Return to 'Scouting Milestones' links
The origins of the Wood Badge

Almost the first words that Baden-Powell wrote for his projected book Scouting for Boys were concerned with the training of future Scoutmasters. However, his publisher Pearson, perhaps wisely, understood that first it was necessary to 'capture the boys' before you talked about training leaders. Pearson decided that all mention of training should be left to the last issue of the series, Part VI, which was published in 1908. Though there was much practical advice and Helpful Hints to Scoutmasters contained this final part of Scouting for Boys, it was hardly a training scheme.

B-P's Wood Badge
Baden-Powell's own six-bead Wood Badge. Note that the three pairs of beads grade down in size. (UK Scout Archives)

In the beginning . . .

IT was never Baden-Powell's intention that Scouting should be an 'organisation'. He visualised a movement with Scout Patrols in other organisations such as the Boys Brigade and the YMCA (see Brother organisations). He did not see the need, at that point, for a book of 'rules' (P.O.R. - Policy Organisation and Rules - the 'bible' of UK Scout Administration came much later). As in his army days, B-P hoped to lead by example rather than using the rigour of the rank system and, in this, he was hugely successful. There are many recorded instances of near 'hero worship' amongst his junior officers and men. In civilian life and in a voluntary organisation, 'orders' would not in any case achieve the desired effect. B-P's magnetic personality was the cement that bound the fledgling organisation together, not a rulebook. By 1907, B-P envisaged his Scoutmasters and 'local secretaries' as almost free agents working "in communication, not bondage."

The Problem

HOWEVER, the need for some sort of central structure and consistent message could not be denied. The first two camps at Brownsea and Humshaugh were not designed purely for the benefit of the 58 boys involved. At Humshaugh particularly, B-P commissioned a series of postcards and magic lantern slides to act as training aids for Scoutmasters. A good example was being provided, but it did not have to be followed!

Scouting was expanding at a tremendous rate, mainly from the bottom up. It's creator, a half-pay General with very little money of his own, could not possibly afford the sort of administration structure it required. The early years of The Headquarters Gazette are full of examples of the need for firm leadership. Some Scoutmasters were wearing the most outrageous self-aggrandising 'uniforms' - including spurs! Some were accepting boys as young as seven or eight, others would not allow entry until 13. The Scoutmasters themselves were constantly seeking clarification. It was clear that the Movement could not progress without a clear set of rules and some form of training for Scoutmasters.

The Solution

AFTER the Humshaugh Camp on September 28th, 1908, B-P circulated a letter in which he encouraged the formation of local committees to be run by a Secretary. Support would be forthcoming from one of the adult leaders at Humshaugh, Eric Walker, who had been appointed as 'Travelling Inspector'. Under the heading 'Scoutmasters', the duties of the Local Committees were fully outlined, including: "To have in their hands the appointment of Scoutmasters and bestowal of badges and rewards." B-P wrote: "In the first place it seems desirable that Scoutmasters should pass some sort of test that will guarantee their being fit and proper men to teach the lads. With this in view I have drawn up a short syllabus of desirable qualifications."

The Tests for Scoutmasters were attached to the letter:-

  1. A general knowledge of the handbook Scouting for Boys, especially the Scout Laws
  2. A full appreciation of the moral aim underlying the practical instruction all through the scheme of Scouting
  3. Personal character and standing such as will ensure his having a good moral influence over boys
  4. Age not less than 18
  5. Ability to provide some sort of clubroom for Scout Meetings

There would be three ways by which "a gentleman can pass his tests for Scoutmaster." These were through the 'Travelling Inspector', or three members of a Local Committee, or two qualified Scoutmasters. All existing Scoutmasters had to do though, was to write to Baden-Powell and give a report of their work, and B-P would "award certificates as Scoutmasters." These must surely have been the first Warrant Certificates.

Warrant Certificate

The image shown here is of an early Warrant Card from the author's collection. Unfortunately it is undated, but it was purchased framed and was backed with a fragment of a newspaper dated 1912, so the Warrant must have been issued at some time before that date. It is quite likely to very early indeed. As can be seen from the illustration, the heading 'Boy Scout' has the follow-up words 'Baden-Powell's' in brackets on the next line.

The Scout magazine began a series of pages of interest to Scoutmasters on April 10th, 1909. These developed in July 1909 into a fully-fledged separate publication in its own right. This was not under the control of The Scout's publisher Pearson. The arch-publicist knew his job and ensured that The Scout contained enough of the 'Penny Dreadful' material of the day to make it exciting for boys, but this did not always go down well with B-P. The 'blood and guts' content did not make this a proper vehicle for adult training and a publication directly under the control of the Scout Association was essential.

Part of the rationale of the new publication was to publicise the new policy of 'decentralisation', which was perhaps an admission that Scouting had grown so large that there was no way it could be run from one central office and, for the first time, clear guidelines from the 'central office' were being given on what was and what was not acceptable.

An interesting example from one of the first issues was B-P's contention that Scouts do not beg.

I have in my collection a wonderful exchange of letters about one Scoutmaster Cook of the 'Robin Hood Troop', Wakefield, Yorkshire, whose Scouts were mainly sons of "coal miners presently working short time, therefore the boys cannot afford to keep themselves at camp." Scoutmaster Cook had gone round local villages with a borrowed street organ seeking donations 'in a sealed box'. This was held to be begging and the Scoutmaster was duly admonished. I cannot help but wonder though, if the boys did manage to get to camp . . .

In The Headquarters Gazette, B-P could write directly to the adult leadership via his own Outlook, which he contributed on a monthly basis, hardly missing an issue until his death in 1941. This, perhaps, was the most effective form of direct communication and training that the Movement ever had.

