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Rover Scouts - Scouting for Men

Rover World
The Advanced Party Report of 1966 killed Rover Scouting. I was at college then, and by the time I returned to my home town to resume my Scouting, Rovers were a thing of the past. I felt had been robbed. I had looked forward to being a Rover since meeting Rover Scouts as a young Scout at the Jubilee Jamboree in 1957. For me this section of the Movement has remained shrouded in mystery - enhanced by its King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table symbolism and strange rituals.
- Did the reality ever match the image?

The Problem

IN 1907 B-P took 21 boys to Brownsea Island as part of an 'experiment' that was destined to change his and millions of other lives. Though the long-term aim was to 'grow men', the concentration was, literally, on Scouting for Boys and, naturally enough at that time, little thought was given to the next stage in their Scouting development. And the only certain thing we know about boys is that they are destined to grow up.

The cruel reality for many was that the next and final part of their lives was to be spent in the killing fields of Flanders - almost one third of the Brownsea lads, for example, were lost. For those who were just too young to fight, the great game of Scouting must have seemed just that, a game for 'kids' when their older brothers were fighting for King and Country. Very few Scouts remained with their troops past the age of 15. There was a clamour from the few remaining Scoutmasters not at the front to stop this 'leakage' away from the Movement, just at the time older boys were most needed.

False Starts

The Scouts' Friendly Society

Scouts' Friendly Society badgeOld Scouts badge

EVEN before the start of the war H Geoffrey 'Uncle' Elwes, editor of Headquarters Gazette, had noted concern in the correspondence columns about the retention problem. This coincided with a change in the Country's laws that meant every employed person aged 16 or over had to join a 'Friendly Society' to whom a weekly subscription would be paid, then, in the event of illness, the member could 'go on the club' and receive 'The Dole'. B-P reasoned that if older Scouts and ex-Scouts had to belong to such a scheme they might as well belong to a Scout one. The history of the scheme is fascinating and, together with the subsequent development of the 'B-P Guild of Old Scouts', is now a separate article in Scouting Milestones. It was hoped that the Scouts Friendly Society would solve the problem of 'leakage' and, indeed, even attract older lads who had not previously been Scouts. The Friendly Society was finally incorporated in January 1914, but like much else, its effectiveness was completely subsumed by enormity of the First World War.

The Scouts Defence Corps

Baden-Powell thought that he really had the answer to the problem in his Scouts Defence Corps, which was specifically for boys aged 16 and over (though Scouts of 15 could begin training for their Red Feathers). However, the Corps failed to receive official recognition, without which it was to be doomed to failure. By the end of 1916 it was history and the 'leakage' was still wholesale. Something had to be done.

Senior Scouts

A scheme to remedy the problem was announced at the Commissioners' Conference at Matlock, Derbyshire, in March of 1917 and was published by the summer of that year. A new senior section to the Movement was to be created and its members were, not surprisingly, to be called 'Senior Scouts'. It was in this scheme that the roots of Rover Scouting lay.

Baden-Powell had worked with the President of the Board of Education, H A L Fisher, and tried to tie-in his new scheme with the raising of the school leaving age to 14, which was announced in 1918. "What is wanted", wrote B-P, "is a definite status and attraction for the Senior Boy." The scheme had at its heart a link between the boy at work and Scouting through a series of 'Studies' that would increase the boy's ability to get a job and succeed in his work.

Senior Scout lapel badge
  1. Senior Scouts must be at least 15½ years old and First Class Scouts They would form a patrol within their own troop.
  2. Senior Patrols could be started either to remedy 'leakage', or promote a specialization
  3. Special activities, games and studies would lead to proficiency badges designed just for Senior Scouts
  4. Each Senior Scout patrol would form 'squads' for public service, games, and study
  5. Normal Scout uniform would be worn, plus a cockade in the hat. (And, I think, red epaulettes)
  6. The Patrol Leader was to be elected by the patrol and might be given the rank of Assistant Scoutmaster
  7. Technical schools and Correspondence Classes would, where possible, be used to conduct the studies
  8. Successful Scouts would be provided with diplomas that would be attractive to potential employers
  9. The patrols would form a reservoir of leadership material available to assist Scoutmasters
  10. Local Associations should find special premises so patrols could meet socially and should open Employment Bureaux where 'help and advice can be obtained'
Senior Scout (Rover) Epaulette

The Studies at Technical schools and through Correspondence Classes would be linked, as far as possible, to the Senior Scout's occupation. It was envisaged that at the end of each course, twice yearly at Imperial Scout Headquarters in London, candidates would sit examinations leading to the presentation of diplomas as in 8 above. All Scoutmasters were asked to encourage their members who had left school at 14 to take part in the scheme.

The scheme fell flat on its face! It was wartime and there was a shortage of Scoutmasters able or willing to do this sort of work. The Fisher Education Act for compulsory day continuation school after the age of 14, which ran in parallel to the scheme, also failed. Official Scout historian, E E Reynolds comments that exams were a problem for the adult leadership and annoyed some Scoutmasters, but fails to reflect on how this emphasis on study and exams outside school went down with the boys. I think I can guess!

In June 1918, the London Scout Council convened a Senior Scout Conference at Denison House, Westminster, at which there were 150 officers present. The Chief Scout was unable to attend so P B Nevill, who assisted Col. Ulick de Burgh in leading this new branch of the Movement, took the chair. Nevill thought that only King's Scouts should be eligible for this higher branch of the Movement, whilst 'Uncle' Elwes commented that the younger and older boys should be trained separately and the elder ones should have something definite to do. A Mr Benson stated that the war had made boys men before their time - and it was up to Scouting to find out why the present programme did not appeal to these 'Junior Men'.

