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Baden-Powell and Winston Churchill: Heroes in a Cynical Age

Every February, over the last number of years, I have written an article about Baden-Powell, the remarkable founder of the world-wide Scouting and Guiding movements. Both Lord and Lady Baden-Powell both 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-Powellís 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.ís 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.ís 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 Mafekingís 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.
Who would have guessed that both Baden-Powell and Winston Churchill would have become international heros through their bravery in the Boer War? Click to find out more...

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