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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Boy Scouts in WW1

Geert Spillebeen

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  • 5 months later...

The following excerpt is taken from Notes and Sketches of Scenes, Characters and Adventures of the Dardanelles Campaign made by John Hargrave (“White Fox”) while serving with the 32nd Field Ambulance X Div. Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.

A Scout at Suvla Bay:

Many times have I seen the value of the Scout training, but never was it demonstrated so clearly as at Suvla Bay. Here, owing to the rugged nature of the country, devoid of all signs of civilization, a barren, sandy waste, it was necessary to practice all the cunning and craft of the savage scout. Therefore those who had from boyhood been trained in scouting and scout craft came out top-dog. And why? - because here we were working against men who were born scouts.

It became necessary to be able to find your way at night by the stars. You were not allowed to strike a light to look at a map, and anyhow the maps we had were on too small a scale to be of any real use locally. Now, a great many officers were unable to find even the North Star! Perhaps in civil life they had been men who laughed at the boy scout in his shirt and shorts because they couldn't see the good of it! But when we came face to face with bare Nature we had to return to the methods of primitive man.

More than once I found it very useful to be able to judge the time by the swing of the star-sky. Then again, many and many a young officer or army-scout on outpost duty was shot and killed because, instead of keeping still, he jerked his head up above the rocks and finding himself spotted jerked down again. The consequence was, that when he raised himself the next time the Turks had the spot "taped" and "his number was up." This means unnecessary loss of men, owing entirely to lack of training in scout craft and stalking.

Finding your way was another point. How many companies got "cut up" simply because the officer or sergeant in charge had no bump of location. As most men came from our big cities and towns, they knew nothing of spotting the trail or of guessing the right direction. Indeed, I see Sir Ian Hamilton states that owing to one battalion "losing its way" a most important position was lost--and this happened again and again--simply because the leaders were not scouts.

Then there were many young officers who when it came to the test could not read a map quickly as they went. (Boy scouts, please note.) This became a very serious thing when taking up fresh men into the firing-line. Those men who went out with a lot of "la-di-da swank" soon found that they were nowhere in the game with the man who cut his drill trousers into shorts, went about with his shirt sleeves rolled up and didn't mind getting himself dirty. There were very few "knuts" and they soon got cracked!

Shouting and talking was another point in scouting at Suvla Bay. Brought up in towns and streets, many men found it extremely difficult to keep quiet. Slowly they learnt that silence was the only protection against the hidden sniper. I remember a lot of fresh men landing in high spirits and keen to get up to the fighting zone. They marched along in fours and whistled and sang; but the Turks in the hills soon spotted them and landed a shell in the middle of them. Silence is the scout’s shield in war-time.

I must say khaki drill uniform is not a good hiding colour. In the sunlight it showed up too light. I believe a parti-coloured uniform, say of green, khaki and gray would be much better. Therefore the Scout who wears a khaki hat, green shirt, khaki shorts and gray stockings is really wearing the best uniform for colour-protection in stalking. The more scouting we can introduce the better. Carry on, Boy Scouts! Bad scout craft was one of the chief drawbacks in what has been dubbed "The Glorious Failure."

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I have seen a photo of a Scout showing, in 1914, recruits to the army, how to slide acroos a railway line so as not to be seen on the crest of a hill. Presumably, the same technique could be used without the railway.

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  • 4 months later...

Geert & June.

There is a memorial to Bob Wroughton in St Andrew's Church, Chaddleworth - which raises my interest in him.


If either of you have a photograph that I can use on my website when I tell his story I would be most grateful to receive it.


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I understand the Belgian Boy Scouts acted as Despatch Bearers for the War office in Brussels in 1914



And here's the Ancestry link to the Great War Magaxine Chapter on the Organisation of Youth in the War by Sir Robert Baden-Powell


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Here in Luxembourg, Scouts, even though the Scout Association was only founded in 1914, worked in some at least of the military hospitals as orderlie, etc.

So, they must have been helping both German and French soldiers.

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  • 2 months later...

As a matter of interest the 20 boys at the first Scout Camp at Brownsea were not Scouts at all. They were boys supplied by the Boy's Brigade (Bournemouth I believe) and a public school ( I believe Eton)

The camp was an experiment by BP at a time when he was a member of the Boy's brigade and thinking of starting his own movement


Patrick, B-P was not, and never was a member of the Boy's Brigade. He had certainly been approached by Sir William Smith to see if B-P's handbook for men and NCOs in the British Army 'Aids to Scouting' might be adapted for use by the BB. We shall probably never know the precise logic applied by B-P at the time but rather than undertake the commission for the BB he wrote 'Scouting for Boys' which was published by Pearson in fortnightly parts. He was encouraged by all sorts of influential people because of the experience that the Army recruiters had had during the second Boer War (from which B-P emerged as a national hero) whereby they found the majority of potential recruits simply did not meet their minimum standards of health and fitness. B-P was also aware of the potential within the youth because of the cadets that his second-in-command at Mafeking had raised and utilised throughout the siege as runners and the like.

His camp on Brownsea was intended as an experiment to test the ideas in 'Scouting for Boys', which is why the participants were drawn from a wide social mix " mixed up like plums in a pudding". The success of the camp, combined with the overwhelming success of the actual publication - remember B-P was to British youth such as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were to late 1960s Americans. The Scout movement emerged and B-P had to be encouraged, not least by King Edward VII, to actually take it on as a worthwhile project for the good of Empire! He was in his own mind still pursuing a military career, and was the Inspector-General of Cavalry. There are few towns in the UK and other countries where Scouting had by then started, where the Boy Scouts were not very active in the war and were being used by civil and military authorities. The book 'Croydon and the Great War' has the local authority pouring all sorts of praise on their local Boy Scouts, mentioning their early roles supporting the establishment of local war hospitals, of coast watching in Kent and a multitude of other local duties. They were described as 'ubiquitous' in relation to the recruitment drives, for example, and for assisting in the organisation of the recruitment stations.

My own grandfather was a Scout in Wiltshire, and he showed me the places his Troop had spent training for various war-time type activities - such as identifying and reporting accurately on troop movements. It's just as well they were on our side! The Boy Scouts were engaged in coastal watches from the outbreak of war, with boys being sent away from home for such duties. They're 'Patrol' system was extremely useful for these roles, and the leadership demonstrated by the youthful Patrol Leaders demonstrated to the authorities, civil and military, that even fourteen year olds could be left with responsible leadership functions, which they performed as their own leaders were taken into the Armed Forces.

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  • 5 years later...

Morning Everyone,

I'n trying to find some photo's of former Scouts that served in the King's Liverpool Regiment. 


24997 Pte.Ellis Rogers, kia 30/7/16

Lieut.Reginald Ernest Melly, kia 30/7/16

25725 Pte.Harry Grace, kia 1/7/16

2nd.Lieut.Frank Everard Boundy, kia 30/7/16


All are listed in the Scouts Roll Of Honour.




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I have only just seen this thread. I have seen a photo in a book (possibly Osprey Press?) of a Belgian Boy Scout assisting a unit of the BEF by (I think) carrying a soldier's rifle for him.


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One for the record - HERBERT BAGSHAW - 1st Matlock Troop.


He survived the war despite service in Gallipoli/Suvla evacuation, time in Egypt, then to France July 1916 on [N&D #13252]

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The article from  Suvla was most interesting and was I think a very clear detailing of the benefits of scouting which could be realised in adult service.  In my experience, soldiers who were cadets or scouts/BB alumni were nearly all better oriented to the profession.  Fieldcraft learned at 13/14 seems to stick and leadership is something developed over time by those suited to it...

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