Young Knights of the Empire

by Sir Robert Baden-Powell


Law 7. A SCOUT OBEYS ORDERS of his parents, Patrol-leader, or Scoutmaster without question.

Even _if he gets an order which he does not like, a Scout must do_ AS _soldiers_ AND SAILORS DO, _or_ AS _he would do if he got it _FROM _his_ CAPTAIN _in a football match--he must carry it out all the same, because it is his duty; after he has done it he can come and state any reasons against it: but he must carry out the order at once. That is discipline_.

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Suppose you were playing outside forward in a football match, and you were on the ball with a good opening for a run before you, when you suddenly heard your captain shout "Centre!" What would you do? Go on with the ball, or pass it to a centre player?

You would, of course, obey the captain's order and pass it.


Because you know that if every fellow played the game for his own fun and glory, his side would never win--the team would be all over the place.

To prevent this, each player has got his certain allotted place in the field, and the captain, who is best placed for seeing how the game is going on, is able to give directions that will help his side to win.

Of course, the success depends on every player doing his best to carry out his captain's orders efficiently and well.

It is not only in football or hockey that this system brings success, but in every game of life.

We see it just now on a very big scale at the Front--in the great game of war--where men obey their captains' orders not only when it is inconvenient to them to do so, but often when it means danger and death to them. But in doing it they well know that, though they are sacrificing themselves, they are helping their side to win; and that is the right, spirit in which to play the game of life.

Therefore, even in small things, get yourself into the habit, of obeying orders whether or not you like doing it.

If you can thus make a practice of it in small everyday matters like obeying your parents at home, or your Patrol-leader when scouting, obedience will come quite natural to you in the bigger duties of life, and you will then be looked upon by both your comrades and your officers as a really valuable man--one who can be trusted to play in his place and to play the game in obedience to the rules and to his captain, not for his own glorification but in order that his side may win.

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When Gibraltar was being besieged a hundred and thirty years ago by the French and Spaniards on land and sea, the British Troops holding the place stuck it out valiantly for three long years, and were in the end relieved by the Fleet from home. But though there were many who wanted to give in and were dead sick of the whole thing, General Elliott, the commander of the garrison, showed such dogged determination, and insisted on such strict discipline, that he held the garrison together.

His measures for defence were so successful that every man realised that the real road to safety and success was strict obedience to his orders. In fact, it was a case where obedience won the day. And they loved and admired the old general, too, for his pluck, his humanity, and his sense of humour.

On one occasion a man ventured to disobey an order that was given to him, and when he was brought before the commander the General said that if a man could disobey an order at such a critical time he could not be in his right mind, he must be mad. Therefore he ordered that the usual treatment accorded to a lunatic should be applied to the offender. His head was to be shaved, he was to be blistered and bled, and kept in a padded cell on a light diet of bread and water--and also be prayed for in church,

Well, the General was quite right. If a man cannot obey orders when there is danger to all he must be mad. But it is difficult for a man to be obedient at such a time if he has never learnt to be obedient in ordinary times, and that is why discipline is so strongly kept up in both the Army and Navy in peace time.

A man is taught to obey even the smallest order most carefully and without hesitation, until it becomes such a habit with him that when an order is given him, a big or dangerous one, he carries it out, at once without any question. And, when everybody can be trusted to obey orders, it is an easy thing for the commander to manoeuvre his troops and conduct the battle with some chance of success.

You remember the story which I told you in _Scouting for Boys_ about the ship _Birkenhead_, on board of which discipline and obedience were so splendidly shown by the soldiers.

The ship was carrying about 630 soldiers, with their families, and 130 seamen. Near the Cape of Good Hope one night she ran on to some rocks, and began to break up. The soldiers were at once paraded on deck half-dressed as they were, just out of their hammocks.

Some were told off to get out the boats and to put the women and children into them, and others were told off to get the horses up out of the hold, and to lower them overboard into the sea, in order that they might have a chance of swimming ashore.

When this had all been done, it was found that there were not enough boats to take everybody, and so the men were ordered to remain in their ranks on the deck, while the women and children, with a few men to row them, moved off from the sinking ship.

The boats had not gone far when the ship broke into half and began to go down. The captain shouted to the men to jump overboard and save themselves, but the Colonel, Colonel Seaton, interrupting the captain ordered the men to stand where they were, and to keep their ranks, for he saw that if they swam to the boats and tried to get in they would probably sink them too.

So the men kept their ranks, and as the ship rolled over and sank, they gave a cheer and went down with her.

Out of the whole 760 on board only 192 were saved, but even these would probably have been lost had it not been for the discipline and self-sacrifice of the others in obeying the order to keep their ranks and not to try to get into the boats.

So you see the value of discipline in a difficult crisis or moment of danger.

The great Duke of Wellington, who was Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, when describing this heroic act on the _Birkenhead_, praised very highly the discipline of the men--he did not praise their bravery. It was brave of them, but he considered that all Britons are naturally brave--he expected bravery of them. But discipline is another thing; it has to be learnt.

In battle or in a big danger a brave man may be very useful, but if he does pretty much as he pleases he is not half so valuable as the man who, besides being brave, has also learnt, to obey every order at once.

