Robert Baden-Powell

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Robert Baden-Powell (around 1919)

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell OM , GCMG , GCVO , KCB , FRSA (* 22. February 1857 in London , † 8. January 1941 in Nyeri , Kenya ) was a British cavalry - officer and founder of Boy Scout Movement .


Family coat of arms

Robert Baden-Powell was born the seventh of eight sons out of a total of ten children. His father also had four other children from a previous marriage. He was raised by his mother as his father (professor of theology and geometry at Oxford University ) died when he was three years old. His first name is made up of parts of the name of his ancestors Robert Stephenson , a railway pioneer, and John Smyth, a captain who was in the service of Elizabeth I of England . Nickname later became BP (English Bee-Pee , German pronounced Bi-Pi - also his nickname among scouts).

The double name with Baden came about at the instigation of the mother Henrietta Grace, who did not want to be “another Powell among a thousand others.” She therefore chose the German-sounding first name of her husband “Baden”, which had been given in the family two generations earlier. In addition, "was at a time of marital than the German roots and the diversity of compounds of the royal family had no reason to be ashamed of, a German-sounding name a definite social advantage - after all, he had a familial connection to the family of the Grand Duke of Baden thinking . Henrietta Grace even decided to incorporate parts of the Grand Duke's family coat of arms into the coat of arms of the Powell family. ”(Tim Jeal, p. 46)

Childhood and youth

Grandfather awakened Robert's thirst for adventure and the joy of nature. So he often visited Hyde Park with him , of which he drew extremely precise maps. When his grandfather died, Baden-Powell made numerous forays through the poor districts of the city and got to know the suffering and misery of these people. Even then he was convinced that something had to be changed. The then 8-year-old Baden-Powell realized that the inhabitants of the slums seemed to differ from the others mainly by their clothes. He wanted to change this, and this was probably one of the most important factors in the decision to introduce the Boy Scout attire. During his school days, Baden-Powell used every free minute to look for animal tracks and to get to know the forest. He often went camping with friends during the holidays. The vacation trips with the brothers helped "Stevie", as he was called in family circles, to have experiences that would play a major role in his later life.

His entry into the Charterhouse School at the age of 13 opened up other fields of activity for him: He learned how to creep in the large school park without being noticed by the supervising teacher. He could make a fire that didn't smoke and therefore wouldn't reveal his whereabouts. BP was an average student, not too interested in what the school offered. He got along well, but nowhere did he particularly stand out, apart from two areas: He was an excellent actor and had to be present at all of the school's performances. He was just as necessary as a sovereign goalkeeper when playing football. It was amazing to see that he could draw and write equally well right- and left-handed, a skill that he had learned self-taught. After school, he was supposed to go to university, but failed the entrance exam at Oxford University and then enrolled at the Sandhurst Military Academy .

Military career

Baden-Powell passed the entrance exam in the cavalry as second and in the infantry as fourth best and was accepted into a cavalry regiment without having to complete the two-year training at the Sandhurst Military Academy.


Baden-Powell was transferred to India in 1876 , where he crept into the jungle in his free time and observed the wild animals. His biographer Tim Jeal attributes this to the fact that he did not find any friends among his fellow officers during his first visit to India. Evening drinking bouts were very popular with them, in which Baden-Powell initially took part, but after an accident he looked for other leisure activities. According to his biographer, the accident involved an alarm in the camp in which Baden-Powell stormed out of the tent with his revolver drawn, tripped over a stool and shot himself in the foot. He accused his servant of having the barrel of the weapon fully loaded instead of leaving the chamber under the tap free. His comrades told the story a little differently, saying that Baden-Powell was too drunk to be able to use the gun safely. Having learned from such damage, Baden-Powell organized theatrical performances within the garrison for recreational purposes and made his first experiences with youth groups. He recognized early on the flaws of British colonial rule , which treated the Indians like "underdeveloped British " and not like people with a different but great culture . After he had learned Hindi privately, he went on forays into the slums again. Here he also developed the famous "system of small groups": He put the soldiers together in groups of five to eight men; these then chose a patrol leader from among their ranks. In this way he promoted a sense of responsibility and independent thinking in the soldiers. In 1880 he was ordered to map the Maiwand battlefield, the scene of a terrible defeat by the British in the war against the Afghans . It was in this cruel place with its half-skeletonized people and horses that his first great doubts about the meaning of the war came to him. Because of his skills in track reading, which he had demonstrated in numerous cases, he was commissioned to train the trackers (scouts).

