We only had a week away after the wedding—at Mullion Cove in Cornwall—for there were so many Scout functions and rallies already booked ahead for Robin to attend: Nottingham, Macclesfield, Sussex, East Yorkshire. I accompanied him to them all and was proud and thrilled by the wonderful reception accorded him wherever he went. It was the sort of reception given nowadays to footballers and pop idols !
I had known that Robin was an important man but not until I married him did I realise how important he was, how famous, how much a national hero. Moreover, I was immediately transplanted on to a social plane of which I had no previous experience. As I have already mentioned, my parents were wealthy upper-middle-class. After my marriage I found myself mixing with the aristocracy. It was another world altogether, particularly in the class-conscious era before the First World War.
In those days, the Court page of The Times used to carry accounts of weekend house parties and it will illustrate my point if I quote two of them:
The grandeur of these house-parties, however, meant little to me.
Strangely enough, this change in my circumstances seemed to alienate my mother. I know she resented my leaving home and I think she was, in addition, slightly jealous that I was enjoying the sort of life she would have desired for herself. Moreover, I think she felt annoyed that I had made a 'better' match than Auriol. Our relationship deteriorated markedly after my marriage. For the moment, however, I was content just to be with Robin.
I wrote in my diary on November 28th: '... My parents have been good to me but nothing that I could ever have imagined was ever so marvellous as this joy and love of my Darling.'
Our first home was a flat at 35, Rutland Court, only a few yards from Rutland Lodge where I was living in 1910 when Robin saw me walking Doogy in Hyde Park. It was close, but not too close, to Robin's mother; made travelling relatively easy to the Mercers' Hall (of which ancient Livery Company Robin was the Warden) and was, of course, convenient for Scout Headquarters, by now installed in their present address at 25, Buckingham Palace Road. It was convenient, too, for me to attend sittings with Mr. Leon Sprinck, a Russian artist in pastel, who was doing my portrait as a wedding gift from my godmother, Aunt Ger. This picture how hangs at Foxlease, the Guide Training Centre in the New Forest. My first portrait, by Lionel Baird, had been painted in 1904 when I was a child at Luscombe. There have been two others since: one by David Jagger (a companion to his magnificent painting of my husband which hangs in Baden-Powell House). The Jagger portrait was painted in 1930 and depicts me in British Guide uniform with my personal Standard. The other portrait, by Mrs. Wheatley, shows me in the World Guide uniform (blue/grey as opposed to the navy blue of the British uniform). This painting hangs in the Commonwealth Guide Headquarters in London.
I was ecstatically happy—except for one thing : it soon became apparent that Robin was not well. He had always driven himself hard, imposing a strict regimen of rising at 5.00 a.m. or even earlier in order to fit in all the things he wanted and had to do. Even before
he left the Army to devote himself entirely to Scouting, he had been famous for his versatility as artist, writer, actor and soldier. His output of books and paintings was stupendous. Once before, in Africa, he had collapsed through over-work. Now, with the constant demands of the rapidly expanding Scout movement and after a punishing world tour, the poor man was exhausted.
He pulled himself together for our Reception at the Mercers' Hall on December 7th. We had been aware that many people had been disappointed by our secret marriage so we decided to invite all our friends to a late wedding reception. Scouts provided a Guard of Honour and entertained the guests with carols. All our wedding presents were on display—except one, that from the Movement. Every Scout in the country had contributed one penny, bringing in a total sum that was sufficient to buy a 20 h.p. Standard landaulette car. We could hardly bring that into the Mercers' Hall. In any case, it was not quite ready; it was being specially sprayed in Scout colours—very dark green with a fine yellow line running round, and the Scout badge discreetly painted on the panel. There was a silver figure of a Scout on the bonnet. This magnificent gift was 'officially' presented to us on behalf of the Association by the Duke of Connaught on May 17th, 1913 — the thirteenth anniversary of the Relief of Mafeking.
It was a wonderful wedding reception—but Robin had to take to his bed the following day.
I was not the only person to be anxious about his health. At the reception I had been approached by Lady St. Davids, mother of Roland Phillips who was one of Robin's most ardent followers in Scouting.
