John S. Wilson

Thirty years before "The Wall" came down in Berlin and the Soviet Empire came to an end, John S. Wilson, Director of the Boy Scouts International Bureau (now the World Bureau of the World Organization) wrote Scouting Around the World. As he reflected on his 40 years of service to Scouting, he told this story of the departure of good friends, the Scouting organizations of several nations, as the result of the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe in the 1930's and early 1940's.

John S. Wilson went out to India in 1908 to serve in the Indian Police. He was to become Senior Deputy Commissioner of Police in Calcutta. His involvement in Scouting began as an Assistant Scoutmaster of the Old Mission Church Troop in Calcutta in 1917. Soon thereafter he was acting as both Scoutmaster and Cubmaster. In 1919, he was appointed District Commissioner. He was active in promoting the admission of Indian Boys to the Scout Association which took place after Baden-Powell's visit to India in 1920.

Wilson journeyed to England to attend Scoutmasters' Training (Wood Badge) at Gilwell in 1921 and returned to India to help run the first Wood Badge Course held in Bengal in 1922. Retiring from the Indian Police in 1922, he returned to England to attend a Cub Wood Badge Course at Gilwell, assisted on a Scout Course, and helped B-P with the writing of Scouting for Boys in India. In 1923, at B-P's request, he became the second Camp Chief at Gilwell Park, serving in this role until 1939.

From 1939 to 1953 he served as Director of the Boy Scouts International Bureau (World Organization of the Scout Movement-WOSM). The following is an excerpt from his story, Scouting Around the World, published by Blandford Press, London, 1959.

Scouting Around the World
Chapter 14
Absent Friends

Scouting a voluntary organization—cannot exist in "totalitarian" countries—former high standards of Scouting in these countries—shorts at the palace—Romania withdraws—the same story in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—Scouting hides its time in Spain—rapid development of Scouting in Poland—between 1910 and 1939—its prohibition—Polish Scouts in exile—Czechoslovakia—"Junak"—a post-war visit—Czech Scouts at the Jamboree de la Paix—Soviet "protection" in 1948—beginnings of Scouting in Hungary—the inter-religious principle—hat trouble—'pusztagrass'—first visit to a Jamboree, 1924—the curtain descends—Hungarian Scouts in exile—'remember and pray'

To say that Scouting is world-wide would be untrue today, it covers all the continents of the world, but not all its countries. In the past forty years there have been many changes in political outlook and in the ideologies imposed or accepted in different countries. To put it shortly, Scout principles are based on the freedom of the individual to make his own choice of action, his own decisions, after—it is hoped—he has become alive to the consequences for himself and others. The Scout is trained to be self-supporting, but not self-sufficient. In what are known collectively as "totalitarian countries" the state is the supreme ruler, and "voluntary organizations" as known in Western countries do not exist. This has affected the Scout Movement in no small measure, and I should be failing in my duty if I did not devote this chapter to the story of our absent Scout friends. By that expression I mean those people and countries that were formerly members of the Boy Scouts Intentional Conference, but are not now counted physically in its membership. I use the word "physically" advisedly. We know that many former Scouts in these countries are still with us in thought and in the hope that they may be able openly to be in our family circle again one day. That, too, has been and remains always our hope.

In the countries no longer on our list of members, Scouting was strong and of a high standard, and only disappeared under orders of the State authority or under the political conditions that prevail. Scouting in Russia was abolished after the Revolution. In Italy, as we have seen, Mussolini abolished the Scout organization as such, but could not kill the Scout spirit. Hitler forbade Scouting in Germany.