South Africa

Due to the explosive situation in South Africa , Baden-Powell and his regiment , the 13th Hussars, were transferred there. He was already a celebrity for his book News Service and Scouting , which was written in India . His first assignment was disguised as a reporter to explore the Drakensberg , an almost insurmountable natural border with the Boer states .

He visited the Zulu and Boers in their settlements and returned with excellent maps and the hope of a peaceful solution. In 1885, when the situation had calmed down, he and his regiment were transferred to England, but unsettling news was soon read about South Africa again. The Zulu king Dinuzulu gathered more and more people in a secret society that now comprised around 16,000 Zulu and led them into a two-front war against the British and the Boers. Since the British and Boers had to fend off the Zulu, gold diggers and slave traders had a free hand. This further troubled the region. On the British side, 2,000 Zulus also fought; they had chosen the Scotsman John Dunn as their chief.

Because of his good knowledge of the area and, as envious people said at the time, perhaps also because his uncle was Commander-in-Chief, Baden-Powell was reassigned to Africa as an adjutant with the rank of captain . The first thing he did there, after a shocking experience, was to successfully train soldiers in first aid . He immediately went in search of Dinuzulu, whom he found in his hiding place and which he then drove out of it together with only one companion. Shortly thereafter, Dinuzulu was caught and Baden-Powell was promoted to major early . After their arrest, Dinuzulus supporters made peace with the British without further resistance.

Malta and the Balkans

Baden-Powell then spent a year as a soldier in Malta and two years as a secret agent, drawing fortifications in the Balkans; then he was transferred back to England at his own request. In 1895 he was transferred back to Africa due to the war with the Ashanti people . He was involved in the capture of the last sovereign Asantehene (king) of the Ashanti, Prempeh I , who was then 24 years old. In 1919 he became a founding member of the Boy Scouts in Ghana .

Matabele land

No sooner had Baden-Powell returned to England than he had to go back to Africa. In the so-called Matabele -Land north of the Transvaal was second Matabelekrieg broken out, and soon the scattered surviving British were either killed or in the provincial capital of Bulawayo fled, but even this is now threatened an attack by about 10,000 Matabele warriors in the had entrenched the surrounding mountains. Baden-Powell opposed a military solution that would have meant a bloodbath and captured one of the leaders of the uprising, a medicine man named Uwini , who believed he was immortal due to the action of a god and had to kill all whites. This is where Baden-Powell got its nickname from the Matabele: Impeesa (The wolf who never sleeps; in another translation: hyena prowling at night) . According to Baden-Powell, this decision was “one of the most difficult of his life”.

Baden-Powell was wounded in skirmishes with insurgent locals. He himself took the view that Africans could only be ruled with an "iron fist in a velvet glove".

Second Boer War

Baden-Powell as Colonel

On June 14, 1899, Colonel Baden-Powell was back in Africa: the Second Boer War had broken out. Since the British army was stationed scattered all over the Empire and it took time to assemble the troops in South Africa, a plan was developed to keep the Boers busy for the time being with little British forces. This required an extraordinarily good and talented command officer. The choice fell on Baden-Powell, who always referred to this as an “opportunity of a lifetime”. But the plan failed and Baden-Powell was stopped by the enemy at the border. So he had no choice but to hide in Mafeking with his two regiments . Together with volunteers from Mafeking, he had almost 2,000 men. His opponent was the Boer general Cronje, who had almost 9,000 men. By clever maneuvers, Baden-Powell managed to hold Mafeking with his troops for 217 days. The town's boys were used as reporters , and Baden-Powell was soon impressed by their courage and independence.

Baden-Powell was an avid book writer, and the manuscript for his book Aids to Scouting for NCOs and men was in the last mailbag to leave town before the siege. By defending Mafeking he became a war hero in England. In December 1899, the British had lost three major battles against the Boers in the “black week” - despite their superiority. In Mafeking the reverse took place: Baden-Powell's inferior forces were able to assert themselves against superior Boer forces. Baden-Powell was promoted to general and further used in the Boer War. Although he was briefly encircled again (from July 10 to 21, 1900 near Rustenburg), this had no negative effects on his reputation or his career, as his superiors were themselves jealous of each other. Baden-Powell was awarded the Companion des Order of the Bath (CB) in 1900 for defending the city and was promoted to the youngest major general in the British Army .