Early Training Courses

THE Headquarters Committee was set up in the last days of September 1909. Since renamed the Committee of the Council, it has continued to provide for the administration and management of the UK Scout Association. Its first Secretary was Mr Archibald J Kyle, who had been the very successful organising secretary of the South West London District and was, in the opinion of Sir Percy Everett, the first Deputy Chief Scout, a first class organiser. He was given the appointment of 'Chief Scoutmaster'. One of his creations was the establishment of a 'Scoutmaster Training Corps' which operated in Richmond, London, in the winter of 1909. All members had to give an undertaking that, if elected to it, they would serve for at least one year and, on leaving, would set up their own Troop of Boy Scouts on behalf of Headquarters! This special troop did not last long, but Sir Percy said that it was 'especially helpful'.

Scoutmasters' training camps were organised and attended by B-P. These were held in London and Yorkshire in 1911. A series of evening training lectures were also held for London Scouters, culminating in a camp from February 4th - 7th at Kendal Hall, Elstree.

In the early months of 1914, came the beginnings of Part 1 of the present Wood Badge course. The Chief Scout wrote a series of carefully thought-out articles in The Headquarters Gazette, called Scouting for Scoutmasters. In each issue a different aspect of leadership was considered. Questions were set out in the form of a postal course and a 'board of examiners' at HQ consisting of Colonel De Burgh, Major Wade, Percy Everett, H Geoffrey 'Uncle' Elwes, who had been on B-P's second camp for Boy Scouts at Beaulieu, and Mr Ernest Young were established to assess the candidates. A large number of Scouters entered the course. To help training, study patrols were formed and weekend camps were arranged.

Percy Everett wrote,

"It was a Herculean job, but a mighty interesting one.
"Before recommending Scouters for the Chief Scout's Certificate, we had to satisfy ourselves that they were proficient, not only in the written replies but also in the practical work connected with the management of their troops. This was more difficult."

As can be imagined, this was all very time-consuming for the examiners. Their work was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War, which, regrettably, terminated the course before any candidate could be awarded 'The Chief's Scout's Certificate'.

Gilwell Park

Gidney Xmas 1912
Christmas 1912: Frank Gidney's advice to campers

AFTER the end of the War, on November 20th, 1918, Mr W F de Bois Maclaren, a District Commissioner for Rosneath in Dumbartonshire, Scotland, dinned with B-P at Roland House, an International Hostel for Scouts, in London. They discussed the need for a permanent camping ground for London Scouts. Maclaren was forthcoming - "You find what you want and I will buy it."

A small committee was formed, including Percy Everett, and it was decided that the money would be best employed if the camping ground could be combined with a "centre for the training of Scout Officers". Maclaren agreed and the committee quickly found Gilwell Park, a run-down estate that, at the time, was up for sale on the edge of Epping Forest near Chingford, Essex, which was ideally suited to the purpose. B-P, impressed with their description, agreed to the purchase without a prior visit.

Francis Gidney was appointed Camp Chief in May 1919. "Skipper" Gidney was a young man who had served as a Captain during the First World War and had immense energy and, most important from Baden-Powell's view, tremendous spirit. His Assistant Scoutmaster was Capt. F S Morgan, District Commissioner for Swansea. In the June issue of The Headquarters' Gazette there was a short article outlining the twin purposes of the site - Scoutmaster Training and Boy Scout Camping Ground. The section dealing with Scoutmaster Training is quoted in full below.

"An Officers' Training Centre, where Scoutmasters, or those who wish to become Scoutmasters, will be trained by competent old Scouts in the formation and training of troops, practical woodcraft and camping and the methods of the Boy Scouts generally."

The opening ceremony took place on Saturday, July 26th, 1919 (not July 25th as quoted in The Gilwell Book!), in perfect weather. Mrs Maclaren cut a ribbon in the Scout Colours of green and yellow. (This is specially remarked on in several sources as though cutting a ribbon was a novel idea never seen before!)

The first Wood Badge Course: Gilwell Park, September 8th-19th, 1919

ON arrival, after taking tea, the participants were taken on a short tour of Gilwell. On their return from the Boys' Field to the Training Ground they would find the gate rudely shut in their faces. The would-be Wood Badgers were told that by passing through the gate again they will have be seen to give an undertaken to play the game to the best of their ability. All, of course, passed through.

Once inside the Training Ground, the initiates were assigned to Patrols or Sixes, depending on their course. They were told that supper would be served in the refectory, and that they had better make the most of it, as from now on they would be cooking for themselves! Some, more unfortunate than the rest, were appointed Sixers or Patrol Leaders and threatened with dire consequences as to the care of the communal kit. The mixed-class, multi-aged and very mixed experienced group were then left to get to know each other and to make up their bedding in their tents.

Later, at a campfire, the Camp Chief, "Skipper" Gidney, talked to them at some length about Scouting in general and themselves in particular. He told them that from now on they were in a Pack or Troop with himself as Scoutmaster, that they would all wear the same grey training neckerchief, no matter what their rank or District and that the Sixers or Patrol Leaders would change every day, as would all other assignments such as cook, etc.

Baden-Powell visited the camp on Friday night, the 12th and Saturday the 13th, together with Major A G Wade, Joint Managing Secretary of the Association. (Major Wade was the husband of Eileen K Wade who was B-P's secretary for 27 years and his biographer. Major Wade was to organise the 1st World Jamboree the following year.) The Founder gave a talk to the participants and led a tracking demonstration on Saturday morning, filled with personal anecdotes.

