The problem of older scouts

In 2018, Rovering will celebrate its 100 years of existence. It is a symbolic date because Rovering did not have a real and official start; it grew gradually, through experiments and attempts. Baden-Powell did not conceive Scouting as a unique project from the very beginning but, little by little, he invented new solutions. It was the case for Girl Guides, Wolf Cubs, training camps… Sometimes, as it happened for Rovering, the solutions finally adopted were preceded by controlled attempts and experiments in order to find the best solution.

The first attempts

Initially, Scouting was mainly meant for 12 to 14-15-year-old boys. At that time indeed, school in Great-Britain was compulsory until the age of 14. Then a lot of boys began to work, while many others started to study in schools far from their town. The ones and the others left Scouting quite easily. But there were also some boys who remained in the Troops after their 14th birthday, but other difficulties began to appear for those aged 16-17: they were losing interest for Scouting as it was practised in the troop and they wished new perspectives and activities more adapted to their age.

At the beginning, for these older scouts, Baden-Powell thought of an association of Scout friends, with clubs, in order to maintain them in contact between them and with the Scout Movement.

Nevertheless, that solution was not so valid and the problem of older Scouts went on worrying the attention and the mind of Scout leaders. The magazine of the English leaders, “The Scouter”, often published letters from leaders and commissioners who mentioned that problem; they presented their experiences and asked for pieces of advice about what they could do with older scouts.

A first attempt: the Senior Scouts

Baden-Powell realised that clubs were not an adequate solution; so, he began to imagine something more structured. In January 1917, he thought of a specific branch, that he called: “Senior Scouts”, for which he planned to develop the system of badges, aiming at making it become a real and specific launching for work, through a specialization in one of the numerous branches of industry, trade, etc.

One month later, he published a first scheme based on three points:

  1. How to maintain older scouts under the useful and beneficial influence of Scouting
  2. What to do with so many Scouts coming back from the army, eager to recreate the links with their troop
  3. What to do with the 16-17-year-old boys who wanted to join Scouting


In April 1917, a Conference of commissioners took place in Mathlock Bath, where all participants agreed on the necessity and urgence of a programme for older scouts. Baden-Powell precised his project better and wrote “Retaining and Training the Senior-Scouts”, in which he foresaw, within the group, the constitution of “Senior-Scouts” patrols for boys older than 15. But the constitution of these patrols, or the participation to them, was not considered as compulsory. The programme included activities of civil service – such as first aid, fire-prevention, activities of coastguard, etc. A specific instruction was also planned with the fulfilment of specific badges related to work in trade or in industry, to agricultural work, or to merchant and military navy.

So, in 1917, the “Senior-Scout” began to work, with the aim of preparing young people to their future work. In this perspective, the running of a scout farm was also tempted, but the experiment failed, both because of the lack of adults ready to commit themselves and the lack of young workers because at the age of 18 they left for the military service.

But the start of the new Branch met a lot of difficulties, also because the period was not the best one: it was during the First World War and a lot of leaders and commissioners were in the army. Besides, the programme planned was rather utopist. The intentions were good, because the goal was to give a professional qualification to the scouts and to help them enter into the world of work, but the project failed because only a very few leaders were able to organise adequate trainings, and also because employers did not trust so much that professional preparation organised by Scouting.

The Rovers

Then, at the end of the First World War and with the coming back of Colonel Ulick G. C. de Burgh, who had worked in the scout movement right from the origin, Baden-Powell reconsidered the problem of the “Senior-Scouts”. He had long discussions with Colonel de Burgh and they worked together on a scheme of programme. The name of “Senior-Scout” was transformed into “Rover-Scout”, the mission was found in the motto “To serve” and the general principles in the ideals of the old Chivalry.

Some experiments were launched and, in September 1918, the first rules of the Rover branch were published; they were the real starting point. These rules, obviously, were temporary and needed various modifications in the following years. It is worth noticing, however, that in the first two years, ten editions of them were printing, corresponding to 26.500 issues altogether.

