When Gilwell Park was purchased for the Scout Movement in 1919 and formal Leader Training introduced, Baden-Powell felt that 'Scout Officers' (as they were then called) who completed a training course, should receive some form of recognition.
Originally he envisaged that those who passed through Gilwell should wear an ornamental tassel on their Scout hats but instead the alternative of two small beads attached to lacing on the hat or to a coat button-hole was instituted and designated the Wood Badge. Very soon the wearing of beads on the hat was discontinued and instead they were strung on a leather thong or bootlace around the neck, a tradition that continues to this day.
The first Wood Badges were made from beads taken from a necklace that had belonged to a Zulu chief named Dinizulu, which B-P had found during his time in the Zululand in 1888. On state occasions, Dinizulu would wear a necklace 12 feet long, containing, approximately 1,000 beads made from South African Acacia yellow wood. This wood has a soft central pith, which makes it easy for a rawhide lace to be threaded through from end to end and this is how the 1,000 beads were arranged. The beads themselves vary in size from tiny emblems to others 4 inches in length. The necklace was considered sacred, being the badge conferred on royalty and outstanding warriors.
When B-P was looking for some token to award to people who went through the Gilwell training course he remembered the Dinizulu necklace and the leather thong given to him by an elderly African at Mafeking. He took two of the smaller beads, drilled them through the centre, threaded them onto the thong and called it the Wood Badge.
The first sets of beads issued were all from the original necklace but the supply soon ran short. So one exercise on the early courses was to be given one original Acacia bead and be told to carve the other from hornbeam or beech. Eventually beech wood beads became the norm and for many years were made by Gilwell staff in their spare time. Again in the early days Wood Badge participants received one bead on taking the practical course at Gilwell and received a second bead on completing the theoretical part (answers to questions) and a certain length of inservice training.
3 and 4 Bead Necklaces
Certain variations soon came about. Two bead necklaces were wom by Scouters, three beads by Assistant Leader Trainers (formerly called Assistant Camp Chiefs) and four by Leader Trainers (formerly called Deputy Camp Chiefs). With a revision of the pattern of Trainer Training in recent years the practice of awarding three and four bead necklaces has ceased.
5 Bead Necklaces
When foreign countries established Wood Badge training after the pattern set by Gilwell, the person in charge of originating the course was designated a Gilwell Deputy Camp Chief, representing Gilwell Park in his own country. According to a tradition supposedly established by Baden-Powell, that person could wear fivebeads. Most of these fifth beads were presented in the 1920s and 1930s but what happened to them and who wore them is not known.
6 Bead Necklaces
Baden-Powell himself wore six beads. But B-P did also award a set of six beads to Sir Percy Everett. Sir Percy had been a friend of B-P since the original camp on Brownsea Island in 1907 and he became the Commissioner for Training and eventually the Deputy Chief Scout. B-P wished to acknowledge the tremendous debt that he owed to Sir Percy and so presented him with a six bead necklace.
This is the letter Sir Percy wrote to go with the 6 beads
In 1949 Sir Percy presented his six bead necklace back to Gilwell to be worn as the badge of office of the Camp Chief, i.e. the person on the Gilwell staff responsible for Leader Training. John Thurman, then the Camp Chief, wore the necklace until his retirement in 1969 when the necklace passed to J Huskins, the Director of Leader Training and then to Brian Dodgson. Following his retirement in 1983 and a re-organisation of staff titles and responsibilities, the six bead necklace was worn by Derek Twine, then the Executive Commissioner (Programme and Training). Today after further changes in titles it is worn by Stephen Peck, Director of Programme and Development.
The Previous Camp Chiefs of Gilwell
|1919 - 1923||Captain F Gidney|
|1923 - 1943||Mr J S Wilson|
|1943 - 1969||Mr R F Thurman (received the current 6 beads in 1949)|
|1969 - 1974||Mr J Huskins|
|1975 - 1983||Mr B Dodgson|
|1983 - 1985||Interregnum|
|1985 - 1996||Mr D Twine|
|1997 - Present||Mr S Peck|
The 6 beads worn today by Stephen Peck
To read more about the Dinizulu necklace and the Zulu Chief download more information here