"BE PREPARED" An Interview with Baden-Powell by the "Listener"
Magazine in 1937.
Though LORD BADEN-POWELL is always credited with having founded the Boy Scout Movement,
he tells here how, like Topsy, it "just growed" As a matter of fact I didn't
actually start the Boy Scout Movement, because the blooming thing started itself unseen.
It started in 1908 - but the microbe of Scouting had got me long before that. When I was a
boy at Charterhouse I got a lot of fun out of trapping rabbits in woods that were out of
bounds. If and when I caught one, which was not often, I skinned him and cooked him and
ate him - and lived. In doing this I learned to creep silently, to know my way by
landmarks, to note tracks and read their meaning, to use dry dead wood off trees and not
off the ground for my fire, to make a tiny non-smoky fire such as would not give me away
to prying masters; and if these came along I had my sod ready to extinguish the fire and
hide the spot while I shinned up some ivy- clad tree where I could nestle unobserved above
the line of sight of the average searcher.
Somewhere about 1893 I started teaching Scouting to young soldiers in my regiment. When
these young fellows joined the Army they had learned reading, writing, and arithmetic in
school but as a rule not much else. They were nice lads and made very good parade
soldiers, obeyed orders, kept themselves clean and smart and all that, but they had never
been taught to be men, how to look after themselves, how to take responsibility, and so
on. They had not had my chances of education outside the classroom. They had been brought
up in the herd at school, they were trained as a herd in the Army; they simply did as they
were told and had no ideas or initiative of their own. In action they carried out orders,
but if their officer was shot they were as helpless as a flock of sheep. Tell one of them
to ride out alone with a message on a dark night and ten to one he would lose his way. I
wanted to make them feel that they were a match for any enemy, able to find their way by
the stars or map, accustomed to notice all tracks and signs and to read their meaning, and
able to fend for themselves away from regimental cooks and barracks. I wanted them to have
courage, from confidence in themselves and from a sense of duty; I wanted them to have
knowledge of how to cook their own grub; in short, I wanted each man to be an efficient,
all-round, reliable individual. The scheme worked. The men loved the training and Scouting
became very popular in the regiment.
In 1899 I wrote a little book called 'Aids to Scouting' for soldiers. It taught them
observation, or how to track, and it taught them deduction, or how to read the information
given by tracks. As one instance of observation and deduction, I told how my bicycle had
been stolen one night in India and how I tracked it down and discovered the thief. In the
early dawn I followed the track of the bike along a hard high road, not an easy thing to
do if you look down on the road, but looking along the surface towards the sunrise one saw
the track quite clearly ahead of one in the dew lying on the ground. The thief had led a
bike by hand because the front wheel was locked and he evidently didn't know how to free
it. His foot-marks alongside it were those of a soldiers boots, not a native's sandal. I
observed that he passed the turning which led to the Cavalry Barracks, so I deduced that
he was not a cavalryman; similarly he passed the road to the Infantry Barracks, but when
he got to the Artillery road he turned up it and went into their Barracks. So I had only
to tell the Adjutant of the Artillery that I believed one of his men had possessed himself
of a very nice looking bike with a locked fore-wheel, and in a very short time my bike was
returned to me, having been found hidden under the bed of one of the men. That was one
incident of many in the book to show the value of observation and deduction.
When we were besieged at Mafeking, in 1900, my Chief Staff Officer, Lord Edward Cecil,
got together boys in the place and made them into a cadet corps for carrying orders and
messages and acting as orderlies and so on, in place of the soldiers, who were thus
released to go and strengthen the firing line. We then made the discovery that boys, when
trusted and relied on, were just as capable and reliable as men. Also, from experience of
the Boys' Brigade, I realized that men could be got voluntarily to sacrifice time and
energy to training boys. Then my idea that Scouting could be educative was strengthened
also, through the following incident.
General Lord Allenby was riding to his house after a field day when his little son
shouted to him, "Father, I have shot you, you are not half a Scout. A Scout looks
upward as well as around him - you never saw me." There was the boy, sitting up in a
tree overhead; but far above him, near the top of the tree, was his new governess. "
What on earth are you doing up there?" cried the General. "Oh, I am teaching him
Scouting," she said. She had been trained at Miss Charlotte Mason's Collage for
Teachers, and they had been using my book, Aids to Scouting, written for soldiers, as a
textbook in the art of educating children.
Then in 1907 I, as a General, was inspecting 7,000 of the Boys' Brigade at Glasgow on
its twentieth anniversary, and the founder, Sir William Smith, was very pleased because
the total strength of his movement was 54,000. I agreed that it was a big number but added
that if the training really appealed to boys there ought to be ten times that number.
"How would you make it appeal?" he asked. "Well, look at the young fellows
in the Cavalry, how they enjoy the game of Scouting, which makes them into real men and
good soldiers." "Could you re-write 'Aids to Scouting'," he wondered,
"so that it would appeal to boys instead of to soldiers and make them into real men
and good citizens?"
