Scout Activity During World War One

The Scout Association was formed by Lord Baden Powell in 1907 and so by the time World War One broke out in 1914 the Scout Association was still in it's infancy, but did have a lot of members and was well organized.

Despite being a soldier Baden Powell did not want the Scouts to become a cadet force and take on military duties but he did want them to help with the war effort and called on all Scouts to "do their bit".

Baden-Powell put himself at the disposal of the War Office however no command was given to him for, as Lord Kitchener said: "he could lay his hand on several competent divisional generals but could find no one who could carry on the invaluable work of the Boy Scouts".

But what exactly did the Scouts do during Word War One?

British Boy Scouts were the subject of a War Office letter No.144/Miscellaneous/3098(C1) dated 10th August 1914 :-

"The service of Boy Scouts has been placed at the disposal of the Government, and General and other Officers Commanding who desire to avail themselves of their services should communicate with the County Commissioners.

The Boy Scouts would be capable of carrying out such duties as the following, in uniform and equipped :-

  1. Guarding or patrolling bridges, culverts, railway and telegraph lines, stores, etc, against damage by individuals.

  2. Collecting information as to available supplies, transport and accommodation etc.

  3. Handing out notices to inhabitants and other duties connected with billeting.

  4. Carrying our relief measures among inhabitants.

  5. Carrying out communications by means of dispatch riders, signalers, wireless beacons etc.

  6. Assisting families of men employed in defence duties, or sick and wounded, in their homes.

  7. Establishing first aid dressing stations, or temporary hospitals, refuges, dispensaries, soup kitchens, etc.

  8. Acting as local guides and orderlies etc.

  9. Forwarding dispatches dropped by aircraft.

  10. Sea Scouts can assist Coastguards in their duties, and can assist in guiding friendly vessels in unbouyed and unlighted waters.

By November 24, 1914, the use of Boy Scouts and Cadets had been modified by War Office letter No.114/Miscellaneous/3302.

" The Army Council have recently had under consideration the question of the continued employment of boy scouts and Cadets of recognized Cadet Units in Commands, and have decided that to ensure uniformity in their employment the following conditions must be enforced.

  1. That no boy scout or recognized cadet is to be employed on any military or semi-military duty such as the protection of or watching any vunerable points, or stores, or in situations where there is any possibility of their being brought into contact with the enemy.

  2. That while scouts or recognized cadets may in future be employed as orderlies, messengers, telephone operators, or on other light duties connected with military offices, such appointments must result in saving the employment of a serving soldier.

  3. That no scout or recognized cadet may be employed who is liable to attend school.

  4. That no scout or recognized cadet is to be paid more that 1s 6d per diem.

    So What Jobs Did They End Up Doing?

One of the things people know about was coast watching. This meant Scouts would watch estuaries, ports and other important facilities, such as coast guard stations, the idea being to free up men for military or naval service. Scouts were to do anything required by the coastguard in the way of taking messages between different points and should be considered for any other services which boys would be capable of carrying out.

The Scouts may have been under the supervision of the coastguard but in practice their Patrol Leaders did the day to day running of the job.

Another very important job the Scouts took on was to help farmers. With most of the men away from home the Scouts became relied upon to help gather the crops in. The German U boats were blockading our island so home grown food was hugely important to the Nation.

Scouts were also able to help by working as messengers, not only outside across distances, but also indoors in hospitals taking messages between wards. The Scouts had been taught first aid from the very start so they also worked as orderlies in the hospitals and convalescent homes.

The Scouts also opened huts to give the men somewhere to relax and recuperate from the rigours of the Front and also, perhaps, to provide more seemly alternatives to the “estaminets” and other dubious establishments to be found in most of the towns and villages in Northern France and Flanders. The huts were supplied in co-operation with the YMCA and other organisations and, from modest beginnings, grew to play an important role in helping the men who patronised them forget for a while at least the trials and tribulations of their existence in the trenches.

The War Service Badge

Boy Scouts who worked towards the war effort were entitled to wear a war service badge, two versions were issued.both were made of red felt and bore a date and the King's crown.

The 1914 war service badge was awarded for 28 days unpaid service, while the 1918 one was awarded for 50 days unpaid service. There were about 80,000 war service badges awarded during the four years.

1914 war service badge     1918 War service badge

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