Though the course had only two 'full-time' staff, Camp Chief "Skipper" Gidney and his Assistant F S Morgan, it was not short of part-time instructors. At various times in the proceedings talks or demonstrations were given, some by very distinguished Scouters:

Mr F D Morgan
Imperial Headquarters Assistant Secretary
'Games' R S Wood
(ran Gilwell for a time when Gidney was sick)
Section 17, The Education Act
Percy W Everett
Deputy Chief Scout
Resumé of Scouting. P B Nevill Troop organisation
Col. Ulick de Burgh
Deputy Chief Commissioner
Rovers Rev. R Hyde Industrial Welfare
H S Martin
(later Director of Scouts International Bureau)
The International Aspect The Chief Scout Sand Tracking

Was Mr F D Morgan a relative of Assistant Camp Chief, F S Morgan? And was P B Nevill, an unusual surname, related to Course participant the Rev. H Warwick Nevill? Who knows what our continuing research will bring to light?

The Programme

As it was a Scout course, each Patrol went on a 24-hour hike into Epping Forest to the standard of the 1st Class badge.

The participants enjoyed good weather, except for one heavy thunderstorm which, as Gidney wrote, "had its instructive value also!"

All too soon the time for the final campfire arrived and the Camp Chief reminded the participants of the words he had said at the first campfire and how they will need to take the Gilwell message back to their troops and out into the world.

On the last day there was much cleaning up to do, to the highest standards, in time for the final inspection. Participants had to hand in the grey training scarves and revert to their own troop neckerchiefs and gather round the flagstaff for prayers.

This picture of the first Wood Badge Course responds to 'Mouse-overs'. Pointing the mouse at a particular individual will cause a pop-up box to appear, giving the name and, where available, details of that particular participant

THE first course had three 'patrols' one of which was Bulls. A group photograph of this historic course, shown here, was taken of the participants and some of the staff, a tradition that continues to this day. The library at Gilwell contains albums for each year since its inception. In the main, the photographs include the names of the participants, but no other details are given for those from the early years. Later on, the country of origin and sometimes the 'rank' of the participant are noted.

Previously published lists of the participants of this historic course name only 18 individuals, but the picture shows 23 men. The original of this photograph is held in the UK Scout Archive at Gilwell Park and, on the borders of the mount the photograph is attached to and in the limited space available, all 23 people are named. The writer was very much cramped for space with room only for an initial and surname. In addition, some of the names may have been copied down incorrectly, as there are several names which appear on both lists, but with slight differences. Nevertheless, I believe that this is one of the few times that this photograph of the First Wood Badge Course has been published and that this is the first time there has been cross-referenced to it such a complete listing of the original course participants.

The First Members of the 1st Gilwell Troop Identified

Subsequent research into the picture has been painstaking, but has yielded a most satisfying result. There seemed to be no way to resolve the conflict between the two lists of participants that I had so far used in my research: The published list gave greater detail, the names annotated onto the mount of the Gilwell photograph were sometimes spelt differently, had no details of the participants' District or County and had two fewer names than the other list, which in turn numbered one more than the faces on the photograph. Up to now, the interpretation of the photograph is that it shows 18 participants and 5 'Trainers'. But which was which? Camp Chief Gidney and his Assistant Morgan, almost definitely were trainers, B-P and Major Wade probably were (though they were in attendance for less than two days). As to who was the fifth 'Trainer' was a mystery. So too was the list of names - a total of 24 to fit 23 faces.

A search through my archives revealed two pieces of 'evidence' that I did not have to hand when writing the original article, in late 2001. On looking back over some photographs I took on my very first visit to Gilwell, when I attended a Scouting 'Heritage Tour' organised by the Scout Association in September 2000, I re-discovered a picture which, at the time, meant very little. It is of a document on Gilwell Park Woodcraft Training Grounds headed paper. It is not dated, but was obviously very early, which is why I chose to photograph it. On re-examining it, with the knowledge subsequently gained on early Wood Badge training, it proved to be a set of signatures of the participants on the very first course.

The document contains 20 signatures, including those of Camp Chief Gidney and Assistant Morgan giving, in many cases, the Christian name by which the participants were known. Were the other 18 participants on the Course? Two signatures are missing, those of Don Potter (see below) and 'J Durell', both of whom were identified as being present from the annotations on the Gilwell photograph. This suggests a total of 20 Course participants.

The second piece of 'evidence' is from my acquiring a copy of Headquarters Gazette for 1919 that I did not have to hand when I researched the original article - I only had notes that I had made from an archive copy. From this I learnt that there were only two 'full-time' Trainers - the Gilwell Officials - but there were visiting trainers and lecturers attending throughout the Course, Headquarters Gazette goes on to list these people, shown on the table above. None of these Trainers signed the document I had photographed and none of their names appeared on either of the lists I had used to identify the participants up to this point. This means that the Gilwell photograph above shows 2 Officials, 2 Distinguished Visitors and 19 of the 20 participants of the first Wood Badge Course. (The missing participant being Leslie J Berlin.)

Our research has resulted in the fullest detail yet seen of the members of the world's first Wood Badge Course and is published for the first time here.

As with many of the early Scouting pictures I have found during my researches, this one raises many questions. We still do not have any information as to the County or District of origin of some of the participants. In addition, there seems to be a wide discrepancy in the age of the people photographed. The two cross-legged figures seated on the right look very young indeed, but then the cross-legged figure on the left looks little older. This raises the question as to just what the lowest age of entry to the course was and, at first, I thought that these could have been Boy Scout 'helpers' on the course. However, subsequent research showed that Don Potter (see below), on the far right, was 17 when the photograph was taken and he was a Wood Badge participant on the course. Given that the 'age of majority' in 1919 was 21, Don Potter's age seems very low. This may be a reflection of the fact that, during the years of the First World War, there was a dearth of Scoutmasters, most men of serving age being at the front. It was commonplace for Scout Groups to be 'kept going' by very young leaders, some of whom might still have been in place after the War, when they could undertake a Wood Badge course to become fully-qualified Scoutmasters. Though I am not certain when, the minimum age for the award of a Wood Badge was eventually raised to 21.

