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The Early History of Air Scouting

Albatross badge

I have excused myself in the Early History of Sea Scouting for never having been a Sea Scout, yet having the nerve to write about its history. The same is true for Air Scouting, but as on all other Scouting Milestones pages the hard won historical 'bones' stemming from my researches have been enlivened by those who have taken the time to contribute their own or in many cases the experiences of family members who were present at the time our Scouting history was created but have since passed away.

Major Baden B-P

Major Baden F S Baden-Powell - 1860-1937

ANOTHER similarity with the Sea Scouting Milestone Page is that this account also begins with a profile of one of Baden-Powell's brothers. It is reasonable to suppose that the Chief Scout would look to those around him, especially his nearest and dearest, to provide expertise when he thought it was relevant to the cause. Warington Baden-Powell's credentials were not found lacking in Sea Scouting and his influence was profound. I believe that many people will be surprised to find that the same holds true for Baden Baden-Powell and Air Scouting. Baden Baden-Powell was no mere bystander in pioneer aviation, he was at the forefront in balloon, kite and then powered aircraft in the very earliest days of manned flight.

Firstly, an explanation of the name is in order. The Chief Scout was not baptised Robert Baden-Powell. He was the son of the Reverend Professor Powell whose Christian name was Baden. The Rev. Powell died in 1860 when Robert was only three, but not before he had fathered the last of his ten children, Baden Fletcher Smyth Powell. The Chief Scout's Biographer, William Hillcourt, says kindly that Mrs Henrietta Powell decided to change the family name to honour her dead husband. However, she did little without good reason and much of what she did was to improve her own, and her children's, status in society. A double-barrelled name would help, especially one with a Germanic ring to it, like that of her sovereign, Queen Victoria. So, with the change of the family name on September 21st, 1869, to Baden-Powell the youngest son took on the unlikely name of Baden Baden-Powell. We are not told what his school friends (Baden attended Charterhouse) made of that!


Invitation to a Balloon Garden Party

IN 1880 Baden Baden-Powell witnessed his first balloon ascent, and was enthralled. He made a point of getting to know some of the Balloonists and joined the Aeronautical Society, as it was then called. In 1882 he was commissioned in the Scots Guards, but his passion for things aeronautical was unabated. Aged only 23, he gave a lecture to his elders and betters at the Royal United Services Institution on Ballooning - and what he had to say on that occasion, as indeed was the case often in his life, turned out to be prophetic.

"It seems surprising that a body of aeronauts does not form a regular branch of every civilised army."

Baden B-P seized the opportunity of going to see anything that had the potential to fly and, like his mother and brother, was very good in making important connections with the great and good of the day. He visited the Zeppelin works in Germany, was present at many major pioneer balloon ascents in Europe and the USA and developed and proved his own design for man-lifting kites. At Pirbright Camp in 1894, Baden constructed a huge kite 36 feet tall, which raised him off the ground. Later that year, with five smaller kites only 12 feet high, his 11-stone (150-pound) body was lifted to an altitude of 100 feet.

Man-lifting kite
Baden Baden-Powell is either in the air, on at the forefront of the picture as his kite lifts its human load

In 1886, with only six active members left in the dwindling society, Baden was elected a member of the Council of the Aeronautical Society, a role he was to fill for over 50 years. Around this time however, his duties in the army led him to travel to even more countries than his more illustrious older brother. They were, though, both in South Africa during the Boer War, resulting in an amazing coincidence at the Relief of Mafeking on May 17th, 1900. Baden Baden-Powell entered Mafeking with the Relief forces and reportedly woke his brother from his slumbers to tell him that Mafeking had been relieved!

In 1901, Marconi used one of Baden Baden-Powell's 'Levitor' kites to raise the ariel to a height that would enable him to help make the first electronic wireless transmission to America and this apparatus, complete with 'Levitor' kite, was used in the field in the later stages of the Boer War. Baden's kites were also put to use in transferring mail from the destroyer Daring to another ship. In these early days interest in 'avionics' encompassed all maters relating to flight including kites, balloons, gliders and model aircraft. The vision of powered aircraft had yet to be achieved which until Orville and Wilbur Wright's fist flight in June 1903.

The 'Youngest Scout' with his Scout Kite

On his return from South Africa in 1902, Baden Baden-Powell became President of the Aeronautical Society and the Society prospered, becoming the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1918 and has a membership today of over 17,000 in over 100 countries. On 1907 the Aeronautical Society put on a 'Kite Display' and Major Baden Baden-Powell and the Hon C S Rolls were central to its organisation. Though Rolls was to go on to found, in partnership, the prestige automobile company that bears his name. (The Founder of the Scout Movement was to own two Rolls Royce Motor Cars, including the famous Jam Roll. In 1903, Rolls was a friend of Baden Baden-Powell and like him was a pioneer balloonist with over 170 ascents, and also a founding member of the Aeronautical Society. In June 1910 he became the first man to make a non stop double crossing of the Channel, but was killed just ten days later at a flying display in Bournemouth when the tail broke away from his Wright Flyer.