Two resolutions were submitted and voted upon:Senior Scout hat Bar

  1. That the Senior Scout Scheme be confined at the moment to the retention of older boys who were already Scouts. Carried.
  2. That Senior Scouts should have the option of wearing britches instead of shorts. This was 'negatived' by an overwhelming majority! (Whether or not 'Officers' should wear shorts was a long standing issue!)

The most telling comment from this Conference came from its Chairman in his summing up, who said that the 'Senior Scout' plan was by no means cut and dried and that the name 'Senior Scout' was not that pleasing.

Senior Scout Badges continued to be worn for some time, but, as Reynolds says, the scheme was gradually 'transmuttted', i.e. the emphasis changed from older Scouts to Young Men. From August 1918, 15 year-olds were no longer allowed to transfer to the new section, they had to remain in the normal Scout Group until they were 17 (this transfer age did not alter until 1939). Senior Scout epaulettes were introduced which were scarlet with 'SS' in blue, but these had a very short life.

Rovers Proper

THE earliest record of the term 'Rover Scout' I have been able to find, is contained in the following words from B-P quoted in the August 1918 edition of Headquarters Gazette.

"Our pamphlet for Senior Scouts (or Rovers as they apparently desire to be called) is in the press, and will, I hope, be helpful to Scoutmasters and their older boys."
Rover lapel badge

However, some would-be members were no longer 'boys', but men returning victorious from the front. B-P's experiences running his Scout Huts in France and those of 'Uncle' Elwes, with his club in Colchester, must have prepared them for the enthusiasm that these battle-hardened young men still felt for Scouting. The success of these early informal meetings of older lads would not have been lost on Elwes or B-P, and may well have been the genesis of Rover Scouting. In particular, Elwes' St. George's Scout Club, which was open every night of the week for older lads, soldiers and sailors passing through the military town of Colchester, was one of the first meeting places for 'Old Scouts'. The Club, and Elwes himself, played an important role in the early days of the Scouts' Friendly Society.

By September 1918 the Commissioner for Training, Col. Ulick de Burgh, writing in the Headquarters Gazette, showed that the Imperial Headquarters was alive to the fact that the new section must cater for 'the returning heroes'. The term 'Senior Scouts' was dropped and Rovers were no longer referred to as 'older lads', but as 'young men'.

"The term 'Senior Scouts' was objected to pretty generally and disappears, and is replaced by the practical universal acclimation as the 'Senior division of the Scouts' and called 'Rovers'. The word suggests adventure and freedom, which are characteristic of young men, and the appropriate evolution of his training."

By November 1919, the Rover Scout section had been established. Under the heading 'Rover Scouts', B-P wrote:

"The Senior Branch of the Scout Movement, although of comparative recent organisation, has already attained a footing that promises very valuable results...Rover Training can form an OTC [Officer Training Corps] for the Association...The Rover stage is the third progressive step in the education of the Boy Scout.
"But you can't hold a lad without giving him some definite objectives and activities. So we offer Service.
1.  Service to self, career, health
2.  Service to the Scout Movement
3.  Service to the Community. Civics"
Rover Hat Bar
Rover Scout Hat Bar

Service, B-P wrote, was the means by which a Rover Scout could fulfil his promise of duty to God. 'Brotherhood and Service' became the Rover Motto and was announced in a pamphlet Rules for Rovers published in 1918.

The Rover Lexicon
Moot note

MANY new words and terms were added to the Scouting Dictionary with the advent of Rover Scouts:-

  • Initially, when operating within a Scout Group, Rovers were simply known as a Patrol
  • But they were called a Group if they were formed outside a Scout Troop, at a place of work, for example
  • This potential for confusion soon disappeared, and a number of Rover Patrols or 'Group' of Rovers became known as a Crew
  • The Leader of a Rover Patrol was its Mate and is defined below
  • The uninitiated Rover was known as a Squire (also see below)
  • To become a Rover, a Squire had to undertake a Vigil and a Quest, terms defined below
  • A gathering of Rovers from different areas or countries, was a Moot - an Anglo-Saxon term for an assembly (There is no doubt who suggested this term, as the picture here demonstrates. P B Nevill had been given the job of organising a meeting of Rovers at the Albert Hall in London over Easter in 1926, but could not think of a suitable name.)

The Brotherhood

"Rover Scouts are a Brotherhood of the Open Air and Service. They are hikers on the Open Road and Campers of the Woods, able to shift for themselves, but equally ready to be of some service to others." B-P

Rover Leaders

Despite the fact that Rovers were men, and to a very great degree a self-determining group, it was still seen as vital that each Crew had the services of a good leader. What Rover Scouts Are, published in 1929 maintained that, "Rover Scouts should not be started unless the right leader has been found."

For 'right leader' the un-credited author might have substituted 'right man', as women were officially forbidden to hold the rank of either Rover Leader or Assistant Rover Leader: Policy Organisation & Rules Rule 249 - "Under no circumstances will a warrant for either rank be issued to a lady." The war had been the greatest factor for change in altering views on what women could do. Women 'Scoutmasters' had been welcomed and applauded during the war but once it finished, society reverted to pre-war sexual stereotyping. Though there was no rule banning women from higher positions within Scouting very few (if any) were to be found outside the Wolf Cub section. The Rover Scout section was unique, however, in having an official bar.

