Olave Baden-Powell

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The Lady Baden-Powell

Olave Baden-Powell.jpg
Lady Baden-Powell, Chief Guide
Born(1889-02-22)22 February 1889
Died25 June 1977(1977-06-25) (aged 88)
Bramley, Surrey, England, United Kingdom
OccupationGuiding and Scouting
  • Harold Soames
    • Katherine Mary Hill

Olave St Clair Baden-Powell, Lady Baden-Powell [1] GBE (néeSoames; 22 February 1889 – 25 June 1977) was the first Chief Guide for Britain and the wife of Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting and Girl Guides. She outlived her husband, who was 32 years her senior, by over 35 years.


Lady Baden-Powell became Chief Guide for Britain in 1918. Later the same year, at the Swanwick conference for Commissioners in October, she was presented with a gold Silver Fish, [2] one of only two ever made. She was elected World Chief Guide in 1930. As well as making a major contribution to the development of the Guide/Girl Scout movements, she visited 111 countries during her life, attending Jamborees and national Guide and Scout associations. In 1932, she was created a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire by King George V.

Background and early life

Born in Chesterfield, England, Olave Soames was the third child and youngest daughter of brewery owner and artist Harold Soames (13 Aug 1855 – 25 Dec 1918), of Gray Rigg, Lilliput, Dorset (descended from the landed gentry Soames family of Sheffield Park) and his wife Katherine Mary, daughter of George Hill. [3] . She was educated by her parents and by a number of governesses at home. She lived in seventeen homes in the first 23 years of her life.[ citation needed ] Olave became keen on outdoor sports including tennis, swimming, football, skating and canoeing, and also played the violin. [4]

Adult life

Marriage and children

Baden-Powell with her husband and their three children in 1917. Baden-Powell family (1917).jpg
Baden-Powell with her husband and their three children in 1917.

In January 1912, Olave met Second Boer War hero and founder of the Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, on an ocean liner (RMSP Arcadian) on the way via the Caribbean to New York to start a lecture tour. She was 23, he was 55, and they shared the same birthday. They became engaged in September of the same year, causing a media sensation. They married on 30 October 1912 in a very private ceremony, in St. Peter's Church, Parkstone, her parish church. She was given away by her father. Apart from clergy, the only other people present were his brother and sister and Robert Kekewich, a close friend of his, her mother and brother, her brother-in-law and Miss Sie Bower, a close friend of hers. [5]

The Scouts and Guides of England each donated a penny to buy the Baden-Powells a wedding gift of a car (not the Rolls-Royce called "Jam-Roll" [6] that was presented to them in 1929). Olave's father helped financially with the purchase of Pax Hill near Bentley, Hampshire, as a family home where she lived with her husband from 29 January 1919 until 25 October 1938. [7]

The Baden-Powells had three children — a son and two daughters (who took the courtesy titles of Honourable in 1929; the son later succeeding his father as the 2nd Lord Baden-Powell upon his father's death in 1941):

In addition, when Olave's sister, Auriol Davidson, née Soames, died in 1919, Olave took her three nieces, Christian (1912–1975), Clare (1913–1980), and Yvonne, (1918-2000), into her family and brought them up as her own children.

War work

During 1915 and 1916, with World War I in progress, Olave assisted directly with the war effort in France. Robert had seen the usefulness of the YMCA's recreational huts for the soldiers and persuaded the Mercers' Company (of which he had been Master in 1912) to pay for such a hut at Val-de-Lievres, Calais. It was to be staffed by adults connected with Scouting. Olave was one of the team of five men and three women that staffed the hut at the start. She persuaded her mother to look after the children for the time she would be away. [11]

Olave left for France on 7 October 1915, when her second child was five months old. Her regular work in the Mercers' hut included serving cocoa and cigarettes and chatting to those who came in. She also recalled in her autobiography playing her violin and singing at the Christmas Concert. Olave also adopted a number of stray animals during her time in Val-de-Lievres. [11]

During this time, Robert had organised the Scouts to sponsor another recreational hut. Olave and two others started this hut at Étaples after Christmas 1915. At the end of January, Olave was ordered home due to sickness, ending her three months in France. [11]