The competitions in Kite design and kite flying were to remain a feature of the Aeronautical Society for many years. The Flight of July 10th, 1909 carried the charming photo below of Frank Slater who is described as "the youngest Boy Scout" with his Scout. It should be remembered that the Wolf Cubs were not formed until 1913, and though against the Founder's wishes, some Scout Masters allowed recruits of a very young age. How it was that young Frank Taylor came to be a Scout may never be known, but he was, without doubt, the first Scout ever to be photographed taking part in Air Activities!

Naturally Baden-Powell's enthusiasm for all matters aeronautical included powered flight and in 1908 and he went to France, just before the first powered flight in England, to fly with Wilbur Wright, one of the two Wright brothers. He wrote at the time:

Royal Aeronautical Society badge
"That Wilbur Wright is in possession of a power which controls the fate of nations is beyond dispute."

He developed his own plans for a military plane, which he tried to sell to the War Office. At the 1909 Olympia Air Show, he successfully demonstrated his own semi-rigid air ship and a clockwork aeronautical camera. Baden Baden-Powell was also an early glider pilot and in 1910 designed and flew his own lightweight powered monoplane 'The Midge'. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society in 1919, a position he retained until he died 1937.

The above is only a very brief account of Baden Baden-Powell's achievements, the significance of which are certainly recognised by the Society he served so well, but little known of him today by the general public compared if compared with to his more famous brother. The Royal Aeronautical Society still has his portrait in army uniform (see above opposite first paragrah) which, not suprisingly, is very similar indeed to those of the same period painted of his brother, the Founder of the Scout Movement. (See Sources below)

Baden Baden-Powell was without doubt a visionary and, like most prophets, attracted a fair amount of scorn and derision at one time or another. In answer to his critics in the early days of the 20th Century he wrote:

"What will the good citizens of London say when they see a hostile dynamite-carrying aerostat hovering over St Paul's?"

These words came to have a terrible significance in both the First and Second World Wars.

Support from Claude Grahame-White

Air Show Postcard

FROM around the same time that Baden Baden-Powell was designing his own flying machines comes this early example of Scout air-mindedness. The rare postcard reproduced here, features possibly the first photograph ever captured of Scouts and powered Air Activity. It was taken about 1911, at the Hendon Air Show where the Scouts might have been used as 'pushers and tuggers' to move the machines around on the ground. The plane on the ground is a Bleriot (Similar to the first plane to cross the English Channel with its pilot Louis Bleriot on July 25th 1909, (also shown on the Cigarette Card below) and Grahame-White, the English pioneer aviator, is in the air flying a Farnam biplane. (Any more information about this image would be very much appreciated.)

Claude Grahame-White (b. 1879), one of the foremost British aeronautical pioneers, survived into old age, where so many of the other early aviators, such as the Hon. C S Rolls, were killed in accidents. Grahame-White was one of the first Englishman to gain an aviator's certificate in 1909, and was the first British pilot to fly at night and to carry mail. He won the prestigious Gordon Bennett Cup with the then record speed of 60½mph in 1910 and would have won a £10,000 prize offered by a newspaper for the fastest flight between London and Manchester except for the fact that those employed to look after his 'plane' the night before, (not Scouts!) did not, and it turned over in a gale. He founded the First British Flying School, was the owner of Hendon Airfield before the First World War and organised many early Air Shows. He ran a successful aviation factory and published many works on aircraft from both historical and practical aspects. Grahame-White was a visionary, but, like Baden Baden-Powell, he was not supported by the Government of the day. Perhaps as a result of this, Germany had 600 aircraft at the outbreak of the First World War whilst Great Britain at had only sixteen!

Claude Grahame-White's Wedding

The above postcard image was taken at Hendon Airport near London which was the focus for English Aviation prior to the First World War, and was the location for Graham-White's Aircraft Factory and Flying School. Naturally with Grahame-White's patronage it was also the location for many early Scout Air activities, some of which are depicted on these pages. The former aerodrome has since been put to many uses including the Royal Air Force Hendon Air Museum and a Metropolitan Police College. The site still houses an original Grahame-White Hanger which was part of his Aircraft Production Factory and is now a Grade II listed building.

The aviator was central to the pre- first war development of British Aviation and would have been able to contribute very positively to the British flying efforts had he been listed to and had the War Department not requisitioned his Aerodrome and Aircraft factory which they refused to relinquish or provide compensation for until 1925 when a threatened court order and exposé by Lord Northcliffe in the Daily Mail forced them to do so. The Government settled out of court paying Grahame-White the then vast sum of £500,000 in compensation.