There are three Ministers of the Church in the picture, yet only one of them, the Rev. W A Butler (seated, far left), appears to be wearing his 'Dog-Collar'. Perhaps the other Reverend Gentlemen were Non-Conformists, who were not required to wear clerical collars. Some of the participants are bedecked with badges which, presumably, they must have earned when they themselves were Boy Scouts, J R Davies, standing at the far left of the photograph, even displays Patrol Leader's stripes. Oddly, the three displaying the most badges are all wearing dark-coloured shirts. More curious still is that these three all came from Cheshire. Did they belong to the same Troop? The photograph is fairly formally posed, with B-P in the centre flanked by his Camp Chief and his assistant on his right and left hand. Yet Major Wade, an important figure in the Association, stands behind Gidney, not B-P. As always, if you have any additional information on this picture, I would be delighted to hear from you.

AT least two of those attending the first Wood Badge Course maintained a life-long interest in Scouting:

Don Potter (seated at the front, without a hat, in the picture above) became very much a Gilwell Celebrity who, in 2002, celebrated his 100th birthday! He became a full-time member of the Gilwell Camp staff and used his skills as a builder and woodcarver on many of the ornamental wooden gateways at Gilwell. This work resulted in him being given private commissions, leading to his becoming a full-time woodcarver. Some of his work, such as carved shop signs in the Chingford area around Gilwell are still on public view.

He left Gilwell in 1932 to work for master craftsman, woodcarver and typographer Eric Gill. Don's best work was to include the memorial to Admiral Madden in St Paul's Cathedral, the carved doors to the Radcliff Library in Oxford and the figure of St. Sebastian for Winchester College. He also designed the memorial stone on Brownsea island which is shown on the Milestones account of the camp there. Interestingly, in the booklet, Why Brownsea? published by the Brownsea Scout Service team in 2002, the Brownsea Memorial Stone is acknowledged simply to 'D. Potter. Sculptor'. I would hope that Don's contribution to the Movement could be better acknowledged, perhaps on the Memorial Stone itself.

Gilwell Letterhead

DR. John Frederick 'Wilkie' Wilkinson was born on June 10th, 1897 in Oldham, Lancashire. When he was two his mother died and he and his brother Ted went to live with his two sisters, who were also looking after their father, at his home at 54 Withnell Road, Blackpool.

'Wilkie' had become a Boy Scout in 1908, when, after a fishing trip with friends they called in at Frank Raynor's shop in Blackpool to ask him to weigh their catch. Frank showed John a copy of the first fortnightly part of Scouting for Boys, John copied this out by hand, gave it to his friends and organised a meeting. This was the start of Lion's Patrol. The boys later returned to Frank's shop and persuaded him to become their Scoutmaster.

When he was 13 he spent some time with his father, who had moved to Stockport, and joined the 1st Davenport Troop there, but he later returned to Blackpool and when he was 16 he belonged to the 1st Blackpool Scout Group and became one of the first King's Scouts. In 1913 he enrolled at Manchester University but after the First World War was declared, he postponed his studies and joined the Royal Naval Air Service in 1916. He was included in a ballot with a group of other men for the award of the Victoria Cross for their conduct on the Mole at Zeebrugge. After he had attended his Wood Badge Course, Wilkinson returned to Manchester University in 1919 to resume his studies in Chemistry. He was awarded a BSc 1st Class Hons Degree in Chemistry by Manchester University and had a brilliant medical career, during which discovered a cure for pernicious anaemia. He became a Freeman of the City of London in 1949 and was awarded his Silver Wolf in 1992. In his Scouting career he helped to develop Scouting in Albania and Eire.

He was 22 years old when he motorcycled down to Gilwell from Blackpool to join the first Wood Badge Course and, on his return to his home in Cheshire, later led the first Wood Badge course ever held outside Gilwell. This took place at Alderley Park, near Chelford, Cheshire and took the form of four weekend camps through September, 1920. Wilkinson's interesting history and exchanges of letters between Gidney and Baden-Powell are preserved at the Waddicar Scout Camp Museum, Lancashire, the UK's first purpose built Scout Museum, which was built partly from a bequest left by John Wilkinson to his friend Michael Loomes "to help him build a Scout Museum" to house Michael Loomes' own Baden-Powell and Scout History Collection. He left a very large additional bequest to Alderley District Scout Association, where he lived and Scouted for many years, eventually becoming an Assistant Commissioner and being awarded his Silver Wolf in 1992 at the age of 96. 'Wilkie' also left another bequest of an amazing collection of apothecary jars and this helped set up the Thackeray Medical Museum in Leeds which has a John F Wilkinson Gallery. (I am indebted to Mr Michael Loomes, the first curator of the Waddicar Scout Camp Museum, for this information.)

Shown here is an early Gilwell Park letterhead inviting Wilkinson to attend the first Gilwell Reunion, which was to be held the following year from Friday 16th to Monday 19th September, 1920, with B-P attending on the Saturday. The reunions have been held on the same weekend every year since. John Wilkinson attended his last Gilwell Reunion in 1994, the 75th anniversary of Gilwell Park. Derek Twine the Association's Chief Executive said "We were all tremendously motivated by his sense of fun." He died in 1998 in his 102nd year.

A remarkable man!

IT seems an amazing co-incidence that these, the only two participants whose age we are certain of, both reached their centenary. I wonder if there were other centenarians in the group, and if any are still alive today? The co-incidence is compounded by comparing the Wood Badge 'pioneers' with the original Brownsea lads, as two of them also reached a very ripe old age: Brian Evans-Lombe was 100 and Terry Bonfield very nearly that age when they died. The moral seems to be to take up Scouting if you want to live long and prosper! (Unless of course you joined young enough to serve in the First World War when, I am afraid, our statistics show that you only had a one-in-three chance of surviving it.)