The Rover Mate

Even prior to Rules for Rovers, the central importance of the Rover Mate had been decided upon. B-P wrote:

Rover Mate
From Rover Scouts: What They Are, 1929. Note the two (red) stripes on his breast. Rovers carry a thumb stick in place of a staff, a badge on the front of the hat, red shoulder straps, and a Skean Dhu (knife) in the left stocking. (Headquarters Gazette Sept. 1918.)
"What is true of the P.L. is true of the Rover Mate...The Rover Mate is more on a level with the other members in the Crew. His personality is far more important than his present knowledge."

There was, though, one major difference between the Scout Patrol Leader and the Mate. A Rover Mate was not to be imposed, but elected by his fellows. The Mate, however, appointed his 'Rover Second'.

The Rover Squire

What was the would-be Rover to be called? Tenderfoot was hardly appropriate, especially for someone who had been through the Scout training scheme. B-P suggested 'Squire', which fitted in wonderfully with the other 'Knights of the Round Table' symbolism. A squire was a knight-in-training, working as a page under the protection of a knight 'mentor' until the he fulfilled all the requirements and could become a knight himself. The term was officially introduced in January 1930.

Before a Rover Squire could be invested as a Rover he had to be approved by the G.S.M. and the Crew and to fulfil the following requirements:

The Vigil and Investiture

"I look to you chaps to be the knights of the Twentieth Century." B-P
B-P line drawing taken from Rover Scouts: What They Are, 1929

As the Wolf Cub section used The Jungle Book as a theme, Baden-Powell had decided to use King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table legends as the inspiration for Rover Rituals. This provided a rich vein of patriotic symbolism. It did not seem to matter that the tales are myths!

The Squire was required, prior to his investiture, to undergo an all-night 'vigil', during which he would reflect on his reasons for wanting to be Rover Scout and what he hoped to achieve by his 'quests'. Where possible, authentically old locations might be found for this ceremony, such as the parish church or, where available, the keep of a castle. The Rover Crew based at Roland House used the chapel with all its very powerful religious and Scouting symbols adding to the notion of self-purification. Though the trappings of this arcane ceremony might now seem to us to be archaic and bizarre, the opportunity to reflect in depth on what we are doing with our lives and what we would like to achieve, is now a seen as a necessary 'audit' in modern psychological and management practice.

"The young man, after Self Examination, is brought before the Rover Scout Crew, the Crew being in uniform, and stands with his two sponsors, one on either side, before a table, which is covered with St George's Cross, upon which is set an ewer of water and a basin and a napkin. The Rover Scout Leader stands facing them behind the table..."

There was then a symbolic 'laving', the washing away past misdeeds, the Squire received a ritualistic 'buffet' (a sharp blow with the hand) on the shoulder from the Rover Scout leader who reminded him that this ceremony had been carried out by the 'knights of old' and that as a Rover Scout he had, "One tender point, namely your honour: nothing should be more quickly felt than any imputation against it." The Squire was then fully initiated as a Rover Scout and presented with his shoulder knot of yellow, green and red (the colours of the sections of the Scout Movement) and was welcomed by the Crew with handshakes.

The Investiture was not allowed to be performed in public. This also added to the mystical 'secret society' aura that surrounded Rovering and, as with all secret societies, there was criticism from those 'not in the know'.

By the middle 1950s the vigil had become optional and in some Crews had disappeared completely.

The Rover Quest

According to early legends and particularly the romanticised version of them by the late Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in The Idylls of the King the knights were sent out to seek 'The Holy Grail', a mystical religious symbol, loosely based on legends concerning a bowl used to catch Christ's Blood when He was on The Cross. Tennyson's poem Sir Galahad ends,

All-arm'd I ride, whate'er betide,
Until I find the Holy Grail.

Searching throughout life for something perfect and yet elusive, and being confronted along the way with challenges that allow the seeker to demonstrate a moral code, is a theme prevalent in many cultures. It is the basis for Homer's Iliad, wonderfully expressed in Cavafy's poem Ithaca and, more relevant to Scouting, in the Hungarian legend of the White Stag, which was the symbol for the 1933 World Jamboree at Godollo, Hungary. In both cases the 'seeker' comes to understand that it not the 'quest' itself that was important but the experiences that he had gained along the way which made him the man he was.

This delightful booklet was published in 1929, probably timed to coincide with the Arrowe Park World Jamboree. It is not directly attributed to B-P, but his line drawings are used throughout

I had always imagined that the idea of the 'Quest' was part of B-P's overall concept for Rover Scouting, fitting in, as it does, with his theme of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. However, according to F Haydn Dimmock in his book Bare Knee Days, the idea belonged to a fellow Scouter who worked at Imperial Headquarters, Dr F W W Griffin. He was a popular speaker at Rover Moots and inspired many Rovers to dedicate their lives to service. B-P was happy to embrace his ideas and suggested ten headings for Quests.

  1. The Quest Of Truth
  2. The Quest Of World Scouting
  3. The Quest Of Rover Errantry
  4. The Quest Of The Younger Sibling
  5. The Quest For Beauty
  6. The Quest Of Kindness To Animals
  7. The Quest Of Conscience
  8. The Quest Of Happiness
  9. The Quest For Personal Efficiency
  10. The Quest Of The Spiritual

The third quest listed above directly alludes to the Knight Errant, Sir Lancelot, in Malory's Morte d'Arthur, who had a roving commission to rescue those in distress.

There is no doubt that some Scouters took this all very seriously, forcing a reaction from others that there should be yet a further Quest added to the list - The Quest For a Sense of Humour! Dr Griffin, it would seem, was edged-out of the limelight, but his ideas were taken up by Rover Crews who, as always, adapted them to suit themselves, resulting in each Crew forming its own tradition.

