Tuesday, November 28, 2006

the origins of woodbadge

When Gilwell Park was purchased for the Scout Movement in 1919 and formal Leader Training introduced, Baden-Powell felt that 'Scout Officers' (as they were then called) who completed a training course, should receive some form of recognition. Originally he envisaged that those who passed through Gilwell should wear an ornamental tassel on their Scout hats but instead the alternative of two small beads attached to lacing on the hat or to a coat button-hole was instituted and designated the Wood Badge. Very soon the wearing of beads on the hat was discontinued and instead they were strung on a leather thong or bootlace around the neck, a tradition that continues to this day

The first Wood Badges were made from beads taken from a necklace that had belonged to a Zulu chief named Dinizulu, which B-P had found during his time in the Zululand in 1888. On state occasions, Dinizulu would wear a necklace 12 feet long, containing, approximately 1,000 beads made from South African Acacia yellow wood. This wood has a soft central pith, which makes it easy for a rawhide lace to be threaded through from end to end and this is how the 1,000 beads were arranged. The beads themselves in size from tiny emblems to others 4 inches in length. The necklace was considered sacred, being the badge conferred on royalty and outstanding warriors.

When B-P was looking for some token to award to people who went through the Gilwell training course he remembered the Dinizulu necklace and the leather thong given to him by an elderly African at Mafeking. He took two of the smaller beads, drilled them through the centre, threaded them onto the thong and called it the Wood Badge.

The first sets of beads issued were all from the original necklace but the supply soon ran short. So one exercise on the early courses was to be given one original Acacia bead and be told to carve the other from hornbeam or beech.

Eventually beech wood beads became the norm and for many years were made by Gilwell staff in their spare time. Again in the early days Wood Badge participants received one bead on taking the practical course at Gilwell and received a second bead on completing the theoretical part (answers to questions) and a certain length of inservice training.

These sketches by B-P show how the Wood Badge design evolved.

Worn in the button-hole of coat

Worn on the brim of Scout hat

Worn around neck

B-P had got the idea for wearing beads on the hat during the First World War after seeing officers of the U.S. Expeditionary Force wearing broadbrimmed B.P. Stetson hats (not named after Baden-Powell but a Stetson trade name: 'Boss of the Plains') with acorns attached to the two ends of a thong that kept the hat from blowing off the head in a stron wind. He thought originally of having two beads attached in the same way on the Scout hat but changed his mind when it was brought to his attention that Scout Leaders only wore their hats outdoors, so instead he decided that they should be worn on the thong around the neck.

Certain variations soon came about. Two bead necklaces were wom by Scouters, three beads by Assistant Leader Trainers (formerly called Assistant Camp Chiefs) and four by Leader Trainers (formerly called Deputy Camp Chiefs). With a revision of the pattern of Trainer Training in recent years the practice of awarding three and four bead necklaces has ceased.

For a brief period of time Wolf Cub Leaders (Cub Scout Leaders) had their own system. From 1922 until 1925, Wolf Cub Leaders were awarded a Wolf’s Fang or an Akela Badge, comprising a single fang on a leather thong. Wolf Cub Leader Trainers, known also as Akela Leaders, wore two fangs. These fangs were bone tooth fangs or wooden replicas and very few of them survive today.

An Akela Badge

The use of the Akela Badge was short-lived for on 13th November 1925 the Committee of the Council decided that there should only be one type of badge for Leader Training, the Wood Badge but that it should be worn '... with a distinctive mark...' to denote the section of the Movement with which the Leader was working. This mark took the form of a small coloured abacus-type bead, placed immediately above the knot on the leather bootlace. The beads were yellow for Cubs, green for Scouts and red for Rovers but this did not last long and were phased out by a decision of the Committee of the Council on 14th October 1927. Again few of these beads survive today.

When foreign countries established Wood Badge training after the pattern set by Gilwell, the person in charge of originating the course was designated a Gilwell Deputy Camp Chief, representing Gilwell Park in his own country. According to a tradition supposedly established by Baden-Powell, that person could wear fivebeads. Most of these fifth beads were presented in the 1920s and 1930s but what happened to them and who wore them is not known.

Baden-Powell himself wore six beads. But B-P did also award a set of six beads to Sir Percy Everett. Sir Percy had been a friend of B-P since the original camp on Brownsea Island in 1907 and he became the Commissioner for Training and eventually the Deputy Chief Scout. B-P wish to acknowledge the tremendous debt that he owed to Sir Percy and so presented him with a six bead necklace.

In 1949 Sir Percy presented his six bead necklace back to Gilwell to be worn as the badge of office of the Camp Chief, i.e. the person on the Gilwell staff responsible for Leader Training. John Thurman, then the Camp Chief, wore the necklace until his retirement in 1969 when the necklace passed to Bryan Dodgson, the Director of Leader Training. Following his retirement in 1983 and a re-organisation of staff titles and responsibilities, the six bead necklace is was worn by Derek Twine, then the Executive Commissioner (Programme and Training). Today after further changes in titles it is worn by Stephen Peck, Director of Programme and Development.

The conferring of wooden beads as a sign of recognition is an old Zulu tradition. We read of them first in the story of Charles Rawden Maclean, also known as John Ross, who 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 commence omamenting 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 inquiry 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 heroic deed and the wearer had received them from Shaka's own hand.' Later when Maclean met the royal party he observed that Dingane, Shaka's half brother, was 'dressed in the same manner as the king but without so large a display of beads.'

There is little doubt that the beads of Dinizulu were identical to those which Maclean saw Shaka wearing and it is quite extraordinary that B-P should have chosen these beads as an award, to be conferred by his own hand, without knowing that Shaka had used them in the same way.

Today thousands of Zulu boys are Scouts and in 1987 the Chief Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi of KwaZulu was the guest of honour at a large Scout rally. Chief Buthelezi's mother, Princess Magogo, was a daughter of Dinizulu. At the rally the Chief Scout of South Africa took from his neck a thong on which four Wood Badge beads were strung and handed it to Chief Buthelezi in a symbolic act of returning the beads to their rightful heir.

article from the archives department of the scout association, uk


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