Manchester, except for the fact that those employed to look after his 'plane the night before, (not Scouts!) did not, and it turned over in a gale. He founded the First British Flying School, was the owner of Hendon Airfield before the First World War and organised many early Air Shows. He ran a successful aviation factory and published many works on aircraft from both historical and technical aspects. Grahame-White was a practical visionary, but, like Baden Baden-Powell, he was not supported by the Government of the day. Perhaps as a result of this, Germany had twice as many aircraft than Great Britain at the start of the First World War.
Agnes Baden-Powell (far right) with Claude Graham-White (wearing boater)
The Headquarters Gazette in December 1911 announced the availability of the Airman's Badge (also shown on the Ogden's Cigarette Card below), which could be won by attending a course of lectures in aeronautics arranged by Capt. Boyse of S.E. London Council. Details could be had from the Women's Aerial League. This 'League', being all-women before the First World War, must have been somewhat revolutionary. I am indebted to Ian Leonard, who has taken the trouble to search his archive of early flight material for the following information, taken from Flight magazine of August 12th, 1911.
"The Women's Ariel League had recently attended Hendon with the intent of becoming airborne in one or Mr Graham-White's machines but unfortunately the weather "was anything but propitious", but Mr Graham-White had difficulty in persuading the ladies that flight that day was really not a good idea."
The main importance of this article to Scouting is the photograph reproduced here.
Many members of the League are named in the article, including Miss Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of the famous Suffragette. Many of the ladies were connected with the 'Votes for Women' movement. This would not have deterred the Chief Scout from allowing their involvement; he was later to address meetings of Suffragists. (Suffragists, unlike the Suffragettes, were not prepared to break the law to achieve the vote for women.) The Women's Aerial League were to figure prominently in training Scouts for the Airman's Badge over the next few years.
The Headquarters Gazette of June 1912 announced another 'Airman's Course for Scouts' -
"Specially arranged by the Young Aerial League for Scouts.
- To provide a new field of action for which their services for their country would be of very great value, for, in case of an invasion by an enemy's air force, Boy Scouts with special training would be too able to identify machines in flight, estimate their height, speed, direction etc and report to the right authorities.
- To develop the inventiveness and powers of observation of the Scouts.
- To give them an intelligent understanding of the aeronautical movement at home and abroad.
- To provide an elementary course which will be a sound foundation.
- To advise boys having original ideas concerning flying machines to build models embodying their ideas."
The course had the following resources available:-
Grahame-White company trademark
"'Flying for you and me', specially written for Scouts, and a 'Set of 72 Lantern Slides'."
"The League will issue its own certificates on completion of the course." (I wonder if there any of these still in existence?)
The Scout of July 25th, 1912, was 'A Flying Number', it came out on the same day that the Kite and Model Aeroplane Association were holding competitions for models made by boys at the Hendon Aerodrome. (This was very probably the location for the postcard featured above, as we know Grahame-White was present.)
One of the competitions was especially for Scouts, with a silver cup as first prize, presented by Mr Grahame-White. The Scout provided both the second and third prizes. It is not surprising that the Kite and Model Aeroplane Association should be sponsoring Scout air activities, as its President was none other than Baden Baden-Powell. A special issue of The Scout to mark the event carried a 'New Aeroplane Serial', flying stories by Grahame-White, S F Cody (Samuel Franklin Cody was born in 1861 in the USA, but became a naturalised British subject. He was the first pilot to make a powered flight in Great Britain - flying for 27 minutes in 1908 in the first practical flying machine of his own make and was killed while flying in 1913.), and Miss Bacon, an Officer of the Young Aerial League. There were articles on flying, 'Airman's Fingerposts', 'Aeroplanes and Airships', 'How to make darts and other simple flying toys' and 'How to make a tailless kite'.
There was no doubt that boys all over the country were becoming 'air-minded' and the Scout Movement at local and national levels encouraged their interest.
Historians are inevitably asked the question, "When was the first....?" or its variation "Who was the first...?" Generally, in relation to Scouting, the question revolves round the first group. There are numerous contenders, but, in the case of Air Scouting, if the question is "Who were the first Scouts to pilot an aircraft?" or even "Which group was the first to own its own aircraft?", there appears to be an outright winner!
