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About A Week: I Will Do My Best

Peter Hinchliffe tells of a Jamboree which celebrated 100 years of Scouting.

Forty thousand happy faces are gathered in an English park last week to celebrate the centenary of Scouting and provide living proof that the nations of the world can unite.

There were 32,000 Scouts -- boys and girls -- from 162 nations. Even Scouts from Iraq and Afghanistan are there to join in the festivities.

An international team of 8,000 adults was on hand to make sure the 21st World Scout Jamboree at Hylands Park, Chelmsford, Essex, was an event to provide lifetime memories.

There are 28,000,000 Scouts in countries and territories around the globe. Around 400,000 of these live in Britain, the land that gave birth to the Scouting movement.

The Scouts lay claim to being the world's biggest peace organization.

One hundred years ago, British war hero Robert Baden-Powell took 20 boys on a camping holiday on Brownsea Island, Dorset. Half of them were public school boys and half boys from poor families.

Baden-Powell, who was decorated for gallantry displayed in defending the city of Mafeking during the Boer War, was eager to demonstrate that youths from all classes could live and work together. His aim was to introduce them to the joys of outdoors life, while at the same time encouraging self-sufficiency and strengthening character.

He was then writing the book Scouting for Boys, which was published in 1908, and used the Brownsea camp to test his theories. The book, still in print, is fourth in the all-time bestsellers list, behind the Bible, the Koran and Mao Tse-tung's Little Red Book.

At this year's historic Jamboree, opened by Prince William and the Duke of Kent, Scouts were learning about some of the major issues of the day, including environmental issues and AIDS.

The 550-acre campsite had supermarkets, a tented church, mosque, synagogue and temples, and features a huge range of physical activities.

A Scout Association leader said, "It is 40,000 people coming together and enjoying cultural exchange to show that people's differences are a good thing. We can bring about a more peaceful society."

The first World Scout Jamboree was held in 1920. The event is now held every four years, each time in a different country, to promote links between the young people of the world.

In later life, Baden-Powell modestly declared that he had not started the Scouting movement -- "the blooming thing started itself."

In Huddersfield, the Yorkshire town nearest my home village, this would seem to have been the case. Frank Healy, who has been involved in Scouting for most of his life, tells me that a Scouting group was founded here as the result of a meeting held beneath a gas lamp in the street.

"The book Scouting for Boys captured the imaginations of boys of all ages," Frank says. "In the year of its publication, adults and teenagers met and decided to form a Scout troop. It wasn't a case of seeking official backing. They took the initiative."

A Scout group eventually met in Huddersfield's Cloth Hall, the place where fine worsted cloth made by local weavers was traded. They met by candlelight, each Scout bringing his own candle. The hall was lit by gas, but the fledgling Scout troop could not afford to pay gas bills.

During the Second World War, Huddersfield Scouts, along with Scouts in other parts of Britain, searched out hiding places where weapons and other vital equipment could be stored, to be used by resistance fighters if the Germans invaded Britain.

I look out from my home on an idyllically sited Scout camp, Whitley Beaumont, which is set amid ancient and faithfully maintained woodland. Scouts have been camping on Whitley Beaumont estate since 1928, when its owner allowed them to set up tents in the kitchen garden of the big house.

When the estate changed hands some decades ago, a mystery owner presented the Scouts with their present wooded 11-acre site.

"The aim at Whitley Beaumont is to provide a back-to-nature experience," says Frank Healy. "The rural atmosphere of the site will be preserved in perpetuity for youngsters to enjoy."

The theme of this year's historic Jamboree in Essex is "One World-One Promise." And millions of Scouts around the world repeated the Scout pledge to coincide with a ceremony in Hylands Park.

The Scout Promise is:

On My Honor, I promise that I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
To help other people
And to keep the Scout Law
(In Britain, the second line of the promise is "To do my duty to God and to my Queen.")

The Scout Law is:

A Scout is to be trusted.
A Scout is loyal.
A Scout is friendly and considerate.
A Scout belongs to the worldwide family of Scouts.
A Scout has courage in all difficulties.
A Scout makes good use of time and is careful of possessions and property.
A Scout has self-respect and respect for others.
And the Scout Motto is "Be Prepared" (a motto based on the initials of the movement's founder).

I was never a Scout. The Yorkshire mining village in which I grew up was far too small to support a Scout troop.

However, while working as a journalist in Kenya, I did visit Robert Baden-Powell's grave. He died January 8, 1941, and is buried in Nyeri, within sight of one of Africa's most spectacular mountains, Kenya Mountain.

On his gravestone, there is a circle with a dot in its center. This is the Scout trail sign for "Going home" or "I have gone home."


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