"I think we want to arrive, first, at what are the essential points for a Scoutmaster to know, and to set out to teach these - all others must be subsidiary. Now I take the essentials are what we find laid down in Scouting for Boys therefore my idea would be to take that book as the programme of work, dividing it off into the number of days available, and then going through it as practical as circumstances will allow. The book is arranged on that idea. The second point about the training camp would be, I think, to give Scoutmasters practical instruction as to how a camp should be run. For this purpose I should be inclined be pitch the camp as it should be done for a Scout camp - each patrol on its own ground in a wide circle around the central (Scoutmaster's) tent. The Scoutmasters should of course be in their own Patrols for the course, under their own patrol leaders and so learn Patrol discipline. "As far as possible they should run the camp - taking it in roster and be camp commandants for the day, quartermaster, and so on, so as to learn practically the work and the requirements of these offices." This simple statement of principals has been the mainstay of Wood Badge training to the present day. The implication that camping is at the heart of Scouting should be as true now as it was then.
In its early years Scouting adopted various methods of training. The Great War interrupted the only particularly successful course. Then, days after World War I ended, on November 20th, 1918 Baden-Powell was dining with a District Commissioner: William F. de Bois Maclaren. Their discussion wandered into the fact that Scouting had no permanent camping ground, and its apparent need. Maclaren suggested that if BP found a suitable location, he would purchase it.
It was soon thereafter agreed if grounds were purchased, it should also be employed as a training centre for Scoutmasters. This function was first described by the Headquarters Gazette as “An Officers' Training Centre, where Scoutmasters, or those who wish to become Scoutmasters, will be trained by competent old Scouts in the formation and training of troops, practical woodcraft and camping and the methods of the Boy Scouts generally.”
The appointed committee found an old run-down estate named Gilwell Park. BP was so impressed by the description that he agreed to the purchase without a visit of his own. The opening ceremony took place on Saturday, July 26th, 1919 with the first Wood Badge Course taking place September 8th-19th, 1919.
An Imperial Educational Conference visited Gilwell and was addressed by B-P. He told them about Scouting with his usual wisdom and wit, and then said, "Now the Camp Chief will tell you how we do it here", and turned to the Camp Chief, John Thurman, who thought this to be something of a poisoned chalice, given his lack of credentials as an educationalist and he retorted with: "I am bothered if I know, but we aim to help boys become men by helping men (and women too for that matter) to become boys."
Wood Badge training was officially accepted internationally at the 1924 World Conference in Copenhagen.
Note that the correct spelling is Wood Badge; two distinct words. The Wood Badge is a badge.
The Symbols of the Wood Badge
In 1955 at the International Conference held in Niagara Falls, Canada the Wood Badge training symbols were universally declared to be the Wood Badge (the beads), the Gilwell Woggle, and the Gilwell Scarf (of the 1st Gilwell Park Scout Group). Note: the universally recognized Axe/Log symbol was, and is, conspicuously absent.
There surely can be no other item of Scouting regalia more steeped in history, romance, and myth than the famed Wood Badge Beads. Intrinsically, they are practically worthless - two bits of twig on a lace. To those that have won the award however, they are priceless.
In the 1880’s, a Zulu Rebellion arose and, as a Captain in the British Army, BP was sent to South Africa in order to quell the uprising. Chief Dinizulu of the Usuthu Zulus, as did many warriors, wore a necklace of beads (of various lengths) made from yellow acacia wood, which has soft pith and formed a small natural nick on each end. (The soft pith dried out forming a fine hole along the length of the bead - this is perhaps the easiest way to distinguish a Zulu bead from later copies.) On enquiry it was found that the Zulu warriors set great value on these apparently useless trifles, and that they were orders of merit: each bead was the distinguishing mark of some great heroic deed. Dinizulu’s necklace contained over a thousand such beads. After a battle with tribal warriors led by King Dinizulu, BP received the necklace as one of many war trophies.
At the conclusion of the first Wood Badge course, it had not been decided what the Wood Badge would actually be. Until BP was reminded of those beads and thought of presenting two of these beads and told the candidates to buy a bootlace to wear them on. Originally intended to be worn on the hat (and were for some years). They migrated into a necklace within a decade.
In 1987 Chief Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi of KwaZulu, was the guest-of-honour at a huge Scout rally. Chief Buthelezi's mother-in-law, Princess Mahoho, was a daughter of Dinizulu. At the rally, the Chief Scout of South Africa, Garnet de la Hunt, took from around his neck a thong on which four original Dinizulu beads were hung, and handed it to Chief Buthelezi, in a symbolic act of returning the beads to their rightful heir.
Traditions and Variations
Other Numbers of Beads Exist:
- 6 Beads are worn by the Chief Scout of the World, B-P, who presented them to his right-hand man: Sir Percy Everett. Sir Percy then presented them to the Camp Chief of Gilwell, with whom they have remained.
- 5 beads are worn by the Course Director/Chief Trainer or equivalent in each country
- 4 beads are worn, in Canada, by individuals completing Trainer III
- 3 beads are worn, in Canada, by individuals completing Trainer II
Early Akela's (Wolf Cub Leaders) Wood Badge was, for a short time, a Wolf Fang instead of the Wood Badge. Akela Trainers wore two teeth.
Some Gilwellians wear a small coloured bead on the necklace, worn above the knot. The beads represent the section trained in: originally, yellow (Pack), green (Troop), and red (Crew). And now including: brown (Colony), and blue (Company).
Many Gilwellian's follow the tradition that upon the completion of their Wood Badge training a friend is asked to tie a diamond knot in their thong to signify the completion of a quest.
Another popular tradition among Wood Badge trainers is the handing over of beads. Upon completion of the course, as candidates - now fellow Gilwellians - are presented with their beads and necker, the trainer will hold back the beads and instead hand over their own as a sign of respect for the candidate. The trainer will then hold onto those new beads as their own until such time as they too are handed over.
The woggle was first handed out in 1943 for completing the preliminary stages of Woodbadge. Made from leather in a Turk’s Head knot, and originally the thongs used to spin a fire-lighting spindle.
The Gilwell Necker began as a simple grey scarf worn by participants during the course (as their imaginary troop colours), which was returned upon completion. It has become part of the investiture of every candidate, for dedication to Scouting, into the 1st Gilwell Scout Troop; a Gilwellian. The colours: dove grey (or Gilwell Grey) said to be the colour of humility, red to signify warmth it is said, and centred on the rear is a patch of the Clan Maclaren tartan in honour of William F de Bois Maclaren – the benefactor of Gilwell.
Unlike the Wood Badge beads, the Gilwell necker is not an achievement badge, it is the necker of a Scout Troop. It is not intended to replace an individual's active group necker, and should never be worn when acting in a capacity for which the Wood Badge has not been earned. The exceptions to this guideline are:
- Scouters acting in a non-Section capacity may wear the Gilwell necker.
- At a training event, trainers should all wear the Gilwell necker and trainees should not.
- At a Gilwell Gathering, all Gilwellians should wear the Gilwell necker.
Note: The Gilwell beads should always be worn if earned, and the Gilwell woggle should always be worn if earned unless the beads are also earned (then it is a personal choice).