'What are you going to do at Christmas time with that dear man?' she asked me, and then went on to offer us the use of her house near
Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire. Roch Castle was a formidable-looking but comfortably modernised fortress set in a commanding position above the village, with a big view over the surrounding countryside. The weather was vile but it did not matter—it was our first Christmas together, and Robin could rest and paint. But when we returned to London the doctor declared him still unfit — he must have a complete rest and change. So Robin decided to give me a glimpse of a part of the continent with which he was so closely connected from his 'former' life. He booked our passages to Algiers for January 14th.
There was one thing we had to do, though, before we left England, something we had promised ourselves ever since that letter Robin had written to me from Adelaide in June 19i2—we went to see Peter Pan together.
We left Southampton on the Prinz Eitel Friedrich and had a stormy crossing of the Bay of Biscay. The weather did not matter. Here we were, just a year after our first meeting, on another ship and married.
After a week of exploring the countryside around Algiers, Robin had a surprise for me: we were to have a week's camping expedition in the mountains that edged the Sahara. This would be an entirely new experience for me!
We left Biskra on foot accompanied by two mules and two Arab guides armed to the teeth against attacks by robbers. Rahmoun led the mule carrying the two tents and the camp furniture; Ibrahim's mule carried the rest of the baggage. We had to take water with us as the only streams we should encounter were salt and brackish. It was all delicious fun and such a novelty for me. Sometimes we abandoned the tents and slept out under the stars. I have kept a note of some of our 'menus': breakfast — tea and hard-boiled eggs; lunch — cold chicken and biscuits spread with Nestle's milk; dinner—cold chicken and chocolate and oranges. The diet was varied with fish caught by Robin, if we were lucky enough to encounter a stream. Of course, in those days there were not the 'convenience' foods and gadgets available to campers today so we had to improvise. Robin poked gentle fun at my efforts when addressing a Scout rally at Parkstone on our return:
(I never did master ironing—I once tried to iron a shirt but it went brown and stuck to the iron!)
After our camping trip we went on to Carthage and Tunis, then sailed for Malta where Robin had been Assistant Military Secretary from 1890 to 1893 under the then Governor, Sir Henry Smyth. Now we stayed at the Palace with Governor Sir Leslie Rundle. He was Chief Scout of Malta and invited all the Scouts of the island to tea in the Palace Armoury while we were there. We returned to England by way of Sicily and Italy, arriving back at Tilbury on March 1st. We had been away almost two months and Robin was immeasurably better in health.
We had been looking for a house before we left England. We both loved the country and now a garden was going to be necessary for I was expecting our first baby. We were on the top of a bus going from the Cavalry Club to Hamptons when I told Robin of my hopes. It had to be a boy, and, of course, it would have to be called 'Peter'.
We took a lease on Ewhurst Place in Sussex and moved in on April 13th, 1913. It was a modest red brick house outside Robertsbridge, with seven principal bedrooms and staff quarters. The grounds were lovely, with wide lawns sloping down to the River Rother and a splendid view of Bodiam Castle. I loved to watch the Downs behind the castle; they changed colour continually according to the time of day, mauve one minute, blue the next.
Robin was immediately caught up in his Scout work again and I felt very frustrated that I could not go everywhere with him. Despite the coming baby, however, I had to take lessons in curtseying for I was to be 'presented' at Court on May 7th.
It is one of the few occasions in my life when I can remember what I wore; clothes have never mattered much to me. Most of the time I just don't see clothes, and fine apparel makes me feel awkward. However, for this memorable event—even though it was so impersonal and all over in a moment—I had a gown of white satin embroidered with leaves in silver. Over this I wore Auriol's silver-embroidered wedding-train and I carried a bouquet of white roses.
1913 was a blissful year, the first of many equally so. My dear friend Sie Bower came to stay with us and saw her prophecy come true: I had married my soldier, the first of my three children was on the way and I had 'woken up and become a person'.
