England -- Saturday, May 3, 2008
from a business trip to the Middle East this week I scheduled to end my trip with a Friday
meeting in London with a client I needed to see, leaving my Saturday WIDE open
for a side trip to Gilwell Park, northeast of London in the Epping Forest
called ahead of time and gotten directions from the park, and was able to take
the Tube and the train from London to the town of Chingford, a charming little town that's
northeast of the city. A visit to a bookstore gave me maps and
directions, as well as a great tip for lunch- a delicious club baguette and a
lemonade two doors down.
start walking! As soon as I started walking north, I was out of town in five minutes flat, walking beside a golf course and through another small town, all inside the
Forest Preserve. Very pleasant walking and very historical at every step-
"Robin Hood sort of stuff, old chap." I was already glad I had done this,
since it got me out of London and the hordes of tourists. This was the England
I wanted to see.
an hour of easy strolling, I had arrived! Gilwell
Park, the home of UK Scouting and of the World Scouting Movement.
Gilwell is a
working Scout camp, and I was glad I had scheduled a Saturday visit- lots of
Cubs, Scouts, Rovers and Staff about camping and doing. A nice young staff
member pointed me to the office, where I let them know "An American volunteer"
was on the premises (always a good idea), then I sat under the big clock tower
in the middle of the square and soaked in the atmosphere of the kids coming and going, the
chattering, the laughing- reminded me of Scout camps everywhere I've ever been!
immediately noticed the statue of "The Scout"
that was done by Dr. Robert Tate McKenzie and donated by the Philadelphia Area Council.
There were dozens of kids running around eating ice cream
and drinking soft drinks, ignoring history (just like I did as a kid).
This life-sized statue and gift from America was old hat to them, but not to me.
It was Dr. McKenzie's desire to make the statue available to any community that
wished to buy one providing that it was properly erected, suitably landscaped.
(A duplicate of this statue also faces the grave of
D. Boyce, the man whose interest
brought Scouting to America.)
I had to go visit the "provender" (what we would call the trading post), where I met Brian and Dot, fellow Wood Badgers,
UK unit leaders and now staffers. Dot asked if I had enough
time for a tour. "Dot, you are all I have scheduled today!" was my answer.
We ambled off, camera in hand.
behind the square was a really nice moving climbing wall, with heavy padding on
the floor. The den leaders were running the wall, with Cubs politely
encouraging and joking with the Cub climbing on the wall. The moving wall is a
great idea, and I wonder if it's something we should adopt back home-- I noticed
that the kids were not being belayed, but then, they weren't getting very far
above the ground, either, which was heavily padded.
Dot told me
that the wall was very popular with all age groups, since it also tilted (!!) and offered challenges
through older Scouts, including their Rovers (our "Venturers"). I got a
real charge out of watching the kids cut up with each other- very polite, very
well behaved, but still boys! (The ones seating were yelling "Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!
Jump!" to the one on the wall.)
It was a
breathtakingly beautiful English Spring day- it was cool without out being cold,
it was partly cloudy and breezy- the kind of day we often dream about back home
and get when we're really lucky! Dot said I picked the perfect day to
past a climbing tower, where youth staff were belaying climbers, boys and girls,
Scout age. "Our most popular area" said Dot. "Just like
home." says I.
no time at all, we were in the camp, observing a really "with it" English troop.
I immediately noticed there were much older Scouts working closely with younger
Scouts, teaching knots.
THAT'S how Scouting is supposed to work. And I noticed the adult leaders
were sitting in the distance watching and staying out of there way. Was I
impressed? Very much! You can see how they are teaching in groups,
too- and I noticed that as some of the learners "got it," the teachers let the
younger ones teach their peers. Clearly this Troop had well-trained adult
leaders who knew how to use their older Scouts well. I said as much to
Dot, who said, "Oh, that's an impressive lot, all right." (Ah, English
two different troops- this troop as well as a group of all black Scouts and
adult leaders, who were planning a trip next year "...to
Wisconsin in America. Do you know where that is? Are the people
nice?" they asked. (How do you answer that one? Just nod and try not to
look too dumb, I guess.) The campsite looked like a typical Saturday at any
campout- some of the kids were smiling, some
were sleepy, some were hamming it up for the old guy with the camera, and all of
them were focused on cooking or eating lunch.