There was no doubt that Grahame-White was a supporter of Scouting. Scouts formed a Guard of Honour at his wedding in June 1912 at Hylands House, Chelmsford, where he and several of his friends arrived in their aeroplanes. A photograph of the happy couple with Guard of Honour formed the cover image of July 6th 1912 Flight magazine and appeared again in the July 27th edition of The Scout which was a Special Flying Number.(The grounds of Hylands House were the venue of the 2007 Centennial World Jamboree.) The photograph below showing Grahame-White and Agnes Baden-Powell is pictorial evidence of the link Baden and Agnes Baden-Powell and the aviator.

Grahame-White insignia

'Official' Scout Air Activities

Women's Aerial League
Agnes Baden-Powell (far right) with Claude Graham-White (wearing boater)

The Headquarters Gazette in December 1911 announced the availability of the Airman's Badge (shown on the Ogden's Cigarette Card below - the red diagonal 'bar' is meant to represent the wing of an aircraft!), which could be won by attending a course of lectures in aeronautics arranged by Capt. Boyse of S.E. London Council. Details could be had from the Women's Aerial League (WAL). This 'League'of women involving themselves in aviation before the First World War, were clearly somewhat revolutionary. I am indebted to my good friend and early aviation enthusiast Ian Leonard, who has taken the trouble to search his archive of early flight material for the following information, taken from Flight magazine of August 12th, 1911.

"The Women's Aerial League had recently attended Hendon with the intent of becoming airborne in one or Mr Graham-White's machines but unfortunately the weather "was anything but propitious", but Mr Graham-White had difficulty in persuading the ladies that flight that day was really not a good idea." (The ostrich feather headgear - see Agnes B-P in photo opposite - was, in any case, a more than a little inappropriate!)

Many members of the League are named in the article, including Miss Christabel Pankhurst, daughter of the famous Suffragette, several more were connected with the 'Votes for Women' movement but Suffragists. This would not have deterred the Chief Scout from allowing their involvement; he was later to address meetings of Suffragists. (Suffragists, unlike the Suffragettes, were not prepared to break the law to achieve the vote for women.) Quite a few members were titled and though I can find not direct record of any financial gift to Scouting, I would be surprised if this was not the case, as donations to other 'causes' connected with the promotion of aviation amongst the young made by the WAL have been documented. The Women's Aerial League were to figure prominently in training Scouts for the Airman's Badge over the next few years.

Cigarette Card

They developed a Junior Division in October 1911 called the Young Aerial League. Its inaugural meeting was attended by Baden Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes, who had in 1910, with her brother Robert, formed the Guide Movement, and the famous all-round athlete CB Fry.

The Women's Ariel League had submitted to Major-General Baden-Powell a scheme for the formation of this special branch which they first envisaged would be called the Boy Scouts Division,& (Flight Magazine October 14th 1911) " with a view to giving Scouts a specially simplified aeronautical training, useful for Scouting purposes. "

The Headquarters Gazette of June 1912 announced another 'Airman's Course for Scouts' which was specially arranged by the Young Aerial League for Scouts. It is objectives were listed in both that edition of Headquarters Gazette and the Flight Magazine of October 14th 1911.

  1. a. to provide a new field of action in which the Boy Scouts' services to their country would be of great value, for, in the case invasion by an enemy air fleet, with their special training they would be able to identify machines in flight, estimate their height, speed and direction, etc.
  2. b. to develop the inventiveness and powers of observation of the Scouts
  3. c. to provide an elementary course which will be a sound foundation for those wishing afterwards to study the subject with a view to entering some branch of the new industry
  4. It is proposed that the Boy Scouts should receive instruction in Aerial Navigation in relation to Scouting, as well as in the general principals of aeronautics, and it is hoped that by the method of instruction embodied in the scheme that boys will be able to report, concisely and accurately, full information of any aircraft flying over the country.
  5. The Scout magazine's report added to the aims listed by Flight Magazine: To advise boys having original ideas concerning flying machines to build models embodying their ideas."

The course had the following resources available:-

Air League insignia
The Air League Button Badge
"'Flying for You and Me', specially written for Scouts, and a 'Set of 72 Lantern Slides'."
"The League will issue its own certificates on completion of the course."