The direction of the Quest was entirely under the control of the individual Rover, but it was expected that he would regularly discuss progress with his Rover Scout Leader, redefining his aims where necessary. An individual might follow one or more 'quests', these could be purely personal or, as was frequently the case, a Rover might join in with a quest shared by the entire Crew. Some 200 'quests' were listed by Norfolk Rovers in their 1930 Quest List, and one Local Association at least (Birmingham) had a 'Quest Master'.

Beresford Webb in his book Scouting Achievements details the activities some crews had in the 1920's. Many were focused on public service. The Rover patrol of the 31st Poplar Troop, formed in 1922, had a dilapidated Headquarters next to a market. Minor accidents and injuries were treated there at a daily 'clinic' from 7.30 - 8 p.m., without charge, by a rota of six rovers, all with First Aid badges.

A Rover tradition to become a blood donor started in 1922, after the formation of the Blood Transfusion Service, which was initially run by the Red Cross. Rovers regularly topped the list of organisations giving blood. Some Rover Crews formed themselves into St John Ambulance or Red Cross Units. A more heroic form of Rover service was that of the Maritizburg Rovers in South Africa, who responded to a radio appeal to donate skin for grafting! Camberwell and Westminster Rovers assisted local hospitals by sitting with delirious patients, freeing the nurses for more urgent duties.

Ambulance Hut
Hastings Rover Scouts provided an Ambulance Hut on a dangerous section of the Harrow to Sedlescomb Road. (John Ineson Collection)

Less excitingly, Rovers from my hometown of Peterborough produced a land-use map for the entire area (The Soke of Peterborough). In London, the 1st Leyton Rover Scouts printed a handbill inviting members of the public to use them as an early form of Citizens Advice Bureau. They accepted requests for help which were often met from their own expertise, but, failing that, the 'client' would be put in touch with a suitably qualified person.

Some Rovers acted as a 'Big Brother' to youngsters who were on probation, and Haydn Dimmock has a moving story of how one delinquent at least had his life changed for the better by the good influence of his Rover 'pal'.

The history of Gang Show is populated with Rovers. The Roland House Players, who were mainly formed from the Roland House Rovers, are generally acknowledged as being the first-ever Rovers. One of their number, first known as 'a Holborn Rover', was no other than Ralph Reader. (The history of the Gang Show will form yet another subject for Scouting Milestones.) In 1926 a Rover Moot was held at the Albert Hall. London. The Rovers produced a theatrical revue based entirely on Arthurian Legends.

These stories, I fear, only touch the tip of Rover Quests and initiatives. If you are aware of any worthy of inclusion I would be pleased to hear of them.

Rovers in the Economic Depression

Hedingham Mechancis
One of the Mechanics Courses at Hedingham, Suffolk

THE early 1930's saw the Great Depression, that originated with the Wall Street collapse in America and spread to Europe. In the years 1930/31 the number of unemployed men in the UK, reached a high of two and three quarter million men. Young men seeking work for the first time during this period were particularly hard-hit and so a great number of Rovers were unable to find employment. Idleness, whether brought about by unemployment or not, was not part of B-P's plan.

Quest Master E H Thompson during the depression in 1932 in Birmingham, arranged programmes for unemployed Rovers in their enforced leisure hours. They helped at Local Education Authority centres to provide courses for other unemployed people and took poor boys away to weekend camps. They also made and distributed toys for poor families at Christmas.

Many Crews were severely affected by the general depression. The Scouter of February 1932 carries a report of a scheme that started in Widnes, Lancashire, in 1931, where a Rover Crew was established for those unemployed youths currently reporting to the Widnes Labour Exchange. The scheme was open to all young men of Rover age, whether or not they had had previous Scouting experience. It was "watched very carefully by officials of the Labour Exchange, who are very pleased with the results."

The 'Mullet Training Scheme' was set up to help unemployed Rovers, "from Distressed and Special Areas," to find work and be trained as chauffeurs or gardeners at various locations through the country such, as Miss Musette Majendies scheme at Hedingham Castle in Essex and the camp at Whitney, Oxfordshire, organised by Miss Doris Mason. Rovers came to these centres from all over the country, but especially from the North of England and South Wales, where the unemployment was at its highest. These 'camps' were so successful that the Ministry of Labour asked the Scout Association to help organise similar ventures for non-Scouts such as the, Llanfrechfa Training Centre, near Monmouth in Wales. Concern for the employment welfare of Scouts was, as we have seen, was a large part of the rational for the formation of the Senior Scouts, which led to Rover Scouting. There were other examples of this, such as the founding of the Buckhurst Place Scout Farm which will be the subject of a future Milestones article. I would very interested to hear from anyone who had direct or family experience of how Scouting helped in this way.

The Scout Association Year Book for 1936/37 records that 532 men had passed through its gates and had found employment, to an additional 653 men who were employed but wanted retraining had received this "nearly all receiving promotion".Hedingham specialised in training Chauffeurs and Caterers but their training courses enabled men to get unskilled employment in many areas based on the character reference from the Scheme.

"Rovering activities continue to be the basis of our Camp Training - PT and Boxing two nights a week , general talks and discussion on a third night, First Aid a fourth and Practical Instruction the remaining night. ... Football and Cricket matches take place on Saturdays. On Sundays our min turn our for Church Services... and the afternoons are devoted to practical Rovering, axemanship, pioneering, including rigging derricks and all types of bridges- hiking general Scouting emergencies, fire drill and wide games etc."
The Catering Class
The Catering Class

The report mentions the formation of a Residential Club in London in which every 'graduate' of the Mullet Scheme courses was automatically a member. Run by 'A Rover Leader', Members requiring short term accommodation in London for purposes of finding a job or promotion could apply to stay there until they were 'fixed up'.

