'Boy Scouts in War Time'


from a War-Time Children's Book


 Boy Scouts in War-Time

by G. Herbert Russell Assistant
County Commissioner of Scouts Associations

from ‘Victory Adventure Book’

The outbreak of hostilities found the Boy Scout movement still in its Infancy-several years, in fact, short of its teens-but even so the supreme test of war has shown its strength and sterling merit.

The boy who is already a Scout does not wish to hear his own praises sung. The boy who is not yet a Scout is probably unfamiliar with the objects and ambitions of the movement.

Within the limits of a short article one cannot deal thoroughly with the Scout movement, but, in order that details may be grasped. a word of explanation is necessary. It is not for one who is an official to institute comparisons between his own and other organisations of a somewhat similar nature. All are out to achieve the same result, though the methods of procedure may differ both generally and in detail.

In an army there is no room for petty jealousy between the various regiments, or between one branch and another of the service. Every one has his place on the field, whether he be with Horse, Foot, or Guns, R.A.M.C., or A.S.C. In the Navy the crew of a battle cruiser cannot look slightingly on the crews of the destroyers which accompany them on their 'lawful occasions.' Nor, on the football field, can the dashing wing three-quarter scorn the less graceful and often unseen labours of the hard-working forward.

The former may get through a match without ruffling a hair or dirtying his shorts. He may have scored the only try for his side; but h e knows that he could not have done this without the unceasing footwork of his sweating and begrimed colleagues, who have to he on the ball from 'kick-off' to 'no-side.'

It is almost unnecessary to say that the chief of the Boy Scout Movement is Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who, at the time of the Boer War, was to the brothers of present-day boys very much what Admiral Beatty and Admiral Sturdee are to them to-day.

Scouting seized the youthful imagination as nothing of the sort had previously done, and now its influence is world-wide. The credit of working out the ideas, and having the courage to put them to the test belongs wholly to the chief, but he is ever willing to admit that he was only following where others had led.

Amongst those who had led the way .should be mentioned Sir William Smith of the Boys' Brigade, and Mr Ernest Thompson Seton, the famous American naturalist ,and author. Sir Robert also owes much to past - he frequently alludes to his generations own illustrious ancestor, Sir John Smith, first Governor of Virginia, who is the beau ideal of what a good Scout should be.

Then the service of such men as Arnold of Rugby, Judge Hughes, the author of Tom Brown's School Days, Charles Kingsley, the archetype of Muscular Christianity, and Almond of Loretto, prepared the public to receive and accept the new doctrine.

Not so long ago the movement was looked upon by most people with good-natured amusement, as a fine game for boys, but few regarded it as likely to be ,of any practical value. Some thought it was making too much of the boys. 'Little half-naked urchins scurrying over the countryside,' said one old lady; 'better they stayed at home and cleaned the knives.'

Gradually, however, opinion changed. It began to be perceived that the movement was not merely a game. People came to realise that the lads were being trained to lead upright, honest, healthy lives, to be strictly honourable in all their dealings - in a word, to become good citizens.

The chief need of the age is fitness, both physical and mental: one without the other is of small value. The mental weakling cannot employ his physical strength to the best advantage, and no matter how gifted a man may be mentally, he cannot make the most of his abilities if he is bodily unfit, were it for no other reason than that the brain is a physical organ and cannot be at its best unless the body is in a fit condition. To this must be added another and equally important factor-moral fitness.

Now it is just these qualities-fitness, physical, mental, and moral-that the Boy Scout Movement is meant to further. Open-air life, tramping through the country, camping - all combine to make boys fit; the discipline teaches them to restrain personal desires for the sake of the general good : life in camp ensures practice of the lessons taught, and the actual work of scouting cannot fail to induce and promote habits of observation.

Professor Adams of London University pokes fun at the class of people who amble about the countryside with all the gateways of knowledge open-the mouth being one of them. Boy Scouts, however, never reach the 'gaping point.' Their eyes and ears are open, it is true, but at the same time their brains are working, so that while they are observant they have no temptation to 'stare' at things.

