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The Fleur-de-lis and the Swastika

Over the years I have heard a lot conjecture on the origins of the World Scout Badge. In its early years the Scout Movement also used the emblem referred to as a "Swastika". Without any doubt, the true symbolism of these two badges passes most people by. I have been fortunate enough to find sources that seem to be definitive on the origins of this, the most widespread non-religious badge in the world, and to find out the truth concerning that mystical emblem, the swastika

The Fleur-de-lis

In 1924, B-P, by then Lord Baden-Powell, wrote a little-known article, which I think, may have originated in The Scout magazine - my copy was printed in the Australian Scout in 1992, and they credited as their source the American Scout Museum Magazine. As it seems to answer so many questions, and the source is impeccable, below are quoted the relevant sections of the article.

"Years ago ... certain critics accused the Movement of being a military one. ... they said that the Scout Movement was designed to teach boys to be soldiers and they quoted as proof that the crest of the Movement was, as they described it, "a spearhead, the emblem of bloodshed".

B-P was asked what he had to say about it and he wrote.

"The crest is a lily, the emblem of peace and purity. The history of the fleur-de-lis ... as a badge goes back many hundreds, if not thousands or years. In ancient India it was used as symbol meaning life and resurrection, while in Egypt it was the attribute of the god Horus, about 2000 years before Christ."

He went on to say that, some years before, when he was an adjutant in his regiment.

Army Scout
An Army Scout on horseback shown wearing the badge above the NCO's 'stripe'
"I found that the young men that joined the army as recruits were little better than half-educated boys. ... A few years later ... I was in command of a squadron of cavalry in Ireland, and I was keen to teach my men to become practical scouts in addition to their ordinary duty of fighting in the ranks."
"I made them learn to find their way over strange country by map reading, to make maps and to write reports of what they had seen, and to do the same, each man for himself by night as well as day; to swim rivers with their horses, to cook their grub, to follow tracks, and to keep hidden while observing the enemy, and so on. ... I thought that some reward was due them, and so I got leave from the War Office to give each man that qualified as a scout a distinguishing badge to wear. ... I hit on the fleur-de-lis, or north point of the compass since, like the compass, these scouts could show the right direction for going over strange country."
"When the Boy Scouts started a few years later I used the same badge for them, for just as soldier scouts, through developing a sense of duty and manliness, were able to be valuable helpers to the main body of the army, so the Boy Scouts could give equally valuable service to their countrymen.
Early Scout Badge
Early example of the fleur-de-lis on a felt First-Class badge. (Can anyone attribute a date?)
"The actual meaning to be read from the fleur-de-lis is that it points in the right direction (and upward) turning neither to the left nor the right, since these can lead backwards again.
"The stars on the two side arms may also be read to mean that the way is blocked and wrong, though they actually stand for the two eyes of the Wolf Cub having been opened before he became a scout, when he gained his first class badge of two stars.
"Furthermore, the three points of the fleur-de-lis remind the Scout of the three points of the Scout's Promise."
Robert Baden-Powell.

Shown below, from the John Ineson Collection, is an example of the Army Scout badge shown in the picture above.

Army Scout Badge

The brass badge was devised by Baden-Powell in 1897 when he was serving in India with the 5th Dragoon Guards and awarded to Army Scouts he had trained. It was adopted throughout the British Army in 1905 and continued in use until the end of the Great War in 1918. The badge was issued in two sizes, the one pictured is the larger and is often referred to as the First Class badge, a smaller being the Second Class badge. Each came in two versions, with or without a bar under the arrow. The version photographed has the bar. I have an unatributed text that states that the bar signified that the holder held the rank of corporal.

Well there we are, a lot of myths debunked I think, and from the horse's mouth so to speak. I am tempted however to add a thought that B-P may have deliberately overlooked. He was a great leader but no businessman. In choosing the word 'scout' he used a word freely available in the English Language, and the 'fleur', as B-P explained, was an ancient symbol, so neither could be copyrighted. It was only the two stars with a total of ten points - one for each of the then Scout Laws that could be copyrighted, and that is still the case today. It is very fashionable these days for the 'fleur' (without the stars) to appear on wall-paper, fabric etc.

Presentation Book

Where then does the term 'arrowhead' that is often applied to the Scouting fleur-de-lis come from? Piet J Kroonberg in an article he wrote in 1994 Scouting Rewards - With Gratitude seems to provide an explanation. Piet does not recognise the fleur-de-lis as the origin of the World Scout Badge. The fleur-de-lis it would appear "was and still is the emblem of French Royalists - supporters of the house of Bourbon." In France then, the fleur-de-lis is a badge with political significance. Wearers would be assumed to be in support of restoring the monarchy and therefore bringing down the Republic. The French Scout organisation was, therefore, always at pains to call the symbol the 'arrowhead' - though interestingly the two five-pointed stars which would really differentiate the Scouting Fleur from the heraldic device are missing on some French Scout badges I have seen - and the two outer leaves of their version often seem far more plant-like than the symbolic fleur-de-lis used by B-P.

A book, the spine of which is shown on the right, was presented to Baden-Powell at the 'Coming of Age' jamboree at Arrowe Park, Birkenhead in 1929 by the French Scout contingent. Whilst the contents are in French, the unique binding was specially done for Baden-Powell by Speakman Bookbinders of Liverpool. Interestingly, it shows the lily-shaped fleur-de-lis which was the emblem of French Scouting, together with the cockerel, the symbol of France.