Inspector General of the Cavalry

By founding the South African Constabulary (SAC), a British-Boer police force , Baden-Powell contributed a lot to the real pacification of the country. The British High Command had chosen the South African city of Stellenbosch as the training location , a center of wine-growing today as it was then. To Baden-Powell's chagrin, this tempted many of the soldiers to drink parties. When there was later drinking among scouts, Baden-Powell always referred to this as "Stellenbosching".

Promoted to major general, Baden-Powell was now to organize the entire British cavalry on the model of the SAC and was appointed inspector general of the cavalry. In April 1908 he was additionally entrusted with the command of the emerging 50th (Northumbrian) Division from the Territorial Army .

In March 1910, Baden-Powell ended his military career with the rank of lieutenant general . From then on he devoted all his energy to the scout movement he founded.

On October 30, 1912, he married Olave St. Clair-Soames , whom he had met on a trip around the world. The wedding took place in Poole in southern England, the town with Brownsea Island in the port area . They later had three children (Peter, Heather and Betty).

Boy Scout Movement

Robert Baden-Powell on Brownsea Island in 1907
Memorial stone on Brownsea Island , the site of the world's first scout camp

Baden-Powell officially retired on May 7, 1910. Only in 1907 did he find enough time to implement his long-cherished idea of ​​a youth scout troop. Originally he was involved in the already existing youth group "Boys Brigade", but quickly realized that it did not meet his expectations. He wrote another book ( Scouting for Boys ) which became his eleventh book. In order to be able to test some of it in practice, he organized a camp on the island of Brownsea in the port area of ​​Poole from August 1-8, 1907. He arrived a few days earlier in order to be able to prepare the camp. 21 boys from all walks of life took part in this camp, including his nephew Donald. He divided the young people into so-called patrols and wrote the scout laws . In 1908 his book Scouting for Boys appeared , which is considered to be one of the most important educational works of the 20th century. Here he also used the teaching principle “ Learning by Doing ” for the first time . In 1909 King Edward VII took over the patronage of the boy scouts, in Chile the first boy scout group outside of England was founded, and there were the first girl scouts. From 1918 the family seat Pax Hill near Bentley ( England ) became the coordination point for the growing scout movement. Only later was a central coordination point created, today's World Scout Bureau . In 1920 the first Jamboree (World Scout Meeting) took place in London , 8,000 scouts from 34 nations took part. At the 1929 Jamboree there were already 50,000 scouts from 72 countries (41 nations and 31 parts of the Empire).

Old age and death

The grave of Lord and Lady Baden-Powell in the Nyeri cemetery

Baden-Powell's lifetime achievement as a general, scout leader and citizen was remarkable. For example, he wrote 34 books, initially for the army, and eventually for the scout movement. His last book, More Sketches of Kenya , was completed in 1940.

Baden-Powell spent his old age in Nyeri ( Kenya ), where he died on January 8, 1941, at the age of almost 84. Shortly before his death he had written one letter to the Boy Scout Boys and one to the Boy Scout Girls. In his letter to the boys he left the scout movement with her most important sentences to this day:

“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 ... "

“But the real way to be happy is to make other people happy. Try to leave the world a little better than you found it. "

- Robert Baden-Powell

Lord Baden-Powell was buried in the Nyeri cemetery. At the funeral, boys and girls in their Boy Scout costumes stood by the grave, six Scoutmasters carried the coffin. British officers saluted. In accordance with the last wish of the deceased, no big speeches were given, only a trumpeter blew the scout whistle. On Baden-Powell's tombstone there is a circle with a dot “☉” in it. It is one of the international signposts known to all scouts , with which they can send encrypted messages across all language barriers. This message from Baden-Powell reads: "I have done my job and have gone home."


