Olave Baden-Powell was the only person to ever hold the title of World Chief Guide. She helped her husband build the Scouting Movement, continued the development of the Guiding Movement, and formed the organisation that became the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS).
Olave visited 111 countries during her life, attending jamborees and other Guide and Scout activities. She was known as the “Mother of Millions” for her active role in the World Organisation of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.
[Research and website page prepared by a youth member, Kaitlyn Brown, as an additional challenge for the BP Award]
Olave Soames was born on February 22nd, 1889. Her parents were Harold and Katherine Soames. They were a wealthy, upper-middle class family (their fortune was built in the brewery business). Olave grew up in Chesterfield, England. She enjoyed the outdoors, especially rowing, riding, cycling, tennis and swimming. She also loved horses, dogs and birds.
When Olave was old enough, she began to accompany her father on his winter holidays. They were on board the RMSP Arcadian on their way to Jamaica when she was introduced to Robert Baden-Powell. He was on his way to New York then Australia in support of Scouting. She was 23 and he was 55 so there was a 32 year age difference. They were engaged in the same year and married in secret in Dorset on October 30, 1912. They had three children:
- Arthur Robert Peter Baden-Powell – 1913
- Heather Grace Baden-Powell – 1915
- Betty St. Clair Baden-Powell – 1917
It is interesting that Betty also met her husband aboard a ship, shared the same birthday as her husband, and had a big age-difference (10 years). Betty was involved in Guiding in Northern Rhodesia and England.
When Olave’s sister Auriol died, Olave raised her 3 nieces as if they were her own children.
Their grandson Michael Baden-Powell (son of Peter) lives in Australia and has personally visited the Pax Hill Scout Camp in Ballarat.
Olave was interested in her husband’s Scouting activities and soon became involved in Girl Guides. She was involved in the early efforts to spread the organisation internationally and helped each country to adopt uniforms, symbolism, badges, and laws that matched the same spirit as the original Girl Guides.
In 1916 she was chosen to be County Commissioner and two years later became Chief Guide for Britain. In 1920 Olave helped form an International Council which grew and developed, and eventually became the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). She was elected World Chief Guide in 1930.
In 1932, Olave 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.
The Baden-Powells moved into a home in Hampshire – Pax Hill. The house was a gift from Olave’s father. Scouts and Guides visited from all over the world and camped in the front garden. It was a busy place, with Robert directing the Scouts and Olave running Guiding.
In 1942, Pax Hill was occupied by Canadian military troops. After WWII, Olave gave Pax Hill to the Girl Guides Association (Guiding UK). It has since been a boys boarding school and a nursing home.
Hampton Court Palace
After Robert’s death in 1941, Olave was left alone. Pax Hill had been taken over by the War Department so she was granted an apartment in Hampton Court Palace. Her apartment was easily identified by the World Flag in the window. It was hit by a missile in 1944.
Olave continued to visit Scouts and Guides all over the world.
During her lifetime, Olave made many sea voyages, 648 flights, and visited 111 countries. She was honoured by many countries and organisations for her work.
Olave suffered a heart attack during a visit to Australia in 1961. When she was 80 she was diagnosed with diabetes and banned from travelling.
In 1973 Olave left Hampton Court where she had lived for 28 years to move into a nursing home in Bramley.
She died peacfully in her sleep on June 25, 1977, aged 88. Her ashes were taken to Kenya to be buried in the same grave as her husband, Robert Baden-Powell.
World Thinking Day
Scouts and Guides celebrate Thinking Day on February 22nd to remember the work of the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World. This date is the birthday of both Robert and Olave Baden-Powell.
World Thinking Day has been celebrated since 1926 and is a day of international friendship.
- Olave was named after Olaf, the King of Norway.
- She was home schooled by her parents and governesses until she was 12 and didn’t have any schooling after that.
- She lived in 17 houses before the age of 23
- Olave played the violin. She had a copy of a Stradivarius made by Messrs. Hill for the Paris Exhibition. Many years later it was presented to the Guide Association.
- When the Baden-Powells were married, every Scout contributed one penny towards a Rolls Royce as a wedding present
- Olave was a warranted Scoutmaster of the 1st Ewhurst Scout troop. She was assisted by the family housemaid and gardener.