Robert Baden-Powell "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
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 him professionally.
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 in England.
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
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
"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
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 and voluntary).
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
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 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.
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
With thanks to the World Organisation of the Scout
Movement - Click here
23 year-old Olave St Claire Soames married 55 year old Robert
Baden-Powell in 1912, she caused an international sensation, and
despair to 100,000 Boy Scouts who speculated that the marriage would
bring an end to the Chief's Scouting.
Instead the exuberant tomboy's boundless energy lead to an
unflagging support of BP and helped Scouting to grow even faster.
Her own vision saw Guiding become the largest organisation for girls
and women ever seen, and led her to be called "The Mother of
Guiding has significantly influenced the shape of our society,
and will continue to do so into the future.
For more information about Lady Olave Baden-Powell, click here
Scouts and Guides mark February 22nd as
B-P Day or Thinking Day, the joint birthdays of Robert and Olave Baden-Powell, to remember
and celebrate the work of the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World.
here for the Wivenhoe Scout & Guide Association home page