Young Knights of the Empire

by Sir Robert Baden-Powell


In the days of Queen Elizabeth, nearly four hundred years ago, the sailors of Spain, of England, of Holland, and of Portugal were all making themselves famous for their daring voyages in small sailing ships across unknown oceans, by which they kept discovering new lands for their country in distant corners of the world.

There was one small cabin-boy on a coasting brig in the English Channel who used to long to become one of these discoverers but when he looked at the practical side of the question it seemed hopeless for a poor little chap like him ever to hope to rise in the world beyond his present hard life in a wretched little coaster, living on bad food and getting, as a rule, more kicks than halfpence--but it shows you how the poorest boy can get on if he only puts his back to it.

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Young Drake--for that was his name--did get on in spite of his difficulties; he worked hard at his duty until he became a captain of two small ships, one of seventy, the other of thirty tons, and with these he sailed to fight the Spaniards, who were at that time our enemies, away across the ocean in Central America.

He not only fought them, but was successful in taking some of their ships and a great deal of valuable booty from their towns.

On his return home he was promoted to command a large expedition of five ships, the biggest of which, however, was only 100 tons, and the smallest was 15 tons--no bigger than a fishing smack.

With these he sailed down the West Coast of Africa, then across to Brazil and down the South American coast till he rounded the end of it through the dangerous and difficult Straits of Magellan into the Pacific. He coasted up the western side of America as far as California, and then struck across the ocean to India, and thence _via_ the Cape of Good Hope to England; this voyage took him nearly three years to complete.

His good ship, the _Golden Hind_, though much battered and wounded with war and weather, was received with great honour at Deptford. The Queen herself went on board, and while there she showed such pleasure at Drake's good work that she knighted him, using his own well-worn sword to make him Sir Francis Drake.

Soon after this King Philip of Spain began to prepare an enormous fleet, and though he told Queen Elizabeth that it was not intended to be used against England, Sir Francis Drake, who was now in command of a small fleet of British ships, maintained that it could be for no other purpose.

[Illustration: DRAKE'S SHIP, THE "GOLDEN HIND."]

And a secret letter was shortly afterwards intercepted which proved that his suspicions were right.

Drake went off with his fleet and sailed up and down the Spanish coast destroying their ships and stores wherever he could find them, and thus he hindered their preparations for war. In this way he sank or burnt some 12,000 tons of shipping, which meant a great many ships in those days.

He merely described it in his report as, "singeing the Spanish King's beard."

At the end of 1588, the great Spanish fleet--the Armada--was ready, and sailed against England. But there were a fine lot of British admirals and men awaiting it, for besides Lord Charles Howard of Effingham, the Lord High Admiral, there were Frobisher, and Davis, Walter Raleigh, and Francis Drake.

It is true they had only 67 ships with which to oppose the 130 of the Spaniards, but they sallied out and tackled them at once before the Spaniards were really ready for them, and drove them into Dunkirk. Here the Spaniards felt secure and would not come out till one night the English sent fire ships in among them which forced them to put to sea. Then ensued a tremendous sea fight, in which Drake, in the _Revenge_, took the lead.

The battle lasted all day, with guns roaring and ships foundering or exploding.

At length the Spaniards drew off northward to the German Ocean, the only line of escape open to them. Round the north of Scotland and Ireland they went, damaged by shot and beset by a gale, so that in the end, out of the magnificent fleet of 130 sail which had set out for the conquest of England, only 53 got back, with only about 9000 out of the original 30,000 men.

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Two hundred years after Drake came Nelson. He was the son of a clergyman in Norfolk, a poor, sickly little fellow, and was for a time in the merchant service.

His first step to greatness was when the ship which he was in captured an enemy's ship, and the first lieutenant was ordered to take a boat and some men and go aboard the prize. But owing to the heavy sea which was running the officer gave up the attempt as too dangerous, whereupon Nelson, like a good Scout, stepped forward and offered to go.

He succeeded, and thence was marked as a good officer.

Every boy knows how, after a splendid career of fighting for Britain, he finally won the great sea battle of Trafalgar against the French and Spanish fleets, and fell mortally wounded in the hour of victory.

But his work, and that of other great sea-captains who served with him, completed the supremacy of the British Navy begun by Drake and the sea-dogs of his time.

The navies of our enemies were entirely swept from off the seas, and their merchant ships could only carry on their trade so long as their countries remained at peace with Britain.