A turn to
the right, and we were at the lake.
was a gift from Adolf Hitler," said Dot. "Huh?" says I, voicing my
Southern ebullience. "Did you say a gift from Adolf Hitler?" As we looked at the troop who was launching their homemade
raft into the water (far right), she told me that during World War II, there were three bomb
hits in the park from German bomber sorties, one of which was big enough to create this lake, which they
enlarged even more.
seems that during World War II there
were heavy anti-aircraft batteries protecting the city of London from German
attack, and the
Luftwaffe was bombing either the anti-aircraft emplacements
at Gilwell, or were bombing the nearby foundry
and gunpowder works
(who had also cast guns for the South during the war of Southern Independence
less than 80 years earlier). The other two bomb hits were also in
the park, but were filled in after the war. One hit a big woodpile
("instant kindling") and another was on the north side, and is still marked on the
continued to walk south through the camping area, then we cut through a copse of
trees to a large, open field. Looking
down across the southern boundary you could see in the far distance the city of
London, while looking behind you is one of the AA gun emplacements. But of
course, there were Cub Scouts on plastic sleds, sliding down the hill and dragging
their sleds back up to do it all over again! All were wearing light blue
uniform shirts and red neckerchiefs, and most were wearing rubber boots against
the mud from all the rain.
noticed something unusual behind me.
this line of daffodils for, cutting down and across the field?" says I.
"Oh, that's the prime meridian" says Dot. "We made it easy by planting the daffodils.
Put a foot on each side and I'll snap your photo." Yep, that's the
north-south line for the world, and I got to straddle it, putting one foot in
the eastern and one foot in the western hemispheres. On the other side of
the world, the International Date Line.
me back north along a dirt road. "This is Hoe
Lane" she told me, and told me the story about a famous English Highwayman
(robber) who was from Chingford and
Gilwell and who used to rob people, then disappear into the forest. He was
eventually caught and hanged; it seems the main entrance into Gilwell Park is
the only paved section of this road, which traverses Gilwell and exits the
property to the west. Hoe Lane is apparently a very ancient trail become
ancient road, and it runs in through Gilwell.
I even got
a ghost story out of Dot- but I'm not telling it here. You have to visit
for yourself. I will say it relates to the family who used to live on the
property back in the 17th century, and their reversal of fortunes. As one
walks through the dark woods, the sounds of kids having fun in the background
slowly fades and it's easy to imagine how things were.
next showed me the Buddhist memorial and a few other old structures, including
the 1927 caravan the Scouts bought B-P out of their own money, as we walked out
of the trees. The photo on the right is the director's program cabin from
Gilwell's first training director, and it was used heavily by B-P and the
And yes, unbeknownst to me, it faces Scouting's earliest adult leader training
field. Looking over my shoulder behind me, I looked
out over what back home I would have called a pasture. "Are we
close to the original Gilwell Training Field?" I asked Dot. "The original
field was in this end of the park, wasn't it?" (Yeah, I know, by now I'm
starting to sound like my kids saying "Are we there yet?" Thank goodness
for Dot's immeasurable patience.)
"Indeed we are- in fact, if you'll keep turning all the way around you'll
see the original training field used by
Baden-Powell and subsequent training courses." I turned around and looked across a rather
well-chewed up field (chewed up from the World Jamboree in 2007).
It was a very large and open field, flat and well-drained, surrounded by trees.
It's a nice place, and I can see why Baden-Powell chose it.
fact, it's still used today by the UK Scouting movement-- no "holy ground" here
at Gilwell Park, but because the field was so torn up last year by thousands of
boots in rainy weather, it has to be "off limits" until the grass grows back
over the next few years.
on the right side of the photo, a 350-year-old oak, "The Gilwell Oak,"
which separates the training ground from the orchard. As to its size, I
had to move to the other corner to get it all in. You
can see tour guide Dot in the lower right corner; she would have no trouble
walking under the tree and not being able to touch it's bottom branches.
This tree was very much around during the early courses, and was a large
and mature tree even then- a convenient teaching place where patrols and even
the troop could gather. It is thought by many that B-P used it as an
outdoor classroom, and I could see why. I would love to use it as a
on, Dot next showed me a
really nice statue of Baden-Powell given to Gilwell Park by the Scouts of
Mexico. After Dot took my picture next to the statue, she shared an
interesting personal story which really struck a chord with me, and I want to
share it here.
her elderly father in law (Brian's father) had been a Scout back in its very earliest days, and
had met Baden-Powell on many, many occasions. Fast forward 75 years.
