Boer War Page 69

Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell

All about Col. Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941), the most popular British hero of the Great Anglo-Boer War, and the founder of the International Boy Scout Movement.

The Kilties (1902-1933): "The Maple Leaf Forever" 1902
(also known as the Regimental Band of the Gordon Highlanders)

You are listening to one of Canada's very first recordings, "The Maple Leaf Forever," played and sung in 1902, by one of Canada's very first recording bands, the Kilties. Formed in Toronto by members of the 48th Highlanders Band to keep some touring commitments of that group, the Kilties Band of Belleville, Ontario, was one of Canada's most popular international touring bands of its day. The Maple Leaf Forever was English Canada's unofficial national anthem. The Canadians sang it everywhere in South Africa.

You can hear these earliest Canadian recordings on our program's soundtrack. Details on our Music Page.

The International Boy Scout movement sprang from an idea that germinated in the mind of a British soldier, Col. Robert Baden-Powell, because of his experiences during the Great Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902.

BP was an army officer who was stationed in Mafeking, a town in the far northern remote region of Britain's Cape Colony. It was on the border with the neighbouring Transvaal Republic of Dutch-speaking Boers. During 1899 the sabre-rattling by the British led to growing war tensions along the frontier. BP, isolated with some 7,000 people in his wilderness town, set about strengthening his defences.

When war broke out, the Boer armies streamed across the border, surrounded remote and seemingly helpless Mafeking, and started bombarding it with their fabled Long Tom. But BP was ready. You might say "he was prepared." (Below a very rare photo of BP, far left, and his makeshift cannon during the siege.)

Before the war BP had written a book "Aids to Scouting" to provide young British soldiers with information and skills in outdoor living and self-reliance which they clearly lacked. These young men, shipped from an urbanized background in England, were suddenly thrust into the remote wilderness reaches of the British Empire, without adequate training and education. Their lack of knowledge hampered the effectiveness of Britain's colonial army. BP thought his book would help them to be "better prepared" ..... hint, hint...

For the next seven months, as the town was bombarded daily by shell fire from the Boers - that's a shell hole in the back wall - and by sporadic attacks from time to time, BP used a variety of ingenious ruses to fool the Boers into thinking his forces were far more numerous than they were. He used moving signal lamps at night. He had his men "high-stepping" all over the place, so that the Boers, looking on with binoculars, would be fooled into thinking there were barbed wire entanglements all over and that it would be the height of folly to consider an infantry attack over such formidable defences.

But he was extremely short of able-bodied men. So.....

Not so fast ..... First, BP armed the Blacks. The Great Anglo-Boer War was supposed to be a war between Whites, the British and the Boers. There was almost a tacit agreement that Blacks would not be used, at the very least, would not be armed. Both sides feared they might turn the guns on Whites.

But BP begged to differ. He armed the Blacks in Mafeking, and expected them to play a key role in defending the town, which, modern research has proven, they certainly did. Some claim it was indeed the Africans, not the British, who played the decisive role in keeping Mafeking from falling into the hands of the Boers.....

Then BP looked around, and ...... saw boys... And the rest they say is ....... the founding of the Boy Scouts.

Not so fast. One of his assistants was Lord Edward Cecil, whose wife - while her husband was conveniently locked up by the Boers in Mafeking - was having an affair with Lord Milner, Britain's top man, so to speak, in Cape Town. Lord Cecil pointed out to BP the many useful boys that were hanging about the town - was his wife aware of his acute powers of observation?

BP shouted "I say splendid Old Chap!" The British really did talk like that ..... And soon the boys were put in khaki uniforms and drilled. They were sent as messengers between the forts along the town's outer defences, used as orderlies, and lookouts in observation posts, and performing a myriad of odd jobs, so that the maximum number of able-bodied fighting men could stay where they were most needed, on the firing-line.

Sorry BP!

Actually BP was a product of 19th century European views on race. Some had it and some didn't. Food that is ..... As the siege dragged on, and food supplies were becoming scarce in Mafeking, BP wondered what he could do to alleviate the distressing and deteriorating situation. Then he got another splendid idea .....

