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On this day in history in 1857, was born Robert Baden-Powell.

On this day in history in 1889, was born Olave Baden-Powell

Robert Baden-Powell was an army officer who became adept at military scouting, and used his scouting skills to establish a world scouting movement. Olave Baden-Powell organised and developed the Girl Guide movement.  

Robert Baden-Powell was born on 22nd February 1857, at Paddington, London, the son of Rev Baden Powell. The Rev Powell died when the young Robert was three years old, at which time the family, for some mysterious reason, changed the family name to Baden-Powell, an amalgam of the late Reverend gentleman’s forename and surname. Robert Baden-Powell was educated at Charterhouse, where he was known for his skills at yachting and canoeing, but not particularly for his academic ability. He joined the army in 1876 and was posted to India where he joined the Secret Intelligence Service, in which he learned the art of military reconnaissance. In the 1880s, Baden-Powell was noted for his use of eccentric military techniques, such as observation balloons.   

During the Boer War, Baden-Powell successfully defended the fortress of Mafeking, until the city was relieved, an event which proved to be the turning point of the campaign. After the War, Britain annexed the Boer lands, forming the Union of South Africa. Baden-Powell was employed to train the local constabulary in cavalry techniques and the art of scouting. He enhanced his own scouting skills from encounters with Zulu tribesmen. Baden-Powell wrote a small manual entitled Aids to Scouting, which was published inn London and achieved outstanding success. To encourage interest in scouting, the publishers asked Baden-Powell to produce a further text, aimed at those with little or no experience of scouting. In response, he came up with Scouting for Boys, an experimental work. Before publication he tested the principles outlined in the book, on a camping trip on Brownsea Island, in 1907. This is generally agreed to be the beginning of the scouting movement.     

In about 1908, scout groups spontaneously arose around the country. At a rally for the nascent scout movement held in Crystal Palace, Baden-Powell was surprised to find hundreds of scout troops, including troops of girl scouts. The movement was flourishing but the disparate groups were uncoordinated.  

In 1910, Baden-Powell retired from the army with the rank of Lieutenant General, in order to try to synchronise the embryonic scout movement. Baden-Powell never accepted any title of ‘chairman’ or ‘president’ or ‘leader’. He was a coordinator who offered advice and guidance. In 1920, Baden-Powell did accept the honorary title of ‘Chief Scout of the World’. During the First World War, Baden-Powell offered his services to the War Office, but Lord Kitchener is reputed to have said that ‘he could lay his hand on several competent divisional generals, but could find no one who could carry on the invaluable work of the Boy Scouts.’  

In 1912, Baden-Powell met Olave Soames, on an Atlantic liner and a romance blossomed. Strangely they had the same birthday, and stranger still, there was an age gap between them of 32, and stranger yet, they were married that same year. Olave was just the sort of woman for Baden-Powell. She was an outdoor type, interested in tennis, swimming and canoeing. Her father was a wealthy brewing magnate, who presented the couple with a matrimonial home, Pax Hill, where they lived until 1939. Olave became involved with the feminine side of the scouting movement, whose members she called ‘Girl Guides’ rather than girl scouts. Although it is Baden-Powell’s sister, Agnes, who is credited with founding the Girl guides, Olave was the undoubted leader of the movement. During her life’s work, she visited over 100 countries, attending Jamborees and Scout and Guide functions. In 1930, Olave was elected ‘World Chief Guide’.  

In 1939, Baden-Powell visited Nyeri, Kenya, hoping to recuperate from a devastating illness. He died there on 8th January 1941, and is buried near Mount Kenya. On his tombstone is inscribed a symbol of a circle with a spot in the centre, , the trail sign for ‘I have gone home’. Olave died on 19th June 1977 and her ashes were sent to Kenya to be interred with her husband. The couple’s joint birthday, 22nd February, is commemorated as ‘B P day’ by the Scouts and as ‘Thinking Day’ by the Guides. 

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