Major A. G. Wade was born in Henfield in 1881, and lived at Croft House in the High Street (in recent times Lloyds Bank), his father Charles was a solicitor (he also designed Croft House using handmade bricks from Partridge Green). Although the house remains largely unaltered, the gardens have disappeared. The gardens originally were a half-acre of garden containing a croquet lawn, a wild border, a pergola, a pigeon-cote and a summer house.
He joined the Imperial Yeomanry in 1901 very much against his parents' wishes, after an almost idyllic childhood in the village. The Yeomanry were mobilised and sent to South Africa, and it was during this campaign that he met Baden-Powell (BP) for the first time in 1901. On the journey home BP explained his plans regarding setting up a training scheme for boys, modelled on the training he gave to boys who were scouts at the Siege of Mafeking. He returned home in 1902 and joined the local militia with the rank of Lieutenant.
Whilst home he had discussions with his sister, Audrey, about Baden-Powell's ideas of a Scouting Movement for boys. In 1907 Audrey started one of the first scout troops in the world, assisted by Miss Sybil Mead. The boys came from her Henfield Hockey Club; Hockey was a winter activity and Audrey wanted something to occupy the boys all year round. It was in this year that Baden-Powell set up his experimental camp on Brownsea Island in Dorset. The programme at the camp was published everyday in the local press, and Audrey enacted them with her boy Scouts in Henfield. She reported that there was a vast improvement in the morale and behaviour of the local boys.
In January 1908, Scouting for Boys was published in fortnightly parts, and Audrey arranged for the publication to be delivered to Henfield Station bookstall. At this time Baden-Powell was very accessible and members were encouraged to contact him, so one of the Henfield boys wrote to him to ask about uniforms and instruction as to how to get them. He wrote back with the simple instruction “make your own”.
So the boys went around the village collecting material, the shorts were fathers cut down trousers, made from clothing condemned as not good enough for jumble. Enough material was bought to make grey shirts for all the troop, and the boys made their own. The first HQ was a disused shed, and chairs and tables were made by the boys from tubs and boxes presented by the local grocer.
Major Wade helped his sister with the Henfield boys but then moved to Chichester and became the scoutmaster for the 1st Chichester troop. He eventually became the County Secretary for Scouts in Sussex. In 1910, Baden Powell invited Major Wade to go to Canada with 16 ‘Kings Scouts’ to show the Canadians how Scouting could be carried out in practice. Major Wade returned to the UK and was based at the Boy Scouts HQ in London as Baden Powell’s organising secretary and then Joint Secretary of the Scouts Association. Unfortunately, his plans were scuppered by the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
On Friday 31st June 1914, the Major was summoned by Baden Powell to mobilise the Scout movement. Government departments were all clamouring for the services of the Scouts. Lord Kitchener telephoned asking that Scouts relieve the coast guard so they could mobilise with the fleet. The Chief Engineer of the Post Office wanted Scouts to guard all the main telephone lines from London to the south coast. The War Office wanted messengers and Scouts were also asked to guard stretches of railway line and viaducts, bridges, etc. Some Scouts took on the duties of Special Constables. Thousands of Scouts were offered to the Mayor of Dieppe to help with the harvest. He was very grateful but declined because the war would not last long, and German forces would not get across the border!
The 1st Henfield Scout Troop is recognised by the Scout Association as being the oldest Scout Troop in existence, and for this reason Henfield was chosen as the only place in Britain to host the Centenary Flame on its trip to Brownsea Island in 2007.
By Steve Robotham (Assistant Curator), originally published in the Henfield Parish Magazine, May 2019.
With thanks to Dave Malkin.
Ref: “Counterspy!” by Major A G Wade MC (Stanley Paul & Co Ltd).