Though all this was recognised after a time, probably few people - even good judges-thought of the Boy Scouts as being of any material value in war-time; but they were quickly undeceived. In the first place, it is wonderful, when one considers how young the movement is, to note the number of ex-Boy Scouts who have found their way into the Army. Their Scout training is greatly in favour of their becoming good soldiers : all that is required is the military drill and a knowledge of the rifle.

It is noteworthy that men and boys who have been trained as Scouts are much quicker to settle down to their new life in the army. Precisely the same thing has happened abroad. Scouts are found in all countries, dressed in the same fashion, holding to the same Scout law, and striving after the same ideals. In Germany, which few of us at the present moment are inclined to take as an example. there are over 50,000 Boy Scouts. They have aided the authorities by acting as cyclist-messengers.

Russia, that strange country of which we know so little-and that little often wrong-has numbers of Boy Scouts, come of whom in their eagerness got away from school and made their way to the front. Most of them were turned back by the police, but a few managed to find a place with the soldiers.

One of these was a boy named Andrew Mironenko. Dodging the police he reached the troops in the front line. One dark night he and a companion slipped through the Russian outposts and passed into the German lines. Creeping into a park of artillery the reckless boys undid the screws of the breeches of several guns, and brought them in triumph into their own lines. Mironenko is only twelve years old, and as a reward for his bravery the Tsar awarded him the Cross of St George.

In France the Boy Scouts have been equally patriotic. Their services have been offered and accepted for many kinds of public work. AS cyclist messengers, and particularly as orderlies in the hospitals for wounded soldiers, they have proved of infinite use. Our French allies have adopted a new method of conveying sick and wounded soldiers to the hospitals. There are many canals in the country, and barges are now being employed for ambulance work. Here, again, Boy Scouts have been employed as attendants and orderlies.



That the movement is regarded seriously is evident from the words of General Gallieni when reviewing the French Boy Scouts. 'It is well that Germany should understand,' he said, 'that behind our soldiers there is another and a younger line ready to support them, eager, like them, to do their duty cheerfully, and to join with them in bringing about victory for France.'



Nor is this faith in the movement misplaced. A young French Boy Scout, for example, was captured by a body of German soldiers, and ordered to point out the position of the French troops. He refused, and was told that refusal meant death. Still he declined to give the information, and was shot. *(see also Atrocity Stories)

Belgium, too, that little land which put up such a glorious fight for freedom, has her Boy Scouts, and in their hands the honour gained by the gallant troops on the stricken field has not been suffered to grow dim. Many of the boys have joined the firing line, and have fought not only like men but like heroes. That the Belgian Boy Scouts know their business is clearly shown. One lad alone, Leysen, by name, killed one of the enemy with his own hand and captured no fewer than eleven spies. King Albert has shown what he thinks of this youngster's pluck and keenness by decorating him.

Many of the boys have been employed as hospital orderlies, others in carrying rations to troops in outlying positions, especially if, by any means, the regular transport corps was unable to carry out the work.

In the Dominions overseas, the Boy Scouts, in addition to other duties, have guarded railway bridges, and lines, telegraph and telephone cables, have taken up Government work in offices and hospitals, and generally are performing the duties of the men who have responded with such splendid eagerness to the call of the Motherland.

In spite of the war (perhaps, indeed, because of it), the Boy Scout Movement has made the greatest advance in its history. Let it be remembered that the movement was only some six years old. and in the nature of things had not yet had sufficient time to prove its true value. It would have been small wonder, indeed, if under a severe test it had shown signs of weakness, or perhaps had failed outright Yet under the sternest test of all - the test of war - the movement has risen victorious.