The caption to this poor photograph read 'The above photograph depicts the "aeroplane" without engines, made by members of the 1st East Grinstead Troop of Boy Scouts'
The answer started me in the face for some long time, but seemed so outrageous that I was not prepared to accept it! In a 1912 issue of Headquarters Gazette there is a small version of the photograph shown here. With it were a few lines relating to the fact that an East Grinstead troop of Boy Scouts had flown a glider at a local fête. That was all there was. After peering into the depths of the very murky photograph and looking at the proximity of the trees and pondering how such a machine could be got into the air, I came to the reasonable conclusion that East Grinstead Scouts were treating the public to a display of model aircraft flying and that the suspended figure (far more indistinct on the original photograph) was some sort of 'doll' added to give a touch of realism. Imagine my surprise, some months later, whilst sharing my friend Ian Leonard's enthusiasm for the latest book he had acquired on early flight, to see a clearer example of the same photograph and to read the following: "East Grinstead Scouts achieved flight in a glider they had built, of the Chanute type, of over 200ft - 25ft above the ground"
The aircraft had a wingspan of 20ft. The two Scouts who took turns to pilot the aircraft were Patrol Leaders Smith and Beard. The question of how the aircraft was launched into the air was not broached. The even more important question of just how the device was landed was not mentioned either. The intrepid Scout must have had to take the modern phrase literally and 'hit the ground running'!
Perhaps a modern-day East Grinstead Scout might have some knowledge to share, or a least support my surmise that their Scouts, East Grinstead being very near to Hendon, might well have been the very ones on the postcard above taken in 1911, probably at Hendon.
IN July 1917 Headquarters Gazette carried news of 'Aircraft Scouts'. Special classes were being established for training Scouts for 'Army Aircraft Duties'. It appears that these courses, funded and equipped by the War Office, were yielding excellent results. B-P in his 'Outlook' of November 1918, was still fighting the battle against the imposition of compulsory membership of the Army Cadet Corps.
"What do we suggest as better than the military form of training? Well - not to put too fine a point on it, - Scouting. And for the older boy Sea Scouting or Air Scouting for choice.
"The un-looked for success in the Sea Scouting Branch, and the equally promising results in our Aviation Classes at ten different centres encourage us to proceed now to further developments in these directions."
Many ex-Scouts joined the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, which became the Royal Air Force on April 1st, 1918. In the Headquarters Gazette of January 1919, 'Headquarters Notices' quoted an unnamed correspondent from the Air Ministry:
"I am directed to express appreciation and thanks of the Air Ministry for the very fruitful assistance, which your Council has given to the Royal Air Force, which has resulted in the addition of so many good cadets to the personnel of the Royal Air Force."
In my collecting of Scouting artefacts, I have acquired an old press cuttings album kept by Mrs E Wade who was Baden-Powell's secretary for 27 years. One of the cuttings, undated and unatributed, but filed in the 1921 section, concerns the 3rd Hampton (Middlesex) troop, who were obviously close to Hampton Aerodrome. The article says that the troop "had an Air Section." They had apparently been hampered in their knowledge of flying by not having a real plane to work on!
"Their difficulties came to the ears of the Aircraft Disposal Co. Ltd., who have presented the troop with a D.H.6 aeroplane complete with propeller and 90 h.p. engine. The boys have been promised flights...and every one of the hundred boys in the troop is eagerly preparing to qualify."
It would seem then that the 3rd Hampton were the first Troop to possess a Scout-owned powered aircraft.
Back to Baden Baden-Powell
IN July, 1932, Major Baden Baden-Powell wrote an article for the Scouter, the main points of which are quoted below.
"...it has been suggested that Air Scouts should be organised in the same way as Sea Scouts.
"Though the air is 'ever with us', access to aerodromes is not common and though Sea Scouts can mess about 'in any old boat', a Scout is unlikely to be able to get access to an aeroplane, and even if he did he would not be able to fly it. ...it seems hardly feasible to have special 'Air Scouts', yet a great deal may be accomplished by troops specialising in airwork... I shall always be pleased to give what advice I can."
I am not too sure that the Sea Scout branch would have liked the idea that Sea Scouts 'mess about in any old boat', but Baden Baden-Powell was, I think, trying to point out the difference between being able to be totally involved in an element, as Sea Scouts could be, whereas at that time boys had to be far more passive when it came to air activities. Baden B-P pointed out that "the conditions for obtaining the airman's badge have been compiled, but only 376 were issued last year."
For these reasons, he advised his brother to resist the clamour for an Air Scouts section, pointing out that air activities could be carried out within conventional Scouting. Troops such as in Bristol could be based on an aerodrome and follow specialist activities, like making models, 'Aerial toys', small balloons, gliders and kites. Had Baden Baden-Powell's famous vision left him, or was he merely being practical? I am sure that if he could see today's Scouts in Scout-owned gliders, winning National Open Paragliding Championships, and even receiving powered flight instruction, he would be overjoyed and only too ready to acknowledge that Air Scouting is completely viable.