Baden-Powell wrote a total of 34 books. The best known of them are:


As an officer and scout, Baden-Powell received a total of 37 awards and honors in the course of his life, 18 of them from abroad (Spain, Portugal, Greece (2 x), Denmark, Belgium, France (2 x), Poland, Afghanistan, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Lithuania, Netherlands, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia). These were:

In 1909 he was knighted as Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and was addressed as "Sir". In 1922 King George V bestowed him the hereditary title of Baronet , of Bentley in the County of Southampton . In 1929 Baden-Powell was promoted to peer baron Baden-Powell , of Gilwell in the County of Essex , which also gave him a seat in the House of Lords . The territorial dedication "Gilwell in the County of Essex" refers to Gilwell Park , the Scout camp at Chingford , which also serves as a training center for scout leaders.

Lord Baden-Powell was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times , including ten times in 1928.

In 1935 he was the first boy scout to be unanimously awarded by the International Committee in Stockholm the highest distinction in the scout movement: the bronze wolf .

He received honorary degrees from a total of six universities:

  • 1910 from Edinburgh University,
  • 1923 from Toronto University,
  • 1923 from Montreal University,
  • 1923 from Oxford University,
  • 1929 from Liverpool University and
  • 1931 from Cambridge University.


  • Robert Baden-Powell: Scouting for Boys . Pearson, London 1908, OCLC 462668818 .
  • Robert Baden-Powell: My adventures as a spy . Spurbuchverlag, Baunach 2014, ISBN 978-3-88778-424-9 .
  • Robert Baden-Powell: luck on the journey through life . Polygraphischer Verlag AG, Zurich 1962.


  • William Hillcourt with Olave, Lady Baden-Powell: Baden-Powell - The Two Lives Of A Hero . Heinemann, London 1964.
  • Hans E. Gerr: Boy Scout Education: Baden-Powell's draft of an education through scouting. Influences and development tendencies (=  books on youth education . Volume 1 ). Deutscher Spurbuchverlag, Baunach 1983 (205 pages, dissertation University of Würzburg 1981).
  • Tim Jeal: Baden-Powell . Biography. Pimlico, London 1991, ISBN 0-7126-5026-1 (English).
  • Walter Hansen: The wolf that never sleeps. The adventurous life of Lord Baden-Powell . Georgs-Verlag, Neuss-Holzheim 1997, ISBN 3-927349-17-8 .
  • Tim Jeal: Baden-Powell, Founder of the Boy Scouts . Yale University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-300-09103-6 (English).
  • Tim Jeal: Baden-Powell, founder of the scout movement . Biography. vdL, Wesel 2007, ISBN 978-3-926308-11-5 .

Web links

Commons : Robert Baden-Powell  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. See Jeal, Tim, Baden-Powell. Founder of the scout movement, translated by Cornelius Hartz, Wesel 2007, p. 71.
  2. Renate Maurer: Of Zulus, Lions and Wild Men - How Robert Baden-Powell invented the “Boy Scouts”. Audio: - ( Memento from November 24, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  3. ^ Piers Brendon: The Decline and Fall of the British Empire - 1781–1997. London, 2007, p. 123 f., P. 141.
  4. ^ Johnny Walker: Brownsea and its significance - The world's first Scout Camp. Archived from the original on June 14, 2011 ; Retrieved October 18, 2013 . ; in: Scouting Milestones; February 2006
  5. EE Reynolds: BiPi , 1st edition 1954, JP Himmer KG, Augsburg, p. 137.
  6. Quoted from: Michael Stubbs: Text and Corpus Analysis. Computer-assisted studies of language and culture. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
  7. London Gazette . No. 28296, HMSO, London, October 12, 1909, p. 7493 ( PDF , accessed August 12, 2010, English).
  8. London Gazette . No. 32095, HMSO, London, October 22, 1920, p. 10197 ( PDF , accessed August 12, 2010, English).
  9. a b London Gazette . No. 32798, HMSO, London, February 23, 1923, p. 1296 ( PDF , accessed August 12, 2010, English).
  10. London Gazette . No. 32815, HMSO, London, April 17, 1923, p. 2810 ( PDF , accessed August 12, 2010, English).
  11. ^ Scout Leobersdorf. Retrieved November 13, 2014
  12. London Gazette . No. 33536, HMSO, London, September 20, 1929, p. 6032 ( PDF , accessed August 12, 2010, English).
predecessor Office successor
New title created Baronet (of Bentley)
Peter Baden-Powell
New title created Baron Baden-Powell
Peter Baden-Powell