I am indebted to Milestones reader Judy Ireland who kindly wrote to me to tell me of her father, George Greenwell, who ran the courses at Hedingham between 1931-39 . He was born in 1906 in Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham and besides being a life-long Scout/Rover/Assistant Scoutmaster he had done some social work before working at Hedingham. Judy kindly supplied me with copies of references relating to her father by Musette Majendies who was the Director of the Hedingham Scheme and a wonderful archive of photographs taken during his time there. Miss Majendie, (who from all accounts was a larger than life character who despite having a withered arm could use an axe as well as any man) said of George Greenwell that "... he was a Scouter of a very unusual ability, with a very fine character.." These abilities were recognised by his next employer, the National Camps Corporation who extended Mullet style training into many different local authorities. George was appointed manager of a camp at Marchant's Hill, Hindhead, Surrey which he ran until 1941 joining Royal Navy as a signalman. His ship, the Avenger, was torpedoed west of Gibraltar in 1942.

It is interesting to not that Miss Majendie's reference for George Greenwell in which mentions that the 'Hedingham Scout Training and Employment Scheme' has been forced to closed by the outbreak of war, was written on headed notepaper which took half a sheet to list the 'great and good' associated with it. The General Committee alone was comprised of Dukes, Viscounts, Duchesses, Lords, Ladies and Mrs Siegried Sassoon. This was no light-weight organisation! Its Patron was the Duke of Kent, President Viscount Halifax and Chairman, The Major General The Lord Loch.

A Poem and a Puzzle

Mullet note book

The cover of the Mullet Training Course Notebook, shown here, has an appropriate verse from Rudyard Kipling:-

Go to your work and be strong
        Halting not in your ways
Stand by your work and be wise
        Certain of sword and pen
  Who are neither children or Gods
        But men in a world of men.

Alongside the spaces for entries for 'Name', 'Crew', 'Place' and 'Date' there is something of a puzzle;- four groups of letters in what appears to be a code - Does anyone know what the code means, or can crack it?

I thought at first that these might be the initials of the people running the course, but it seems unlikely, given that:

  1. Three out of the four should begin with 'I'
  2. The fifth group of initials (if that is what they are) should contain 5 letters - very rare for a person's name
  3. They are not in alphabetical order.
If the letters stand for words, then it is significant that there is not an 'R' among them for Rover or indeed an 'S' for Scout, or a 'B-P'. The most common letters in the English Language are 'S' and 'E', yet neither of them appear. The most common word in English is the personal pronoun 'I', which could appear three times and four lines would be common enough for a verse of poetry or even a prayer. A glimmer a clue is that the first line contains three letters, I H C, the last two letters could then stand for Heddingham Castle the first of the venues used in the training scheme, but then the other lines do not seem to refer to other centers. HC crops up again in the last line.

It has me beat!

The Rover Den

Rover Den
Can you identify which Crew this was? They framed the letter as well as the photograph of course

ROVER Scouts: What They Are, published in 1929, states that many Rover Crews had built their own meeting places and that others should be encouraged to do so. Dens ranged from having the comforts of a Gentleman's Club to the austerity found in the backrooms of Church Halls. Church accommodation was specifically warned against as being unsuitable by F W W Griffen in his book Rover Scouting. He counsels that all too often churches offered accommodation in order to "...keep their Rovers from drifting away from Church membership. A double disappointment is likely to follow...The Rover Den must be a place for making things, doing things and storing things, as well as talking; its decorations must speak of woodcraft and pioneering."

Baden-Powell advised that Rovers should decorate their den with appropriate photographs and Scouting memorabilia. In a letter to a Rover Crew, B-P enclosed a signed photograph - "for the B-P den and the Rover Scouts who infest it."

Rovers also established a register of 'Guest Houses' throughout the country that might be used by those on a 'quest' for overnight accommodation and to be made available to foreign visitors attending jamborees, etc.

General Organisation

SOON after their inception, B-P inspected several groups made up entirely of war veterans and commented on their smartness, including their wearing of war medals, of which, at that time, he approved. Rovers were not boys but men, many of whom had seen service in the 'war to end all wars'. They never wanted or expected to be ordered about and, to be fair, Imperial Headquarters was too wise to try.

The result was that the 'organisation' varied greatly from County to County and from Group (as they were then called) to Group. In Birmingham, the transfer age to Rovers was still 15, and many Groups were started in factories and works. There was some disquiet amongst Scoutmasters about this, as it meant that the older lads were not available to support their previous Scout Groups. By 1921 many of these works groups had closed down, but the Birmingham Census return showed, for example, that there were still 350 Rovers in the city.

In contrast, Haydn Dimmock's own troop had a Rover Patrol, but this comprised the same lads who were the Patrol Leaders and Seconds in the normal Scout troop.

Toc H badge

Other Groups began to appear at the major universities, some serious in their intent, others mere social clubs. Many Rover Scouts Groups were attached to Toc H whose aim and ideals completely matched those of Rover Scouting.

"Service is the rent we pay for our room on earth."

Without clear ground rules, the diversity became even more apparent and by 1921, as the 50 years of Scouting in Birmingham booklet noted - "throughout the whole country there was dissatisfaction with Rovering as it was so vague, particularly as regards its age range..."

