Lord Robert Baden Powell

Lord Robert Baden Powell is probably best known for being the founder of the Scouting movement which is now a worldwide organisation. Powell as the originator of the movement was in fact the first Chief Scout of the movement. Even though it is now a worldwide movement Powell didn’t start the Scout movement until after he retired from life in the British Army in 1910.

As a child Robert Baden-Powell attended the Rose Hill School, Tunbridge Wells. He was given a scholarship to Charterhouse, a prestigious public school. He played the piano and violin, was an ambidextrous artist. Holidays were spent on yachting or canoeing expeditions with his brothers. His first introduction to Scouting skills was through hunting and cooking captured game whilst avoiding teachers in the nearby woods, which were strictly out-of-bounds for school children at the time.

Baden-Powell was once accused of illegally executing a prisoner of war in 1896, the Matabele chief Uwini, who had been promised his life would be spared if he surrendered. Uwini was sentenced to be shot by firing squad by a military court, a sentence Baden-Powell confirmed. Baden-Powell was cleared by a military court of inquiry but the colonial civil authorities wanted a civil investigation and trial. Baden-Powell later claimed he was “released without a stain on my character”. Baden-Powell was also accused of allowing native African warriors under his command to massacre enemy prisoners including women, children and non-combatants.

Baden-Powell returned to South Africa before the Second Boer War and was engaged in further military actions against the Zulus. Although instructed to maintain a mobile mounted force on the frontier with the Boer republics, Baden-Powell amassed stores and a garrison at Mafeking. While engaged in this, he and much of his intended mobile force was at Mafeking when it was surrounded by a Boer army, at times in excess of 8,000 men. Baden-Powell was the garrison commander during the subsequent Siege of Mafeking, which lasted 217 days. The garrison held out until relieved, in part thanks to cunning deceptions, many devised by Baden-Powell. Fake minefields were planted and his soldiers pretended to avoid non-existent barbed wire while moving between trenches. Baden-Powell did much reconnaissance work himself. In one instance, noting that the Boers had not removed the rail line, Baden-Powell loaded an armoured locomotive with sharpshooters and sent it down the rails into the heart of the Boer encampment and back again in a successful attack.

Lord Robert Baden-Powell was regarded as an excellent storyteller. During his whole life he told “ripping yarns” to audiences. After having published Scouting for Boys, (Reported to be the 4th biggest selling book of all time, behind The Bible, Mao’s Little Red Book and the Koran) Baden-Powell kept on writing more handbooks and educative materials for all Scouts, as well as directives for Scout Leaders. In his later years, he also wrote about the Scout movement and his ideas for its future. He spent most of the last two years of his life in Africa, and many of his later books had African themes.

Ben Davidson

Hello, I have been studying all aspects of history for about 25 years. I have a BA History from the University of Bedfordshire. My historical areas of interest are anything really, but I specialise in 19th - 20th century Britain, America and Ireland. I am also strongly aligned with most military history, really enjoying WW2 and the US Civil War. Chuck in the king or queen and Bob's your uncle.

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