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Olave Baden-Powell

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Olave (pronounced OH-layve) St Claire Soames was born on 22 February1, 1888, to Harold Soames (a brewery owner) and Katherine Soames (nee Hill). Olave had a sister, Auriol, and a brother, Arthur. She was educated at home by her parents, plus a number of governesses. Olave was keen on various sports, including canoeing, skating, tennis, swimming and football, and also loved playing the violin, which provided stability for her as she moved house several times.

As a child, Olave enjoyed caring for and teaching handicapped boys; however, her parents frowned on this as it 'wasted' time that could have been spent on tennis or squash. She also loved playing 'Boer War' with her friends, and they all wore badges of their favourite war heroes. Olave, interestingly enough, wore that of Baden-Powell, little knowing that she would one day become his wife.

Olave in Love

Olave's first romance was as a teenager, with a friend of Arthur. They met at her sister's coming-out dance, and they stayed together for eight months. Her true love, however, began on 3 January, 1912, when Olave set out for a voyage on the Arcadian along with her father, who only managed to get tickets due to two other passengers cancelling. She was sure the cruise would be boring, until she met up with a fellow passenger, Lieutenant General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, a few days into the trip. Baden-Powell immediately recognised Olave - he had seen her a few years earlier walking her dog in London, and he had never forgotten her.

There was a 32-year difference in age between Olave and Robert, yet this meant nothing to them and they quickly fell in love. It took them a long time to marry, however, as Baden-Powell was just about to begin a world tour, so they had to make do with frequent love letters, each signed with a picture of a robin with different expressions on its face.

Olave's parents were against the marriage, feeling that Robert was far too old for their daughter, but Olave never wavered in her love and the couple were married in a quiet ceremony on 30 October, 1912, after Baden-Powell gained permission from Olave's father. The ceremony was deliberately kept quiet, as media interest in the wedding of the founder of Boy Scouts was huge. The Scouts themselves were worried - they feared that once married, Baden-Powell wouldn't have the time to spend on them any more.

Olave and Robert had three children (Peter, Heather and Betty), and Olave also took over the care of her sister's children on Auriole's death in 1919; Auriole's widower was overseas as part of his work.

Girl Guides

It turned out the Boy Scouts had no need to worry - B-P (as Baden-Powell was known) was just as involved as ever. Plus, in 1914, Olave offered her services to Agnes, Robert's sister, and leader of the Girl Guiding Movement, but she was turned down, possibly due to her young age. She got involved with local Guiding in Sussex, however, and soon gained her warrant as County Commissioner. As ever, there were plenty of girls interested in joining, but not enough women wanting to volunteer as leaders, so Olave wrote The Girl Guide Movement, which contained information about Girl Guides, and about the role and responsibility of a Commissioner. After the First World War had ended, Olave was concerned that members of Guiding and Scouting around the world should keep in touch, so that they could share ideas and develop a mutual understanding. With this in mind, the International Council was formed.

Olave was appointed Chief Guide in 1918, and in 1920 she was asked to enrol HRH Princess Mary into the movement. In 1930 she was appointed World Chief Guide, the only person ever to hold this honour. She was awarded the Silver Wolf by the Scout Association for her work in caring for their Founder, and in 1932 she was awarded the Grand Cross of the British Empire. She was also awarded the Silver Fish, the highest award in the Guide Association, but hers was made of gold to make it extra special.

Carrying on Alone

Robert Baden-Powell died in 1941, while on holiday with his family in their favourite destination, Africa. Lady B-P, as Olave was now known, didn't give up her work with Girl Guides, and hosted Scouts and Guides for tea during the war, managing to make the most of the rations she was allowed.

Between 1942 and her death, she travelled right around the world as many as five times, taking 653 flights to do so. She continued to promote Girl Guides around the world, and once she found travelling too difficult she entertained overseas guests in her home instead. She died on 19 June, 1977, having outlived her husband by over 35 years, and her ashes were taken to Kenya so they could be placed with those of her husband. She was mourned by all those in the Scouting and Guiding Movements, and the Olave Centre in London was built in her memory. The Olave Centre houses the World Bureau, which administers the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), and also has a World Centre, Pax Lodge, on site.

Further Information

If you'd like to get involved in Girlguiding UK, or just want to find out more, head on over to the Girlguiding UK website.

1A birthday she shared with her future husband, Robert Baden-Powell, and a date which was to become Thinking Day for Guides and Founder's Day for Scouts around the world.

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