Ever heard the name Baden-Powell? It’s one of those names that most of us have “heard somewhere,” but one that we hear so seldom we forget where we heard it.
Hint: The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
“Oh, yes!” I’ll bet some of you are saying. “That’s the man who founded the scouting movement.”
You’re right, but Lieutenant-General Robert Baden-Powell was not only the British Army officer who in 1908 authored the book “Scouting for Boys,” which was the inspiration for the Scout Movement, he was also the founder and first Chief Scout of The Boy Scouts Association, as well as the founder of the Girl Guides.
You’d think that would be enough to justify the everlasting thanks of the world, and preserve the memory of someone who made a difference, wouldn’t you? And it certainly is, but it doesn’t even begin to tell the things that Baden-Powell did that won him a place in history.
I’ll just mention two of them:
One: commanding a force of 500 regular British troops and 900 volunteers and natives — a total of just 1,400 men — against an enemy force of over 8,000 during the Boer War siege of Mafeking.
Two: writing a short, but incredibly interesting, 66-page book in 1916 titled, “My Adventures as a Spy,” which was — as you may have suspected when you read its date — about spying in Germany just prior to World War I.
In 1899, Colonel Robert Baden-Powell, with just 500 regular troops and 900 police, civilian volunteers, and natives, created and defended a six-mile-long perimeter around a small rural town named Mafeking. Containing 1,000 women and children and 8,000 non-combatant male and female natives who had fled the Boers, Mafeking held over 10,000 individuals who had to be fed, housed, and provided with medical care during an eight-month siege in which thousands of cannon shells up to 10 inches in diameter were fired at the small town by the enemy.
And yet Baden-Powell not only held off the Boers for more than eight months, he made fools out of a highly determined attacking force — and caused it over 2,000 losses! The siege of Mafeking has been termed “the most famous British action in the Second Boer War,” as well as “a decisive victory for the British, and a crushing defeat for the Boers.”
How did he do it? Despite written orders to form a “mobile mounted force” instead of trying to defend Mafeking, he amassed stores there, created a garrison, built an interconnected network of trenches, and used the horses as additional food.
But that wasn’t all he did. Certain there were Boer spies among the civilians, he used the spies to worry the opposing force into avoiding direct attacks. How? For one thing, read this notice he posted for the “safety of the townspeople.”
“The inhabitants are warned that mines are being laid at various points outside the town in connection with the defenses. Their position will be marked, in order to avoid accidents, by small red flags. Cattle herders and others should be warned accordingly.”
There were no mines, but a great show was made of burying them and putting out flags. Nor were there any barbed wire entanglements, although his soldiers took care to avoid several non-existent ones while moving around.
It certainly fooled the Boers, whose idea of “clever” was coming out to talk under flag of truce while they dug new trenches.
More next week.