I visited Romania in dune 1937 to represent B.-P. at the Youth Day celebrations in Bucharest, and very impressive they were. I had the embarrassing experience of attending a levee at the palace in Scout uniform, shorts and all, and of being kept talking to King Carol in the middle of the ballroom floor surrounded by dignitaries in their levee uniforms and confronted by the King in his flowing white cloak. This was at the time when King Carol founded the "Straja Tarii" (Guardians of the Country) as a united Romanian Youth Movement, founded on the same basic ideas and system as the Boy Scout Movement, which he himself had initiated in the country when he was Crown Prince and only fifteen years old. The Straja Tarii coordinated all the youth movements in the country, boys and girls. Romania withdrew from the International Conference, but acknowledged its debt of gratitude to B.-P. and to Scouting. In March 1939, I signed an agreement on behalf of the International Committee which provided for interchange of visits, and permitted officers of the Straja Tarii to participate in Scout Conferences as observers and to attend courses at Gilwell Park, in the hope that the two might be enabled to work together in a common cause. Subsequent events canceled this agreement, and Romania together with Bulgaria and Yugoslavia were lost to Scouting.

The Baltic States

The fate of Scouting in the Baltic States has been even more tragic. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all lost to Scouting and most of their nationals have "migrated" or been deported. I trust that I am not a stormy petrel, but I was on a Scout mission to Estonia in July I938 and was present at the Latvian National Camp afterwards, meeting a large Lithuanian contingent there. The Scout leaders were enthusiastic and first-class material, but already they were having difficulties to contend with.

In Estonia, the same processes were being followed as in Romania. The "Young Eagles" had been established as a State Youth Movement, embracing the Estonian Boy Scout Movement with whose Chief Commissioner I stayed in Tallin; he later accompanied me in my journeyings. Herbert Michelsen and his wife suffered terribly in the war years, losing their son but preserving their young daughter. Our next meeting was in the D.P. camp in 1948 at Augsburg-HochLeid in Germany, where they were the mainstay of the D.P. Scouts and Guides of all nationalities. The last time I was together with the three of them was in 1955, in Philadelphia, where Herbert is the Warden of the Breyer Scout Training Area. In Scouting, friendships last, whatever happens.

But to return: in the International Committee's report to the Conference held in Edinburgh towards the end of July 1939 I wrote:

I found in Estonia, as I have found elsewhere, that it was difficult to persuade those in authority that Scouting adapted itself to local and national circumstances, and that there was every freedom within it to allow for the development of national characteristics. There seemed to be an impression that the International Committee sought to impose on all Scout Associations registered with the International Bureau a rigid system which it was necessary for them to follow. Nothing can be further from the truth than this particular idea. Under Article VI of the Constitution, it is the duty of the International Committee to secure publicity for and to develop the scout Brotherhood, but it has no power of any kind to dictate to any registered Association how its affairs should be conducted. since, however, the Committee has power to recognize only such Associations as subscribe to the Scout Promise and Law and to the Scout method of training, so it has power to withdraw such recognition if these particulars do not continue to be observed.

Twenty years later that still stands true. The danger of hypernationalism is still apparent, and the position has to be watched. The same report carried the sentence:

In Spain the Scout Movement is being kept alive by former Scouts and Scouters in the hope that at some future date Scouting may again be permitted to be fully active.

That hope has not yet been realized, but the statement continues to be correct. Curiously enough, here is a case somewhat similar to that in Romania and Estonia, where self-protection seemed to call for a State Youth Movement to the detriment and practical exclusion of any voluntary movement.

Another three countries have been lost to Scouting, all of which formerly took a prominent position in the Scout Brotherhood— Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.