And that supremacy has remained with us till to-day.

In consequence of this we have been enabled to put a stop to the awful slave trade which used to go on on the coasts of Africa; to discover new lands for our Empire, and to bring civilisation to savages in the farthest corners of the world. And the enterprise of our merchant ships has made our trade successful all over the globe, and so increased the prosperity of our people both at home and in our Oversea Dominions.

The sailor has a grand life of it. Continually visiting strange and interesting lands, with a good ship manoeuvring through distant oceans, with plenty of contests with tides and winds. A free, open, and healthy life, which breeds cheery handiness and pluck such as make a sailor so deservedly loved by all. And all the time he is doing grand work for his country.

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We are hearing a great deal of the heroes of everyday life, but there are perhaps no greater heroes, no truer scouts than sailors of the kind that man our lifeboats all round the coasts of Great Britain. They have to Be Prepared to turn out at any minute, when the dangerous storm is at its worst, to face danger in order to save others.

Because they do it so often and so quietly we have come to look upon it almost as an everyday affair to be expected, but it is none the less splendid of them or worthy of our admiration. A large number of Boy Scouts have, by taking up "sea scouting" and by learning boat management and seamanship, been able to take their place in the service of their Country as seamen on our battleships, and in the merchant service, and as lifeboatmen upon our coasts.

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During the summer months Scouts in many parts of the country practise sea scouting as well as camping on shore. This involves living on board ship and learning all the duties of sailors--going on watch, going aloft, managing boats, saving life at sea, and swimming and saving life from drowning--with plenty of interesting games and practices.

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One game which can be played either by night or day is that of "Smugglers."

A patrol of smugglers endeavour to land from the seaward in a boat to conceal their goods, which consist of nothing more valuable than "a brick to each man," in a place called the "Smugglers' Cave," and then to get away in their boat again.

Other Scouts arc distributed as "preventive men" to watch the coast for a considerable distance with sentries. So soon as one of these preventive men sees a smuggler land he gives the alarm, and collects the rest to attack them; but the attack cannot be successful unless there are at least as many preventive men on the spot as smugglers, and if the smugglers succeed in depositing their goods in the Smugglers' Cave and then getting away again before they are attacked by an equal number of preventive men, they win the game.

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Another exciting game which tests the Scoutcraft of a patrol is that where they approach the shore in a boat and look out for marks which have been told to them, and, on finding these, they land, find a map hidden away, which gives further clues by means of landmarks, compass directions, tidemarks, and so on, to where the hidden treasure is to be found. Only a certain time will be allowed for finding it.

This game can be made a competition for one patrol against another, each patrol taking it in turn to carry out the same task. Naturally, each patrol would be very careful to wipe out all footmarks and tracks.

Then there can be whale hunts, as given in the book _Scouting for Boys_, and also "Shipwreck," when everybody on board ship will take their places and carry out orders for getting the women and children safely away, followed by the men of the ship.

"Castaways on a Desert Island" may also be practised, when they have to get ashore on rafts and otherwise, and rig up such shelters as they can out of the materials available, and light their fires and cook their food, and so on.

The pursuit of slavers' dhows by pinnaces from men-of-war can be practised, and "cutting-out" expeditions by boats full of armed Scouts taking a hostile ship or place in the night.

"Salvage" may also be practised by boats going out in parties, where they are to save some derelict ship in distress, and to tow her into safety.

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Water sports can also be indulged in, such as polo, jousting, pillow fighting, greasy pole, hurdle races, into the lifebuoy race, and other exciting incidents. But to take part in these practices and games it is necessary that a Scout should be able to swim, and I hope that every Scout will take the earliest opportunity of doing so.

And not only should he learn swimming without delay, but also study the means he ought to take for saving a drowning man and for reviving him when he has got him ashore. No Scout is too young for this.

I saw a case in the paper recently which is a fine example to other boys, where Frederick Delvin, eleven years of age, rescued another boy from drowning in the Surrey Canal, near the Old Kent Road bridge.

A small boy named George Spear was fishing in the canal when he fell into the water, and was on the point of drowning when Delvin, who had learned to swim last summer, jumped into the water and brought him safely ashore, and thus saved his life.

Well, now, any Scout could do that, if he knew how and had the pluck, and I should hope that every Scout has that at least.