He would chase all the Blacks - who were not fighting men, make that women and children - out of Mafeking, tell them to scoot .... that is, without their food ... which he kept for the white folks in town who obviously needed/deserved it more. (Left, do they look like they're starving?) Let the Boers outside the town feed the fleeing Blacks..... But the Boers refused to play, and chased them back in again, so increasing the strain on the meagre food supplies in the town.

Now, thanks to BPs control of the food chain, the Blacks were literally starving to death. To feed their families they first started killing the loose dogs in the town, who were also starving. Then, horrors, they started to steal ....

"That," said BP, munching on an ear of corn, confiscated from an African's family garden, "is not a British thing to do." He instructed the ever resourceful Lord Cecil to preside in court over any Blacks charged with stealing, and had them shot. But only after a fair trial, of course .....

So the first Boy Scouts were the helpful boys of Mafeking, performing non-combat roles in support of Baden-Powell's beleaguered British army.

Waiting powerless outside Mafeking was a British army under General Plumer. He spent weeks waiting for the arrival of the Canadian guns which had to come 2,000 miles by sea, then by wagon and on foot, through the wilderness of Rhodesia to get there. When they arrived, the guns went into action in the morning. That night the Boers abandoned the siege after seven months and the British army entered Mafeking.

Baden-Powell, and the Boy Scouts, had held off the Boers in the longest siege of the Anglo-Boer War. BP was so grateful for the Canadian effort that he decreed that the secret password for the garrison on the first night of liberation would be "Canada."

The British Empire went wild in a frenzy of joy. For days the raucous celebrations went on in Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Everybody was wildly "mafeking" and a new word for unbridled jubilation entered the English dictionary. BP became the most popular British hero of the war. He was made a Major General and continued serving throughout the rest of the war.

BP Memorabilia

Shown here is some of the Boer War memorabilia that graced homes throughout the British Empire in honour of Baden-Powell.

Most of these items were from Canadian homes, including:
- top, his "Celebrities of the Army" portrait issued suitable for framing,
- various ceramic plates, round and square, and the wonderful glass plate celebrating the Relief of Mafeking,
- above, a Magic Lantern slide for projection in public halls,
- a beaker, honouring "The Pillar of a People's Hope,"
and busts, including the 9" Parian marble, and a 6" one of speltre

When BP returned home in 1903 he discovered that his Scouting book was being used by boys as they played Empire war games among the heath and hedges of the British villages and towns. School teachers urged him to rewrite a version for boys for civilian use.

And so, in 1906, was published a pamphlet "Boy Scouts: A Suggestion." Its aim "to help in making the rising generation, of whatever class or creed, into good citizens at home or in the colonies." He wrote "the idea was to lead boys, by attractive practices called Scouting, to teach themselves character."


He put it into practice a year later when he took 21 boys for a two week summer camp out at Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, in the UK. Now he was preaching that instead of support for the military, doing outdoor activities was the engine for building character. The boys in the camp received "instruction in camp skills, observation and tracking, woodcraft and nature lore, life-saving and first aid, and the virtues of honor, chivalry, and good citizenship." They "lived in Army tents and were fed by Army cooks."

Not long after, BP published the first Boy Scout handbook, "Scouting For Boys." It was inspired by his Anglo-Boer War experiences, but also by the work of enormously popular American outdoor adventurer and writer Ernest Thompson Seton.

The scouting movement grew so fast that by 1910, barely three years after it was founded, it boasted over 200,000 Boy Scouts in Britain.

That year the movement was founded in the United States.

For the story after that go to

Like "Maiden - Noelle"

Just how do you pronounce Baden-Powell properly? Many say it should be pronounced like "baadin - howl." But others say that is wrong, that the old gent himself said the proper pronunciation was like "maiden - noelle."

"Baddin - Powl," "Baiden - Poelle," let's call the whole thing off....

Better just call him "BP."

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000