Although Poland as a nation did not then exist, the first Scout Troops were formed in the country by Dr A. Malkowski in 1910, and Scouting for Boys was translated into Polish, the Movement flourishing particularly in the Austrian-occupied area. At the end of the First World War a separate and independent Polish State was established under the Treaty of Versailles. Both Scouting and Guiding developed rapidly under a joint national committee. Geographical and national conditions demanded that Scout training should assume more of a pre-military character than was normal, and there was a close connection between Scouting and the Army and Government. I could see the necessity for this, but I confess that I looked on it with some apprehension when I became Hon. Director of the Bureau. However, Poland was well and worthily represented at all international Scout gatherings— Jamborees, Moots, Conferences—from 1924 to 1939, by which year the Polish Boy Scouts numbered 130,000 Cubs, Scouts and Rovers, with a high proportion of those of older years. The Polish contingent to the World Rover Moot in Scotland in July 1939 had hardly got back home when their country was invaded and occupied by Germany and Russia; Scouting was immediately prohibited. Scout Headquarters, under Dr Grazynski, was moved to Paris with the Polish Government, and I had talks with Dr Grazynski there in December 1939 in the blue "black-out'. A few months later a further move had to be made to London. In spite of the ban, within Poland itself Scouting still continued. Scout Patrols and Troops and even some Cub Packs continued to meet—underground, and the training of Patrol Leaders and Scouters proceeded almost normally. At the end of the war "Zwiazek Harcestwa Polskiego" came into the open again. Its independence came under suspicion, and it was necessary for the International Committee to institute searching inquiries as to whether the fundamental principles of Scouting were still maintained. Representatives of the organization were seen in France in 1947, and again in Kandersteg in 1948, but two important points of principle still remained to be clarified. It became evident that the Polish regime were playing a cat and mouse game with Scouting. Technically, Zwiazek Harcestwa Polskiego continues to exist in Poland, but it does not accept all the international Scout principles, and is not, and does not now ask to be, a member of the International Conference.

The Polish Scouts in Exile still have a headquarters in London and are spread over many different countries. Their faith is expressed in the words of the Polish Scout Song: "All that we are to Poland we give." One has every sympathy with them.


The story of Scouting in Czechoslovakia is somewhat similar. Scouting had taken a hold on the country as early as 1909, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The First World War brought independence to Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia. Scouts from there were present at Olympia in 1920. Scouting and Guiding were merged in one association, but leadership and training were kept distinct. The threat of Hitlerism induced a tightening up of all voluntary organizations. I reported in 1939:

The Scout Movement in Bohemia still continues to exist as a voluntary and independent Association under the new-old name of "Junak." My information is that the reorganization of extra-mural education will probably be divided between Junak and Sokol (the Gymnastic Association) with a Central Association composed of these two independent sections, each with its own statutes, property, uniform and training courses. In the meanwhile the activities of Junak go on normally, and preparations are in hand for the camping season.

Less than two months after this report was given, the country was invaded and both Junak and Sokol banned. Dr Velen Fanderlik, later President of the Scout and Guide Association, escaped to Great Britain with many other Scouts.

When the war ended, freedom was restored and Junak came into being again. I visited Czechoslovakia for two weeks in April-May 1947. My first, and proper, duty was to lay a wreath on the tomb of Dr Anton B. Svosjik, the Founder of Scouting in the country and for many years a member of the International Committee. Accompanied mostly by Velen Fanderlik, whose wife Slavka was most solicitous of my needs when in Prague, I covered some of Bohemia, Moravia, Silesia and Slovakia, being received everywhere with the greatest cordiality, as far as the Eastern industrial town of Kladno. I quote from my diary as printed in Jamboree:

Subsequently I visited the bleak, desolate site of the former village of Lidice. This was—I freely confess—a shattering experience. I was received by three of the women who had lost all the male members of their families, had had their children dispersed throughout Germany, and had themselves spent four years in concentration camps. One—a miner's widow—read me a speech of welcome which ended with the heartfelt plea that Scouting would continue to teach love and not hate, friendship and not enmity. My wreath was laid on the communal grave of 173 men and two boys, shot without trial, and —as is now known—without reason of any kind.

Some Boy Scouts from Czechoslovakia were present at the Jamboree de la Paix in France in August 1947, and attracted great attention with their Scout qualities and their characteristic camp residences called "podsada." The walls are made of wooden boards (scantlings) reinforced with reeds, straw or grass. On top of these a square pyramid-shaped tent is pitched. Velen Fanderlik was in charge of the contingent, and at the subsequent International Conference was elected a member of the International Committee for four years.

Early in 1948 a volte-face took place, and Czechoslovakia fell under Soviet "protection."