Other countries were not so reticent in forming Air Scout Sections. Air Scouts were, I believe, well established in Hungary and the USA by this time. (There had been a series of novels with the words 'Boy Scouts of the Air' in their titles published in the US since 1912.) In Hungary, Air Scouting had started before the Second World War (unfortunately I do not have the starting date). A famous Hungarian Scout artist, Marton, illustrated a whole range of Postcards for the 1933 Hungarian World Jamboree including the one shown here. The glider is a fair representation of those actually used and the Scout pilot is shown wearing his World Jamboree badge.
Major Baden Baden-Powell died on October 3rd, 1937, aged 77. He was President and then District Commissioner of a North London District, was between 1918 and 1935 District Commissioner of Sevenoaks District, Kent, and had since 1923 been Headquarters Commissioner for Aviation.
AFTER Baden Baden-Powell's death, Scout Groups continued, as he suggested, to 'specialise in Air-Activities'. In the Scouter of December 1937, there was an announcement about 'Air Patrols' by L A Impey, Headquarters Commissioner for Scouts.
"From time to time rumours reach me of troops that are co-operating with ground staff at certain aerodromes, but with the exception of the 30th Plymouth Troop, I have received no definite information."
"Let me add here quickly that there is no intention of starting a new branch of Scouting, namely Air Scouts..."
The constant denial of the need for a separate branch must have been a little wearing!
The 30th Plymouth had the first Air Scout Patrol, established in 1935 at Plymouth Airport. The Scoutmasters were Geoffrey Hill and Alistair Davey and they gained a valuable sponsor in Mr Whitney Straight of the Straight Corporation. Straight was a wealthy American living in England who reputedly was the youngest person ever to hold a Pilot's Licence when he was aged 16. He became a leading international motor racing driver, often flying himself to races. He had arranged for the Air Patrol to have a hut on the Plymouth Airfield. By 1938 the Air Patrol had eight boys with an average age of 15 years, and 6 young men who formed a Rover Air Patrol. (Just when does 'a patrol' become a group?) The boys, besides decorating the hut, seem to have had a very full programme. They had visited the aircraft carriers, HMS Furious and HMS Eagle, and had rowed round the transatlantic flying boat Caledonia. They assisted at a number of air events where they manned their own publicity stall as well as running messages and guarding planes. During 1937 the whole country had woken up to the threat that a modern war would include air attacks and, in July 1937, Plymouth took part in an overnight practice 'black-out'. The Air Patrol took an active part in this exercise, acting as messengers. The boys also enjoyed talks by distinguished and local experts, as well as working for air-related proficiency badges.
THE Air Defence Cadet Corps was founded in 1938 by the Air League of the British Empire. The Air League was a body of astute private citizens, formed to publicise the vital importance to Britain of aircraft for communications, commerce and defence. AFDC squadrons had to be self-funding and were well organised. There is no doubt that their existence encouraged the Boy Scouts' Committee of the Council to change their attitude towards Air Activities.
The Scouter of September 1938 carried an article Getting Them Air-Minded, followed the following month under the heading Air Scout. It was announced that the Aircraft Engineers Association had offered itself as instructors on aeronautical matters. It had become dreadfully obvious that war was likely and that air activity would play a major role.
A popular new book was also published in 1938, B-P's Family in Picture and Story. My Record Book, which carried a very well-illustrated article entitled Air Scout Patrols.
Portraying the activities of one such patrol, the author described Air Scout Patrols as being a 'new branch of Scouting'. There was however no official recognition at this time, though the article must have done much to generate the demand for it. An official Air Scout Patrols pamphlet had been published by this time, though I have not as yet had sight of a copy.
In the Scouter of January 1939 came a breakthrough under the heading, Scouting in the RAF. Although this edition did not report it, it was obvious that the Committee of the Council had approved the formation of Scout Groups on RAF bases
"1. All such groups should wear Khaki with a scarf of airforce blue."
However once again we have the official denial that there was to be no separate section.
"It must be emphasised that there is no intention of starting a new or separate branch of Scouting. Groups on RAF stations will be known as X London (RAF) Group."
The uniform for these groups was to comprise:
- Neckerchiefs: Red; Light Blue; Dark Blue
- Forage caps: RAF blue with albatross badge
- Shirt and shorts: RAF blue
- Stockings: Black
There might not have been an official section called Air Scouts - but there were Scouts meeting on airfields wearing RAF blue uniforms and carrying out a programme of Air Activities.
