B.P’s Blog – A Picture of Bad Scouting

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During his lifetime Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide Scouting movement, wrote many books and articles directed to Scouters.
Each Sunday I’ll publish a selection from his writings in the hope that you’ll draw inspiration and understanding from his timeless ideas.

I REMEMBER once seeing a picture in a public gallery on the Continent which attracted a great crowd of people round it, and so excited them that one heard frequent ejaculations from them such as “Shame!”, “The brutes!”, and so on. I don’t think I have ever seen another picture have so direct an effect on those looking at it.

The subject was a regiment of infantry marching along a hot, sunny road. One man had fallen dead by the way-side, his comrades were glancing at him with varying expressions of pity as they passed, one of them was placing a few flowers on his breast, while an officer strode by apparently unmoved.

That was all: but just at that time there was a great outcry against the officers of the army of that country because of the large number of deaths from sunstroke which were occurring among the young soldiers at manoeuvres. The feeling was so strong that in numerous cases officers were stoned by the villagers as they passed. And, though an officer myself, I could not help sympathising with the feeling against them — because the deaths were largely the outcome of bad scouting.

Bad scouting in two senses. In the first place, the officers at that time — I am speaking of a good many years ago, mind you — were very bad at map-reading: they would start out at early dawn with their troops to get to their destination before the heat of the day came on, but with no bump of locality and poor ability in reading maps they were, at high noon, still wandering about the country, utterly lost, with their men played out, struggling along under a pitiless sun.

That was bad scouting in one sense, and they were also bad scouts in that they did not see to what extent their men were suffering until it was too late. They themselves marched at the head, trying to find their way — leading on at a hurried pace, unencumbered with much kit, and anxious to get home, while their young recruits struggled along behind them, loaded up with heavy accoutrements, crowded together in the dust, fagged and tired, literally, to death. Things are different now in that army, but I am grieved to find that there is a sign here and there in our own Movement of somewhat similar bad scouting on a minor scale.

Some young Scoutmasters, from over-keenness, have been putting their boys to tasks of endurance that are really beyond them in the way of long marches or long-distance despatch rides.  Fortunately, only one or two cases have occurred, but I venture to give this hint in the hope that it will make others, who may be contemplating such expeditions, pause and consider.

I know it is very tempting, when you have got a smart Troop of well-trained, keen, athletic boys, to go ahead and do a big thing with them — and the boys themselves are eager for it. But it leads to competition, to making “records,” and to over-exertion, which may do little harm to the well-formed young man at the head, but may be fatal in laying seeds of heart disease, strained ligaments, lung troubles, etc., in the lad whose organs and muscles are immature and only now forming themselves. The evil may show no sign at the time even to a Scoutmaster who is a good Scout and reads signs below the surface. The great thing is to avoid the risk of it by never calling on the boys to exert themselves to their full extent of endurance.

A father wrote to me last year, very proudly, of the achievement of himself and his Scout son in doing a great bicycle ride within a short space of hours. I am afraid I wrote rather rudely in reply, which drew on me a rebuke from him. At the same time I remain unrepentant, because I know the danger of such feats to the ultimate health of the boy. It is no use to put immature creatures to tests of their powers of endurance. The thing for us who are training the future men of our race is to build up in them the foundation of good, sound organs and healthy bodies by encouraging the use of nourishing food and welldesigned moderate exercise. This will enable them to endure when they come to be men, instead of breaking them down while they are still in the critical period — the growing stage. It has been suggested to me that a Regulation should be made forbidding such tests of endurance, but for our brotherhood I hate “Regulations.” I am certain that the more experienced Scoutmasters all agree with me in this very plain but none the less important truth about endurance tests. What I hope is that they will impress it when giving advice to their younger fellow-Scoutmasters.

August, 1913.

From B.P.’s Outlook

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