I next met Velen and Slavka Fanderlik in November 1948 at a Scout Rally from the Valka and Fischbach D.P. camps in Germany. They had only recently crossed the mountains, rucksack on back, refugees from their own country for the second time in ten years. It was a joyful and yet sad occasion. After a time spent in London, they are now happily settled in Trail, British Columbia, and I had a very short but very happy reunion with them in 1955 after the Niagara Jamboree and International Conference.


I devote even more attention to the story of Scouting in Hungary, from its early beginnings to its present tragic end.

If somewhere there still lives the Boy Scout who was instrumental in having Scouting for Boys taken to the United States of America, so perhaps there still lives a Scouter who, unwittingly, helped to introduce Scouting to Hungary. He was the Patrol Leader of a small party of British Scouts from the—then—10th Westminster Troop (Duke of Bedford's Own), who went to Sweden to join with their Swedish brother Scouts in giving assistance as messengers and in many other ways at the Olympic Games of 1912. He presented a copy of Scouting for Boys to a young Hungarian student, Fritz de Molnar, who expressed curiosity about these British boys and their strange uniforms. Returning to Budapest, the boy communicated his enthusiasm about this Scout game to some of his friends at the Piarist College. They induced a young teacher, the Rev. Alexander Sik, to become their Scoutmaster. Some years later Professor Sik wrote the Hungarian Handbook for Scouters, which was translated into several other languages, and became the President of "Magyar Cserkeszszovetseg," the Hungarian Boy Scouts Association.

But even before this, Dr Aladar de Silazzy of the Budapest Y.M.C.A. had visited England and read Scouting for Boys. With the support of the National Secretary of the Hungarian Y.M.C.A., the Rev. Bela Megyercsy, training classes for prospective Scouts were started at the Y.M.C.A. and a Troop formed, which called itself the "Pathfinders'. As a grateful acknowledgment, this Troop later became No. 1—Budapest, and the Troop at the Piarist College, No. 2. This is one of the many instances in different countries, including Great Britain, of the help and encouragement that the Y.M.C.A. gave to Scouting in the early days.

The inter-religious principle of Scouting was illustrated in a remarkable manner in an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Hungary. The two sons of the Protestant Regent, Admiral Horthy, were Scouts in a Catholic Troop. The Hungarian Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference set an example in permitting priests to wear shorts while engaged in their voluntary Scout work. The original request was put forward by the Hungarian Deputy Camp Chief—a Lutheran, and supported by the Bishop of Szekesfehervar —a Scoutmaster. Incidentally, the D.C.C. (Fritz de Molnar, again) held a Commissioner's warrant for fifteen years before anyone at Scout Headquarters asked to what faith he belonged.

The right spirit prevailed in Magyar Cserkeszszovetseg, but for many years it was a struggle against misunderstandings and graver difficulties. There came the war and its aftermath, the reduction of Hungarian territory by two-thirds, the Communist attack in 1919, and, as a touch of bathos, the Scout hat. This conveyed nothing in the way of appeal or tradition to the boys or the public, except as a symbol of the Boer war in South Africa. Public indifference was completely overcome in 1924 by two highly dissimilar and unrelated facts.

A Scout Troop was returning on a summer evening from camp in the meadows by the Danube. The boys had picked bunches of "pusztagrass'—the orphan maidenhair prolific in that area. They stuck the bunches in their hat-bands, just as Hungarian peasant boys had stuck bunches of it in their hats for many centuries when going to church, a dance or a celebration. The rays of the setting sun shining through the waving bunches of pusztagrass transformed these strange Scout hats into a part of the Hungarian landscape. The hats were no longer foreign: they became a national symbol. Henceforth all Hungarian Scouts carried pusztagrass in their hats on festive occasions and whenever abroad. It became the well-known hallmark of Hungarian Scouting.

