The Scot who gave Scouting its spiritual home

This week I have had the opportunity to visit Gilwell, often described as the spiritual home of Scouting. Despite my love of Scouting this is the first time I have been and had the pleasure of being shown around by Caroline Pantling, Archives and Heritage Manager. I probably had a very similar experience to many other Scouts in visiting Gilwell in that it felt very familiar – its  symbolism, icons and stories run deep in our history.

I have not written on this blog before about the quiet Scot who made all this happen – but even after all this time his generosity remains impressive.

(c) The Scout Association; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

image courtesy of the Scout Association

William de Bois Maclaren (17 November 1856 – 3 June 1921) did his Scouting in Rosneath in Dumbartonshire where he was Commissioner, and made his wealth through publishing and other business interests in London, particularly publishing and the rubber industry. Gifts amounting to £10,000 saw the 109 acre estate purchased and the White House put in order for use. Gilwell became the place where Scouters were trained to “play the game”, and they came from across the world.


On opening, BP presented Maclaren with the silver wolf but the most lasting tribute came from the staff wearing his tartan as neckerchiefs. This developed over time to the patch on the Gilwell knock we know today. It was interesting to discover that MacLaren was buried in the same place as Major FM Crum who I have written lots about on this blog – Rosneath. Not sure if they are in the same graveyard but I feel a road trip coming on…

postscript – indeed they are – remarkable !

Rosneath old kirk

The Scottish Gilwell and a strange co-incidence….

Baden Powell desired a place which could be Scouting’s spiritual home. It was clear that his growing disdain for the business of Scouting over the game of Scouting was a constant battle for him. He eloquently described Scouting as a movement rather than an organisation – subtle but an honest perspective.

That spiritual home had of course to be in a natural environment to represent our ideals and in 1919 William de Bois Maclaren bought the 55 acres of Gilwell Park. Maclaren was District Commissioner for Rosneath in Dunbartonshire and a successful businessman.


Early on Wemyss Firs served that purpose for Scotland, and in 1921 the first wood badge course was run for 13 participants. It trained Scouters for 18 years, running a total of 69 courses. Like Gilwell and accurate record was maintained and in most instances a photograph of the course participants was made for posterity.

These records passed to SHQ and as I worked my way through some boxes I found a beautifully bound photo album and book showing the participants details.

A wonderful insight of course but what surprised me most is that participant number thirteen, Mr WIlliam Johnstone lived just around the corner from me and as I tracked across the ledger I was startled to find he was from my own group – the 7th Stirling !

IMG_4422IMG_4424 William is second from left in the back row – he is the only person not in uniform – it looks like he was a scouter in training perhaps in the most literal sense. He is not noted as a Scoutmaster in the ledger.


The course was intended to teach leaders to be Scouter through being a Scout – organised in patrols they worked together just like their charges, taking part in activities and learning outdoor skills which they could pass on.


I hope to have the chance to explore this further because our Troop was not meant to exist in this time period !

Monzie Rover Moot 1939 – insights

Monzie was special. The first large scale international gathering in Scotland and 42 countries represented many of whom would be fighting each other in the immediate years to follow. The official record of the camp was published afterwards and provides a detailed account of life at the camp.

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Hundreds of Scottish Rover Scouts turned up the week before the camp to set things up – the weather was reasonably fair as representatives from 42 Countries started to arrive at the campsite adjacent to Monzie Castle in Perthshire.

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After a good start the weather closed in with some heavy and prolonged rain – this must have been interesting for Rovers from Iraq and Egypt…

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The focus at Monzie was on international friendship ahead of what must have been increasingly apparent to these young men was looming on the horizon. At the end of the camp the entire camp re-located to Edinburgh for three days of activity.

The image below shows an Indian Rover leaving the camp for Edinburgh.

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A huge reception and display was held at Murrayfield following a march past of the 42 participant countries down Princes Street.

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At the conclusion of the Moot the International Conference was held – one of the first BP did not attend.

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Finding hidden treasure….

So I am a self proclaimed ‘acquirer’ of old scouting stuff…..I don’t want to say collector because 99 percent ends up in our little museum at . I like to root around antique fairs and you can often find little scout badges for a few pounds or often less – its good fun and the kids describe it as looking for treasure.

Whilst its perhaps sad to think these were once the prized possession of a wolf cub, scout or rover scout, I think perhaps a little romantically, that I have found them and they will once again be enjoyed by a different generation of scouts.

Today was a good day – the usual scout buttonhole badges and unusually a button – hole Thanks Badge in silver – so dirty it was only £2! Also pleased to find a Rover Scout badge too.


A stallholder rummaged around and also produced a few badges – the diamond shaped are nylon membership and Scout Standard Badges from 1967 – 71 and a nice ribbon Fife badge – looks like the 1960’s or 70’s – result.

Just as I was about to leave I spotted a familiar figure looking at me -

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It was inevitable thereafter – I did some good haggling however and delighted to have him. I think he is called the eternity of youth or something similar – if anyone can tell me more I would be delighted to hear.

Scouts Scotland have one too – the version they have is cast in bronze whereas this one is cast in spelter – a much cheaper metal.


courtesy of Scouts Scotland

All thats left to do now is convince my wife he will look good on the mantlepiece……..