In earlier 'editions' of this webpage, I speculated on whether any of these certificates, surely very few in number, were still in existance. It was to be quite a few years later, in June 2009, that I was fortunate enough to find an example. As you can see from the scan below, as it was issued by the 'Young Arial League', it does not, at first sight, look to have anything to do with Scouting, however the 'small print' underneath the name title makes it clear that this is indeed a certificate for a Scout Badge. The certificate commemorates the award of the badge to RW Eveling on May 7th 1912, just a few months after it (the badge) was introduced. Of R W Eveling I know nothing, but the certificate is signed by Colonel H Massy who was President of the League and Miss B I Fry as secretary. Both of these names appear in the Flight Magazine of August 12th 1911, as being with Agnes Baden Powell (See photo above) at Hendon with Grahame-White. As already memtioned the all-round athlete CB Fry attended the inaugural meeting of the WAL and so I surmise that H I Fry (Hilda) might have been his sister.

Airman's Badge Certificate
The Young Aerial League Airman's Badge Certificate

The afore mentioned 'Flying Number' edition of The Scout of July 27th, 1912, came out on the same day that the Kite and Model Aeroplane Association were holding competitions for models made by boys at the Hendon Aerodrome. (This was very probably the location for the postcard featured above, as we know Grahame-White was present.) Baden Baden-Powell was president of this society between 1909 - 1912.

Scout flying his glider

One of the competitions was especially for Scouts, had a silver cup as first prize presented by Mr Grahame-White. The Scout provided both the second and third prizes. The special issue of The Scout to mark the event carried a 'New Aeroplane Serial', flying stories by Grahame-White, S F Cody (Samuel Franklin Cody was born in 1861 in the USA, but became a naturalised British subject. He was the first pilot to make a powered flight in Great Britain - flying for 27 minutes in 1908 in the first practical flying machine of his own make but he was killed while flying in 1913). Another article was by Miss Gertrude Bacon, an senior member of the Young Aerial League who was the first women ever to fly in an aircraft. There were also articles on flying, 'Airman's Fingerposts', 'Aeroplanes and Airships', 'How to make darts and other simple flying toys' and 'How to make a tailless kite'.

There was no doubt that boys all over the country were becoming 'air-minded' and the Scout Movement at local and national level encouraged their interest.

Historians are inevitably asked the question, "When was the first....?" or its variation "Who was the first...?" Generally as far as the first ever Scout Group is concerned the Scout Association, for many reasons, have consistently declined to provide a definitive answer. {The history of 1908 Scout Groups, can be found in my book, The Dawn of the World Scout Movement where you will find an answer to this complex question! Details of the book can be found on the Shop Pages on this site.] In the case of Air Scouting however, if the question is "Who were the first Scouts to pilot an aircraft?" or even "Which group was the first to own its own aircraft?", there appears to be a clear outright winner, though it alluded me for quite some time.

East Grinstead glider
The caption to this poor photograph read 'The above photograph depicts the "aeroplane" without engines, made by members of the 1st East Grinstead Troop of Boy Scouts'

The answer is contained a 1912 issue of Headquarters Gazette, yet though familiar with that issue and the photograph I failed to appreciate the significance of it. (A clearer example of the image from the Flight magazine is illustrated opposite. With it, in the Scout magazine version were a few lines relating to the fact that an East Grinstead troop of Boy Scouts had flown a glider at a local fête. That was all there was. After peering into the depths of the very murky photograph and looking at the proximity of the trees and pondering how such a machine could be got into the air, I came to what I thought was a reasonable conclusion that East Grinstead Scouts were treating the public to a display of model aircraft flying and that the suspended figure (far more indistinct on the newsprint photograph) was some sort of doll, added to give a touch of realism. Imagine my surprise, some months later, whilst sharing my friend Ian Leonard's enthusiasm for the latest book he had acquired on early flight, to see a clearer example of the same photograph (illustrated opposite) and to read the following: "East Grinstead Scouts achieved flight in a glider they had built, of the Chanute type, of over 200ft - 25ft above the ground"

The aircraft had a wingspan of 20ft. The two Scouts who took turns to pilot the aircraft were Patrol Leaders Smith and Beard. The question of how the aircraft was launched into the air was not broached. The even more important question of just how the device was landed was not mentioned either. The intrepid Scout must have had to take the modern phrase literally and 'hit the ground running'!

Perhaps a modern-day East Grinstead Scout might have some knowledge to share, or a least support my surmise that their Scouts, East Grinstead being very near to Hendon, might well have been the very ones on the Grahame-White postcard above taken in 1911, probably at Hendon.

IN July 1917 Headquarters Gazette carried news of 'Aircraft Scouts'. Special classes were being established for training Scouts for 'Army Aircraft Duties'. It appears that these courses, funded and equipped by the War Office, were yielding excellent results. B-P in his Outlook of November 1918, was still fighting the battle against the imposition of compulsory membership of the Army Cadet Corps.

"What do we suggest as better than the military form of training? Well - not to put too fine a point on it, - Scouting. And for the older boy Sea Scouting or Air Scouting for choice.

