This Famous Person Game - April 2016
by Mike McLeod
Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell is known by most for establishing the Boy Scouts. But how many know of his 217-day victory at the Siege of Mafeking?
Robert Stephenson Smyth Powell was born on Feb. 22, 1857 in London. His father Reverend Baden Powell was a mathematician, professor at Oxford and an Anglican priest. His mother was Henrietta Grace Smyth, the Reverend’s third wife. She was 22 years old when she married, and he was 50. They had several children together.
The Reverend died when Robert was just three years old, and afterwards, the family’s last name was changed to Baden-Powell, honoring the father. However, his mother was supremely important in Robert’s eyes, and he later credited her with being the reason for his success in life.1
After joining the military at a young age, Baden-Powell served in Malta, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, India and South Africa. Before the Second Boer War while in a northern province of South Africa, Baden-Powell’s small army of several hundred military men, civilians and Africans were surrounded by a force of several thousand Boers in the town of Mafeking. The siege lasted 217 days. Baden-Powell and his men fought off and held out against the superior force until relief arrived. For this victory, Baden Powell was acclaimed a national hero in Britain.
Arthur Conan Doyle served as a medic in the Second Boer War, and he also wrote about the Siege of Mafeking in The Great Boer War, describing Baden-Powell thusly:
“Colonel Baden-Powell is a soldier of a type which is exceedingly popular with the British public. A skilled hunter and an expert at many games, there was always something of the sportsman in his keen appreciation of war. In the Matabele campaign, he had outscouted the savage scouts and found his pleasure in tracking them among their native mountains, often alone and at night, trusting to his skill in springing from rock to rock in his rubber-soled shoes to save him from their pursuit. There was a brain quality in his bravery which is rare among our officers. Full of veldt craft and resource, it was as difficult to outwit as it was to outfight him. But there was another curious side to his complex nature… An impish humour broke out in him, and the mischievous schoolboy alternated with the warrior and the administrator. He met the Boer commandoes with chaff and jokes which were as disconcerting as his wire entanglements and his rifle-pits. The amazing variety of his personal accomplishments was one of his most striking characteristics. From drawing caricatures with both hands simultaneously, or skirt dancing…nothing came amiss to him; and he had that magnetic quality by which the leader imparts something of his virtues to his men. Such was the man who held Mafeking for the Queen.”
Baden-Powell was a prolific artist. In 2009, his Sketches in Mafeking & East Africa dated to 1924 sold at Christie’s for $2,849. He was also an author, and his writings of scouting, tracking and woodcraft were used as training manuals in the military and became the foundation for his book, Scouting for Boys, a runaway bestseller.
In 1907, Baden-Powell held a camp for about 20 boys on an island south of the English coast. Its success inspired him to publish Scouting for Boys, which ignited the movement like marshmallows over a campfire.
For his service in scouting and in the military, Robert Smyth Baden-Powell was raised to peerage, or nobility, in 1922 when he was created (as they say) a baronet. As 1st Baron Baden-Powell, Lord is placed before his name. In 1929, another title of peerage was created for him: Baron Baden-Powell, of Gilwell in the County of Essex. These titles are hereditary and are held by his heirs. To gain an understanding of the far-reaching impact of the scouting program and his accomplishments, consider these honors bestowed on Baden-Powell:
*Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
*Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order
*Knight of Grace of the Venerable Order of St. John
*Grand Officer of the Order of Christ of Portugal
*Grand Commander of the Order of the Redeemer of the Kingdom of Greece
*Grand Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog of Denmark
*Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George
*Member of the Order of Merit.
Like his father’s marriage to his mother, Baden-Powell married late in life. Olave St. Clair Soames was 22, and he was 55 in 1912. They later retired to Kenya in Africa, and he passed away there on Jan. 8, 1941. In Westminster Abbey, a plaque dedicated to him reads: “Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World.”
Ted Carlton of Utah correctly identified Robert Baden-Powell.
1 Jeal, Tim, Baden-Powell.
All photos, public domain US-PD.
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