This article is the personal view of a Cub Scout leader and a very old Scout. it is not endorsed by either the Scout Association or the Scout District in which he serves.
Two important events happened on the day that I was born, Thursday 28th December 1944. David Lloyd George announced his retirement from Parliament and my father, Fred, put my name down on the waiting list for the Cubs at the ‘111th North London’ group in Tottenham. Fred had been an enthusiastic Scout and he had met my mother at a Scout Dance and neither events had done him much harm so he thought he would do the same for me.
In the Cubs I made my Promise - “I Promise to Do My Best, To Do My Duty to God and the King…“, I read the Jungle Book by Kipling and learned the importance of keeping a clean hankie in my pocket (in case I needed it to dress a wound), along with a piece of paper and a pencil (for writing down number plates of stolen cars and descriptions of spies.) I also learned my very first joke - a favourite of my Akela. How do you stop a runaway horse? Put £5 on it to win!
At 11 I joined the Scouts and learned how to whip ropes, tie knots, cook sausages on sticks and follow trails through the woods - not that there were many woods in Tottenham. I learned how our founder, Robert Baden-Powell, defended the small South African town of Mafeking against the Boers that were laying siege to it in 1899/1900 and how he used boys to run messages out to the guardposts on the perimeter. I tried to practise the Scout Promise - “To Help Other People at All Times and Obey the Scout Law” and follow the Scout Law and its 10 elements:- A Scout is trusty, loyal, helpful, brotherly, courteous, kind, obedient, smiling, thrifty, clean in thought, deed and mind. Of all these laws the most important was number 4 - “A Scout is a friend to all, and a brother to every other scout, no matter to what country, class or creed the other may belong.”
Surprisingly the man who conceived these promises and laws, the man who started the Scout Movement Robert Baden-Powell, has been recently accused of being a Nazi sympathiser, a racist and a homophobe and there are some who want to remove his statue from Poole Harbour in Dorset where it overlooks Brownsea Island where the first Scout camp was held in 1907.
Baden Powell was a Victorian professional soldier and many of his views were typical of the time. They are outdated now and rightly condemned. It is obvious from the last 100 years that Scouting has risen way above such views. It has shown that it can unite people in a spirit of mutual respect and promote friendship, cooperation and understanding - no matter to what country, class or creed the other may belong.
It is true that Baden-Powell had read Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf’ and commented “A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc - ideals which Hitler does not practise himself.” It has been since noted that Hitler’s ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation bore a surprising resemblance to Baden-Powell’s own ideas on these subjects! Although in 1937 he had a meeting with the head of the Nazi youth movement, the Hitler Jugend, Baden Powell disapproved of the organisation which he thought was militaristic, anti-Semitic, nationalistic and compulsory. By 1939 he decided that Hitler had ‘developed megalomania’. Ten years earlier Baden-Powell had written “What we want is broadminded leadership rather than restrictive dictatorship,” and he was right.
Many of my own Cub and Scout leaders had seen and fought fascism at first hand - against Mosely and his thugs in Cable Street, on the world’s battlefields in the 2nd World War and on the Home Front. Two leaders of our own local Scout Group - the 1st St Margarets, Lesley (Polly) Parratt and Ted Chance died in that struggle. Leaders like these took us to World Scout Jamborees where young people of every ethnicity, faith, culture, class and conviction came together as brothers and sisters and friends. The first such jamboree camped in Richmond’s Old Deer Park in 1920, at the end of which Baden Powell said:- “Let us go forth fully determined that we will develop among ourselves and our boys that comradeship, through the world wide spirit of the Scout brotherhood, so that we may help to develop peace and happiness in the world and goodwill among men”.
That spirit continues today. We are now 54 million members strong, boys, girls and adults around the world. Baden-Powell may have been a Victorian imperialist but so was the society from which he came. We should judge him today by his works and his influence on our world and not by the prejudiced attitudes that he grew up with. As Baden-Powell said at the end of his book ‘Scouting for Boys’… “No man goeth about a more godly purpose than he who is mindful of the right upbringing not only of his own, but of other men’s children.”
My first experience of Jamboree was the 1957 World Jamboree held at Sutton Coldfield. My Scout Troop hosted the party from Finland.
– from Martyn Day