Olave Baden-Powell

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Olave Baden-Powell
File:Olave St Clair Soames.jpg
Olave Baden-Powell as Chief Guide for Britain in 1919
Occupation Scouting
Spouse Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell (1912-1941)
Children Arthur Robert Peter, later 2nd Baron Baden-Powell
Hon. Heather Baden-Powell
Hon. Betty Clay (née Baden-Powell)
Parents Harold Soames
Katherine Soames (née Hill)

Olave St Clair Baden-Powell, Baroness Baden-Powell, GBE (February 22, 188919 June 1977) was born Olave St Clair Soames in Chesterfield, England. She was later known as Olave, Lady Baden-Powell, or The Dowager Lady Baden-Powell, having outlived her husband, Robert Baden-Powell the founder of Scouting and Girl Guides, by over 35 years.

Early life

Olave was the younger daughter of brewery owner and artist Harold Soames (himself descended paternally from a landed gentry family, and maternally from a self-made man, Joseph Gilstrap Gelthorpe, who had been Mayor of Newark in Nottinghamshire). She was educated by her father, her mother Katharine (nee Hill), and a number of governesses at home. Home repeatedly changed, as her father continually moved house as he travelled. Olave became keen on outdoor sports including tennis, swimming, football, skating and canoeing, and also played the violin.

Adult Life

Marriage and children

In January 1912, Olave met Second Boer War hero and founder of the Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell on an ocean liner (Arcadia) on the way to New York to start one of his Scouting World Tours. She was 23, he 55, and they shared the same birthday. They became engaged in September of the same year, causing a media sensation. To avoid press intrusion, they married in secret on October 30, 1912.

The Scouts and Guides of England each donated a penny to buy the Baden-Powells a wedding gift, a car (note that this is not the Rolls Royce they were presented with in 1929).

The Baden-Powells had three children — one son and two daughters (who took the courtesy titles of Honourable in 1929; the son later succeeding his father in 1941):

  • Arthur Robert Peter, later 2nd Baron Baden-Powell (1913–1962),
  • Hon. Heather Baden-Powell (1915–1986), and
  • Hon. Betty Baden-Powell (1917–2004) who married 1936 Gervase Charles Robert Clay (b. 1912), and had issue 3 sons and 1 daughter.

War work

During 1915 and 1916, with World War I in progress, Olave assisted directly with the war effort in France. Robert had seen the usefulness of the YMCA's recreational huts for the soldiers and persuaded the Mercers' Company to pay for such a hut at Val-de-Lievres, Calais.[1] It was to be staffed by adults connected with Scouting.[1] Olave was one of the team of five men and three women that staffed the hut at the start.[1] She persuaded her mother to look after the children for time she would be away.[1]

Olave left for France on 1915-10-07.[1] Her regular work in the Mercers' hut included serving cocoa and cigarettes and chatting to those who came in.[1] She also recalled in her autobiography playing her violin and singing at the Christmas Concert.[1] Olave also adopted a number of stray animals during her time in Val-de-Lievres.[1]

During this time, Robert had organised the Scouts to sponsor another recreational hut.[1] Olave and two others started this hut at Etaples after Christmas 1915.[1] At the end of January, Olave was ordered home due to sickness, ending her three months in France.[1]

Growing involvement in Scouting

Olave became a County Commissioner in the Girl Guides in 1916 and became Chief Guide for Britain in 1918. Later the same year she was presented with a gold Silver Fish, one of only two ever made. She was elected World Chief Guide in 1930.

In 1932, she was awarded the Dame Grand Cross of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) by King George V. As well as making a major contribution to the development of the Guide / Girl Scout movements, she visited 111 countries during her life attending Jamborees and national Guide and Scout associations. Her father also assisted financially with the purchase of Pax Hill near Bentley, Hampshire as a family home where she lived with her husband from 1918 until 1939.


Olave Baden-Powell was presented a personal standard by the County Commissioners in the UK.[2] It was designed by Mrs Zigomala.[2] Miss Kay-Shuttleworth supervised the making of the standard.[2]

The Standard of Lady Baden-Powell, Chief Guide of the World, is blue (azure) from the hoist to the fly. Nearest the hoist is the gold (or) trefoil; then come two small hemispheres, showing a coloured map of the world, indicating her post as Chief Guide. These are placed high to the left of the main fly, which is divided throughout its length by two silver (argent) waves, amongst which are shown three ships with black hulls and white sails, four dolphins and the Gold Fish of the Chief Guide. Then between two red (gules) motto bands on which are embroidered the Baden-Powell and Girl Guide mottoes in gold letters, there is a section alluding to the outdoor life, showing white tents on a green (vert) field. In the extreme fly the Baden-Powell crests are embroidered.[2]

Death of Robert Baden-Powell

In October 1939, Olave moved to Nyeri, Kenya with her husband, where he died on January 8, 1941.

World War II

In 1942 she braved U-boat attacks to return to a grace and favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace (in which she lived from 1943 to 1976), since her own home, Pax Hill, had been taken over by the Canadian military. Through World War II she toured the United Kingdom. Fortunately she was on a visit when a V2 missile damaged her apartment in 1944. As soon as she could after D-Day, she went to France, toured throughout Europe as the war ended to help revive Guiding and Scouting.

Post World War II

Having suffered a heart attack in 1961, she was finally banned from travelling at the age of 80 in 1970 when she was diagnosed with diabetes from which she eventually died.

In 1968 the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) had given Olave a credit card to defray her travel costs. [3] When she stopped travelling, the BSA asked her to use the card for 'keeping in touch'.[3] This included paying for the over 2000 Christmas cards she sent to those personally known to her.[3]

Olave died on June 19, 1977 at Birtley House, Bramley in Surrey, UK. Her ashes were taken to Kenya to be placed next to her husband's. She was survived by her two daughters, her son having predeceased her.


The Olave Centre for Guides was built in north London in Olave's memory. This has the World Bureau and Pax Lodge in its grounds. Pax Lodge is one of WAGGGS' four World Centres.

Scouts and Guides mark February 22nd as B.-P. Day or Thinking Day, the joint birthdays of Robert and Olave Baden-Powell, to remember and celebrate the work of the Chief Scout and Chief Guide of the World.

The Olave Baden-Powell Bursary Fund was set up in 1979 from voluntary contributions in memory of Olave B-P. Annually awarded bursaries aim to allow girls in Girlguiding UK to further their interests and hobbies and realise their dreams.


1973: Window on My Heart[4]

See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 "Window on My Heart. Chapter X. The War Years.". 2004-04-25. http://pinetreeweb.com/bp-olave-10.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-26. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Kerr, Rose (1976). Story of the Girl Guides 1908-1938. London: Girl Guides Association. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Olave Baden-Powell - Australia 1967". http://www.olavebadenpowell.org/honours/gifts.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-22. 
  4. Orans, Lewis P. (2004-04-25). "Window on My Heart". http://pinetreeweb.com/bp-olave-00.htm. Retrieved 2007-03-22. 

External links