History

Robert & Olave Baden-Powell

Robert & Olave Baden-Powell's memorial stone

In the south aisle of the nave of Westminster Abbey, against the screen of St George’s chapel, is a memorial stone to Lord and Lady Baden-Powell. Both are buried in Kenya and each had a memorial service held at the Abbey.

The joint memorial stone was unveiled on 12 February 1981, in the presence of Princess Margaret, and is by sculptor Wilhelm Josef Soukop. The Scouts and Guides flags are placed against the screen. This memorial replaced an earlier stone to Lord Baden-Powell which was unveiled in 1947. This had the badges of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides on it with the inscription “In memory of Robert Baden-Powell Chief Scout of the World 1857-1941”. The present memorial includes medallion heads in bronze with the inscription:

Give thanks for ROBERT BADEN-POWELL 1857-1941 Chief Scout of the World OLAVE BADEN-POWELL 1889-1977 World Chief Guide”.

Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell was born in London on 22 February 1857, a son of the Revd. H.G. Baden Powell, a professor at Oxford. He was educated at Tunbridge Wells in Kent and at Charterhouse School where he first became interested in the arts of Scouting and woodcraft. In 1869 his mother changed the family name from Powell to Baden-Powell. He served with the 13th Hussars in India from 1876-1883 and on leaving India carried out secret reconnaissance work in Africa and took part in the 1888 Zulu War. He also served in Malta and commanded the 5th Dragoon Guards. In 1899 came Mafeking, the most notable episode in his outstanding military career. During the 217 day siege of the town Baden-Powell’s book Aids to Scouting was published, reaching a wide audience. After Mafeking was relieved he went on to organise the South African constabulary and returned to England as Inspector General of Cavalry. He re-wrote his book and tested his scouting theories at a camp on Brownsea Island in Dorset. Soon Scout troops were being formed all over the country. Robert was knighted in 1909 and in 1912 he married Olave Soames. The first international Scout Jamboree was held in London in 1920 where Robert was acclaimed “Chief Scout of the World” and in 1929 he was created Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell. In 1938 he went to live in Kenya and is buried at Nyeri.

Olave St Clair Soames was born in Derbyshire on 22 February 1889 and met Robert on a Caribbean cruise. They married in October 1912 and had three children. In 1909 Robert founded the Girl Guide movement, assisted by his sister Agnes, and Olave was active in the Sussex branch and became Chief Guide in 1918. In 1930 she became World Chief Guide. They undertook many world tours and Olave was appointed Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire in 1932 for her services to the Girl Guides. She died on 25 June 1977 and was buried beside her husband.

A photograph of the memorial can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.