Time to Remember: Scouts in the First World War.

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They laid down their lives fighting for king and country.

Large number of adult leaders were called to serve their country never to return.

A generation that served, never to return or to return with a host of physical and mental health problems. With the Scout movement very much in its infancy, how did the First World War affect the movement?

The wartime spirit

At the start of World War One, the government planned to militarise all youth organisations for the war effort. For the Scouts' founder, Robert Baden-Powell, this was unacceptable. After all, how could a movement that prided itself on peace take part in the fighting as part of the military?

Scouts during the First World War on bicycles delivering messages.
Scouts acted as messengers during the First World War. Picture from the Scout Heritage Collection.

Instead, Scouts focused on keeping the home fires burning with the services of the movement offered to help with non-military tasks. Under the guidance of Scout commissioners and chief constables, Scouts handed out information to local people, organised relief measures within their community and acting as messengers, guides and orderlies.

Scouts were involved in establishing first aid stations, refuges and soup kitchens. They assisted the coastguard in coast watching duties, an activity for which a proficiency badge was issued and perfect for the new Sea Scout branch of the movement. This vital work continued throughout the war and involved many Scouts. As Scout Leaders and Scouts were called up to fight, Scouts looked after themselves - youth shaped Scouting you might say - or looked to new places for their leaders such as women Scoutmasters.

Fifteen members of the movement were awarded the Victoria Cross for outstanding acts of courage and bravery, including Jack Cornwell. Baden-Powell paid tribute to Jack’s heroism and introduced the ‘Cornwell Scout Badge’ for bravery by young people which continues to be awarded to this day.

How were Hampshire Scout affected?

We don't know all the stories yet but we'd love to find more out! Here are some we know about.

Six Southampton Scouts – four from the 2nd Freemantle Troop, one from the 11th St Mary’s and the other from the 20th St Laurence Troop – were on the hospital ship Britannic which was torpedoed and sunk by a U-boat off the coast of Greece. They were among 16 Scouts, acting as orderlies and messengers, who were all saved. The Southampton Scouts were later each presented with an engraved pocket compass from the White Star Line.

A lasting impact

When in November 1918 the war came to an uneasy end what was the impact? The cost had been terrible, but it was evident the Scouts had done their duty. Baden-Powell considered this dilemma carefully and launched less than two years later the first World Scout Jamboree.

The Jamboree would, and still does, bring Scouts together from across the world and from every background to celebrate peace, unity and celebrate our differences and our unity. The first, to be held in London Olympia, would also be Scouts' showcase to the wider public and was an exhibition reminiscent of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Baden-Powell would use his closing speech at this Jamboree to invite Scouts to commit themselves to the cause of reconciliation and peace:

"Brother Scouts, I ask you to make a solemn choice.

Difference exist between the people of the world in thought and sentiment, just as they do in language and physique.

The war has taught us that if one nation tries to impose its particular will upon others, cruel reaction is bound to follow. The Jamboree has taught us that if we exercise mutual forbearance and give and take, then there is sympathy and harmony.

If it be your will, let us go forth from here fully determines that we will develop among ourselves and our boys that comradeship, through the world-wide spirit of the Scout Brotherhood, so that we may develop peace and happiness in the world and good will among men.

Brother Scouts, answer me. Will you join me in this endeavour?"

Robert Baden-Powell

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