"The un-looked for success in the Sea Scouting Branch, and the equally promising results in our Aviation Classes at ten different centres encourage us to proceed now to further developments in these directions."

Many ex-Scouts joined the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, which became the Royal Air Force on April 1st, 1918. In the Headquarters Gazette of January 1919, Headquarters Notices quoted an unnamed correspondent from the Air Ministry:

"I am directed to express appreciation and thanks of the Air Ministry for the very fruitful assistance, which your Council has given to the Royal Air Force, which has resulted in the addition of so many good cadets to the personnel of the Royal Air Force."

In my collecting of Scouting artefacts, I have acquired an old press cuttings album kept by Mrs E Wade who was Baden-Powell's secretary for 27 years. One of the cuttings, undated and un-attributed, but filed in the 1921 section, concerns the 3rd Hampton (Middlesex) troop, who were obviously close to Hampton Aerodrome. The article says that the troop "had an Air Section." They had apparently been hampered in their knowledge of flying by not having a real plane to work on!

"Their difficulties came to the ears of the Aircraft Disposal Co. Ltd., who have presented the troop with a D.H.6 aeroplane complete with propeller and 90 h.p. engine. The boys have been promised flights...and every one of the hundred boys in the troop is eagerly preparing to qualify."

It would seem then that the 3rd Hampton were the first Troop to possess a powered aircraft.

Back to Baden Baden-Powell

IN July, 1932, Major Baden Baden-Powell wrote an article for the Scouter, the main points of which are quoted below.

" has been suggested that Air Scouts should be organised in the same way as Sea Scouts.
"Though the air is 'ever with us', access to aerodromes is not common and though Sea Scouts can mess about 'in any old boat', a Scout is unlikely to be able to get access to an aeroplane, and even if he did he would not be able to fly it. seems hardly feasible to have special 'Air Scouts', yet a great deal may be accomplished by troops specialising in air-work... I shall always be pleased to give what advice I can."

I am not too sure that the Sea Scout section would have liked the idea that Sea Scouts 'mess about in any old boat', but Baden Baden-Powell was, I think, trying to point out the difference between being able to be totally involved in an element, as Sea Scouts could be, whereas at that time boys had to be far more passive when it came to air activities. Baden B-P pointed out that "the conditions for obtaining the Airman's Badge have been compiled, but only 376 were issued last year (1931)."

Hungarian Scout flyer

For these reasons, Baden B-P advised his brother to resist the clamour for an Air Scouts' section, pointing out that air activities could be carried out within conventional Scouting. Troops such as in Hampton and Bristol could be based on an aerodrome and follow specialist activities, like making models, 'Aerial toys', small balloons, gliders and kites. Had Baden Baden-Powell's famous vision left him, or was he merely being practical? I am sure that if he could see today's Scouts in Scout-owned gliders, winning National Open Paragliding Championships, and even receiving powered flight instruction, he would be overjoyed and only too ready to acknowledge that the Air Scout Section of today is completely viable.

Major Baden Baden-Powell died on October 3rd, 1937, aged 77. He was President and then District Commissioner of a North London District and was between 1918 and 1935 District Commissioner of Sevenoaks District, Kent. He had since 1923 been Headquarters' Commissioner for Aviation.

The International Dimension

Other countries were not so reticent in forming Air Scout Sections. Air Scouts were, I believe, well established in Hungary and the USA by this time. (There had been a series of novels with the words 'Boy Scouts of the Air' in their titles published in the US since 1912.) In Hungary, Air Scouting had started before the Second World War (unfortunately I do not have the starting date). A famous Hungarian Scout artist, Marton, illustrated a whole range of Postcards for the 1933 Hungarian World Jamboree including the one shown here. The glider is a fair representation of those actually used and the Scout pilot is shown wearing his World Jamboree badge.

This Jamboree was in fact that first international gathering of Air Scouts and I am indebted to Milestones reader Chris Shaw who is Specialist Air Scout Advisor in UK Air Scouting for the following information. On August 9th the Chief Scout visited Air Scout Contingents in the company of in the company of Pál Teleki, the famous Hungarian Chief Scout and László Almásy (now known popularly as The English Patient), who was also a leader of the Hungarian Air Scouts. Also attending was the famous Austrian pioneering glider pilot Robert Kronfeld who was an Air Scout Rover Leader in Innsbruck and who, in the 1920/30's, was an Austrian Gliding Champion. He made the record books as the first pilot to fly across the English Channel in a glider. At the outset of WWII he moved to Britain and became a pilot in the RAF.

Air Scout Patrols Plymouth Air Scouts

AFTER Baden Baden-Powell's death, Scout Groups continued, as he suggested, to "specialise in Air-Activities". In the Scouter of December 1937 there was an announcement about 'Air Patrols' by L A Impey, Headquarters Commissioner for Scouts.