The fleur-de-lis is inseparable from the history of Scouting. At the first experimental camp on Brownsea Island in 1907, B-P made and presented each of the participants with their own scout badge made from copper sheet. Sad to say, it seems certain that some of the lads, seeing no further use for their badges as they returned from the island and back to their school or Boys' Brigade unit, threw the badges over the side of the boat. (Source Paul Moynihan - Archivist, UK Scout Association)

The Swastika

From What Scouts Can Do - More Yarns - Baden-Powell, 1921; the full text of which can be found on the excellent Pine Tree Web) Site.

Stanley Bacon card
" ... as you know from the account of the Swastika Thanks Badge which I have given to you in Scouting for Boys, the symbol was used in almost every part of the world in ancient days and therefore has various meanings given to it.
"Anyway, what ever the origin was, the Swastika now stands for the badge of fellowship among Scouts all over the world, and when anyone has done a kindness to a Scout it is their privilege to present him or her with this token of their gratitude, which makes him a sort of member of the Brotherhood, and entitles him to the help of any other Scout at any time and at any place.
"I want specially to remind Scouts to keep their eyes open and never fail to spot anyone wearing this badge. It is their duty then to go up to such a person, make the scout sign, and ask if they can be of service to the wearer."
Robert Baden-Powell.

The recipients of Thanks Badges in the twenties were informed of the significance of the badge and the duty of scouts to its holders, explained by a little card which was presented along with the badge.

This card, along with its badge, was presented to Stanley V Bacon in 1923. Stanley Bacon was a gold-medal winner in the 1908 London Olympic Games for freestyle middleweight wrestling. His contribution to Scouting was, at the time of writing this article in early 2001, unknown to me.

Then, in late 2003, a correspondent to Milestones, Chris Bate, told me of his discovery in an American journal promoting physical culture - Iron Game History. In the January 1993 issue, a letter was published from another British wrestling Olympian, Stan Bissell, who wrote that he started his wrestling career in about 1914/15, when he joined the Boy Scouts and his tutor was none other than Stanley Bacon. Unfortunately, the letter went into no further detail, but it seems to suggest that either Stanley Bacon was in the Boy Scouts in some official capacity, or that he provided coaching in wrestling as an instructor, perhaps for the 'Master at Arms' badge, or the Senior Scouts' 'Venturer' badge.

Some people think the swastika to be a sun symbol, symbolising the sun's annual or daily passage around he earth. Yes, I know scientifically that it is the earth that travels round the sun, and not the other way about but I am talking of very ancient beliefs. The four arms have been likened to the four winds, the device is generally accepted to be an early symbol of fertility and productivity which, prior to the emergence of the National Socialist Party in Germany, had become a world-wide symbol of good-luck.

Shoe Medal
US Excelsior Shoe Company Scout Good Luck Medallion. The other side shows a Boy Scout mounted on horseback
Swastika Postcard
What could be more innocent? Pre-war Postcard
Coca Cola Badge
Coca Cola advertising

Kipling Bookspine

The word "swastika" is not, as many people suppose, of German origin. The name comes from the Sanskrit and is derived from Svasti meaning well-being and prosperity. In India there is a distinction made between Swastikas that seem to rotate forward and those that seem to rotate backwards. The left-hand swastika being associated with Kali and magical practice. In Europe the design was sometimes called the Hooked Cross or, from Middle English, 'Fylfot'.

The first Scouting use of the swastika that I can find was on the first Thanks Badge introduced in 1911 and it was later also used on the Medal of Merit. Of course at that time it was not in the least controversial. Rudyard Kipling, a great friend of Baden-Powell, often used the Fylfot as a motif on the front of his books as, he said, a good luck sign to the reader.

2nd-type Thanks Badge
2nd-style Thanks Badge, in 10c gold, issued between 1911 and 1923
Thanks Badge
1910 thanks badge

When B-P redesigned the Medal of Merit in 1922 he superimposed the Scout emblem on the Swastika as good luck to the person receiving the medal.

During 1934 many letters of protest were sent to Headquarters magazine requesting a change of design because of the use of the swastika by National Socialist party in Germany. The Czech movement particularly could not abide the old design, and it was at this point that several member countries of World Wide Association decided to switch to their own national designs.

In Great Britain and the Colonies a new Medal of Merit was issued in 1935. The 1922 Fylfot design could be returned and exchanged for a new design, or the holder could buy the new medal and keep the old original. This is why it is possible to find pairs of medals of different designs with the same name and date.

The German National Socialist party adopted the swastika as early as 1920 but it became the national flag of Germany on 5th September 1935. They used a black, forward-facing Swastika on a white, circular ground as a symbol of the "Vocation to fight for the Victory of the Aryan race". There seems to me to be one important difference between the Scouting symbol and the Nazi emblem that ought to be sufficient for them never to be confused. The Nazi symbol has 'legs' that are set on diagonals i.e.'forward facing', whereas the Scout symbol had its legs on a vertical/horizontal axis. This difference was highlighted by the Nazis themselves when they called their symbol "The forward facing wheel of prosperity."

Book Spine
Spine of early Scout Book. (Note that the swastika is the 'wrong' way round)
B-P Card
Card sent by the Baden-Powells

There are many who think it a tragedy that one of the oldest and most widespread good-luck symbols in the world has been so subverted that it can no longer be used. Of more immediate concern is the fact that I seen auctions on eBay for Scouting items incorporating a description where the vendor, presumably in ignorance, has made an association between Nazism and Scouting!

The time spent producing these pages will have been will have been worthwhile if they can help dispel any unhelpful associations in Scouting's proud tradition and give present day Scouts a better idea of their Scouting Heritage.

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