The Beginning of Wood Badge

Wood Badge and Gilwell Park

Baden-Powell took the first steps in the training of Scouters by organizing a series of lectures for Scouters in 1911. He made great strides by devising and instituting Wood Badge training in 1919. Wood Badge recipients now number more than 100,000 throughout the world.

The object of the Wood Badge course is to demonstrate as practically as possible the aims and methods of Scouting. Upon successful completion of the course, the participant receives a parchment certificate and the Wood Badge?two wooden beads worn on a leather thong around the neck. These beads replicate the beads found by Baden-Powell during a campaign in Africa in 1888. They belonged to Dinizulu, an African chieftain. In searching for a suitable recognition for those who completed the first course in 1919, Baden-Powell remembered the beads and decided to present a bead to each participant. At that time, the course was called "Wood Badge."

A Permanent Home

In 1919, W. F. de Bois Maclaren, a district commissioner in Scotland, purchased Gilwell Park and presented it to The Scout Association of Britain. He wanted "to provide a training ground for the officers of the Scouting movement." Consequently, Gilwell Park became the permanent home of Wood Badge training in England and annually welcomes Scouters from around the world. The ax and log symbol associated with Wood Badge is actually the totem of Gilwell Park. Recently, The Scout Association has announced that it would relocate its headquarters from London to Gilwell Park. In 1929, at the Third World Jamboree at Birkenhead, England, Sir Baden-Powell was made a baron by his king, and became Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell.

The Wood Badge may be worn only with an official field uniform of the BSA. The Scouter to whom it has been awarded may also wear the tan neckerchief with its patch of Maclaren tartan at the back. The Wood Badge neckerchief may only be worn with the accompanying leather neckerchief slide or woggle.

A New Beginning

As the Boy Scout program matured in the USA, it became apparent that Wood Badge could provide valuable advanced training. To familiarize the United States with Wood Badge, John Skinner Wilson, Gilwell Park Camp Chief, came from England to provide a Rover Scout Wood Badge Course for BSA at New Jerseys Mortimer L. Schiff Scout Reservation.

Bill Hillcourt was a member of the Burnham Patrol on that WB Course, May 12-20, 1936. Four days later, May 24 to June 3, 1936, Bill was the Staff Troop Leader and "Dogs Body" (Senior Patrol Leader) for a second course. It qualified Bill to receive his WB Beads in 1939, and to become the national Deputy Camp Chief of the United States.

After World War II and a BSA training hiatus, Wood Badge was re-awakened to become a permanent part of the American Scouting scene.

Early in 1948, the new Scout Executive who had replaced Dr. James E. West, appointed four national Staffers to get Wood Badge underway as a national training standard. Bill Hillcourt was one of the four, BSAs first Deputy Camp Chief and by then, also the national Director of Scoutcraft.

These four national Professional Staffers decided from the start that two BSA Wood Badge courses would be run in 1948:

—  the first at NJ's Schiff Scout Reservation with Scouters mostly from the Northeast, as a proving ground for this BSA Wood Badge training  (Course #1, July 21 - August 8, 1948)

—  the second at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, would be fine-tuned to become the standard of Wood Badge for the BSA (Course #2, October 2- 10, 1948)

William "Green Bar Bill" Hillcourt was the Scoutmaster for both.

The Philmont course was held Cimarroncito. Thirty-five (35) men mostly from the Western parts of the U.S., assembled at Philmonts "Big House" at noon on October 2, 1948, to launch BSAs Wood Badge.

The course started tenuously with Professional Scouters pitted against Volunteer Scouters. SM Bill Hillcourt regrouped his Staff and broke an impasse. Patrol spirit soared and Participants overcame the obstacles of high altitude, physical and mental fatigue, slow and difficult supply deliveries, poor communications with the Philmont Ranch, and bad weather with rain, sleet, snow, and cold

Philmonts Wood Badge #2 Course followed that of WB #1:
It was unquestionably a mountain-top experience. Tired Scouters returned home with strong, enthusiastic feelings; the future of Wood Badge in BSA was assured.