Watch firemen at work. They are all brave enough; they would all like to be at the top of the ladder fighting the flames, but their discipline makes them work at their different jobs, each playing in his place, obeying orders, and doing his share in order that the fire may be put out, not that he should win special glory or excitement for himself.

Even in the streets there is discipline. The policeman regulates the traffic so that all vehicles moving in one direction keep to one side of the road, and thus allow the traffic in the opposite direction to keep moving along the other side. But if one 'bus-driver did not feel inclined to obey orders, but dashed about in his own way, not caring to which side of the road he went so long as he went ahead, there would be accidents and delay in no time, and the whole traffic would be upset. If you are in business with a large number of others, it is useful for the good of the whole that you obey the orders which you receive from those who are in authority over you. If the seniors can be sure that their assistants will carry out their orders, they can carry on the business properly. Discipline is necessary everywhere, but the thing is to learn while you are young to carry it out in small things, so that you would be able to do so when it comes to your turn to do it in a great difficulty or danger. In order to do this you have to be able to command yourself in the first place.

The soldier does not go into a battle because he likes it. It is a dangerous place, and he feels inclined to run away; but he commands himself, and says "I must go whether I like it or not, because it is my duty."

When he gets his orders from his officers to attack the enemy, he would probably be more anxious still to go in the opposite direction, but he commands himself and says: "I must obey the orders of my officers."

And the officers obey the orders of the general, and so the whole force moves everywhere to the attack simply from a spirit of discipline, each man making himself do his proper share, so that although he may lose his life, yet his side may win the battle.

So it will be with you every day. You will have your duty to do, when often you would much rather do your pleasure, or play some games; but you have to command yourself and order yourself to do your duty in the first place, and amuse yourself afterwards.

When you succeed in doing this, and in always obeying the orders of your officer readily and cheerily, in small things as well as in great things, you will soon find that it becomes a habit with you and not a trouble, so that when the time comes for you to carry out some difficult and dangerous order you will be able to do it at once, without any hesitation and with complete success for the good of your side--that is, for the good of your business, your employer, or of your Country, without thinking of the difficulty or danger to yourself.

With a Scout, your "_Duty_" is to do a good turn to somebody every day. Your "_Discipline_" makes you command yourself to carry this out, even though it may be irksome or dangerous, and though nobody is there to see you do it. You do it because it is your duty and you are trusted, on your honour, to do it.

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I once had a brave scout in my force in the South African War. He was a brave man and an active scout, but he was not good at obeying orders, and in the end this cost him his life and did harm to our plans.

We had news of a force of the enemy which did not know of our presence in that part of the country. So we hid ourselves, meaning to surprise and capture them when they came along.

The orders were that not a sound was to be made and not a man _was_ to show himself, and these orders were faithfully carried out--except by this one scout. He thought he knew better than others, and he slipped away unseen to go and look out for the enemy's approach.

Presently he spied a hostile scout and fired at him; the enemy's scout returned his fire, and after a short duel both of them fell mortally wounded.

But the noise of their shooting gave the alarm to the enemy's force; more came upon the spot, and, finding a British scout there, they naturally guessed that there must be more in the neighbourhood, so they took all precautions, sent out scouts in all directions, and then, coming on our tracks, at last discovered our hiding-place, and gave warning to their own side, who were then able to make their escape.

If my scout had only learnt, when a boy, how to obey orders, it might have made a great difference that day to him, to us--and to the enemy.

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Here is a text which will help Scouts to discipline themselves:


That was the advice given by a "self-made merchant to his son." He meant, don't exercise your jaws by talking if you have nothing important to say don't talk for the mere sake of talking; and, above all, don't argue when you get an order.

Boys, you know, are rather fond of asking endless silly questions. Before speaking you should think first whether what you are going to say is really necessary or not, and then don't waste words or other people's attention if it is not. If you _must_ keep your jaw wagging, our American friend says "chew gum."

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In the expedition to Ashanti, on the Gold Coast, West Africa, when we captured the King, Prempeh, he was carrying in his mouth a kind of nut which looked like big, fat cigar. We found that he did this to prevent himself talking too much.

If he felt inclined to make some meaningless remark, or in the heat of an argument to let out a hasty opinion, he could not do so without first having to take this impediment out of his mouth, and that gave him time to think twice about what he was going to say.

I often think it would be a good thing if every nasty-tempered fellow had to carry such a nut in his mouth, so that when he wanted suddenly to let out a volley of abuse it would give him time to think and stop it.

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I heard of a lady who, when riding on Wimbledon Common, came across a party of Boy Scouts. She discovered their whereabouts by the immense amount of jabbering that was going on; so, being the wife of an officer, and knowing a good deal about scouting, she rode up to the Scouts, and told them just what I should have told them, that unless you practise keeping quiet at all times, you will forget to do so on some important occasion, and so will give yourselves away.

Scouts should always talk low and quietly, and also should always move quietly and lightly.

Remember on a still day or in the night a heavy, thumping footfall can be heard a long way off, even in open country, and very much more so in a street or in a house. So practise always treading lightly and silently, and you will soon gain the Scouts' habit of moving unheard.

I have heard from an officer at the Front, who regrets that two old Scouts whom he had with him have been killed or wounded. He found that ordinary soldiers would not move quietly at night, and so were useless to him. He has now got an ex-burglar as the next best thing to an ex-Boy Scout!

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