Blog| The world’s toughest badges

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Think Scouting’s for wimps? Think again...

A commemorative edition of the classic book, Scout Tests and How to Pass Them, chronicles and celebrates Scouting’s first collection of challenging badges, proving that Scouts had just as much hunger for adventure one hundred years ago as they do today.

We’ve picked five of the toughest badges known to Scouts in 1914 and pose the question: Do you think you’ve got what it takes to be a Scout – 1914-style?

5. Horseman Badge

Basic requirements:

‘A Scout must: In the case of light horses, know how to ride at all paces; jump an ordinary fence on horseback; how to saddle, bridle and harness a horse correctly. In the case of heavy draught horse or vanners, know how to harness them in a single and double harness or cart, van and wagon, and in chains.’

A horse isn’t much use to today’s modern urbanite and we’re betting that most of us wouldn’t even be able to mount a horse, let alone bridle one. But during the early 20th century, asking a Scout to jump an ordinary fence on horseback was a perfectly reasonable badge requirement.

All general horseman terms needed to be learnt to obtain the Horseman Badge, as well as an expertise in driving, mounting/dismounting and even watering a horse, though you might be pushed finding a public watering trough next to your local Sainsbury’s these days.

Difficulty rating: 3 out of 5 neckers

4. Coast Watchman Badge

Basic requirements:

‘A Scout must know every rock and shoal within the five-fathom line on a four-mile stretch of coast...the rise and fall of tides (both spring and neap)...danger spots to all bathers and visitors...beacons, storm signals, coastguard stations, steam tugs, lifeboats and rocket apparatus and mercantile code of signals.’

This demanding badge from the original Scout Tests transcript asked that the Scout spend an inordinate amount of time on the coast, overloading their brains with enough trivia to put Coast presenter, Neil Oliver to shame.

Tide times, storm signals and 26 flag signals (including the signal for ‘I have a clean bill of health but am liable to quarantine’) all needed to be committed to memory if a Scout wanted to proudly wear the Coast Watchman Badge on their sleeve.

Difficulty rating: 3 out of 5 neckers

3. Woodman Badge

Basic requirements:

‘A Scout must fell a tree with a felling axe, properly; know how to use a saw for felling big trees; know the different species of trees by their appearance and their respective uses as timber; know the trade names and dimensions of planks, scantlings and how to measure timber; know the general principals of levering, hauling, stacking timber and bark.’

The general trade names and dimensions of planks and scantlings anyone? How’s your levering bark knowledge? In 1913, you wouldn’t have stood a chance at earning your Woodman Badge without this basic knowledge or an understanding of the wood principles.

Deciphering between a Birch, Oak or Chestnut tree may sound like a walk in the park, but felling a tree is hard work, especially when you’re not even allowed to use a chainsaw.

Difficulty rating: 3 out of 5 neckers

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2. Master-At-Arms Badge

Basic requirements:

‘A Scout must attain proficiency in two of the following subjects: Single-stick, Quarter-staff fencing, Boxing, Ju-Jitsu and Wrestling.’

Move over Street Sports Badges, the Master-At-Arms was the granddaddy of physical badges in 1914, which basically required a Scout to master two sporting disciplines at an Olympian level.

To acquire this badge, Scouts had to study the offensive moves of fencing, the defensive techniques of boxing, the nerve-centre structure of Ju-Jitsu or the intricate details of Cumberland and Westmoreland Wrestling. All in a day’s work for a young person in 1914, but could you do it now?

Difficulty rating: 4 out of 5 neckers

1. Miner Badge

Basic requirements:

‘A Scout must have a general knowledge of one particular branch of the mining industry, such as coal, iron or other mineral, with the special dangers involved, and safeguards against them, and must have worked below the surface for not less than six months.’

Serious danger and even death threatened the Scout of 1914 when it came to the Miner Badge – the most difficult badge to conquer, requiring ‘no less’ than half a year working and studying in relative darkness. We’re certain health and safety would have something to say about this nowadays.

There are many methods of mining the Scout could choose from according to Scout Tests, but it reassuringly points out that each is equally life threatening. Note: don’t try this at home!

Difficulty rating: 5 out of 5 neckers

Scout Tests and How to Pass Them is available now at £12.99 from Scout Shops.

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