And he sang as he sat,
And waited while his billy boiled,
You’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me.
From the song, Waltzing Matilda
Eleven of the twelve men who walked on the moon were Boy Scouts.
source: Rocket Men
Got service ethic?
…Sir Robert Baden-Powell, retired British army general, also known as Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, also known as Chief Scout of the world, was the founder of the international Boy Scout movement…
Recently, as a tourist in southern Alberta, I came upon an older man, a tourist from New Zealand. We had both been in Boy Scouts, and we had both used a billy tin. I said I had been to the Baden-Powell House in central London; and he said, “I am struck by how Baden-Powell was from another era.” Later, after I went away and thought about it, I was struck too.
Today I would like to tell you a little about the Chief Scout, and give you a two glimpses of a vanished era, glimpses of ‘serving your country,’ and ‘thrift.’
Robert Steven Smith Baden-Powell was born in 1857 in England, and attended a boarding school, like in Harry Potter, except that in those days, but not now, his school was all-boys. (Like in the novel Goodby Mr. Chips) Most boys at the time would have attended regular schools and gone on to, say, work in shops and factories around London, or gone off to be private soldiers in the army over in India. Meanwhile the richer middle class, from their boarding schools, would have gone on to, say, be office workers and bankers in London, or gone off to be colonial police officers in Burma, as George Orwell did, or be commissioned army officers in India, as Baden-Powell did.
B-P, as he is affectionately known to modern Boy Scouts, served in India, and then in Africa where he scouted against three First Nations. The Africans called him Impeesa, “the wolf who never sleeps” for his courage, tracking and scouting. In South Africa he was a general during the Boer war against the Dutch settlers. It was a war the British kept losing, until they won, a war where the only time church bells rang all over Britain was for a success by Baden-Powell. Afterwards, stationed in England, he was a celebrity. His book for adults in the army, Aids to Scouting was a big success, even being stocked in British schools as a textbook. I suspect the schools were not teaching scouting, rather, as with today’s Harry Potter books, it was probably to give boys who would otherwise never read a chance to do so.
One day, old B-P came upon some boys in the woods, and asked what they were doing. The boys, who didn’t know who he was, enthusiastically replied they were scouting: like in the book Aids to Scouting. Well, that gave B-P an idea. He spent a few years collecting books, talking to educators and scouts, and at last he conducted a field test, taking twenty boys of diverse socio-economic status on a camp out. Everything went well. He then published Scouting For Boys. Immediate success! Scouting grew by leaps and bounds all over the world!
(And back when all the Scout Troops in the British Empire were listed in a corner of one newspaper page, one of them was led by my friend Brian Gregory’s grandfather; Brian once took me to see the old Scoutmaster. We found him doing a little wood project in his garage)
At the request of King Edward VII, General Baden-Powell resigned from the army to give scouting his full attention. This was a few years before the Great War, two and a half decades before the Great Depression of my dad’s youth. When I was in Wolf Cubs B-P’s widow was the Chief Guide.
From B-P one can glimpse a vanished era. What do you suppose was the opening line of Scouting For Boys? It was this: “I suppose every boy wants to help his country in some way or other.”
Here is an except from later in the book:
…Don’t be content, as the Romans were, and as some people now are, to pay other people to play your football or to fight your battles for you. Do something yourself to help keep the flag flying.
If you take up Scouting in that spirit, you will be doing something. Take it up, not merely because it is good fun, but because by doing so you will be preparing yourself to be a good citizen not only of your country but of the whole world.
In the Doctor Who TV series there are episodes where the doctor is disguised as a teacher in a pre-war boarding school. One of the boys has “the second sight,” visions, and he sees himself and a fellow student in a shell crater in Flanders Fields, just as a shell is coming right down on them. Tragic. Viewers know he will not dodge the coming war. That is what service meant, in those days.
And what of thrift? Today one hears of snowshoes and snowshoe bindings, various skis and ski bindings. When I was young, you heard of packs and packframes. (My first pack had aluminium tubing, to support a nylon pack) You could buy a sacklike pack in the army surplus store, made of webbing. Very common in my postwar youth. When I was in Wolf Cubs the local Scout troop made their own pack frames by joining two side boards, making slits all up and down them, and wrapping string all around. This was their frame, cheaper than getting a store-bought frame.
The Scouts were as thrifty as possible: A billy tin was cheaper than buying a cooking pot; using blanket pins you could make your own sleeping bag, as shown in my Tenderfoot to Queen’s Scout manual. In that manual, along the path to Queen’s Scout (Eagle Scout) was a requirement: You must show your Scoutmaster you were regularly putting money aside as savings. I had no allowance, but I could save some of what I made by collecting beer bottles from parks and ditches. Later I had a paper route, still saving.
Of the ten parts of the Scout Law, the ninth reads simply, “A Scout is thrifty.” That’s it. Short and sweet. How many boys and girls today know the word “thrift?” At most, they’ve heard of a thrift store. How many adults, today, have in their vocabulary “being thrifty?” Many people are living pay cheque to pay cheque, but one should have enough saved to live on for a few months, for in case anything happens to your employer. So many folks buy on credit, or live a life style of being permanently in debt; while so few understand the horrors of credit card quicksand. The Japanese laugh at us, saying if Americans ever stopped buying on credit for even a single day, our whole economy would collapse.
Today maybe we daren’t, out loud, say the old words “citizen” and “serving our country,” but at least we can, barely blushing, say lesser things like “community service.” I remember when my toastmaster club moved into having evening meetings at Unity Church. For our first meeting, a man from that church donated his time to showing us where things were, and what to do. I recognized him as a retired city alderman, John Lord. “John! You’re doing your service work.” He smiled, replying, “Isn’t that what life is about?”
I miss the old era of Baden-Powell.
Once a patrol leader,
Footnotes: NONE today, because I am holding back—But to be polite: do you wtant footnotes?