The Beads

THERE surely can be no other item of Scouting regalia more steeped in history, romance, and myth than the famed Wood Badge Beads. Intrinsically, they are practically worthless - two bits of twig on a lace. To those that have won the award however, they are priceless.

Tribal History

As a result of the war of 1879-1880, Zululand, a territory on the west coast of South Africa, north of Durban, had been divided up by the British. (The area is in what was formerly Natal, now known as KwaZulu-Natal.) Each district was ruled by a native chief, with the exception of one that was ruled by an Englishman called John Dunn. The 'partition' was not a success. Britain annexed Zululand in 1887, but trouble broke out when Dinizulu, a nephew of the former Chief Cetewayo, led a revolt. The tribes were divided, some for Dinizulu and the others under a coalition led by 'Chief' John Dunn.

Chief Dinizulu

General Henry Smyth was the most senior Army Officer in South Africa and Baden-Powell, his nephew, was his adjutant. B-P was sent with a detachment led by Major McKean with John Dunn and 2000 of his Zulus to put down the insurrection and, if possible, to capture Dinizulu.

Chief Cetewayo had been a considerable thorn in the side of the British presence in Zululand a generation previously. By all accounts, Dinizulu, chief of the Usuthu Zulus, was very intelligent. In the British Army Museum in Chelsea, London, there is an exhibit of his writing at the time that he was learning English.

Dinizulu was heavily built man, 2 metres (6 ft. 7 ins.) in height and, on state occasions, he wore a necklace some 3 to 3 ½ metres (10 to 12 feet) in length, consisting of over 1000 beads, ranging in size from tiny emblems to others four inches in length. Dinizulu's beads, threaded on a rawhide lace, were made of yellow acacia wood, which has a soft pith and formed a small natural nick on each end. (The soft pith dried out or was removed forming a fine hole along the length of the bead - this is perhaps the easiest way to distinguish a Zulu bead from later copies.)

The necklace was considered sacred and was kept in a cave on a high mountain and guarded day and night. It was a distinction conferred on royalty and outstanding warriors; it had been passed down from generation to generation at least from 1825. Charles Rawden Maclean, also known as John Ross, was shipwrecked off the Zululand coast in 1825. He was one of the first white people to meet the great Zulu King Shaka. In his description of the Festival of the First Fruits, he wrote:

"They now commenced ornamenting and decorating their persons with beads and brass ornaments. The most curious part of these decorations consisted of several rows of small pieces of wood ... strung together and made into necklaces and bracelets ... On enquiry we found that the Zulu warriors set great value on these apparently useless trifles, and that they were orders of merit conferred by Shaka. Each row was the distinguishing mark of some great heroic deed, and the wearer had received them from Shaka's own hand."

Maclean was to later meet Dingane, Shaka's half-brother, who was,

"dressed in the same manner as the king, but without so large a display of beads."

Baden-Powell later wrote about the campaign to subdue and capture Dinizulu:

"Eventually Dinizulu took refuge in his stronghold, I had been sent forward on a Scouting expedition into his stronghold. He nipped out as we got in. In his haste he left his necklace behind - a very long chain of little wooden beads."

Modern author Tim Jeal, in his major biography of Baden-Powell, characteristically casts doubts on the 'official' version. He points out that B-P did not mention the capture of Dinizulu's beads in his diary, whereas in a letter dated 1884, now the property of the Boy Scouts of America, B-P mentioned the appropriating of the necklace of a dead African girl. The inference being that B-P's beads were not Dinizulu's.

E E Reynolds, in the official Scout Association biography of 1950, has chapter and verse on the dead girl's necklace, but only the short sentence "B-P became the possessor of the Zulu chief's necklace" to support B-P's claim that Gilwell's beads came from Dinizulu.

What is myth and what is not? I have seen two separate photographs of Dinizulu wearing his beads, one featured above. There is no doubt they existed and were venerated objects. If B-P did not have them, then surely we would have heard of their whereabouts by now. I don't think that B-P had any knowledge of the way Dinizulu's ancestor, Shaka, had conferred his beads individually to deserving recipients, but, interestingly, that is exactly what B-P himself chose to do with them.

Scout Use of the Beads

In 1919 at the first Scoutmasters' training course at Gilwell, B-P had wondered what to give the successful participants, but came up with nothing. Then he thought about the bead necklace. A couple of days later, B-P invited the participants to the restaurant in Scout HQ, presented them with two beads each and told them to go out and buy themselves a shoelace to put them on. Originally he intended that the beads should be worn on the hat.

B-P's two hat beads

He himself wore two on his hat, the ones are shown here, from the UK Scout Archives, may well be the very hat beads that B-P wore. A Memo exists where he asks his secretary to get "a pair of wood badge beads 'Camp Chief' to put on my hat for Thursday!" (Quotation from US Scout Collection Magazine, Scout Memorabilia, November, 1991.)

It seems likely that B-P had got the idea for wearing the beads in his hat after seeing Officers of the US Expeditionary Force in the First World War. Their Stetson hats had a pair of acorns on a thong around the brim that could be tightened to hold the hat in place in windy weather.

B-P's Wood Badge pouch

There are pictures of B-P with five beads in his hat, commensurate with the number worn by the first Course Directors in each country to adopt the Wood Badge. According to E E Reynolds in Boy Scout Jubilee the wearing of the beads in the hat was somewhat 'awkward', and abandoned in favour of the necklace in the 1920's. The more likely reason for abandoning hat beads, I feel, is the fact that once you took your hat off indoors, your hard-earned and very prestigious beads were no longer on display!

Shown here is B-P's own six-bead Wood Badge with a hand-embroidered pouch (was this Olave's work?) Both artefacts are in the UK Scout Archives.

After world acceptance of Wood Badge training at the 1924 World Conference in Copenhagen. B-P decided to award the first trainer a fifth bead - an original Dinizulu bead.

