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Memories of Olave Baden-Powell

This is the text of a speech that Robin Clay, the son of Betty Clay and grandson of Robert and Olave Baden-Powell, wrote. He was going to deliver the speech on 5th September 2009, but didn't actually do so (I don't know why). He has graciously allowed me to post it on this site. I have added some headings for easier reading.

I lived with my Granny, Olave Lady Baden-Powell, World Chief Guide, for a couple of years in the early 1960s.

On one occasion, she was Guest of Honour at a large event at Wembley Stadium. As she was getting ready, I noticed her cleaning her Guide Badge - not just the front, but the back as well - as she said, as a reminder to be clean in all ways, not just visible ones.*

She asked me to go along too.

Now ... imagine the scene ... thousands upon thousands of girls ... the organisers in a slight panic, wondering if their Guest would arrive before they were ready for her, or wondering what they would DO with all those girls if she was LATE !

What actually happened was that she arranged for us to arrive a good half-an-hour before the due time.  I was sent in to tell the organisers that she was there, and they then told me when they were ready, and I went and fetched her, so that it SEEMED as if she arrived at exactly the right moment.

On another occasion, she had to dinner an older friend of very long-standing, the lady who had been on the Arcadia and had actually introduced her to her husband-to-be !  Granny served the food, and while doing so accidentally dropped a bean. She picked it up with her fingers, saying "Fingers were made before forks". Said the friend, acidly, "Yes, dear, but not yours!"

She used to tour all over the world, and one of her cardinal rules was to write and thank everyone who had been involved - and those letters HAD to be written and posted in that town before she went on to the next, so she would often stay up until two or three o'clock in the morning, bashing out letters on her typewriter.

She had a most prodigious memory for people she had met.  As just a few examples of many reminiscences we have:-

From Miss Bindloss, from Newton Abbot
As a District Commissioner in Newton Abbot I met the Chief on one of her visits to Devon. Later, during the war, I was in Ely, nursing with the RAF. On off-duty evenings I helped with a Brownie Pack, not in Guide uniform but in my VAD uniform, and one evening the Chief visited the Pack, and going round the ring she came to me. She looked hard at me, and said "I know you - now don't tell me - let me think - yes, I know, it was in Devon!"

From Miss Marjorie Stevenson,
At Waddow Ruby Jubilee Rally, the Chief approached us with hands outstretched, and we said "Cheshire - Marjorie Stevenson and Lily Crowther", so she said to Lily, "You were counting out Brownies for that wonderful runpast at Bebington, where all the Brownies' macs fell off the bobbing backs as they ran!"

Then she turned to me and said, "You haven't always been in Cheshire, have you? Would it be ... Northumberland?" So I said "Yes, but we met in Yorkshire!"  and she remembered that I had been at her table at the big N.E. Rally weekend - twenty years before.

From Molly Hoblyn, ex-County Commissioner, Dorset
I escorted her quite a lot during a visit to India, especially at Hyderabad, and I didn't meet her again until some years later, after I had married, and was living in Dorset.  She came to open Brownsea Island. When I was introduced, she looked at me as if she thought she ought to know me, so I said, "I was Molly Irwin". "Of course!" replied, "How's Hyderabad, have you heard from them lately?"

From Mrs. Christine Brown, Weston-super-Mare
I was a Guide in Kent when our Company attended a County Rally. Excitement filled the air as the Chief Guide approached us, and I jumped on to a log to have a better view. I missed my footing and fell backwards into a bed of nettles! My misfortune had great compensations as she saw what had happened and immediately showed her concern by asking me if I was all right - that "made my day" and nothing else mattered as she had spoken to me personally. A year or so later, now a Ranger in Somerset, I was in a Guard of Honour to welcome the Chief Guide to Taunton. To my amazement as she approached she caught my eye, stopped, and exclaimed "Surely you are the Guide who fell into the nettles in Kent!"

From Miss Syliva Tatton-Brown, Shropshire
Scene: A Girl Guide Rally in Blenheim Park, Oxfordshire, 1952, the County Commissioner is introducing invited Guests who are not in uniform.
County Commissioner: "This is Mrs ABC who has just arrived from the West Indies."
Chief Guide: "Lovely to see you again. You are lunching with me tomorrow."
C.C. "You won't know Mrs Willis, one of our Vice Presidents."
Chief "But of course I remember Mrs Willis: Calcutta 1928."
C.C. "This is Miss Tatton-Brown."
Chief "Where have we met before?"
Miss Tatton-Brown "At the World Conference in 1950, in Sussex, but originally in Egypt. You have just been seeing my friend the Chief Commissioner for the International Guides in Egypt, how is she?"
Chief "Of course, we were in Athens together. You know she has just lost her Mother?"
Naturally I knew she had lost her Mother, she was Beryl Baker, a friend of mine, but that the Chief, with literally thousands of commissioner friends, should remember and show concern. Also in 5 minutes she had spanned Guiding on four continents.

I remember chatting with some of her friends, once, and someone happened to mention a small town somewhere in the United States.  Immediately, Granny told us of some friends who lived there, with details that included the birthday of their dog! Another town was mentioned, and again, she came out with similar stories. And I realised that one could have named almost any small town almost anywhere in the world and she would have known someone there - in that sort of detail.

She used to send out two thousand Christmas cards every year, to her friends across the globe - and they were friends, not just acquaintances.

She lived at Hampton Court Palace, in an apartment given to her "by grace and favour of the Queen", and she had an allotment, where she loved to relax - as she described it, "standing on my head, weeding".  She wore typical scruffy gardening clothes.  A story she delighted in telling - on one occasion, as she carried her laden trug back to her apartment, she saw a small boy spelling out her name on the sign outside her door.  "Come along, Johnny!" called the father, "Forget that; she's been dead for years!"

Well, now she has, indeed, been dead for years - but the memories linger on ...


[Editor's note: I was told to do this when I made my Promise as a Brownie in 1966, and I still clean my badge back and front today. It was a way to remember that the Promise should be kept inside as well as outside, not only where other people can see it.]