"From time to time rumours reach me of troops that are co-operating with ground staff at certain aerodromes, but with the exception of the 30th Plymouth Troop, I have received no definite information."
"Let me add here quickly that there is no intention of starting a new branch of Scouting, namely Air Scouts..."

The constant denial of the need for a separate branch must have been a little wearing!

The 30th Plymouth had started the first Air Scout Patrol, established in 1935 at Plymouth Airport. The Scoutmasters were Geoffrey Hill and Alistair Davey and they gained a valuable sponsor in Mr Whitney Straight of the Straight Corporation. Straight was a wealthy American living in England who reputedly was the youngest person ever to hold a Pilot's Licence when he was aged 16. He became a leading international motor racing driver, often flying himself to races. He had arranged for the Air Patrol to have a hut on the Plymouth Airfield. By 1938 the Air Patrol had eight boys with an average age of 15 years, and 6 young men who formed a Rover Air Patrol. (Just when does 'a patrol' become a group?) The boys, besides decorating the hut, seem to have had a very full programme. They had visited the aircraft carriers, HMS Furious and HMS Eagle, and had rowed round the transatlantic flying boat Caledonia. They assisted at a number of air events where they manned their own publicity stall as well as running messages and guarding planes. During 1937 the whole country had woken up to the threat that a modern war would include air attacks and, in July 1937, Plymouth took part in an overnight practice 'black-out'. The Air Patrol took an active part in this exercise, acting as messengers. The boys also enjoyed talks by distinguished and local experts, as well as working for air-related proficiency badges.

The Threat of War Brings Competition

THE Air Defence Cadet Corps was founded in 1938 by the Air League of the British Empire. The Air League was a body of astute private citizens formed to publicise the vital importance to Britain of aircraft for communications, commerce and defence. AFDC squadrons had to be self-funding and were well organised. There is no doubt that their existence encouraged the Boy Scouts' Committee of the Council to change their attitude towards Air Activities.

The Scouter of September 1938 carried an article Getting Them Air-Minded, followed by another the following month under the heading Air Scout. It was announced that the Aircraft Engineers' Association had offered itself as instructors on aeronautical matters. It had become dreadfully obvious that war was now likely and that this was a driving factor.

In the same year, A popular new Scouting book was also published, B-P's Family in Picture and Story. My Record Book, which carried a very well-illustrated article entitled Air Scout Patrols portraying the activities of the afore-mentioned Plymouth Air-Scout Patrol. Along with a different photograph of the aircraft G-AAJG there is a plethora of photographs including the Air Scout Patrol manning the Plymouth Airport fire engine. Also of interest is a close-up of the Patrol formed up for inspection showing, that they wore 'wide-awake' traditional Scout hats, with short-sleeved jersey tops i.e. totally traditional Scout Uniform rather than that new Air Scout uniform as announced in June 1939 and detailed below. The undisclosed author of the B-P's Family .... described Air Scout Patrols as being a "new branch of Scouting". There was however still no official recognition of a new Air Scout Section at this time, though the article must have done much to generate a demand for it. An official Air Scout Patrols pamphlet had been published in March 1939, though I have not, as yet, had sight of a copy.

In The Scouter of January 1939 came a breakthrough under the heading, Scouting in the Royal Air Force. Although this edition did not report it, it was obvious that the Committee of the Council had approved the formation of Scout Groups on RAF bases. The article advised that groups should refrain from adopting any special emblem until a national one could be devised and; "All such groups should wear Khaki with a scarf of airforce blue."

Once again there was an official denial that there was to be no separate section.

"It must be emphasised that there is no intention of starting a new or separate branch of Scouting. Groups on RAF stations will be known as X London (RAF) Group."

Later issues April and March 1939 were to report the successful attempt to get Sea and Air Cadet authorities to outlaw recruiting to their organisations of serving Scouts.

"Further Instructions on the matter of uniform were published in The Scouter of June 1939 under the heading Scout Troops in Royal Air Force Stations: Standardisation of Uniforms"

The following uniform had been approved by the Air Ministry:

  • Neckerchiefs: Red; Light Blue; Dark Blue (all three colours in the one necker. (red on the left side from the back, dark blue on the right side and a central spine going down to the apex of the triangle of light blue.
  • Forage caps: RAF blue with albatross badge for 'aerodrome work' otherwise the traditional 'wide awake' hat.
  • Shirt and shorts: Service blue serge.
  • Stockings: Black.

Readers were warned that the above obtained only to Scout Troops and that a further notice would be issued in respect to Cub Packs and Rover Crews. There might not have been an official section called Air Scouts, but there were Scouts meeting on airfields wearing Air Ministry approved Scout uniforms and carrying out a programme of Air Activities.