Sir Percy Everett's Beads

There is only one other example of a six-bead Wood Badge. B-P presented this to 'his right hand man' Sir Percy Everett. Sir Percy wrote later, when he donated his beads to Gilwell:

"These beads are a personal gift from me to the Camp Chief. The Old Chief gave them to me when I was Commissioner for Training in the early days of Gilwell. The time has come when I would like to hand them over as an heirloom. I hope that the [Gilwell] camp chief will wear them and pass them on to his successor."

John Thurman, Gilwell Camp Chief at the time, first wore the beads when he visited Pennant Hills Training Camp, New South Wales, Australia. The beads were then passed to Bryan Dodgson, the second Director of Leader Training (the first being John Huskins who took over from the Camp Chief John Thurman), then to Derek Twine, Executive Commissioner of Programme and Training and they are now held by Stephen Peck, Director of Programme and Development. (Note the progression of titles of the Chief Leader Trainer.)

The Wood Badge for various sections and ranks

Three-bead Wood Badge

From 1923 to 1925 a small coloured bead was worn above the knot on the necklace. The beads were red, yellow or green and indicated to which section of the Movement the wearer belonged.

The Deputy Camp Chiefs and Akela Leaders were given four beads, of which one was an original Dinizulu bead. Assistant Leader Trainers wore, and still wear, three beads.

Akela Fang

The Wolf Fang, the Akela's Wood Badge, was introduced in 1922 and went out of use in 1924 or '25. On another of the Scouting Milestones Pages, on the origins of the Wolf Cubs, there is an image of the Akela Certificate that accompanied this award. Akela trainers wore two teeth. There are known examples of wooden 'teeth'. The Akela Fang shown here (from the John Ineson Collection) belonged to Hazel Addis, one-time HQ Commissioner for Wolf Cubs and long-term contributor to Scouting magazine.

When the Beads ran out!

At the end of the first Wood Badge course, participants were awarded two of the original beads. B-P invited the winners to attend the Restaurant at Imperial Headquarters, where the awards were presented. Shortly afterwards, it was realised that the beads were a very limited commodity and future winners were presented with only one bead, the recipient being sent into the Gilwell Woods to make a copy of it from fallen twigs.

By 1929 there had been 29 Cub courses, 73 Scout courses, 8 Rover courses and 5 Commissioner courses - a total of 115 courses. If we suppose an average of 25 graduates per course, 2,875 beads would have been needed - and that is if participants only had one - never mind B-P's six and Sir Percy Everett's six! There cannot have been half as many beads as that in the original Dinizulu necklace. In fact, some accounts of Dinizulu's necklace state that the beads graduated from 4" downward (see the differences in size in the image above of B-P's six beads), though this is not apparent from the photograph of Dinizulu shown above. If this gradation in size were the case, there would have been even fewer beads available for B-P's purpose. The need for replica beads was acknowledged in Scouting for Boys 1926 edition which states "The Badge consists of two facsimiles of the Beads forming the necklace originally belonging to Chief Dinizulu . . . "

Perhaps the introduction of the Akela Wolf's fang in 1922 was an attempt at further conservation, and its withdrawal by 1925 was a recognition of the fact that there was no further purpose in conservation, as all of the beads had run out.

When the beads had all been used up, Wood Badge winners might still be lucky enough to be awarded an original if, perhaps through death, some original beads had been returned to the Scout Association.

A Temporary Solution

We have seen that, from Charles Rawden Maclean's book The Natal Papers of John Ross (quoted above) that bead necklaces were a part of Zulu tradition. Indeed, Baden-Powell himself in his third article for Boys of the Empire on November 17th, 1900, observed how "the slight rattle of a Zulu's wooden necklet" could help detect the otherwise hidden native at night.

Haydn Dimmock in his Bare Knee Days, published in 1939, delivers a bombshell:

"I discovered [on junk stall in the Portobello Road Street Market in London] a genuine Zulu necklace similar to that which the Chief Scout had secured from Dinizulu, the Zulu Chief. I got the necklace for five shillings and duly presented it to Gilwell Park. It was afterwards broken up and the beads used as [wood] badges."

In retrospect this might seem something of a deception. Undoubtedly, if these beads were to ever come onto the market, they would erroneously be described as genuine Dinizulu beads and therefore command a high price. On the other hand, I doubt that any lies were told at the time, the 'sin' would be that of 'omission rather than commission'. Would a winner of a Wood Badge rather have been presented with the beads from a genuine old Zulu necklace, or those whittled that year from a Gilwell Beech?

One thing seems certain - the number of original beads, even given the additional necklace, cannot possibly have been enough to have been awarded to the number of people who think that they have one!

World-wide Wood Badge

Five-bead Wood Badge

The Wood Badge very quickly spread throughout the British Empire. Officials of other Scout Associations would come to Gilwell to attend a standard course. They would then often progress to a 'Trainers Course', before being appointed as the Chief Leader Trainer in their own country. As the senior 'Leader Trainer' they were then entitled to the coveted five-bead Wood Badge. William Hillcourt, 'Green Bar Bill', author of Baden-Powell. The Two Lives of a Hero, used an image of his on his letterhead, part of which is shown here. 'Gilwell Parks' were set up round the world, sometimes even using the same name.

It is much to Scouting's credit that there was no bar imposed on those who could attend a Gilwell Course and some of the early participants included Americans. The first Wood Badge course in America however was not run by an American. In 1936 at the Mortimer L Schiff Scout Reservation in New Jersey, a Wood Badge Course was run by the then Gilwell Camp Chief, Colonel Wilson. The participants included 'the great and the good' of American Scouting, and many, including William Hillcourt (Green Bar Bill) pronounced themselves 'inspired'. There was not, however, to be another Wood Badge course in the United States until 1948.