Headquarters Gazette in November 1921 carried a report on the recommendations made at the Conference of Rover Scouts held at Imperial Headquarters on October 6th and 7th 1921. "A Rover Scout", the Conference declared, "is usually a Senior Scout aged 17 years and over." (It needs to be borne in mind that, at this time, the term 'Senior Scouts' was still running side-by-side with 'Rover Scouts'.) The Conference also resolved that the specific objective of Rover Scouting was to "...retain our older boys as active Scouts...with a view to their becoming Scout Officers or Scout Workers." The purpose of Rover Scouting was then defined clearly by the Conference - its chief purpose was to be a reservoir for future leaders. As one writer was to put it later, "After these rulings Rovers began to make progress."

Rovering to Success

Rovering to Success

ROVERING to Success was published in 1922. At first B-P did not see the need for a Rover Handbook - wanting, as always, rules to be 'elastic', but when Rovering to Success did appear it had its own success far beyond that of the Movement. Whilst it is often described as a Handbook for Rover Scouts, it was rather a recruiting tool and a handbook for Rover Squires waiting to be initiated into a Rover Crew.

Conferences and Moots

The first National Rover Moot was held in Birmingham in October 1923, at Yorks Wood Park with P B Nevill acting as Chief Rover.

On November 24th, 1928, a Rover Scout Conference was held in London. The Chief was unable to attend, as he was ill, but he sent a message urging Rovers "to keep one of two points in view." There was in fact a list of six points; two of them in particular seem to sum up the Chief's views:-

"In formulating rules or schemes for Rovering, for goodness' sake let them be elastic, so they apply not only to London or Puddlington in the Marsh, but also to our far reaching dominions and to foreign countries, who look to us for direction.

"Rover Scouting is a preparation for life, and also a pursuit for life."
Kandersteg International Scout Centre in the summer

Baden-Powell clearly indicated that once a Rover Scout; you were a member of the Movement for life. (This lifelong membership ideal seems to have been subject to various 'pressures' however, for in 1946 young men could become Rovers from 17½ until they were 23, but by 1956 it was 17 to 22 years of age - though importantly, all existing Rovers above the age of 23 were made honorary members of the Movement. They were allowed to wear their uniform and Badges but not to call themselves Rovers - the writing was on the wall!)

The first World Rover Moot was held in 1931 at Kandersteg, Switzerland, in the International Scout Chalet that B-P had opened in 1923. There were Rovers present from 22 nations. B-P was there too and wrote:

"From where I sit in the flower-decked balcony of this Chalet, I can see the flags of twenty-two nations waving above the tents, and the campfires of some three thousand young men gathered there.

"Rover Scouts they are: a brigade, as it were, of storm-troops of the larger army of over 2 million Boy Scouts. Their arms are alpenstocks, their discipline that of goodwill from within; their service consists not so much of fitting themselves for war as in developing the spirit of universal peace."

Baden-Powell was also to attend the 2nd World Rover Moot, held in Sweden in 1935, but unfortunately this would be the last time he was to be amongst a world gathering of his beloved Rovers. He again expressed his hopes that International Rover Moots would generate enough goodwill to avoid future conflict amongst nations, but, as we now know, the Third Reich was already on the march.

An appendix at conclusion of this article gives a complete list of World Rover Moots to the present day.


Metal Rambler Badge Cloth Rambler Badge
The earlier metal and the later cloth versions of the Rambler Badge, worn on the left epaulette

BADEN-POWELL was initially opposed to badges for Rovers. After all these were not boys but grown men. When asked what Rovers should wear to show that they had completed the conditions for the Rambler Badge - awarded after a 100-mile journey on foot, or 400 miles by cycle or boat had been completed and supported by a high-standard log - the Chief suggested the successful Rover might pick a piece of bramble out of hedge and wear that in his hat! And for a time that is exactly what happened. Of course The Founder was right, grown men should not need badges to wear show their achievements. But was it not the same B-P who, when marksmanship within his regiment was at an all-time low, suggested to his officers that paying the men an allowance to achieve the marksmanship required was a waste of money? B-P maintained that he could achieve a better result by awarding special Marksmanship Badges to those obtaining the necessary standard. He was right on that occasion also! Men shouldn't need badges, or 'pots' as B-P (the proud winner of the Kadir Cup for Pig Sticking) disdainfully called cups and trophies, but being human we do! So the piece of briar gave way in 1923 to a silver replica that was worn on the epaulette, and that in turn was replaced by a cloth badge, also worn on the epaulette.B-P Award - Metal

The right epaulette was used to display the Project Badge between 1953-64, which had the same requirements as the Progress Badge issued from 1932-53, and took the form of a Lanyard to the breast pocket. However, far more desirable was the B-P Award, the highest award in Rover Scouting, which was given on completion of the Rambler and Project Badges plus the Service Star, which was issued after six months service in a different section of the Movement, and the Scoutcraft Star, issued after the Service Star had been gained and the Preliminary Training Course had been completed.B-P Award Epaulette

Rovers wore other badges earned in their days in the Scout section, which were only slightly different to the original. The 'Tenderfoot', for example, worn prior to 1958 had the additional words 'Rover Scout', The First Class Badge, of felt with a red border (dropped prior to the 1930s) and, of course, the King's Scout Badge with the words 'Rover Scouts' added, the early version having a red border. There were also the Rover equivalents of the Instructor and Interpreter badges and, of course, Rovers had hat badges - the one illustrated in the 'Rovers Proper' section with a bar was for Rover Mate - and lapel badges. The Bushman's thong, a requirement for a King's Scout, could be worn as originally presented.