With Dot and her husband Brian working at the Park, then became Brian's father's
caregivers, including when he as "all but
comatose" as she put it. She told me that as her and Brian were wheeling
him through the camp one nice afternoon they passed this statue, and he "sort
up" and pointed to the statue. Dot noticed that he seemed greatly
disturbed and continued to point to the statue you see on the left. "What's wrong? What it is, Dad?" she asked.
Robert." he said most emphatically.
that three days later, her father-in-law died; these were the last words he
spoke. She said that she and Brian later realized that "B-P's boys" in the
very beginning would have known him not as "Lord Baden-Powell" or even "B-P" but
by his first name, "Robert". So in spite of being a Major General and "The Hero of Mafeking",
Robert Stephen Baden-Powell remained "Robert" to the boys. Just
another ordinary hero. Is that a lesson for us today?
this statue is another small statue given by the Boy Scouts of America, a
Buffalo, dedicated "To the Unknown Scout" that introduced Scouting to William
Boyce, who took it back to America. Our "Silver Bison" is our highest
national award, and with all the Wood Badge buffaloes back home, I had to take a close up photo.
(I would have been gored by the buffalo herd if I hadn't.) ("Totonka!")
Legend: According to Scouting literature, including several versions
of the Boy Scout Handbook, William Boyce was lost on a foggy street
in London in 1909 when an unknown Scout came to his aid, guiding him back to his
destination. The boy then refused Boyce's tip, explaining that he was merely
doing his duty as a Boy Scout. Soon thereafter, Boyce sought out and met
with General Baden-Powell, who was the head of the Boy Scout Association.
The Real Story:
Boyce stopped in London en route to a
safari in British East Africa. It is true that an unknown Scout
helped him and refused a tip. But this Scout only helped him cross a
street to a hotel, did not take him to the Scout headquarters, and Boyce
never met Baden-Powell. Upon Boyce's request, the unknown Scout did give
him the address of the Scout headquarters, where Boyce went on his own and
picked up a copy of Scouting For Boys.
stop on the tour was "The White House," which is the original house that
came with the property when it was purchased for Scouting.
beautiful 17th century mansion with a slate roof, updated to 21st century
amenities. Now used as a corporate conference center, you can see
from the photo that it's lost none of its beauty and charm. UK
Scouting gets much of its program revenues from companies being able to
use its facilities for training and other events.
"The White House" is the central reception area and dining area, and of
Some Concluding Thoughts
It was nice
to see how Scouts in other cultures have donated memorials at Gilwell Park, and how hard
the management and staff work to maintain its heritage even while ensuring it's
a working Scout Camp and training center for Scouters, just the way Baden-Powell wanted it.
Badin-Powell much more as a man, rather than an icon. Yes, he was a
visionary, but Dot's story about her father-in-law helped me to see B-P more as
the original training ground, Gilwell Oak, and walking the lanes that thousands
of others who have walked before me, including the Chief Scout of the World-
well, it's moving.
encourage any Scouter to pay a visit to Gilwell Park some Saturday-- fly to
England (you don't need a Visa, just a passport), take the train out to
Chingford and show up at the camp. It's wonderful to be able to walk among
the trees, smell the grass and listen to kids being kids.
I will leave
this post with Baden-Powell's final address to Scouts the world over, which I
read today again while I was at the park, and it brought home to me the wisdom
of this great man with new meaning:
If you have even seen the play Peter Pan you will remember how the pirate chief
was always making his dying speech because he was afraid that possibly when the
time came for him to
die he might not have time to get it off his chest. It is much the same with me,
and so, although I am not at this moment dying, I shall be doing so one of these
days and I want to send you a parting word of goodbye.
Remember, it is the
last you will ever hear from me, so think it over.
I have had a most
happy life and I want each one of you to have as happy a life too.
I believe that God
put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn’t come
from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor by
self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and
strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so can enjoy life when
you are a man.
Nature study will
show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for
you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look
on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one.
But the real way to
get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this
world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can
die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have
done your best. ‘Be Prepared’ in this way, to live happy and to die happy –
stick to your Scout promise always – even after you have ceased to be a boy –
and God help you to do it.