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Robert studied at Charterhouse school. Discipline was strict but, as soon as he could, the young boy ran to the wood just behind the school which was forbidden to the pupils. He had to be very astute to escape from the teachers’ control. This did not prevent him from inventing many games, observing animals and cooking small game on “fires without smoke” in order not to be discovered. He was considered as a careful pupil, a good player and a friendly boy, full of imagination. But he was not considered as a genius. With his brothers, he often had the opportunity of exploring the countryside, of camping and canoeing. This childhood gave him a strong formation for life in the open air and resourcefulness.
In 1876, he chose a military career. At the entry competition, he arrived at the second position, which surprised everyone. Lieutenant in the Army of the Indies, he developed his gifts for sport, observation, fancy dressing and life in the open air. For some time, he was an intelligence agent in Russia. Then he became a colonel in 1899 and commanded the 1 000 men of the garrison of Mafeking, in South Africa, besieged by the Boers.
The siege lasted 217 days, during which B.P. multiplied tricks and astuteness, even using young boys as messengers, observers, sentries. The resistance by the Mafeking besieged people was carefully followed by the whole British press. The liberation of the town on May 16th 1900 turned B.P. into a national hero. Named General Major, he organised the South-African mounted police.
At the beginning of his military career, in the soldiers’ training, he insisted on the spirit of initiative and the sense of observation. He himself became an excellent military scout and trained numerous scouts: at the outposts of their troops, they have to find out the way and possibly to locate the enemy, to be able to manage in hostile or unknown territory.
B.P. published his observations on “scouting” (the art of military scouts) in 1899 in a small booklet meant for militaries: “Aids to scouting”. We do not know how the British Army welcomed this book. But we know that when B.P. came back to England he was quite surprised to discover that his book was very famous among educators and young boys who drew their inspiration from it for their games and activities, and even for observation activities in the programme of some schools.
As a colonial soldier, he cared for the greatness of England. For him, this depended on health, education and good citizenship from all. He was struck when he discovered the contrast between the young population of London suburbs, in bad health, idle and often delinquent, and the young soldiers, sound and vigorous, open, whom he contributed to train on both continents. When he used teenagers of Mafeking as dispatch-riders and scouts during the siege (to keep men for the defence of the ramparts), he also observed that boys were solid and able of great things, as long as we know how to talk to them and really trust them.
Many boys wrote to him and he always answered them thoroughly. All this incited him to start working and planning the use of all the techniques that he had experienced during his campaigns to put them at the service of the boys, in a perspective of peace.
In August 1907, he went with about twenty boys to Brownsea island, for an experimental camp. He made patrols of five boys led by one of them and had them practise through games the exercises recommended by his method. The boys and B.P. considered the results as excellent. Then, chapter after chapter, he published a book called “Scouting for boys” (translated in French under the title “Eclaireurs”). This book is considered as “the bible of scouting”. According to the author, it offers to youth clubs and movements a new education method which is the fruit of his experience, based on a law, a promise, life in patrol and activities in the open air. Very soon, millions of copies of this book of “good citizenship at the school of nature, by the knowledge of woods” were sold.
As soon as « Scouting for Boys » appeared, boys spontaneously formed their own patrols, more and more often outside the existing institutions. Without really wanting it, B.P. was obliged to organise this new-born movement. With the help of Edward VIII, king of England, he left his military career in 1910 and dedicated all his time to scouting. Then the history is confounded with the one of world scouting and guiding.
About Baden Powell’s life, let us also remember that it ended in Kenya, on January 8th 1941. His house was called “PAXTU”, a neologism that could mean: “peace to you, or peace with you”. For the main characteristic of scouting invented by Baden Powell is to educate children and young people of all races, languages, cultures, religions and social conditions, to become – contrarily to the soldiers whom he trained – “scouts of peace”, that is to say happy men and women, useful, active, at the outposts of existence. Scouting, in unceasing expansion since its creation, has undoubtedly been the biggest independent movement of education, apolitical and based of volunteers, throughout the world. Each scout, each guide, everyone individually and all together at all levels of the association, try to be faithful to the founder’s message: “Try to leave this world slightly better than you found it”.