Far from having fewer badges than younger members, it has to be said that the well-qualified Rover probably had more badges on his uniform than the average thirteen to fourteen year old working towards his First Class badge.

Rovers and Rangers

Rover Queen's Scout Badge

NO article on Rover Scouting should fail to mention Rangers, a more-or-less equivalent section in the sister Girl Guide Movement. They had had a similar history to Rovers; being formed from the previous senior section, Senior Guides, in 1920. By 1929 the keyword in both sections was 'co-operation'. The Head Ranger, Miss Phyllis Bond, published an article in The Guider, which was reproduced in the March 1929 edition of Headquarters Gazette. Miss Bond did not beat about the bush in outlining the attraction of Rovers for Rangers, and even went so far as to say that whilst some Rovers might prefer the company of a solitary Ranger in a country lane, the majority were happy to also engage in 'mixed' activities. Many purposeful suggestions were made, from joint debates to assisting in Children's Country Holiday Fund camps. However much pleasure we might get today from poking fun at such goings-on, it needs to be remembered that after the 1914-1918 carnage there was a real shortage of eligible young men. The Chief Ranger herself commented there was a real possibility that young women's organisations that did not have links with the opposite sex would become 'dreary accumulations of born old maids'.

There is no doubt about the success of Rover-Ranger liaisons! This 'co-operation' became known as 'B-P's Matrimonial Agency', and the number of weddings leading to Scouting 'dynasties' are legion. If your family connection with Scouting originated in this way and you have a photo of the happy couple, let me know and we will be pleased to publish it here. One such happy account has been sent in by Michael J Marsh who writes that in 1957 he was a member of RAF Locking Rover Scout Crew. They Rovers decided to go the Jubilee Jamboree at Sutton Coldfield but Michael having nowhere to stay as every where was fully booked visited his relatives who lived in Birmingham. One of their neighbours was a Cub leader and a Ranger Guide and, without any reference to Michael, booked a seat for him on a bus she had organised for their local Wolf Cub Pack to visit the Jamboree. This was the start of a romance which culminated in their marriage on St George's Day in 1961. They now have four grandchildren! Milestones and our readers I am sure send our congratulations for the anniversary for the fiftieth anniversary of the first meeting.

The end is nigh

1946 Plan
1946: Yet another plan for Rover Scouts. Perhaps this was the trouble!

THE Second World War, as with the First, brought considerable strain upon the Scout Movement. It was the Rover Scout age-group that were the first to be called up and, tragically, saw the greatest loss of life. Rover Scouting flourished in some operational units and especially in Prisoner of War camps, but that is another story that I also hope one day to tell on these Pages. Back at home, many Rover Crew meetings were suspended for the duration, and some young Rovers turned to the far more informal Old Scout Clubs (covered in a separate Milestones article), as a way of continuing their contact with Scouting as and when they could.

The Scouter of July 1942 suggested amalgamation of Rovers and Old Scouts under the title Rover Scouts, but with their programme more on the lines of Old Scouts. This resulted in a Rover Advisory Panel being set up in May 1944, but the end of the war brought fresh changes with the return of Rovers Scouts from active service. Post-war Britain required change in almost every respect, and the numbers of Rovers, compared to the pre-war high point of more than 38,000 members, drastically declined. Compulsory National Service between the ages of 18 to 20 was a major factor, the scheme commencing in 1948 with the last National Servicemen being discharged in 1963. In January 1952, The Scouter suggested that Rovers and Seniors might amalgamate to mutual advantage, but this was universally rejected.

In March 1956 David Lungair, the then Headquarters Commissioner for Rover Scouts, spelt out their fate. He announced that from All Fools Day 1956, Rovers over the age of 23 had to retire and become 'auxiliaries'.Coffin of Rovering The reasons for this seemed to be that Headquarters wanted older Rovers out of the Rover Den and into a leadership role within the other sections of the Movement. Lungair was scathing:-

"The trouble began when Rovers who had reached that stage in their lives (the time when they should have been taking out leadership warrants), were faced with the wrench of saying goodbye to Rovering, and hadn't the guts to do so. They made excuses and they stayed on."

Shortly afterwards at the S.E. Counties Rover Moot, Rovers ceremonially carried the coffin of Rovering, shown here. They had concluded, and how could they do otherwise? that Headquarters wanted an end to Rovering as they knew it. Rovering was not to be seen as an end its own right, but merely as a stage to becoming a leader. Nobody, except perhaps for Headquarters, was happy and numbers, already severely affected by the lowering of the upper age limit, continued to decline. One might say cause and effect.

By 1964 Rover Scouting was dead.

The King is dead, Long live ... Scout Network!

ROVER Scouting was not replaced with a single section. The Advanced Party Report introduced Venture Scouting for Scouts between the ages of 16 and 21. Those over the age of 21 could join the B-P Scout Guild (which became Scout Fellowship in 1976 - see below under 'Sources: Web based'), but naturally, given their age ranges, neither Venture Scouting nor the Guild came close to emulating Rover Scouting. Venture Scouting in its turn is now to be 'retired', and will be given its own Page on Scouting Milestones.

The following quotation comes from the Scout Association's Programme Review, which lays out a framework for change, replacing the Venture Scout Section by 'Scout Network' by the end of 2003.

"Scout Network.

"The core age of the second new section is 18 - 25 years. While Explorer Scouts may transfer from this section between the ages of 17½ and 18½, the 25th birthday is clearly the end point. The new section will be self-governing, self-determining and self-directing. The role of the section leader would be to maintain an overview but also to steer, train, advise, initiate and innovate when required.