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A serious disaster was narrowly averted at Dover in connection with a treat given to six hundred schoolgirls on the battleship _Albion_.

The children were being taken out to the battleship in boats in a rather heavy sea. A steam pinnace, towing two whaleboats, each containing about eighty girls, was rounding the Prince of Wales Pier, when the Government tug _Adder_ unexpectedly came round from the opposite side of the pier, bearing right down on them.

There was great excitement, as a disaster seemed certain; but the Naval men in charge quickly cut the second boat adrift, and the tug passed between the two crowded boatloads. The boat drifted towards the Admiralty Pier until it was picked up and got safely in tow again.

That is the kind of "presence of mind" which every Scout should have.

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In "sea scouting," it will, of course, be necessary to know a lot of small as well as big things about our ships which the ordinary fellow does not know. Here is one. A man-of-war on duty always flies a pennant at her masthead--that is, a very long, very thin flag, which makes the mast look like a whip with a lash on the end of it. Here is the story of it.

In the old days, 250 years ago, Britain and Holland were both powerful nations at sea and rivals in commerce, but as we had command of the British Channel we made all foreign ships salute our men-of-war when passing them.

One day, May 19th, 1652, a Dutch fleet of forty-five ships; under their great admiral Van Tromp, came sailing up the Channel, and passed a British Fleet of twenty-three ships under Admiral Blake. Seeing how strong he was, the Dutch admiral declined to salute us. So our flagship fired a shot across his bows, as a signal to remind him of his duty; but Van Tromp promptly replied with a broadside into the stern of Admiral Blake's ship.

"That's very rude of him to break my windows," remarked Blake, and promptly ordered his small Fleet to attack the Dutch, although it was twice as strong.

The battle began at four o'clock in the afternoon, and went on hammer and tongs till after dark. The firing then lulled, and the British Fleet, having been badly mauled, spent the whole night repairing damages.

By dawn, although tired, they were all ready for a further go at the enemy, but as daylight came on they found there was no enemy to go for; he had cleared away in the night to less dangerous quarters. But only for a time, in order to get more ships, and a few days later he reappeared with something like eighty vessels.

This and a contrary wind proved too much for Blake's small Fleet, and though he made an obstinate fight of it, he was at last compelled to take refuge in the Thames, pursued by the Dutchmen.

Then it was that Van Tromp hoisted a broom at his masthead, as a sign that he had swept the British from off the seas. But he was a little bit "previous," as they say in America. The people in Britain rose to the occasion, and, instead of being down-hearted, they at once started to build a stronger Fleet, and trained men and boys--like sea scouts--to man it.

So soon as the ships were fitted out Blake put to sea with a Fleet of sixty, and went to look for the Dutchmen, and he soon found them.

Van Tromp, with seventy men-of-war, was coming up the Channel, guarding a large fleet of richly-laden merchant ships making for Holland.

The British, of course, went for this convoy, and it was a pretty tough fight, the Dutch merchantmen crowding on all sail to escape to Holland, while their men-of-war kept behind them, fighting stubbornly to hold off the pursuing British. It was a running fight, which was kept up for three days and nights, and at the end the British came home triumphant, having captured or sunk seventeen of the enemy's men-of-war and thirty of his merchant ships.

Van Tromp had to take down his broom.

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It was in June, 1653, that the two fleets finally came together for the deciding bout. Both countries had seen that a big naval fight must come sooner or later, and both had gone on building ships as hard as they could to meet the danger.

When each fleet was about ninety ships strong, they met at sea. Unfortunately Admiral Blake had been laid up in England with an old wound, while the Dutch fleet was under three of their best admirals, tough and plucky old sea-dogs all of them--Van Tromp, De Witt, and Ruyter. For a whole day the two fleets were engaged, both sides hammering away stubbornly and well, but by nightfall neither had gained much.

Next day they went at it again, and if anything the advantage was beginning to rest with the Dutch, when suddenly, in the afternoon, a fresh ship came banging its way through the rear of the Dutch fleet.

It was Blake!

His return seemed to put new life into the British. They went at it again with all their might. They boarded Van Tromp's ship; he blew her up and escaped to another; but in the end, with his fleet shattered and broken, he had to make his retreat under cover of night as best he could.

The British thus remained masters of the Channel, with eleven good Dutch men-of-war as prizes and eight more of them sent to the bottom.

Then it was said that Blake's pennant was the whip that had driven outsiders from off the seas.

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