10th August 1929. Be Prepared!
The pre-World War I magazine ‘The Scout’ compared the heavily clothed anaemic, weedy looking white person unfavourably with the fine Zulu warrior and looked to Victorian ideals of manliness particularly as the Boer War had shown up the poor physique of many British recruits.(1)
Nowadays scouting has a perception of an inward looking organisation involved with intricate knots and proficiency badges. This was not always the case as Scouts and Guides played a vital supporting role in two world wars.
Many Scouts and Boys’ Brigade inspired by King and country joined up below age for the Services at home and abroad, some as young as 14.
It was in WWI that the Scouts became the eyes and ears against spies and under Chief Constables’ authority, guarded tunnels, bridges railways, reservoirs and the sea-shore ends of marine cables. They also helped with the harvest, raised wartime funds, and were used extensively by the military and others as runners.
In the Author’s town of Burton-on-Trent they guarded the local water tower, reservoir and the Leicester Line Bridge and were considered of such importance it was an offence to masquerade in a Scout uniform.
In 1917 Prime-Minister, Lloyd George wrote, ‘the Scouts had shared the laurels for having “been prepared” with the old and trusted Army and Navy: to give the most energetic and intelligent help in all kinds of service’.
However it wasn’t just the boys as the Girl Guides formed in 1910 contributed to the war effort in packing clothes, preparing hostels for various purposes and First Aid, as the picture below shows.
Sense of comradeship was fostered by mass ‘Bun-Fights’ as Today in 1929 when the Scout World Jamboree at Arrowe Park near Birkenhead celebrated 21 years of Scouting, and which saw a Rolls-Royce presented to its founder Robert Baden-Powell.(2)
Inter-war Baden-Powell in his distaste for Communism was an early admirer of Hitler and Mussolini, as many were, and recorded in his 1939 Diary, that he had read Mein Camp which he said was : ‘a wonderful book with good ideas on education, health, propaganda and organisation, though ideals’ he said, ‘which Hitler does not practise himself’.
Baden-Powell was in fact in Hitler’s ‘Black Book’ to be rounded-up should Operation Sea-Lion be effected on invasion.
A BBC Radio 4 programme was to later reveal that Baden-Powell had fostered relations with Hitler Youth in the 1930.s with exchange visits and a friend of the Author talked of their ‘jack-booted’ arrogance and belief in victory when war seemed inevitable.
There was also suspicion of espionage and documents released by MI5 in 2010 suggest that much secret observation was undertaken by ‘Spy-cyclists’.
As in WWI by 1939 Scouts were employed as Air Raid Precaution (ARP) runners and at First Aid Posts, in collecting ‘salvage’ for recycling, even managing Council dust carts in the evenings.
One old Scout recounted in his later years, when such things could be openly discussed, that he was secretly employed by his local ultra-secret Auxiliary Unit, civilians ready to fight to the death on invasion, as a messenger, and being too young to sign the Official Secrets Act, pledged loyalty by the Scout Oath.
(1) On 24th January 1908 in the YMCA Hall in Birkenhead, the Boy Scouts Organisation (nearly called Young Knights of the Empire), with its military style uniform, was officially launched.
(2) All Scouts had donated a penny (1d).
IWM.org.uk/10 Ways Children helped in WWI./Pics.
bbc.co.uk/ww2/people’swar/stories/Pic of badge.
wikipedia.org/baden_powell and scouting.