Belfast Telegraph

Lord Baden-Powell must have been a Nazi piece of work

By Robert McNeil

I don't know how to tell you this, but I am the owner of several books by Lord Baden-Powell. “For shame!” I hear you cry. I agree. He was a man who ought to have been poked in the eye more often by those around him. But there you are.

Titles of his in my possession include Life's Snags And How To Meet Them, Adventuring To Manhood, and the distinctly unfortunate Scouting For Boys. I was only in the Scouts very briefly — just long enough to get my mother to waste money on the uniform — and left, I think, because I found the whole thing rather sinister. As I recall, they didn't play football.

So why I have Baden-Powell's books I have no idea. I got them in second-hand bookshops. They're in the company of other curious volumes such as Difficulties: An Attempt To Help, by fully qualified music hall performer Seymour Hicks (1871–1949) and Arthur Mee's Golden Year: Over The Hills And Far Away.

I don't know why I buy these old books. I never read them. I just sort of fondle them. When I can find them. There must be around 3,000 books in the house, all meticulously organised in such a way that any sought tome doggedly avoids discovery.

I skimmed through enough of the first-mentioned tome above to learn that the answer to Life's Snags was to whistle. It's a controversial solution, open to all sorts of practical objections.

But, still, if a chimney falls on your head or you're confronted by muggers, I cannot think that whistling would do any further harm.

Further investigation of Life's Snags reveals Baden-Powell to be a somewhat brusque individual, evidently sadistic, with a definite penchant for violent solutions.

He relaxed by painting water-colours of firing squads. He was, of course, an imperialist, he thought England was Britain, and his favourite sport was pigsticking. Put it this way, I'm fond of a pint. But, if you'd confronted me with Baden-P in a pub, I would not have considered it a waste to pour the beer over his head.

I have long held that view, but am even more confirmed in it now with new revelations — generally preferable to old revelations — that the moustachioed nutjob admired Adolf Hitler and thought Mein Kampf “a wonderful book with good ideas”. I have read Mein Kampf. Put it this way: the author was no JK Rowling.

Secret MI5 documents, only now made public, show that Baden-P also thought Mussolini and von Ribbentrop were good eggs. Cracked or what?

It’s thought that his receptiveness to Nazism had its origins in white Rhodesia, where he first developed his taste for summary executions. Today, he’d be described as a war criminal but, back then, it was all just a bit of fun.

Elsewhere on this controversial page, I write about the trend towards historical revisionism which, generally speaking, I deplore. It’s a shame that all the old certainties are daily rendered more dubious. But, really, Baden-Powell takes the custard-cream. And not only him.

I have just opened Difficulties: An Attempt To Help, in the hope that Seymour Hicks might provide some comforting words. My eye alights on the following passage: “The war (First World of that ilk) was won by the British Tommies who went to their death laughing and singing for you and for me.” Laughing? Singing? Crikey, he’s at it an’ all. That isn’t even rewriting history, it’s mocking it.

Right, it’s time to reorganise my library. And I’m putting these guys, and their charming, cuddly tomes, in a section clearly marked “Utter nutters”.

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