The other circumstance was the Copenhagen Jamboree in 1924, the first occasion on which Hungarian Scouts had met with Scouts of other countries. A representative Troop was entered for the International Scout Championship, but some of the items were utterly strange to them. What were "Yells'? As for canoeing, no Hungarian Scout had ever sat in a canoe. A letter was sent to Denmark to find out what a "Yell" was! As already recorded,

Hungary came third in the competition, which said much for the spirit of the boys and for their training. The Hungarian Press picked up the story and made it front page news. The Hungarian people awoke to the fact that the Scout Movement was something of world importance, and Budapest gave the returning Troop a tremendous welcome. With this impetus, it was possible for Hungary to be the host of the Fourth World Jamboree at Godollo in 1933. By then canoes had come into their own on the Danube. There was a Sea Scout Regatta which I visited in attendance on B.-P. Drawn up on the bank were a row of canoes, bottoms up, waiting to be launched. On that owned by a small Hungarian Sea Scout was painted his name and address, and the pregnant words: "Tell Mother."

There was another proof of B.-P.'s contention that in Scouting acorns grow into oaks. Hungarian Sea Scouts were present at a Sea Scout Rally held in the summer of 1927 at Helsingİ in Denmark. On a sailing cruise one of them, Geza Teleki, was inclined to ignore a reprimand from his Scoutmaster for failure to carry out a small but necessary exercise of seamanship. His Scoutmaster (yet again, Fritz de Molnar!) tried to drive home his point by threatening—not in the best Scout fashion, perhaps—to tell the boy's father on their return to Budapest.

'Oh," said young Geza airily, "Dad's not interested in Scouting."

This roused the Scoutmaster's mettle, and he determined to take up the subject of Scouting with the boy's father. He did, and "Dad" became interested, and thus Scouting in Hungary was fortunate to obtain the wholehearted support and encouragement of one of the country's most noted citizens. Count Paul Teleki, Professor of Budapest University, a geographer of international eminence, several times Prime Minister, became Chief Scout, Hon. Chief Scout, a member of the International Committee for many years, Camp Chief of the Godollo Jamboree and a faithful friend and disciple of B.-P. His influence and inspiration were a major factor in the success of Scouting in Hungary, and contributed to its success in other countries as well. His tragic death in March 1941 set an example of loyalty to his country and of the first Scout Law: "A Scout's honor is to be trusted." In him, World Scouting lost one of its well-beloved members and best-informed upholders. I have a letter from him, written at the beginning of December 1938, when he was Minister of Education. He wrote:

Besides my work as Minister, my participation in the negotiations with the Czechs and in the delimitation of the frontier, the details of which are still under discussion, I had to take part in the political discussions and actions of these last weeks during which we have two crises of the Cabinet, but which after all remained in its place. But you know that I was with my heart with you. (This was in connection with Hubert Martin's funeral.) You surely will understand how much I would like to see you and the others now, but for the moment I am bound with the multiplicity of chains to this place, and though I am invited by friends to Oxford to lecture there and to have talks with important people, I do not know how and when this can happen. But after all, ministerial chairs are happily rocking-chairs, and may easily turn over, and so I feel some hope that I may nevertheless be able to come in the course of this winter.

As events proved, we never saw Paul Teleki in Great Britain again. When the Edinburgh Conference took place, he was Prime Minister of Hungary, and felt compelled to resign his membership of the International Committee, to his infinite regret.

A few more highlights of Hungarian Scouting may be mentioned. Gilwell training was introduced in 1924. The first National Jamboree was held in 1926. The Girl Guides" Pax-Ting (Peace Parliament) was held at Godollo in July 1939. A Sea Scout Headquarters was built on the Danube. Air Scouts were introduced to gliders, and set up world records. Hungary was represented at the International ski-in" events at Kandersteg, at all World Jamborees, Moots and Conferences, 8S2 being present at Arrowe Park.

By 1937 Scouting had become the leading Youth Movement in the country, and a considerable number of Old Scouts were also registered. The two allied movements of Scouting and Guiding attracted and retained as many boys and girls as they could possibly absorb. Hungarian Scout literature was prolific. Hungarian Scout artists were famous throughout the Scout world. Then the shadows began to fall. The activities that Paul Teleki had mentioned to me were but a sign of what was to come. Finally, when Nazi domination was complete after Teleki had gone, Scouting was banned.