In the Heat of War - Air Scouts at last.

Air Scout Handbook

SHOWN here is an image of the cover of the first Air Scout Handbook. It does not carry a publishing date, but must, I think, have been written before the War, as Air Patrols are mentioned, but published very shortly after the formation of the Air Scouts section. It is a very interesting book and uniquely, for Scout a handbook, written in story format. The narrative follows David, Jack, Snowy and Alan, who want to be Air Scouts; but don't be fooled, this manual contains some very advanced levels of instruction! My original copy was signed by the former owner H C J Davis. I would very much like to hear of his (and your) experiences of these early days of Air Scouting.

By November 1940, the Committee of the Council had finally approved the principal of a fully separate section, which came into being in January 1941. It is perhaps ironic that the during the deliberations of the Committee that Battle of Britain (10th July to 21st October 1940) had literally raged overhead. It was this action that prompted Churchill to make his famous speach of August 20th 1940, which included the immortal phrase,

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

If any underlining was necessary as to the importance of the Royal Air Force in particular and being 'air-minded' in general, it had surely been hammered home, in a true Churchillian fashion.

Somewhat revolutionary, the new Air Scout Section wore officially long trousers from the outset, no doubt in response to the similarly long-trousered Air Training Corps (ATC), which the government re-formed from the Air Defence Cadet Force, also in 1941. I have however yet to receive any account from a war-time Air Scout who has been able to confirm that he wore 'longs'.

Air Scout Poster

Major Henderson was appointed the first Headquarters Commissioner for Air Scouts and was joined by Rex Hazlewood, a well-known Scouting personality, as a Travelling Commissioner, with special responsibility toward the new branch .Rex Hazlewood was responsible for National Air Camps held at Avington Park, Hampshire and from December 1942 to January 1943, despite the threat of enemy bombing raids, there was a large-scale Air Scout Exhibition lasting six days at London's Dorland Hall from 29th December 1942. Over 10,000 people attended the show, which was opened each day by a well-known war-time aviator hero. The Air Ministry loaned a static 'Link-Trainer' and a power-operated gun turret. The RAF Pigeon Post Unit was also on display besides many examples of engines, propellers and, of course, hundreds of static and flying model aircraft.

The day after the exhibition closed, Air Scout Sunday January 3rd 1943, one thousand Air Scouts met at the Hall. They marched behind the R.A.F. Band to the R.A.F. church of St Martin's in the Fields for a special service "of Dedication and Thanksgiving,". The lesson was read by A King's Scout and a collection was taken up on behalf of the an RAF Fund. The Air Scouts then returned to the Dorland Hall where they were addressed by The Chief Scout, Lord Somers, who was cheered to the echo.

I believe that the pre-war handbook was superceded by Air Scouts Organisation and Training. This publication, again undated, has 32 A5 pages and comprehensively covers Air Scout Activities and Badges in some detail. It must have been published in 1942 as after describing British aircraft camouflage and German Swastika markings there is a statement that the booklet will need to be amended to include U.S. warplane markings. The United States did not enter the Second World War immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941.

Dorland Hall badge

Rex Hazlewood was responsible for National Air Camps held at Avington Park, Hampshire and from December 1942 to January 1943, despite the threat of enemy bombing raids, there was a large-scale Air Scout Exhibition lasting six days at London's Dorland Hall from 29th December 1942. Over 10,000 people attended the show, which was opened each day by a well-known war-time aviator hero. The Air Ministry loaned a static 'Link-Trainer' and a power-operated gun turret. The RAF Pigeon Post Unit was also on display besides many examples of engines, propellers and, of course, hundreds of static and flying model aircraft.

The day after the exhibition closed, Air Scout Sunday January 3rd 1943, one thousand Air Scouts met at the Hall. They marched behind the R.A.F. Band to the R.A.F. church of St Martin's in the Fields for a special service "of Dedication and Thanksgiving,". The lesson was read by A King's Scout and a collection was taken up on behalf of the an RAF Fund. The Air Scouts then returned to the Dorland Hall where they were addressed by The Chief Scout, Lord Somers, who was cheered to the echo. The image to the left portrays a brass thumbstick badge for the Dorland Hall event. Thumbsticks surely were not generally part of Air Scout equipment?

Scouting Milestonesreader Terence Houston writes from Australia with very welcome memories of his time Air Scouting during the period 1941-44. His parents were both involved in aircraft production the Weybridge area, his father tested Horsa and Hengist gliders and also the Supermarine Spitfire, Walrus and Fairy Fireflys aircraft, so it was not surprising that young Terry should join an Air Scout Patrol. It was based in the Merton/Morton area and started by two RAF pilots. The Patrol had links with Air Cadets in Wimbledon where they went to be taught Morse Code. Terrence recalls that the only concession to being in an Scout Patrol as far as uniform was concerned was that they wore a blue scarf. His family emigrated to Australia to escape post-war austerity but he has fond memories of his war-time Air Scout days.

