William "Green Bar Bill" Hillcourt
www.woodbadge.org and other
William "Green Bar Bill" Hillcourt is considered by many Scouters to be
the Baden-Powell of American Scouting. He has had significant influence
on the program of the BSA and the training Scouters receive through Wood
Badge in this country. Who was "Green Bar Bill"?
IN THE BEGINNING.... William "Green Bar
Bill" Hillcourt was born in Aarhus, Denmark in 1900 under the name
Vilhelm Hans Bjerregaard Jensen. Around 1930, he changed his name by
anglicizing "Vilhelm", dropping "Jensen", and translating "Bjerregaard"
into "Hill-court". The youngest of three sons of a building contractor,
his first published work was a poem about trolls and elves, printed by an
Aarhus newspaper when he was nine years old. For Christmas 1910,
Hillcourt's brother gave him a Danish translation of Baden-Powell's
Scouting for Boys. He went on to earn the highest rank in Danish
Scouting, Knight-Scout, at age 17. After moving to America, he also earned
the BSA's highest rank, Eagle Scout; until the 1960s, adults could earn
merit badges and ranks. He was selected to represent his troop at the 1st
World Scout Jamboree in Olympia in 1920 where he first met Baden-Powell.
His introduction Boy Scouting came in January 1911, at the age of 11,
after his parents gave him B-P's newly translated Scouting For Boys as a
Christmas gift. Bill went on to become the Danish equivalent of an Eagle
His Troop sent him to the first World Jamboree in London, in 1920, and
a habit started that would move him into the international Scouting
spotlight for the rest of his life.
COMING TO AMERICA.... It was
1926 and Bill Hillcourt was a "Cub Reporter" for his Copenhagen newspaper.
Bill talked his Editor into sending him to the U.S. for its first National
Jamboree -- after all, Bill was a Journalist who was also one of Lord
Baden-Powell's Scouts. The paper ought not be "scooped" by someone else by
being absent from such an austere event where England's great Lord
Baden-Powell would speak to the very first gathering of American Boy
Scouts! The convinced Editor sent his Journalist to the U.S. to cover
BSA's first Jamboree for the paper!
Bill didn't return to Denmark. He broke his leg at the Jamboree and
while awaiting passage home, visited Scout Executive Dr. James E. West at
the BSA office on Times Square in New York City. Awaiting the building's
elevator with his leg in a walking cast, the doors opened; Dr. West
stepped out and Bill fell forward trying to step in -- right into Dr.
West's arms! Two handicapped Scouters met abruptly.
What they had in common caused Dr. West to invite Bill Hillcourt to his
office. Once there, Dr. West learned all about Bill Hillcourt, why he was
in the U.S. for a BSA Jamboree, and visiting BSA & West.
THE START OF A NEW CAREER.... Bill's
enthusiasm about Scouting and being a journalist led West to offer Bill
his first job in the Supply Service of the new, expanding
BSA Program. Later, Bill challenged West's implementation of the scouting
program -- that BSA didn't follow B-P's Patrol Method correctly. West
challenged Bill to write a replacement for BSA's 1910 Official Handbook,
that had been published as an Americanized version of B-P's Scouting for
Bill had already written his first book three years earlier at 23: a tale
of Scout camping, based upon his own Patrol's experiences. But this book
had to be written in English; boys not only had to read it, but enjoy it,
and follow B-P's Methods. Bill always enjoyed telling his story of how a
Dane with poor English came to learn our language well enough to write a
best-selling book for American boys.
To improve his English, particularly when it was already corrupted with
"Americanisms", Bill used to go to Times Square to watch movies. He spent
two months on BSA's payroll attending American movies He'd watch a morning
matinee; then a different early-afternoon matinee; then yet another
late-afternoon matinee. This is the way Bill learned the colloquial
American language of English. His first Boy Scout Handbook was a smashing,
run-away, best-seller success; it was written as Boys talked. Boys
understood it; they liked it; and they followed it. Bill's new BSA career
was off to a running start.
Bill Hillcourt went on to write a Patrol Leader Handbook, a
Scoutmaster's Handbook, and the Field Book; then updated them from 1929
until he retired. In 1932, while writing the various handbooks, Bill
started to enliven the pages of Boys' Life with his famed Scoutcraft
features, leading generations of boys into the outdoors. For four decades
until he retired, Bill wrote his feature column under his pseudonym of
"Green Bar Bill", with a logo of "Bill" hand-written on top of the two
green bars of a PL.
Bill became involved in Wood Badge in 1936 when John Skinner Wilson,
Camp Chief of Gilwell, came to introduce Wood Badge to the United States.
After adapting the training to the BSA program, Bill served as Scoutmaster
of the first two courses (and many others thereafter). You'll want to hear
more about this.
