Boy school truant, Army scout, spy, artist and a writer and finally a national hero. That's a quick sketch of Lord Baden-Powell or Gilwell, England, founder of the Boy Scout movement.

His is a fascinating story.

Not much of a scholar at Charterhouse School, he often escaped to an off-limits wooded area called The Copse, taught himself to track and snare rabbits, cooked over an open fire, and learned other outdoors skills which would prove valuable in his adult life.

He took an examination for a British Army commission upon graduation, finished second out of 700 candidates and, at age 19, left to join his regiment in India.

As a young fun-loving officer, he distinguished himself at polo and "pig-sticking," wild boar hunting on horseback, while professionally, he became proficient at scouting and exploring in the wild northwest of the country. There followed a tour of duty in South Africa where he was assigned to survey the mountain passes in the frontier region of that country, a journey of 600 miles on horseback.

Brought back to England and trained as a spy, he spent two years on secret missions in Germany and Russia. Eventually, he was stationed on the island of Malta, in charge of all British intelligence in the Mediterranean.

He learned to disguise himself as an artist, or sometimes as a butterfly hunter, on missions into Austria, Italy, Turkey, and other countries of southern Europe.

Service in Africa followed during the Boer War. After a 217 day hold-out and eventual victory against the Boer forces in the siege of Mafeking, Baden-Powell returned to England a national hero.

He had written a small book for army use entitled "Aids to Scouting" and learned, to his surprise, it was a hit among youngsters in England. After meeting Sir William Smith, founder of the Boys' Brigade, he rewrote the book especially for boys.

That book, "Scouting for Boys," was published in 1908 and became an instant best seller. Boy Scout patrols began to spring up all over the country. It became evident to Baden-Powell that he had created something important, and he decided to retire as an Army officer to devote his time to the infant Scouting movement.

And, as they say, the rest is history. By 1920, Baden-Powell had captured the world's attention, calling Scouts from every nation to the World Jamboree in London. It was during that Jamboree that Baden-Powell was acclaimed "Chief Scout of the World." The significance of his work was recognized by Queen Victoria in 1929 when he was made a baron and became Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell.

At the age of 80, he retired to Africa with his wife, Lady Baden-Powell. He died in Nairobi, Kenya, January 8, 1941 at the age of 83.

Lord Robert Baden-Powell, world founder of scouting and author of Scouting for Boys, is widely believed to have been a repressed homosexual. (Yes, I know he was married, but it wasn't until he was 55, and he remained celibate until then.) Powell reportedly had a minor obsession with watching his scouts swim in the nude, and, like many of contemporaries, was obsessed with the idea of self-abuse, or masturbation. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I'll add the caveat that I don't think this diminishes in any way what Baden-Powell accomplished, or even suggests that his motives were impure; however, it's pretty interesting in light of the Scouts' recent ban of homosexual scoutmasters in the US.

The most useful references for someone looking for further information are this 1999 slate article:

or this page

... both contain quite a bit of documentary evidence.

Lord Baden-Powell always carried the following note around with him, in an envelope marked "In the event of my death"..

Dear Scouts - if you have ever seen the play "Peter Pan" you will remember how the pirate chief was always making his dying speech because he was afraid that possibly when the time came for him to die he might not have time to get it off his chest. It is much the same with me, and so, although I am not at this moment dying, I shall be doing so one of these days and I want to send you a parting word of good-bye.

Remember, it is the last time you will ever hear from me, so think it over.

I have had a most happy life and I want each one of you to have as happy a life too.

I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn't come from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so you can enjoy life when you are a man.

Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it.Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.

But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. "Be Prepared" in this way, to live happy and to die happy- stick to your Scout Promise always when you have ceased to be a boy - and God help you to do it.

Your friend,

Robert Baden-Powell

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