Happily our own country has not needed to employ her brave boys on the actual battlefield, but for all that she owes them a great deal. The presence of so many Germans in the country made it desirable that all reservoirs, telegraph and telephone cables, railway lines and bridges should be strictly guarded, and the military authorities, just as in the Dominions overseas, were very glad, indeed, to employ the Scouts as guards.

These boys were not playing at soldier; they were doing soldiers' work in very deadly earnest. Their previous training stood them in good stead. They could pitch and strike their own tents, receive and send signals, cycle with despatches, patrol the ground, take every advantage of cover, and detect suspicious characters or movements. They needed no waiting on : they could do everything for themselves, even to cooking. They were everywhere: the youth of Britain rushed to do men's work and let the men free for the fight against the insolent peacebreaker of Europe.

Not all, of course, were engaged in these more or less exciting duties. The service of large numbers was utilised at the various Government offices, on recruiting staffs, at the hospitals, and Red Cross Society offices, so that here, again, hundreds of men who would otherwise have been tied up, were released for service at the front. It is only fair to those boys who were engaged in an unromantic job to say that they stuck it out, and even gave up their summer holidays for the sake of 'doing their bit.' Most people knew that a large number of boys were employed in these various fashions, but few would have guessed boys that, at so early a date as the end that about 50,000 boys were thus serving their King and country. Yet such is the case.

It was perhaps natural that Scouts who had performed national service should have it recognised. Every Scout who has given twenty-eight days' service of not less than three hours per day is awarded a War Service Badge, and it speaks volumes for the eagerness and persistency of the boys that, at so early a date as the end of December 1914, no fewer than 50,000 of these badges had been awarded

It has often been said that without organisation nothing can be done. In all its departments, trade, army, navy, school organisation has been Germany's strong point. That this wonderful system has been directed to wrong ends has nothing to do with the question. The fact remains that the organisation was as nearly perfect as anything human could be. Hence one reason for the stand Germany is able to make at the present moment.

In Britain such a system is disliked, yet, if our position as a commercial nation is to be maintained, if our proud assertion that we are Mistress of the Seas is not to prove an empty boast, if we are to remain among the Great Powers, then we must organise very much more than we have done in the past.

The way has been shown by the Boy Scouts. Had the boys not been trained to 'Be Prepared' they would not have been able to play the part they have done. Further, it may be said that the principle upon which the training proceeds is that of being prepared not merely for what is probable - any one might think of doing that - but for what is possible. In this there is no scare-mongering, but simply the knowledge that any danger prepared for can always be met with the best chance of success.

It is a mistaken notion that a powerful and prepared nation must necessarily be looking for a quarrel. Kipling rightly summed up the position in the following lines :

Cleansed of servile panic, Slow to dread or despise; Humble because of knowledge, Mighty - by Sacrifice.

This principle has been employed in the formation of a Scouts' Defence Corps, consisting of lads not yet old enough to join the army, but willing to submit to military discipline in case their service should be needed. We have seen the standard of age, height, and chest measurement widened in scope since the war began, and in the course of time a trained man, even if too young for enlistment, will be of the greatest use in the defence of the country : he will certainly be worth a fair number of untrained men.

What has been said in this article about Scouts and Scouting applies both to Inland Scouts and to Sea Scouts, for both have done their best. Less seems to be known, however, of the work and organisation of the Sea Scouts than of their Inland comrades.

The mind of the average British boy is well stored with sea lore, and he takes instinctively to the sea, either as a means of earning a living, or merely for pleasure. Nothing is more natural than that the master mind that created the Scout movement, an attempt, and as it has proved, a very successful attempt, to train boys along the lines of their own hobbies, should have recognised in the sea, and in the inherent British love for the sea, a fruitful training ground for the development of those qualities which go to make the complete Scout.

The Sea Scout is as much a Scout as any other boy who has taken the three-fold promise of Duty to God and the King, Helpfulness to others, and Obedience to Scout Law. He obtains his discipline through the same Scout Law; and that wonderful mine of information, Scouting for Boys, is as much the handbook of the Sea Scoutmaster as of his brother on land.