Growing involvement in Scouting

Ewhurst Place Ewhurst Place, Ifield, Crawley (IoE Code 363362).jpg
Ewhurst Place

Olave and Robert moved into Ewhurst Place , outside Robertsbridge in Sussex in April 1913. In June of that year, the 1st Ewhurst Scout Troop was inaugurated. [12] Olave was the warranted Scoutmaster of this troop, assisted by the family's housemaid and the gardener. [12] Olave accompanied Robert on many of his Scouting tours and to events. She also typed letters for him. In 1915, the Baden-Powells bought a small car, and after Robert taught her to drive, Olave often drove him to engagements. [11]

Although most famously connected with the Girl Guides, Olave's first offer to help them in 1914 was turned down. The Girl Guide movement had started after pressure from girls who wanted to become Scouts. It was set up by Robert Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes Baden-Powell. After the reorganisation of the Girl Guides in 1915, Olave again offered to help, this time successfully, and she started organising Guiding in Sussex. She became the County Commissioner for Sussex in March 1916. [13] In October 1916, the first conference for County Commissioners was held and it was here that the Commissioners unanimously requested that Olave take the role of Chief Commissioner – she was just pregnant with her third child. Shortly before this she had organised a great number of women in other parts of Britain to take up roles in Guiding. [2] [13] In 1918, Olave was acclaimed Chief Guide, a title she much preferred to Chief Commissioner. [2]


Global awards

In 1932, she was awarded the Dame Grand Cross of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) by King George V, in recognition of her volunteer work. Finland awarded her the Order of the White Rose of Finland, and Peru the Order of the Sun. In 1957 she was awarded both the 14th Bronze Wolf , the only distinction of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, awarded by the World Scout Committee for exceptional services to world Scouting, [14] and the highest distinction of the Scout Association of Japan, the Golden Pheasant Award. [15]


Olave Baden-Powell was presented with a personal standard by the UK Girl Guide's County Commissioners. It was designed by Mrs Zigomala. Miss Kay-Shuttleworth supervised the making of the standard. [2]

The Standard of Lady Baden-Powell, Chief Guide of the World, is blue (azure) from the hoist to the fly. Nearest the hoist is the gold (or) trefoil; then come two small hemispheres, showing a coloured map of the world, indicating her post as Chief Guide. These are placed high to the left of the main fly, which is divided throughout its length by two silver (argent) waves, amongst which are shown three ships with black hulls and white sails, four dolphins and the Gold Fish of the Chief Guide. Then between two red (gules) motto bands on which are embroidered the Baden-Powell and Girl Guide mottoes in gold letters, there is a section alluding to the outdoor life, showing white tents on a green (vert) field. In the extreme fly the Baden-Powell crests are embroidered. [2]

Death of Robert Baden-Powell

In October 1938, Olave moved to the Outspan Hotel, Nyeri, Kenya, near her third cousin, Jack Soames, and the notorious Happy Valley set, with her husband, where he died, on 8 January 1941. Lord Erroll was in the funeral procession, [16] just prior to his murder on January 24, 1941. [17]

After her husband's death, Olave received thousands of letters of condolence. She was helped to reply to them all by Bertha Hines, the wife of David Hines, who was away fighting the Italian army that had invaded Ethiopia and Somalia. Often, Olave would watch Bertha's baby daughter, Penny, while Bertha typed reply letters. [18]

World War II

In 1942 she braved U-boat attacks to return to the UK and, as she had no home to return to, was allocated a grace and favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace, in which she lived from 1943 to 1976. Her own home, Pax Hill, had been commandeered and taken over by the Canadian military. Through World War II she toured the United Kingdom. She was on a visit when a V2 missile damaged her Hampton Court apartment in 1944. As soon as she could after D-Day, she went to France, toured throughout Europe as the war ended to help revive Guiding and Scouting.

After World War II

Lady Baden-Powell visiting Helsinki in 1960. To her left, Mrs. Helvi Sipila, to her right, Jarl Wahlstrom. Lady-Baden-Powell-1960.jpg
Lady Baden-Powell visiting Helsinki in 1960. To her left, Mrs. Helvi Sipilä, to her right, Jarl Wahlström.

Olave led the Guide Movement worldwide for forty years, travelling all over the globe helping to establish and to encourage the Guide Movements in other countries, and bringing membership to over six and a half million worldwide. Olave was present in Washington, DC in 1962 for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the American Girl Scouts. [19]

Having suffered a heart attack in Australia in 1961, she was finally banned from travelling by her doctor at the age of 80 in 1970 when she was diagnosed with diabetes from which she eventually died.