It was allowed again in 1945, but not as a free and independent movement. As in Poland, special inquiries had to be held by the International Committee. "Magyar Cserkeszfiuk Ssovetsege', as the organization was now named, was given the benefit of the doubt, and its recognition by the International Conference recommended. A contingent of 200 was present at the Jamboree de la Paix, wearing the familiar pusztagrass in their hats. But it was too apparent that all its members, and particularly the leader, were under surveillance. Gestures were made on behalf of "Peace', including the presentation of a Silver Staff to be awarded by the International Committee to the country which had contributed most to peace and goodwill through Scouting in the preceding two years. The staff has remained in France ever since. International competitions in Scouting, particularly of this invidious nature, are not approved. Eventually, in April 1948, the Hungarian Boy Scouts Association, so-called, canceled its membership of the International Conference on the plea that "the policy of the Conference threatened the independence and liberty of their country." One knows that the Scouters and Scouts had nothing to do with this demarche.

The seed continued to lie dormant, and on the third day of the Hungarian Revolution in October 1956, the government of the day passed a decree re-establishing the Scout Movement and restoring all its property previously confiscated. A hurriedly assembled but supremely cheerful "Scouters" meeting resolved to resume Scout activities immediately. Within a very few days these activities were again stopped; within a very few weeks those who had displayed their connection with Scouting were picked up for "questioning." The curtain then descended.

Eighty Hungarian Scouts in exile from their country were present at the Centenary-Jubilee Jamboree in 1957. Their present places of residence ranged from Austria to Australia. Amongst them was that same Dr Fritz M. de Molnar, acting as my attaché. He is now Chairman of the Melbourne District Scout Executive Committee.

It is difficult to write without extreme sadness of these "absent friends." Many were my personal friends for years. I had watched many grow up from boyhood. I had stayed in their homes. I confess to a feeling of helplessness. I ask myself whether the Scout Brotherhood could have done more to help them. Yet, commonsense tells me that more active help was impossible and probably dangerous—to them. Even letters from a Scout friend outside their own country have signaled persecution, imprisonment, and on occasions a still worse fate. When it was possible and safe for them, some contacts were established; general messages of encouragement and friendship were broadcast.

One can but remember and pray.

In his book, The Left Handshake, Hilary St. George Saunders recounts the history of the Boy Scout Movement during the Second World War 1939-1945. It is a story of bravery and devotion to duty. Ralf Bell, a member of the BdP (Bund der Pfadfinderinnen und Pfadfinder) in Germany, shares the early chapters on the World Wide Web. They are worthwhile reading for every Scout who wishes to better understand the challenge of the Scout Oath and Law.
Founders documents the original countries forming the World Organization of the Scout Movement (the World Bureau) in 1922.
Absent Friends documents the countries in which Scouting existed but was disbanded.
Returning Brothers provides data on countries returning to Scouting and countries new to the worldwide family of Scouting.
A Chronicle of Scouting in Eastern Europe presents information on the growth of Scouting in 19 countries formerly behind the "Iron Curtain," including: Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia.
Cousins: Scouting Abroad and In Exile. The Communists and the Nazis were quick to supress Scouting when they came to power. Scouting and its traditions were maintained by emigres and refugees of several Eastern Bloc
countries. Though unaffiliated with the World Organization of the Scout Movement, many maintain ties and provide support to the re-emerging Scouting movements in the countries of their birth.

The Return of Scouting to Eastern Europe

  Scouting in Romania
    The Baltic States
  Scouting in Latvia
  Scouting in Lithuania
  Scouting in Estonia
  Scouting in Poland
  ZHP Abroad
  Scouting in the Czech Republic
  Scouting in Slovakia
  Scouting in Hungary
  Hungarian Scout Association in Exteris

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