The experiments that were launched showed that the direction was the right one and the following step was the publication, in two parts, in April and November 1920, of the “Notes about the modus operandi fo the Rover-Scouts”. The most interesting and important change was the raising of the minimum age to enter into the branch from 15 to 17 ½.

Thus, the third branch of the scout movement was making its first steps as a “brotherhood of open air and service”. The first Rover National Commissioner was Colonel Ulick G. C. de Burgh, of course. He was the right person to lead Rovering in its first development. Unfortunately, in November 1921, the Colonel died from a disease contracted during the war. He was validly replaced by P. B. Nevill.

For the Rover branch, the first opportunity to appear in public was during the first international Jamboree, in August 1920 in London. The English rovers assumed several services in the various fields with such good will that Rovering was unanimously appreciated by all.

Rovering to success

The next step was the publication by Baden-Powell, in November 1922, of his book “Rovering to success”. Baden-Powell had hesitated a lot before starting that work and, among the numerous books that he wrote, that one required from him a really special commitment. His secretary told how he had “written and written again, asking for opinions and suggestions to many people and often adopting their opinions”[1].

In “Rovering to success”, Baden-Powell developed his ideas about the way of reaching success in life. Not success as richness or reputation, but success of happiness, “the only real success”.

The book directly appeals to young people, aiming at stimulating them, inspire them and advise them as Rovers. Baden-Powell did not intend to give rules or to establish the activities to develop, or how to realise them, because he wanted the new Branch to be rather flexible and not embroiled in rigid rules.

Rovering to success” knew a big success of sale and so Baden-Powell was able to present to a large public his considerations about the big possibilities of Rovering.

With the publication in 1923 of “Program, Organization and Rules”, the first tests imagined directly for Rovers appeared; until then, they were using the class tests and badges of the explorers, with some adaptations. Indeed, it is interesting to notice that class progressions and badges were planned for Rovers, exactly as for explorers, but these class progressions and badges disappeared soon, in the following years.

First tests of Rovering

In 1926, in the Albert Hall of London, starting in the Easter night, the first meeting of Rovers, called “Moot”[2] was organised. Rovers and leaders coming from all counties of Great Britain came to take part in the Ceremony of Investiture, in the style of the old medieval chivalry. Baden-Powell himself represented the King and held a basin of copper in his hands, in which the Rovers who were to receive the Investiture washed their hands. Baden-Powell reminded them that by doing so they intended to express their choice of a better and purer life, their regret for the evil and mistakes done previously.

At the end of the Moot, there was a conference in which important topics and issues for the life of the branch were discussed. Among them, a subject proposed by the Rovers themselves was the role of the clan leader. From the discussion, the importance of a certain self-government for Rovers emerged, but it seemed also indispensable to have the figure of an adult leader.

Rovering in the world

During those years, following the English example, a Rover branch was created in many scout associations. In some nations, especially in England, in the British Empire and in Northern European countries, Rovering was essentially an extension of the explorers’ activities, at a technical level more adapted to the age and with a specific focus on open air life.

In other countries, and especially in the French and Belgian Catholic associations, Rovering was characterized by a religious and spiritual emphasis (the “spirituality of the Road”).

However, in the scout world, there were and there still are associations which preferred to end Scouting after the explorer branch, fearing that Rovering might prolong teenage without responsibilities, with the risk for the young boy to remain inside, looking backwards in his childhood, instead of looking outside the Scout movement and forward, towards his future.

Among the three branches of scouting, the Rover branch is the one that has had the biggest difficulties in defining its line. We must also consider that, contrarily to what had been done for the other two branches, Baden-Powell had only defined the general lines for the Rover branch, without entering so much into details.

At the same time, the Rover branch has also been the place of the biggest vivacity and the biggest ferment of ideas. In some associations, it has often been also the incubator of ideas and initiatives, which influenced the youngest branches afterwards; sometimes they have led Scouting on roads quite different from the ones opened at the beginning.

Attilio Grieco

[1] E.K. Wade, The Chief, The life story of Robert Baden Powell, Wolfe

[2]t” in the term used in old English to indicate former English popular assemblies.

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