It seems incredible now, when money seems to decline in value from week to week, that we could afford such a large establishment. My father had settled some capital on me as a dowry when I married. The income from this, added to Robin's pension, plus anything he might earn from his writings, made us comfortably well off Being Chief Scout carries no salary! We were able, I note from my diary, to start our household at Ewhurst with two maids, Annie and Lizzie. Annie Court had been a housemaid with us both at Luscombe and at Bradfield. When she saw the announcement of my engagement in the paper, she wrote to my mother asking if 'Miss Olave' would need a maid. Mother replied that I should only be keeping a very small staff as I should not be at all wealthy but Annie came nonetheless. At Ewhurst Place she worked hard as 'everything'. One of my I.C.A.A. boys from Parkstone, now a Scout, joined us as 'Boots'. We had a gardener, and a cook who was as hopeless as I was but was later replaced by a treasure. We had to have a cook for, as I have already mentioned, I was hopelessly inexperienced. She used to come in with a slate and say 'We are having mutton today' and that was all I had to do — to agree! In May, Annie introduced her brother, Ernest Court, to be chauffeur and to look after the horse. Later, Annie's sister came as parlourmaid. With the addition in June of a butler and a 'Tweeny' we were, for the present, adequately cared for!
It was inevitable that all the staff should become embroiled in Scouting. On June 21st, the 1st Ewhurst Scout Troop was inaugurated. The opening meeting was on our lawn, using for assembly the Union Jack that flew over Mafeking during the siege. Court and the gardener became the Troop's Assistant Scoutmasters and I became the proud possessor of a warrant as Scoutmaster!
That summer saw the first of many 'Royal' occasions together when we were invited to a State Ball on June 26th in honour of the visit of the President of the French Republic. There were so many 'firsts' in 1913. July gave me my first really important Scout 'occasion', the Imperial Scout Exhibition at Bingley Hall, Birmingham. The pattern had already been established of holding a big Scout function every two years. There had been the Crystal Palace Rally in 1909, the Windsor Rally in 1911. Now the Association were trying out an event in the Midlands. Six thousand Scouts were under canvas for a week and many thousands more, with members of the public, came in daily. Prince Alexander of Teck opened the Exhibition on July 2nd and I was detailed to escort the Prince and Princess round the various displays. I was impressed beyond measure by the wide scope of the exhibits, indicating how much Scout training catered for 'the whole man'. Equally staggering was the terrific interest evinced by the general public. Nothing like Scout training had been offered to young people before.
It was practically my last public appearance that summer except for the Eton v. Harrow match on July 11th, concerning which I noted: 'Jolly . . . Harrow badly beaten but apparently nobody looks at the cricket.'
We had always been a family for coincidences. Our baby son, Peter, ran true to form by arriving on our first wedding anniversary. Robin was thrilled. It appears to have been quite a public event for there were reporters on the doorstep at one o'clock in the morning awaiting the birth! We had over two hundred telegrams of congratulation and the Duke of Connaught graciously wired from Canada offering to be Peter's godfather.
Auriol had a second daughter in the summer of 1913 and Arthur married Hope Parrish in December. I made my peace with Mother, and Robin became Master of the Mercers' Company. One way and another, it was quite a year.
We little guessed, at the beginning of 1914, how the year would end. January started with the usual round of friends down to Ewhurst for the shooting; trips to London for the Mercers or for Scout business; endless proud showing off of Peter to friends and relatives; interviews and photographs for various periodicals; conferences and rallies in which I was playing an increasing part. The shy girl who fled from a tennis party a few years before because there might be people there she did not know, was now regularly addressing public meetings. I was gaining in self-confidence, too :
I had become completely dedicated to my beloved husband's cause and wanted nothing else from life but to be with him. Even baby Peter was frequently left with his nurse as I accompanied Robin all over the country on his tours.
The movement was expanding rapidly, spreading like a flood tide throughout this country and, indeed, the world.
'Saturday, 13 June—Queen Alexandra reviews 10,000 Scouts on the Horse Guards Parade. A grand sight. She was so pleased, pleasant and nice and sent for me to talk to.' There were rallies in Nottingham and Worksop, in Leeds and Chesterfield, in Norwich and Liverpool, in Oxford and Sheffield. Boys, boys, boys. Hundreds of thousands of lively, enthusiastic youngsters, dedicated, eager to be of service.
Was it just chance that set my husband in their midst to lead and inspire them? For if ever there was a time when the youth of this country needed to be alert and prepared, it was the summer of 1914.
Lewis P. Orans, 2004