By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
Over the last number of years, I have written several articles about Baden-Powell, the remarkable founder of the world-wide Scouting and Guiding movements. Both Lord and Lady Baden-Powell were born on February 22nd, a coincidence which has led to the widespread celebrating of their lives every February with events like Parent-son banquets, church parades, and thinking days.
In thinking about Lord Baden Powell, I was struck by the unexpected similarities between Baden Powell and Winston Churchill. Both, for example, came into international recognition through their miraculous escapes and bravery in the South African Boer War. Both were courageous, determined men who inspired millions of others to try their best and to never, never give up. Admittedly, they had many differences as well. For example, Churchill lived in the world of politics and power, while Baden-Powell lived in the world of boys and backpacks. As well, Baden-Powell clearly warned against the dangers of smoking and drinking, while Churchill was famous for his cigar and glass of brandy.
At a deeper level however, their common determination and perseverance has had remarkable impact on the character development of millions. Churchill once went to a meeting of students, where he stood up and said: “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”. Then he sat down. In his 1937 book Great Contemporaries, Churchill included one whole chapter on Baden Powell. In describing Baden-Powell’s Scouting movement, Churchill said: “It is difficult to exaggerate the moral and mental health which our nation had derived from this profound and simple conception.” Churchill described Baden-Powell (B.P.) as one of the three most famous generals he had ever known.
Churchill first met Baden-Powell while B.P. was acting as an Austrian Hussar in an amateur vaudeville entertainment, given for the British Army in India. Three years later, Churchill interviewed B.P. for a newspaper article about B.P.’s famous 217-day defence of Mafeking in South Africa. Churchill said of this interview: “…once B.P. got talking, he was magnificent.” Churchill commented: “In those days, B.P.’s fame as a soldier eclipsed almost all popular reputations. The other B.P. – the British Public – looked upon him as the outstanding hero of the War. Even those who disapproved of the War, and derided the triumphs of large, organized armies over the Boer farmers, could not (help but) cheer the long, spirited, tenacious defence of Mafeking by barely eight hundred men against a beleaguering force ten or twelve times their number.”
“No one”, said Churchill, ” had ever believed that Mafeking would hold out half as long. A dozen times, as the siege dragged on, the watching nation had emerged from apprehension and despondency into renewed hope, and had been cast down again.” By the end of the siege, Mafeking had become so famous that it turned into a verb: “to Mafeking meant to celebrate uproariously”. Churchill noted that “when finally the news of Mafeking’s relief was flashed throughout the world, the streets of London became impassable, and the floods of sterling cockney patriotism was released in such deluge of unbridled, delirious, childish joy as was never witnessed again until Armistice Night in 1918.”
Churchill, too, became an instant hero through his adventures in South Africa. On May 15th in 1899, Winston Churchill the newspaper journalist was accompanying 150 soldiers on an armoured train, when suddenly it was ambushed and derailed. Churchill took command in clearing the lines, and took 60 men, many of them wounded, away to safety. Upon returning to help the other troops, Winston was captured, despite his protest that he was just a journalist. After 3 weeks in captivity, Churchill escaped over the prison wall, jumped a train, hid in a mine, and finally escaped by train. In the afterglow of his amazing adventure, Churchill was elected to the British Parliament at the young age of 25.
Neither B.P. nor Churchill were particularly successful in their early school days. B.P.’s school reports read:
1) Classics: Seems to take very little interest in his work
2) Mathematics: Has to all intent given up the study of mathematics
3) Science: Pays not the slightest attention, except in one week at the beginning of the quarter
4) French: Could do well, but has become very lazy; often sleeps in school.
Churchill was described by one of his teachers as “the naughtiest small boy in the world”. His father warned him: “I am certain that if you cannot prevent yourself from leading the idle unprofitable life you have had during your school days, you will become a mere social wastrel, one of the hundreds of public school failures, and you will degenerate into a shabby and futile existence.” Both B.P. and Churchill preferred to learn their lessons from nature than from a classroom.
Baden-Powell once said: “Say your prayers regularly, read that wonderful old book, the Bible, and read that other wonderful old book, the Book of nature, and see and study all that you can of the wonders and beauties that nature provides for your enjoyment. Then turn your mind to how you can best serve God while you still have the life that He has lent you.” Churchill loved animals and loved to paint the beauties of nature. After his crushing election defeat right after V-Day, Churchill went to the Mediterranean where he said: “I paint all day and every day, and have banished care and disillusionment to the shades.”
Despite the many setbacks and defeats in both B.P.’s and Churchill’s life, neither of them ever gave up the struggle to fulfill their visions. Churchill described B.P. as a “man of character, vision, and enthusiasm.” Winston described what he saw as the marks of a scout: sturdiness, neighbourliness, practical competence, love of country and , above all in these times, indomitable resolve, daring and enterprise in the face of the enemy. “BE PREPARED”, said Churchill, ” to stand up faithfully for Right and Truth, however the winds may blow.”
Similarly, Baden-Powell said that it is the stickability of the man that really counts. Stickability for B.P. was “that mixture of pluck, patience, and strength which we call endurance.” Stickability “…will pull a person out of many a bad place when everything seems to be going wrong for him.”
As I think of Baden-Powell’s and Churchill’s stickability, I am reminded of the words of wisdom: “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” May the God of endurance fill each of us with stickability as we face life’s challenges.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
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