There may or may not be a difference in uniform. Common sense dictates that the round man-of-war hat with chin stay is more suitable than the broad-rimmed scout hat for boating or scouting on the exposed and wind-swept shores of these islands. A jersey is frequently preferred to a scout shirt.

While the ordinary tests and badges occupy the attention of Sea Scouts, there is a natural preference for those which deal exclusively with the sea, and which, it might be as well to state, are open to all Scouts, whether they are Sea Scouts or not. The leading favourites are: boatman, swimmer, signaller, rescuer, watchman, pilot, and sea fisherman.

The other ranks are: Waterman, a Sea Scout who has obtained the boatman and swimmer badges: he is entitled to wear an eight-plait or other fancy knife lanyard, which he must make himself. Coast-warden, a waterman who has also the signallers' and rescuers' badges. He is entitled to wear an anchor on his cap-ribbon, between the words Sea and Scout. A King's Sea Scout must be a first-class Scout and a coast-warden, and must have in addition either the watchman, pilot, or sea fisherman badge. He wears a naval crown in the same position as the ordinary King's Scout badge.

Naturally there is a greater element of risk in training boys in boats, but then there is hardly any British sport worthy of the name that is not accompanied by risks, and the thoughtful regulations laid down for the training of Sea Scouts have reduced this risk to a minimum. For instance no boy may be a member of a row-boat crew till he has won his swimmer's badge, nor may he be a member of a sailing-boat crew till he has qualified as a waterman.

The coast-guard have been of the greatest help to Sea Scouts. They have proved invaluable as instructors or examiners, and sometimes the Divisional Officer has been persuaded to act as a commissioner.

The Admiralty have always taken a friendly interest in the movement, and some time ago drew up instructions for the employment of Boy Scouts on coast watching duties. The boys have been encouraged to attend the local drills with the life-saving apparatus, and have been allowed to keep watch with the coast-guard or Board of Trade coast watchmen.

When war broke out many of the coast-,guards were called up to the Fleet, the stations being thus left undermanned. Yet the work of watching was of more importance than ever, and could not be neglected. The Admiralty called upon the Boy Scout Association to provide boys to take up the work, and the Sea Scouts joyfully rushed to fill the breach. As time went on and schools reopened, the supply of Sea Scouts became inadequate for the number of stations and war stations to be served; so Scouts from inland counties were called upon for help. From farthest north to farthest south the coast was watched by some 1500 boys, eager, alert, daring, and resourceful.

And there is no make-believe about 'their work. They keep watch, patrol the shore, work the telephone, carry despatches, and, under the coastguard officers, do everything that is needed. Nor is this work without danger. At Whitby, during the time of the German raid, the Scouts on duty were shelled by the hostile fleet, and one boy, King's Scout Rob Miller, lost his right leg.

It is interesting to speculate what the future of scouting will be after peace is restored.

The movement has certainly had a splendid opportunity of showing its powers.

At present with the great majority of officers, ex-Scouts, and even of last year's Senior Scouts, serving in His Majesty's Forces, there is not really much chance of developing the movement-sterner matters occupy the attention of all.

Troops are really being held together; sometimes by the boys themselves, in other places by lay friends.

While, unfortunately, many who have gone will never return, on the other hand, there will be many thousands of men who, after their wider experiences, will find life in the old narrow groove too small and mean, and it is hoped that many will be attracted to the Scout movement. The losses of the flower of our manhood have been so heavy that if ever it was necessary to produce a generation of strong, healthy, manly citizens, it is necessary to-day.

One thing certain is, that no matter whether it be inland or coastal, town or country, the raw material is waiting for the hand of the craftsman, and it is only a matter of getting the right men interested in the movement to make it a greater success.


boy-scouts in Nancy in August 1914
drawing from 'The Graphic' by van Anrooy after a sketch by journalist Philip Gibbs


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