By November 1940, the Committee of the Council finally approved the principal of a fully separate branch, which came into being in January 1941. Somewhat revolutionarily, Air Scouts wore trousers from the outset, no doubt in response to the similarly long-trousered Air Training Corps (ATC), which the government re-formed from the Air Defence Cadet Force, also in 1941.
Air Scouts at last
MAJOR Henderson was appointed the first Headquarters Commissioner for Air Scouts and was joined by Rex Hazlewood, a well-known Scouting personality, as a Travelling Commissioner, with special responsibility toward the new branch.
Shown here is an image of the cover of the first Air Scout Handbook. It does not carry a publishing date, but must, I think, have been written before the War, as Air Patrols are mentioned, and published very shortly after the formation of the Air Scouts section. It is a very interesting book and uniquely, for Scout a handbook, written in story format. The narrative follows David, Jack, Snowy and Alan, who want to be Air Scouts; but don't be fooled, this manual contains some very advanced levels of instruction! My original copy was signed by the former owner H C J Davis. I would very much like to hear of his (and your) experiences of these early days of Air Scouting.
Rex Hazlewood was responsible for National Air Camps held at Avington Park, Hampshire and from December 1942 to January 1943, despite the threat of enemy bombing raids, there was a large-scale Air Scout Exhibition lasting six days at London's Dorland Hall. Over 10,000 people attended the show, which was opened each day by a well-known war-time aviator hero. The Air Ministry loaned a static 'Link-Trainer' and a power-operated gun turret. The RAF Pigeon Post Unit was also on display besides many examples of engines, propellers and, of course, hundreds of models. The day after the exhibition closed 1,000 Air Scouts met at the Hall. They marched behind the R.A.F. Band to the R.A.F. church of St Martin's in the Fields for a special service, before returning to Dorland Hall where they were addressed by The Chief Scout, Lord Somers, who was cheered to the echo.
IN 1951 the Association published 'an introductory leaflet for those contemplating the formation of Air Scout Troops'. In the preface Lord Rowallen, Chief Scout of the day, emphasised the traditional message that had long been used in connection with Sea Scouts. "Air Scouting is not a separate movement; it is merely Scouting, the game, designed for the air-minded boy." The pamphlet is 33 pages long and gives details of the all current badges available to Air Scouts and activities that they might undertake. The book concludes with the latest news: As in Sea Scouting, where there were Sea Scout Groups operating with Admiralty Recognition, so there were to be Air Scout Groups who, if they could meet all the criteria, would be allowed to wear the coveted roundel, indicating they had official recognition from the Air Ministry. This award not only conferred status but privileges such as access to service airfields and indeed flights.
Booklet published in 1951.
Can anyone identify the aircraft?
The 'Official Recognition' scheme was introduced in October 1950, and by 1955 nearly 40 troops had successfully gained recognition. (There are now 43 such groups.) A further link was made between the RAF and Air Scouts when Air Vice Marshall J G W Weston was appointed Headquarters Commissioner for Air Scouts.
The first aircraft to be bought by the Scout Association (but not the first owned by a troop, see 3rd Hampton above) was a two-seater glider purchased in 1959. The Association also maintained an Air Activity Centre at Lasham, Hampshire, but this had to be closed in 1978 as the airfield became unsuitable for Air Scout use, due to commercial air activity. Air Scouts' camps, which had been a feature of Air Scouting from its early days, have continued, but the last National Air Scout camp was held at Wroughton in 1986.
More Recent Developments
SINCE 1995, with one exception, National Air Scout conferences have been held on an annual basis, these are now known as L.O.N.E., an acronym for Locally Organised National Event.
The badge for the event that never happened!
Air Scouting celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 2001, and this was to be marked by a special Air Scout Camp at Haverfordwest in North Wales. Unfortunately, the camp was victim to the terrible Foot and Mouth epidemic of that year and had to be cancelled. Instead, a special conference was convened at Milton Keynes, attended by over 100 leaders and youngsters, and one year later the anniversary camp was eventually held at Kemble Airfield in Gloucestershire. The camp was attended by the Chief Scout, W George Purdy, and offered a full range of activities including flying in traditional light aircraft, microlights, gliding, paragliding and hot air balloons. Interestingly, Scouts made and flew over 200 model gliders, a direct link to Baden Baden-Powell and his encouragement of Scouts to take up this activity.
AIR Scouting reached its numerical peak in the last year of the Second World War, but is still strong today with over 130 groups with some 2,500 members in the United Kingdom, 43 groups having Air Ministry recognition. With Baden Baden-Powell as its guiding uncle, British Air Scouting, formed out of the dark days of World War II, not only looks to the future, but can also rightly claim to have its origins in the earliest days of pioneer aviation.