'Green Bar Bill' acknowledges that Frank Braden was the driving force behind establishing the Wood Badge course in America in 1948. (Letter in the Dave Scott collection dated March 11th, 1983.)


There was a point in my researches when I was ready to believe that any combination of beads could be awarded to anybody, so great was the variety of contradictory claims! Below are some otherwise unrecorded occurrences of beads awarded, listed by the official Boy Scout Historian, E E Reynolds, who was on the second Gilwell Wood Badge course and so ought to know:

(If you have been carefully following the text, you ought now to be able to fill in a test paper asking for the significance of every number ever awarded from 1-6!)

The Zulu Legacy

At the XII World Jamboree at Faragut Park, Idaho, USA, in 1967, on the 60th Anniversary of Scouting, the Boy Scouts of South Africa brought along replicas of the Dinizulu beads. These were made after months of research from Zulus and Rover Scouts in Natal. Four copies were made; one set remained in South Africa, the others were taken to the Jamboree and given to: Jamboree Acting director, R T Lund; the US Chief Scout, Joe Brunton and the first Gilwell Camp Chief, John Thurman.

Replica of Dinizulu's necklace

Today thousands of Zulu boys are Scouts. In 1987 Chief Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi of KwaZulu, was the guest-of-honour at a huge Scout rally. Chief Buthelezi's mother-in-law, Princess Mahoho, was a daughter of Dinizulu. At the rally, the Chief Scout of South Africa, Garnet de la Hunt, took from around his neck a thong on which four original Dinizulu beads were hung, and handed it to Chief Buthelezi, in a symbolic act of returning the beads to their rightful heir.

Currently it is possible to buy a replica's of Dinizulu's necklace made of beech at Gilwell Park for a cost of £600. The picture shows part of a 'Gilwell' replica necklace, but we know that the beads were not all the same size!

The Wood Badge Training Symbols

AT the 1955 International Conference at Niagara Falls, Canada, the official training symbols were agreed as:

(Note that the famed 'axe in log', is conspicuous by its absence from this list.)

The Leather Thong for the Beads

In The Wolf That Never Sleeps - A Story of Baden-Powell, a book aimed at Scout readers, author Marguerite de Beaumont recounts a B-P story of how an old man during the siege of Mafeking came across him at time when he was, very uncharacteristically, 'down in the dumps'. (Many of his Mafeking contemporaries remember him 'smiling and whistling under all difficulties' and he himself, in letters home to his mother, recounts how he sometimes found it very difficult to keep this up, even for the good of the garrison.) The old native gave him a leather thong as good luck token, saying that his mother had given it to him for good luck. Days later, Mafeking was relieved.

The Woggle

Gilwell Woggle

It is William (Bill) Shankley a naturalised Australian who in his younger days was member of staff at Gilwell Park in 1919 before emmigrating to Austalia who should be given the credit for inventing the term 'Woggle', though it seems unlikely that he was the first to wear a circular device to keep in place Scouting neckerchiefs. In Britain at least, prior Shankley's invention the neckerchief was merely tied at the neck in a loose knot.

In the 1920's Shankley travelled to Australia and New Zealand with Sir William Pickford (Pickie) to assist in the development of Scouting in those countries. He was apparently so struck with Australia that he decided to stay on, initially to try in his hand at 'outback farming'. Later in 1952 Shankley settled in Tasmania, very aptly as a craft teacher, at the Friends (Quaker) School in Hobart. He formed a Scout Troop at the school in 1953, the 8th Hobart, hence his inclusion the Scouting History of Tasmania The 8th Hobart is long since defunct.

I am indebted to Milestones Reader Chris Ballard of Hobart, Tasmania, who has supplied the above information, and the following from the, History of Scouting in Tasmania 1909-1895 that contains Shankley's own account. Shankley acknowledged that American Scouts wore a rings of varying materials called a Boondoggles to secure their scarfs, and that this usage predated his design. He wrote;

"I got some thin sewing machine leather belting, plaited into a neat ring (a 'Turk's head'), submitted it and had it accepted. I called it a WOGGLE, and that is the name its known by throughout the world"
It seems that woggle was first worn in Australia and 'imported' into Great Britain by Australian Scouts attending Jamborees.

Milestone's reader Eric Mowris wrote in February 2005 to say that the word “boondoggle” was featured on the U.S. public radio program Word for the Wise in which it was stated that the term was coined in 1925 by an American Scoutmaster named Robert Link- and that he (Eric) is the proud possessor of a period 'Boondongle' that belonged to his father.

The first mention I have found of the word is in a June 1923 issue of The Scout where 'Gilcraft' (the alias of Frances 'Skipper' Gidney, Gilwell's first Camp Chief) wrote an article called Wear a Scarf WoggleThat evidence would then appear to contradict Robert Link coining the term in 1925, but we do have Shankley's own assertion that American Scouts wore their 'boondoogles' prior to his invention.

Did Shankley coin the word, or take it from another usage? There are several theories and no certainty! Some writers have commented on the closeness of 'woggle' and 'toggle' - the wooden device at the top of flag hoist for passing though an eye in the flag halliard, and also wooden fastening going through a cord loop to 'do up' a naval 'Duffle Coat'. In both instances there is the passing of one item through another as is the case with the neckerchief and the woggle. However, in the Official Souvenir Handbook for the Coming of Age Jamboree held at Arrowe Park, Birkenhead in 1929 I found the following:

"What is a Woggle?
Every Scout knows but a stranger may not.
You may know the Australians by their uniform . . . one distinctive feature is that in place of a scarf knot, the Australians all have their scarves fastened with a 'woggle', which being interpreted is an Australian gum nut, the fruit of the Eucalyptus gum tree."
As Shankley was naturalised Australian, this derivation of the word has to be possible.