So I did that. But before writing the book I planned out the idea and then tested it. I
got together some twenty boys of all sorts, some from Eton and Harrow, some from the East
End of London, some country lads and some shop-lads, and I mixed them up like plums in a
pudding to live together in camp. I wanted to see how far the idea would interest the
different kinds of lads. I told a friend what I was doing, and said that I wanted a quiet
place, out of Press reporters and inquisitive people, where I could try the experiment;
she offered me the use of her property - Brownsea Island in Dorsetshire. And there we set
up camp for a fortnight.
I had the late Major Maclaren and the present Sir Percy Everett to help me and we
taught the boys camping, cooking, observation, deduction, woodcraft, chivalry,
boatmanship, lifesaving, health, patriotism, and such things. The results upon the boys in
that short space of time taught me the possibilities which Scout training held for boys.
So I at once set to work and wrote the handbook, Scouting for Boys, intending it to be
useful to the existing boys' organizations such as Boys' Brigade, the Church Lads'
Brigade, the YMCA., and others.
The book came out in fortnightly parts at 4d. a copy. Before many of the parts had been
published I began to get letters from boys who had taken up the game for themselves, boys
not belonging to the Boys' Brigade or any other association. All the following year boys
were writing to me telling me how they had started Patrols and Troops and had got men to
come and act as their Scoutmasters. So we had to start a Headquarters office in a tiny
room to deal with correspondence and supply equipment. I remember my Secretary wondering
whether, if we laid in a stock of twelve Scout hats, we should be able to sell them all!
In that year, 1909, I arranged to have a meeting of the would-be Scouts at the Crystal
Palace on a certain day. And when I got there, my wig, there were a lot of them. Rain was
threatening, so we mustered them inside the Palace and arranged a March Past and counted
them as they entered at one door and went out at the other. There were 11,000 of them -
11,000, who had taken it up of their own accord! That is why I say that one didn't see the
start: Scouting started itself. Then, among the boys as they marched past, we found some
groups of girls in Scout hats with staves and lanyards and haversacks, like the boys.
"Who are you?" we said. "Oh, we are the Girl Scouts." "The devil
you are!" "No - Girl Scouts." So I had eventually to write a book for them
giving them the name of Guides to distinguish them from Scouts. And that is how the Girl
Guides started - on their own - and they have gone on growing ever since.
Soon we began to hear from the Oversea Dominions and Colonies that they were all taking
up Scouting, and before long foreign countries too were translating Scouting for Boys and
playing the game. In 1912 I had to go on a tour through America explaining the movement in
twenty-four states. And I went on to Canada, Australia, and South Africa, preaching
Scouting where they had all started it, but wanted to know more about it. It was
wonderful. Lots of people, of course, took to criticizing the rapid rise of what they
called a mushroom growth, and prophesied that after the first excitement it would
gradually decline and probably die in the fifth year.
The fifth year came, bringing the Great War, so the movement had every reason to die
then, for most of the Scoutmasters and all the older Scouts left to join up in the
Services. Of these, some 10,000 were killed. But the movement did not die. The boys were
put on their mettle to carry on and do service for their country in the time of its need.
Our danger was that enemy spies in the country would try to upset our war preparations by
blowing up railway bridges, cutting telegraph lines, and so on, and at once Scouts all
over the country mounted guard to protect such communications by day and night. Others
were used as orderlies and messengers in government offices to replace men sent to the
The Admiralty asked if we could send Sea Scouts to take over the coastguard stations
and so release the naval ratings there to return to active service with the fleet. Luckily
we had prepared a big rally of Sea Scouts in the Isle of Wight for the Bank Holiday of
August, 1914, and the Great War, you may remember, broke out on that date. So we were able
to send off detachments at once to take over all the coastguard stations, from John
O'Groats to Land's End. These detachments were mainly patrols commanded by their own boy
leaders. We had some 25,000 boys doing their duty during the course of the War. They did
their work thundering well, and after the War was over received the thanks of the
Admiralty and of the King for their services.
So, instead of dying, the movement showed its vitality; it rose to the occasion and
since then has gone on growing in strength and usefulness. We have now 1,011,923 British
Scouts and 544,544 British Guides. In addition to these, some fifty-two countries have
taken up Scouting and many also have Guides, so that altogether in the world there are now
2,812,00 Scouts and 1,304,107 Girl Guides. It should be remembered, too, that behind these
there are many millions more now grown-up in the different countries who have been in the
fellowship of the Scouts and Guides. But what is more important than numbers is the fact
that these Scouts and Guides of all countries have arrived at the stage of being on very
friendly terms with one another. The ... American Jamboree, in Washington this year, of
28,000 boys, followed by the World Jamboree in Holland of another 28,000 (which thirty-two
countries attended, all at their own expense), shows the enthusiasm of the boys for making
friends with other nations.
This interview was originally published in the pages of the 10th Fife (Cupar) Scout
Group in Scotland. Douglas Shearer, the Group Scout Leader has developed a wonderful
series of pages including a unique account of the founding of "How Scouting Started
in Cupar (Fife)" Copyright (c) Lewis P. Orans, 1997