Scouts founder Baden-Powell 'was a war criminal who had tribal chief executed illegally'

Monday, Dec 07 2009

By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 6:45 PM on 06th December 2009

The founder of the Scouts, Lord Baden-Powell, has been accused of being a war criminal who illegally executed an African warrior chief.

Baden-Powell, who will forever be associated with the scouting movement which he founded in 1907, is accused of ordering the execution of a tribal chief against the orders of his superiors while serving in Africa with the army in 1896 .

He even altered his diary entries to reflect his version of the story - claiming that Uwini, the leader of the tribe in Matabeleland - now Zimbabwe - was captured in battle, rather than surrendering.

Uwini was a leader of the uprising, which followed a rebellion where more than 300 British settler were killed.

He claimed to have magical powers which protected him from gunfire.

However he was put to death by firing squad after he was captured.

Baden-Powell is accused of ignoring a promise made to Uwini to spare his life if he surrendered peacefully, as well as dismissing an order to hand him over to civilian authorities.

Instead, Uwini was placed before a military tribunal, which the Sunday Times reports was not presented with the full facts of his capture, and then shot by a firing squad.

Baden-Powell was later cleared by an inquiry and later said he had been released from the army 'without a stain on my character'.

But his biograpaher, Tim Jeal, called this a 'most shameful episode' in a life which has been much praised ever since.

Baden-Powell was tasked with protecting 3,000 settlers who were farming in the area, who were under attack from rebels who were hiding in caves.

Official documents say that when the army fired on the rebels, Uwini surrendered, extracting a promise his life world be spared. Baden-Powell however claimed Uwini fired on his men, an action punishable by death.

Eyewitness accounts support the official version over Baden-Powell's account.

Jeal told the Sunday TImes: 'When he arrived on the scene, he would have been told that Uwini had been promised his life. This makes his decision to execute the chief rather worse than it has so far been thought to have been.'

Baden-Powell's own letter say: 'In my defence I rather confined myself to the legal point that according to military law I had the power to exercise my own judgment if I was over 100 miles from a superior authority.

'I was over 100 miles from my general and over 1,000 miles from the governor, though had I been only 50 miles away I should have acted in the same way since summary punishment in the presence of his own people had given one the exceptional opportunity of smashing their belief in [their god] ‘Mlimo'.

'It also gained their surrender and thereby saved the many lives which would have been lost, both among our own men and amongst the enemy, if we had had to continue our attack on ... their stronghold.'

Robin Clay, Baden-Powell’s grandson, said yesterday: 'We all make mistakes. In time of war emotions are aroused and you do what you think at the time. At the end of the day he will be remembered for founding the Scout movement.'

Documents relating to the incident will be auctioned in Gloucestershire later this week.