In 2007 Milestone reader Steve Bobrowicz having read this page wrote to say that he had always understood that 'woggle' was term for the dangly bit that hangs under the chin of a rooster. Whilst this seems very reasonable I have not been able to confirm this in any dictionary of slang or dialect. As Shankley himself never came up with any derivation to support the name I believe that he did coin the term himself, probably heavily influenced by his awareness of the American 'boondoggle'- the phonic connection between '-doggle' and 'woggle' seems too close to ignore.

It was not until 1943 that the Shankley's Turk's Head Woggle was given to participants on completing the preliminary stage of the Wood Badge course. The first ones, then as now, were made from leather. The original source for these was found close to hand from the stocks of thongs employed to 'bow' a fire-lighting spindle. It was soon discovered that the belts from old Singer sewing machines,as originally used by Shankley were more pliable. The use of Shankley's 'Turk's Head' Woogle is no longer confined to those who have any connection with the Woodbadge and can be found round many a young Scout's neck!

Many thanks to all Milestones readers who have corresponded on this fascinating subject.

The Scarf

Gilwell Scarf

The following is taken from The Gilwell Book, 1939:

"The scarf - dove grey - the colour of humility" [really?], "warm red on the inside to signify warmth! The cloth tartan is registered, and may not be altered or used without permission."

The scarf is made of material known as the Gilwell Grey. The red on the inner side is said to be effective in absorbing the rays of the sun. The material was and is used in making shirts and jackets for hotter climates. At first, India was the only place where the material was made. This was sent to England where the scarves were made up. The scarves are still made in England. The rectangular patch of tartan sewn on the back is that of the Scottish Clan Maclaren tartan, in honour of W F de Bois Maclaren who purchased Gilwell park for Scouting.

There has been a persistent rumour that seems to emanated from America that the original material came from curtains left hanging in the White House by the previous owners, but whilst this may explain the 'sun-faded' effect I am sorry to say that it only a romantic notion. There is something of a tradition in Scouting for taking an historical artefact and attributing to it colourful motives to explain the design etc. I good example of this would the two five pointed stars in the World Scout Emblem which I was always told as a Scout in the late 1950's added up 10 points to remind Scouts of the Ten Scout laws. I totally believed this until just a few years ago when I discovered that in 1909 when the emblem was registered there were only nine Scout laws! The unfortunate truth is that there is not always symbolic reason behind each and every course of colour material etc, - then as now the reason may have been one or pure economy!

However the material was the chosen, the scarf was designed to be worn by Scouters who have qualified for the Wood Badge not necessarily at Gilwell Park, or indeed in Britain. It denotes membership in the 1st Gilwell Troop, accorded to all Wood Badge holders and may be worn by the Scouter when he is not with or representing his Troop (A fact overlooked by many who wear their honour every time they don Scout Uniform!).


IN 1913 B-P wrote,

"I think we want to arrive, first, at what are the essential points for a Scoutmaster to know, and to set out to teach these - all others must be subsidiary. Now I take the essentials are what we find laid down in Scouting for Boys therefore my idea would be to take that book as the programme of work, dividing it off into the number of days available, and then going through it as practical as circumstances will allow. The book is arranged on that idea.Gilwell Horse Brass The second point about the training camp would be, I think, to give Scoutmasters practical instruction as to how a camp should be run. For this purpose I should be inclined be pitch the camp as it should be done for a Scout camp - each patrol on its own ground in a wide circle around the central (Scoutmaster's) tent. The Scoutmasters should of course be in their own Patrols for the course, under their own patrol leaders and so learn Patrol discipline.
"As far as possible they should run the camp - taking it in roster and be camp commandants for the day, quartermaster, and so on, so as to learn practically the work and the requirements of these offices."

This simple statement of principals has been the mainstay of Wood Badge training to the present day. The implication that camping is at the heart of Scouting should be as true now as it was then.

An Imperial Educational Conference visited Gilwell and was addressed by B-P. He told them about Scouting with his usual wisdom and wit, and then said, "Now the Camp Chief will tell you how we do it here."

The Camp Chief, John Thurman, thought this to be something of a poisoned chalice, given his lack of credentials as an educationalist and eventually he came up with:

"I am bothered if I know, but we aim to help boys become men by helping men (and women too for that matter) to become boys."

Gilwell Reunion Badge, 1959

Back to Gilwell! Happy Land
I am going to work my ticket if I can.
In my dreams I'm going back to Gilwell
To the joys and the happiness I found
On those grand weekends
With my dear old friends
And see the Training Ground.
Oh, the grass is greener back in Gilwell.
And I breathe again that Scouting air,
And in my memory, I see B-P
Who never will be far from there?

From Ralph Readers' musical play, We Live Forever

Gilwell Reunion Badge, 1960


Axe and Log
Printed Sources
Boys of the Empire November 17th, 1900
Bare Knee Days Haydn Dimmock, 1939
The Gilwell Book 2nd Edition, 1939
The Wolf That Never Sleeps - A Story of Baden-Powell Marguerite de Beaumont, 1944
The First Ten Years Sir Percy Everett. The East Anglian Daily Times, 1948
The Scout Movement E E Reynolds. Oxford University Press, 1950
Scout Memorabilia November, 1991
The Natal Papers of John Ross Charles Rawden Maclean, edited edition by Stephen Grey, 1992
The Founding of the Wood Badge In The Journal of Scouting History Nelson R Block, 1994
A History of the Wood Badge in the United States (Draft Copy) Kenneth P Davis
Internet Sources
The African Seeds of Scouting
Wood Badge History - Pikes Peak Council: Boy Scouts of America

Return to the "Milestones" introduction.
Colin 'Johnny' Walker hopes that you will sign the Visitors' Book, look at the Forum Pages and welcomes your comments about this Site,
which is v 4.7 and was last updated October 5th, 2009.

This article, the text, the images (unless separately acknowledged) and the underlying coding are Copyright C R Walker©, 2001 - 2009