Mike Walton (blackeagle)

B-P, the Uniform, and the Military

By: Posted On: 2019-12-30

A person with uniformDescription automatically generated

BSA Supply Group image used under Fair Usage guidelines

Scouter Gary M. Holewinski (gholewi889@AOL.COM) wrote over on the "Scout List" (the Scouts-L youth programs discussion list, now in its' 32nd year of existence!!) back in 2012 the following about Sir Robert Baden-Powell (B-P, the founder of Scouting) and uniforming:

"From Scouting for Boys, page 43. Two thoughts. For a man with a military background, he wasn't overly concerned with uniformity in dress AND how far we've gone away from his ideas in dress and how foolish we seem in some discussions.

B-P stated:

"A Scout should not use a showy uniform because it would attract attention, but Scouts in a patrol, should as far as possible, dress alike, especially as regards hats, or caps, and neckerchief."

B-P then goes on with specifics:

Flat brimmed hat, if possible, or wide-awake hat.

Colored handkerchief tied loosely around the neck.

Shirt: Flannel

Colors: A bunch of ribbons of patrol color on the left shoulder.

A badge on left arm above the elbow."

Short, pants, shoes, etc. are also mentioned."

Gary mentioned Sir Robert Baden-Powell's envisionment of the Scout's uniform, and I, for one have no qualm with that description at all. It reminded me of some notes I took and placed into a binder I found while arranging my office room back in 2012 (slow Friday).

"Owning a uniform is NOT a requirement to become a Scout but is desirable in order to "reap the benefits, tangible and intangible, from such association with our program."

  - Mr. Spurgeon P. Gaskin, retired Regional Director of Field Operations, Southeast Region BSA

I would like to share what I learned during an afternoon during my Paraprofessional "base training" in which a retired Regional executive explained how did we get from just a flannel shirt and neckerchief to the uniform many Scouts and Scouters wore back in the 70s. I attended the training course in the fall of 1977; our course (the Southeast Region's course) was held at a relatively new camping facility called Boxwell Scout Reservation, located not too far up the road from where I'm typing this (and working) between Tullahoma and Manchester Tennessee.

From my cribbed notes:

-- He used a set of Harvard Graphics (that old) slides converted to overhead slides (I'm grinning even now, remembering just how far we have come in just presentation graphics in such a short period of time). He talked about the first Scouts in this country (either Oklahoma, where he was from -- or Kentucky, close to where I would start part-time work for the BSA) and how they did not have a uniform at all. This was a source of concern to the founders of the BSA, as they looked carefully at the British model (which Gary explained in part above) and basically said: "We're the BSA...we can do better!"

-- After a few weeks of what we would call brainstorming, they could not agree on an official uniform. We didn't have an official national uniform until sometime in late 1926. So between 1907 and 1926, there were several variations on what would become the uniform of the Boy Scouts of America. ALL of the uniforms created by Scouts, Scoutmasters or others (there was a firm which was advertising something called "The official Boy Scout's Uniform" because, in those days, practically EVERYONE was wearing some sort of outfit or uniform to identify themselves -- and their supporting organization -- by)  -- featured two items:

- a neckerchief or bandana, tied around the neck either with a knot or with a "keeper" (a slide); and

- a broad-brimmed hat (most used the same headgear worn by Soldiers during the First World War, the famed "Smokey the Bear" campaign hat)

-- The BSA settled on a uniform based upon and which used materials found with the Army uniform of that day. This guy showed us pictures of the first uniforms and compared them to the uniforms worn by Soldiers during that period, and they are just about the same. He then said, "problems came up. The largest problem was the many Scouts wanted to imitate what they thought Soldiers did and how they behaved. Scouts started smoking because they found that a behavior which matched what Soldiers did as well as the movies of that time glamorized smoking as a "mature-like" behavior. There were also problems that short-order drill was being taught Scouts by their Scoutmasters, many of whom were former Soldiers." 

The BSA initially tried to stem that tide by providing special manuals (as I mentioned, I've got a copy of one such publication called "Scout Courtesy Customs and Drills" which addressed how Scouts should line up, address their Scoutmasters and senior Scouts, and various formations for flag-raising/lowering, marching in parades, and the like). The leadership of the BSA, however, decided in the 30s that the BSA not only needed a distinctive uniform but also to separate itself as much as it could during those days, from the military training which was started under programs like the National Junior Cadets Corps (NJCC) and the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) programs which started up around the nation.

 -- But those days were down days, as the nation entered into a recession which turned into the Great Depression. Scouts -- and their parents -- did not have enough money to pay for what the BSA was getting made by a set of American firms. From 1932 to 1936, the BSA "suspended the policy," which required a Scout to own a uniform in order to participate. It was briefly brought back into policy and then the BSA announced to the field (in probably one of those "memos" sent from National to the local Councils by mail *grinning*) that owning a uniform is NOT a requirement to become a Scout but is desirable in order to "reap the benefits, tangible and intangible from such association with our program."

The rest of the presentation was about all of the changes since then...the introduction of the Cubbing uniform, based upon the Boy Scout uniform; the decision to place a Boy Scout in charge of each Den (called a Den Chief) but because of legalities, the BSA chose to have moms of Boy Scouts (which is where the BSA -- and the rest of the nation -- got the phrase "Den Mother" from) to actually lead the Den; the introduction of the Exploring, Senior Scouting and Rovering (which died almost as soon as it started -- reminded me of the Leadership Corps thing in the 70s) uniforms, and the jac-shirt in all of its colorful variations.  There was a brief mention of how we got the Oscar de la Renta uniform and how Exploring pooh-pooed wearing any field uniform (again this was well before the BSA "killed" Exploring in the early 90s).

Whenever people approach me asking about the connection between the military and Scouting, and the fact that "you can pretty it up all you want: all Scouting is just getting little kids ready for the military", I shrug my shoulders and say "yeah, so why isn't our military just chock full of former Scouts? I think we have a lot more to offer a young man than just trying to get him ready to be a Soldier or something else in our military. Just because we came from the idea of a military hero from Britain -- who, by the way, expressed the same points of view of most people who have seen war first-hand: its not worth it. Peace is much better -- doesn't mean that we in the BSA are making "warriors" out of kids who join us today."

"If anything," I tell them, "we're teaching them that there are other ways to win fights."

(The BSA's Supply Group put together a small historical summary of the uniform...it can be found within the Badge and Uniform Site I edit at http://www.scoutinsignia.com/uniform.htm )




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