Preserving our Scouting history for future generations

Very pleased that Scouts Scotland have appointed me to curate the national collection of archives and objects held by Scottish Headquarters. Having had a good rummage there is some fabulous stuff that tells the history of scouting in Scotland in great detail. Complete archive records remain largely intact and a few gems relating to key people in the early years of Scouting.

So we intend to form a National Collections Working Group to take this work forward and are looking for people with appropriate expertise and particularly some of our younger members who have an interest in history or are thinking about a career in the heritage sector. Get in touch if you are interested.

Some nice examples from the collection are the prints of the National Conference held at Callender in 1922 and Dunblane in 1917 – BP is sitting in the middle of the assembly with his wife Olave seated beside him.


Jamborees, badges and the new generation…


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Just back from a great week at Wings Jamboree in Windsor great Park. 7000 Scouts and Guides from across the world representing 42 countries made for a great week. Lots of the Scouts we took were young and this was their first taste of international Scouting. I took a big box of old badges with us and they all had a pile to get started on badge swapping…..some of them looked at me oddly to begin with but by day two they were experts. One of the nice things of course is that they then meet and talk to other Scouts. Some of us less young Scouts enjoy this too of course but have more particular tastes. Inevitably I have a liking for old Scout badges, particularly Scottish ones, and have been collecting old Scottish District badges.

At Wings I met a nice SL from Dorset who had a box of incredible vintage badges given to him by someone – I was able to tell him quite a bit about what he had and that these were actually very valuable indeed ! I hope he holds on to them – they were from someone local to the area and it would be nice to see them passed on. His little girl looked a Scout in the making too…


I did get a few nice items from him and also from a lovely older couple who were selling badges to kids. On asking if they had any older stuff they produced a folder of stuff that got me more than a bit excited. I picked up some great Scottish badges, including the Isle of Arran District page at the top of the post, and the Angus badge below complete with pictish design – fab.

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Also delighted to find an old Glasgow badge – I think it is the first generation of Glasgow badges- my father and grandfather were both Glasgow Scouts so thats a nice find.

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One which is very very cool is an early felt scout badge. I think it is a First Class badge (correction – its a tenderfoot badge) dating from between 1909 and 1929. Something of that vintage is rather lovely to own – I wonder who it belonged to….

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James Anderson Cooper – an early and gallant Scout


James Anderson Cooper - Scout VC - 1910

James Anderson Cooper, was born 14th Sept 1899  in Bothwellhaugh, Lanarkshire which was a mining village near Motherwell and Hamilton. James was a Scout in No 3 troop (Palace Colliery) Motherwell (1st Bothwellhaugh). His granddaughter  Elaine Wernsing told me that he was very proud to be a Scout throughout his life until his death in 1977. Scouting was booming at this time with 1200 Boy Scouts in the County of Lanarkshire with 45 Scoutmasters.

Certificate - James Anderson Cooper - Scout VC 1910 - First in Scotland.

James was awarded the Silver medal for “saving the life of a child from drowning in the River Calder on 20th February 1910″ on 27th April 1910. His act of bravery would have gone unnoticed if it had not been seen by a fellow Scout whose elder brother was a Scout master. James, a non swimmer, jumped into the river to rescue five year old Hugh Graham, and on saving his life took him home to his parents. Soaked to the skin he hid his wet Sunday clothes for fear of reprisal from his parents !

James Anderson Cooper -  1st Scout VCin Scotland - 1910 & Medal from Mr & Mrs Graham in gratitude for saving their son's life.


James was awarded the Silver medal and certificate signed by BP by a Col Ralston of the 6th Cameronians in St Andrews Church, Motherwell. As one of 7 children sending him to London was not possible, but in 1911 Lord Newlands learned of his deed and funded his trip to the Windsor Parade where he met King George V and Baden Powell. For a young lad from Lanarkshire this must have been quite an expedition and quite an experience. When BP visited Lanarkshire, James was present as part of the honour guard in Motherwell. He was a bit of a Scouting celebrity as one of the earliest Scottish recipients of  the Silver Medal, and at such a young age.

Papa (James Anderson Cooper born 1899) with Mr Kerr (Scoutmaster) and Hugh Graham the boy he saved from drowning 20th Feb 1910

This photo shows five year old Hugh, James and his Scoutmaster Kerr proudly wearing his medal and complete with Scout stave. James A Jeffrey later recounted his appreciation in verse, published in the 1910 – 11 Lanarkshire Christmas and New Year Annual describing James as “the little hero boy”.


But the story did not end there.

James Anderson Cooper (70 yrs) and Hugh Graham (65yrs) in 1970 at scene of rescue - Bothwell Bridge

In 1970 both men were re-united for a press piece recounting that day recorded above (James is on the left).

Papa with Chief Scout, Bothwell Castle 1970s

He remained a Scout for the rest of his life and regularly attended local events. In the 1970’s he met then Chief Scout Sir William Gladstone (below).

As per the wishes of his family, an account of his heroism and the family photographs will be placed in the Scottish Scouting Archive, and the Archive at Gilwell.

A remarkable man.


With much thanks to his granddaughter Elaine Wernsing, granddaughter of James Cooper, for bringing this story to my attention and providing the background information and photographs.