In 1964, Bill wrote Baden-Powell - The Two Lives Of A Hero, yet another
distinguished writing effort. As he wrote in his acknowledgements, "....I
have had the unstinted help of the three leading characters in the life of
Baden-Powell -- himself (B-P), his mother (Henrietta Grace Powell), and
his wife (Lady Olave Baden-Powell), and .... numerous other people." (One
of whom was B-P's daughter, Betty St. Clair.)
RECOGNITION AS A WORLD SCOUTING PROGRAM LEADER...
For his work with and for the youth of the United States, Bill received:
- the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award
- the St. George Award and
- the Silver Buffalo, BSA's top Scouting award.
Bill's work for Inter-American Scouting was
recognized with its highest award,
- the Youth Of The American
and for his work with youth around the world, he was honored with
- the Bronze Wolf, World Scouting's highest award.
EPILOG... William "Green Bar Bill"
Hillcourt was a personal friend of B-P. When Bill died at 92 on November
9, 1992, in Stockholm, Sweden, he still had several of B-P's original,
signed sketches hanging unadorned on his apartment walls in Manlius, NY.
Two copies of B-P's original serialized newspaper articles that became
B-P's Scouting for Boys sat idly yellowing on a bookcase shelf beside
several autographed first-edition copies of B-P's Scouting for Boys.
In his life-time, William "Green Bar Bill" Hillcourt became Scoutmaster
to the world; revered by BSA Scouters everywhere as the "B-P" of American
Scouting -- equally as important as William Dickson Boyce, Ernest Thompson
Seton, Daniel Carter Beard, and Dr. James E. West as BSA founders!
The first US Wood
As the Boy Scout program program
matured in the USA, it became apparent that Wood Badge could provide
valuable advanced training. To familiarize the United States with Wood
Badge, John Skinner Wilson, Gilwell Park Camp Chief, came from England to
provide a Rover Scout Wood Badge Course for BSA at New Jersey's Mortimer
L. Schiff Scout Reservation.
Hillcourt was a member of the Burnham Patrol on that WB Course, May 12-20,
1936. Four days later, May 24 to June 3, 1936, Bill was the Staff Troop
Leader and "Dog's Body" (Senior Patrol Leader) for a second course.
It qualified Bill to receive his WB Beads in 1939, and to become the
national Deputy Camp Chief of the United States.
After World War II and a BSA training
hiatus, Wood Badge was re-awakened to become a permanent part of the
American Scouting scene.
Early in 1948, the new Scout Executive
who had replaced Dr. James E. West, appointed four national Staffers to
get Wood Badge underway as a national training standard. Bill Hillcourt
was one of the four, BSA's first Deputy Camp Chief and by then, also the
national Director of Scoutcraft.
These four national Professional
Staffers decided from the start that two BSA Wood Badge courses would be
run in 1948:
the first at NJ's Schiff Scout
Reservation with Scouters mostly from the Northeast, as a proving ground
for this BSA WB training
(Course #1, July 21 - August 8, 1948)
the second at Philmont Scout Ranch in
New Mexico, would be fine-tuned to become the standard of Wood Badge for
(Course #2, October 2- 10, 1948)
William "Green Bar Bill" Hillcourt was
the Scoutmaster for both.
The Philmont course was held
Cimarroncito. Thirty-five (35) men mostly from the Western parts of the
U.S., assembled at Philmont's "Big House" at noon on October 2, 1948, to
launch BSA's Wood Badge.
The course started tenuously with
Professional Scouters pitted against Volunteer Scouters. SM Bill Hillcourt
regrouped his Staff and broke an impasse. Patrol spirit soared and
Participants overcame the obstacles of high altitude, physical and mental
fatigue, slow and difficult supply deliveries, poor communications with
the Philmont Ranch, and bad weather with rain, sleet, snow, and cold!
Philmont's Wood Badge #2 Course
followed that of WB #1:
it was unquestionably a mountain-top experience. Tired Scouters returned
home with strong, enthusiastic feelings; the future of Wood Badge in BSA
William "Green Bar
Bill" Hillcourt's Totem became a circle with "WILLIAM HILLCOURT" as it's
circumference; "Bill" was handwritten at an angle over a PL's two green
bars inside the circle; at its bottom, two leather throngs came out of a
WB Woggle; the left one held three beads and the right one, two beads --
Bill was a "5-Beader"!
Thanks to Joe Fisher of the Longs Peak
Council, a personal friend of Bill's for the above narrative. Joe last
visited with Bill a year before his death at his Manlius, NY home. And
also to Jeff Bogart, Course Director WM-62-2-98 held at Philmont's Zastro
Camp which was held 50 years after Bill Hillcourt conducted the first US
Wood Badge courses.
Council, Boy Scouts of America
PO Box 399 Jefferson, GA 30549