"All Warranted Leaders under the age of 25, are automatically members of the Scout Network. But that does not carry with it a requirement to attend regular meetings or a specific number of activities."
Advance Party logo

It is of course far too early to make any direct comparisons between 'Scout Network' and Rover Scouting, but there is an exact age correlation. The legacy of the Rover movement, the dilemma of having potential leaders drawn away from the younger sections is recognised in the words "the 25th birthday is clearly the end point." There does seem to be a considerable 'lean' towards Rover Scout philosophy in other aspects of the planning for this new section, but there is no mention of one of the most important aspects, I feel, of the old Rover Crew:-

Rule 273, i. P.O.R., 1933. "If occupation, age or other circumstances prevent a Rover from taking an active part as a member of his crew he can be become an honorary which capacity he will continue to do his best to carry out the Scout ideal in his daily life."

I know that, in these money-conscious days, every section of every organisation has to be seen to be cost-effective and there is very little chance that the Scout Association could afford to register members on a lifetime basis if they do not contribute their capitation. On the other hand, putting substance into Kitchener's maxim, "Once a Scout always a Scout", could well pay dividends. Encouraging the old Rover ideal that a person would give such time to Scouting where and when he could, without losing his membership, especially at the busy career or home-making times life, has much to commend it. The founding of the Scouts' Friendly Society and the subsequent development of 'Old Scouts', B-P Scout Guild, and the Scout Fellowship have all provided the opportunity, albeit at the cost of 'capitation', for ex-Scouts to maintain links with the parent body.

It is not for nothing that every ex-Rover Scout I have ever met regrets the abolition of Rover Scouting. May Scout Network form a worthy successor!

Gilwell neckerchief
The neckerchief of one of the most famous Rover Crews in the world


YOU might think that the last paragraph was a suitable place to finish, except that Rover Scouting never really finished at all! There were those who took exception to its planned demise and carried on their Rover Scouting regardless. 21 Countries in the World Scout Movement retained their Rover Scout Sections, and make a significant contribution to the 28 million Scouts world-wide. I have to confess that I cannot find the total number of Rover Scouts world-wide, but there is no doubt that Rovering prospers to this day, as attendance at World Rover Moots (see my note at the end of the listing of World Rover Moots below) and my email post-box testify. I have been alerted to the fact that Rover Scouting has been reintroduced in America for example, and have a recent mail (2009) from Julio Vargas of Bogota, who writes a heart-warming account of his crew in that city and the effect these Rover Pages on Scouting Milestones have had on his crew. Long may his Rovers prosper!

Appendix - Rover Moots
Kandersteg Booklet
Cover of the first World Moot Official Souvenir Booklet. (Note that the word 'Moot' appears to be un-translatable!)
1st World Moot 1931 Kandersteg, Switzerland
2nd World Moot 1935 Stockholm, Sweden
3rd World Moot 1939 Monzie, Scotland
4th World Moot 1949 Skjak, Norway
5th World Moot 1953 Kandersteg, Switzerland
6th World Moot 1957 Sutton Coldfield, England
7th World Moot 1961 Melbourne, Australia
8th World Moot 1990-91 Melbourne, Australia
9th World Moot 1992 Kandersteg, Switzerland
10th World Moot 1996 Ransäter, Sweden
11th World Scout Moot 2000 Mexico City, Mexico
12th World Scout Moot 2004 Taiwan
13th World Scout Moot 2010 Kenya

N.B. The proposed 2008 Mozambique Moot announced November 2002 was cancelled. As the UK Scout Association no longer have Rovers, since 2000 World Rover Moots have been officially renamed World Scout Moots. A Moot is now defined as generic term for the gathering of Scouts aged between 14-17. (Wikipeadia). This flagrant alteration of a Scouting term introduced and defined by the founder Lord Baden-Powell (see The Rover Lexicon on this Page), is much regretted by some, who point to the obvious solution that a change in meaning would not have been necessary if the UK senior section was again called Rovers!


My particular thanks to:
Peter Ford, Scout Historian and Collector, for some of the badge images on this Page
Kelvin Holford,Kent County Commissioner and Collector, for the Senior Scouts (Pre Rover)epaulette image on this Page
Printed Sources
Birmingham Scout Association Year Book 1919
Rovering to Success Sir Robert Baden-Powell, 1922
Rangers and Rovers Headquarters Gazette, March, 1929
How Rovering Began P B Nevill, Headquarters Gazette, August, 1929
Rover Scouts: What They Are The Boy Scouts Association, 1929
Norfolk Rover Scouts Quest List County of Norfolk Boy Scouts Association, 1930, revised 1936
Rover Scouts Chats with Rovers and their Mates F W W Griffen, The Faith Press, 1930
Bare Knee Days Haydn Dimmock, 1939
Plan for Rover Scouts The Boy Scouts Association, 1946
The Presentation of a Rover Scout The Boy Scouts Association, 1946
The Scout Movement E E Reynolds, 1950, p. 198
Rover Scout Organisation and Training The Boy Scouts Association, 1956
The Scouter March, 1956
50 Years of Scouting in Birmingham 1957
A Rover Scout Handbook Middlesex Rover Council, (Undated)
Internet Sources
Girlguiding UK
Kandersteg Scout Chalet
Programme Review. Scouting Magazine
Sir Galahad (and the Holy Grail)
The History of the Scout Fellowship
The Ten Quests of Rovering
World Scouting 'Rovering'
Bronze Knight
Bronze statue of a Knight, based on B-P's drawing (see above). This particular copy was presented to Gilwell in memory of The Founder's daughter, Heather King, by her family

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