In 1968 the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) had given Olave a credit card to defray her travel costs. [20] When she stopped travelling, the BSA asked her to use the card for 'keeping in touch'. [20] This included paying for over 2000 Christmas cards she sent to those personally known to her. [20]

Having spent her later years in a grace-and-favour apartment at Hampton Court Palace, Olave died on 25 June 1977 at Birtley House, Bramley in Surrey, UK. [21] Her ashes were taken to Kenya to be buried in the same grave as her husband's remains. She was survived by her two daughters, her son having predeceased her.


Robert and Olave Baden-Powell's grave. Baden Powell grave1.jpg
Robert and Olave Baden-Powell's grave.

The Olave Centre for Guides was built in north London in Olave's memory. This has the World Bureau and Pax Lodge in its grounds. Pax Lodge is one of WAGGGS' five World Centres.

Scouts and Guides mark 22 February as B.-P. Day or World Thinking Day, the joint birthdays of Robert and Olave Baden-Powell, to remember and celebrate the work of the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World. On that day in 2011, a Blue Plaque was unveiled near the site of the house in Chesterfield where she lived, by Derbyshire County Council following an Internet poll in which she received 18,026 votes out of 25,080 (72%), cf. 1,231 (5%) for George Stephenson (runner-up). [22]

The Olave Baden-Powell Bursary Fund was set up in 1979 from voluntary contributions in memory of Olave B-P. Annually awarded bursaries aim to allow girls in Girlguiding UK to further their interests and hobbies and realise their dreams.

As a child, Olave learned the violin; her first violin she called Diana. It was a copy of a Stradivarius made by Messrs. Hill for the Paris Exhibition and many years later it was presented to the Guide Association. It is still available on loan to Guides who are seriously learning to play the violin prior to them acquiring their own instrument. See "The Derbyshire Childhood..."

A movement was started in Australia, the idea being, "When you buy an ice-cream, buy one also for the Chief Guide", and this "Ice-cream Fund" raises a significant sum every year, sent to Olave B-P to gave away to various Guiding causes; one such was to provide doors for new Guide buildings.


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  1. "Olave Baden-Powell | Home". Spanglefish.com. 50.89589;-2.277974. 17 December 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2016.CS1 maint: location (link)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Kerr, Rose (1976). Story of the Girl Guides 1908–1938. London: Girl Guides Association.
  3. Burke's Landed Gentry 14th ed., ed. Alfred T. Butler, p. 1632
  4. "The Derbyshire Childhood of Olave, Lady Baden-Powell, G.B.E." by Jill E. Armitage, B.A., F.I.P.D., M.I.D.D.A., Storforth Publications, 1994, ISBN   0-9524820-0-2
  5. "Baden-Powell: Two lives of Hero" by William Hillcourt, Heineman, 1964, p. 335.
  6. "B-P Jamroll Limited". Jamroll.org. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  7. "Baden-Powell:Two lives of Hero" by William Hillcourt, Heineman, 1964, pp. 356, 412.
  8. "John Hall King (1913–2004) – Genealogy". Geni.com. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  9. "Gervas Clay | Home". Spanglefish.com. 50.912964;-2.237434. Retrieved 29 March 2016.CS1 maint: location (link)
  10. "Betty Clay | Home". Spanglefish.com. 50.913187;-2.237327. Retrieved 29 March 2016.CS1 maint: location (link)
  11. 1 2 3 4 "Window on My Heart. Chapter X. The War Years". 25 April 2004. Archived from the original on 18 April 2007. Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  12. 1 2 "Window on My Heart. Chapter IX. A New Life". 25 April 2004. Archived from the original on 18 April 2007. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  13. 1 2 "Window on My Heart. Chapter XI. The Girl Guides". 25 April 2004. Archived from the original on 18 April 2007. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  14. complete list
  15. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 December 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. "Lord Baden-Powell's funeral 1941"; Flikr
  17. The Umzindusi Letter, by Tim Topps; Troubador Publishing Ltd.; page 51.
  18. David Hines memoirs: see the (London) Daily Telegraph obituary 8 April 2000.
  19. Kathleen Weber was invited as a troop representative at the age of 12 to this event.
  20. 1 2 3 "Olave Baden-Powell — Australia 1967" . Retrieved 22 March 2007.
  21. "The World Chief Guide : Gone Home" (PDF). Olavebadenpowell.worldguiding.net. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  22. "Blue Plaque Scheme". Artsderbyshire.org.uk. 22 April 1933. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  23. Orans, Lewis P. (25 April 2004). "Window on My Heart". Archived from the original on 9 June 2004. Retrieved 22 March 2007.