Official Recognition

Official Recognition badge

IN 1951 the Association published "an introductory leaflet for those contemplating the formation of Air Scout Troops". In the preface Lord Rowallen, Chief Scout of the day, emphasised the traditional message that had long been used in connection with Sea Scouts. "Air Scouting is not a separate movement; it is merely Scouting, the game, designed for the air-minded boy." The pamphlet is 33 pages long and gives details of the all current badges available to Air Scouts and activities that they might undertake. The book concludes with the latest news: As in Sea Scouting, where there were Sea Scout Groups operating with Admiralty Recognition, so there were to be Air Scout Groups who, if they could meet all the criteria, would be allowed to wear the coveted rondel, indicating they had official recognition from the Air Ministry. This award not only conferred status but privileges such as access to service airfields and much coveted flights.

1951 booklet
Booklet published in 1951.
Can anyone identify the aircraft?

The 'Official Recognition' Scheme was introduced in October 1950, and by 1955 nearly 40 troops had successfully gained recognition. (There are now 43 such groups.) A further link was made between the RAF and Air Scouts when Air Vice Marshall J G W Weston was appointed Headquarters Commissioner for Air Scouts.

The first aircraft to be bought by the Scout Association (but not the first owned by a troop, see 3rd Hampton above) was a two-seater glider purchased in 1959. The Association also maintained an Air Activity Centre at Lasham, Hampshire, but this had to be closed in 1978 as the airfield became unsuitable for Air Scout use, due to commercial air activity. Air Scouts' camps which had been a feature of Air Scouting from its early days, have continued, but the last such (despite valiant efforts - see below) was held at Wroughton in 1986.

More Recent Developments

SINCE 1995, with one exception, National Air Scout conferences have been held on an annual basis, these are now known as L.O.N.E., an acronym for Locally Organised National Event.

Diamond Jubilee badge
The badge for the event that never happened!

Air Scouting celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 2001, and this was to be marked by a special Air Scout Camp at Haverfordwest in North Wales. Unfortunately, the camp was victim to the terrible Foot and Mouth epidemic of that year and had to be cancelled. Instead, a special conference was convened at Milton Keynes, attended by over 100 leaders and youngsters, and one year later the anniversary camp was eventually held at Kemble Airfield in Gloucestershire. The camp was attended by the then Chief Scout, W George Purdy, and offered a full range of activities including flying in traditional light aircraft, microlights, gliding, paragliding and hot air balloons. Interestingly, Scouts made and flew over 200 model gliders, a direct link to Baden Baden-Powell and his encouragement of Scouts to take up this activity.

AIR Scouting reached its numerical peak in the last year of the Second World War, but is still strong today with over 150 groups with some 2,500 members in the United Kingdom, 43 groups having Air Ministry recognition. With Baden Baden-Powell as its guiding uncle, British Air Scouting, formed out of the dark days of World War II, not only looks to the future, but can also rightly claim to have its origins in the earliest days of pioneer aviation.

Air Scouting celibates its 70th Anniversary in 2011, and 'Airjam' event is being planned. At a recent European Air Scout Seminar 25 countries were represented.
Modern Air Scouts
Danny and Robert from the 2nd Hitchen Air Scout group


My particular thanks to:
Mr Graham Brooks, Scouting Artefacts Collector
Mr Peter Ford, Scout Historian and Badge Collector for some of the badge images on this a page
Mr Terence Hotstin, Former Air Scout
Mr Ian Leonard, Aviation Historian and Collector
Mr Chris Shaw, Specialist Advisor Air Scouting
Printed Sources
Major B F S Baden-Powell. Honorary Fellow 1860-1937 An Appreciation by J Laurence Richard, Honorary Fellow. (Photocopies available from Royal Aeronautical Society)
Pear's Cyclopaedia, Fifty-third edition, 1942
The Forces Bulletin, January, 1943
Baden-Powell: The Two Lives of a Hero William Hillcourt, 1964
British Aircraft Before the Great War Michael Goodall & Albert Tagg, 2001
Air Force Fun by Cliff Beck in Scouting Magazine, November, 2002.
Flight Magazine, various editions as per text.
Internet Sources
ATC History
Baden-Powell Man Lifter
Engines of our Ingenuity No. 1223, Baden Baden-Powell
The History of Air Scouts. Official UK HQ Website
Pick from the past. Go fly a kite
Royal Aeronautical Society
Whitney Straight

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