Baroness Olave St. Clair Baden-Powell (Soames)

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Baroness Olave St. Clair Baden-Powell (Soames)

Birthdate: (88)
Birthplace: Chesterfield, Derbyshire County, England, United Kingdom
Death: Died in Bramley, Surrey County, England, United Kingdom
Cause of death: Diabetes
Place of Burial: Kenya
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Harold Soames and Katharine Mary Soames
Wife of Robert Baden-Powell, 1st Baron Baden-Powell (Smyth) and Lt. Gen./Sir Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell
Mother of Arthur Robert Peter Baden-Powell, 2nd Baron Baden-Powell; The Hon Heather King (Baden-Powell) and The Hon Betty St Clair Clay (Baden-Powell)
Sister of Auriol Edith Davidson (Soames); Captain Arthur Granville Soames and Capt. Arthur Granville Soames

Occupation: Guiding and Scouting
Managed by: Caroline Brock
Last Updated:

About Baroness Olave St. Clair Baden-Powell (Soames)


Olave St Clair Baden-Powell, Baroness Baden-Powell, GBE (22 February 1889 – 25 June 1977) was born Olave St Clair Soames in Chesterfield, England. After the death of her husband, she was known as Olave, Lady Baden-Powell, or The Dowager Lady Baden-Powell. She outlived her husband, Robert Baden-Powell (22 Feb 1857 – 8 Jan 1941), the founder of Scouting and Girl Guides, by over 35 years. He was 32 years older than her.

Olave became Chief Guide for Britain in 1918. Later the same year, at the Swanwick conference for Commissioners in October, she was presented with a gold Silver Fish,[2] one of only two ever made. She was elected World Chief Guide in 1930. As well as making a major contribution to the development of the Guide / Girl Scout movements, she visited 111 countries during her life, attending Jamborees and national Guide and Scout associations.

Ancestry Olave's father was brewery owner and artist Harold Soames (13 Aug 1855 – 25 Dec 1918), who descended paternally from a landed gentry family, and maternally from a self-made man, Joseph Gilstrap / Gelthorpe, quondam Mayor of Newark, Nottinghamshire.

Olave's mother was Katharine (née Hill; 4 Dec 1851 – 4 Feb 1932), one of eleven children descended from a line of Russia merchants on her father's (Hill) side. Katharine's mother was Georgina Marian Wilkins (Jul 1827 – 13 Dec 1894), one of fifteen children of George Wilkins and his wife Amelia Auriol Hay-Drummond (11 Sept 1794 – 31 Jan 1871), who was the daughter of Edward Hay-Drummond, with whom (as a Curate) George Wilkins had lodged – and eloped with the daughter to Gretna Green, where they were married on 2 September 1811, ten days before her 17th birthday. The couple then returned to live in the parental home in Hadleigh. Edward Hay-Drummond was a son of Robert Hay Drummond, who was a son of the 8th Earl of Kinnoull (23 Jun 1689 – 1 Sept 1709).

Early life Olave Soames was the third child and youngest daughter of her parents. She was educated by her parents and by a number of governesses at home. She lived in seventeen homes in the first 23 years of her life. Olave became keen on outdoor sports including tennis, swimming, football, skating and canoeing, and also played the violin.

Marriage and children[

In January 1912, Olave met Second Boer War hero and founder of the Scouts, Robert Baden-Powell, on an ocean liner (RMSP Arcadian) on the way via the Caribbean to New York to start a lecture tour. She was 23, he was 55, and they shared the same birthday. They became engaged in September of the same year, causing a media sensation. They married on 30 October 1912 in a very private ceremony, in St. Peter's Church, Parkstone, her Parish Church. She was given away by her father.

The Scouts and Guides of England each donated a penny to buy the Baden-Powells a wedding gift of a car (note that this is not the Rolls-Royce known as "Jam-Roll" that was presented to them in 1929). Olave's father assisted financially with the purchase of Pax Hill near Bentley, Hampshire, as a family home where she lived with her husband from 29 January 1919 until 25 October 1938.

The Baden-Powells had three children — a son and two daughters (who took the courtesy titles of Honourable in 1929; the son later succeeding his father as the 2nd Lord Baden-Powell upon his father's death in 1941:

Arthur Robert Peter Baden-Powell, later 2nd Baron Baden-Powell (30 October 1913 – 9 December 1962), who married Carine Boardman (1913–1993), and they had two sons and a daughter; at Peter's death, the elder son Robert succeeded him as 3rd Baron Baden-Powell; the younger son, Michael Baden-Powell, and the daughter live in Australia; The Hon. Heather Grace Baden-Powell (1 June 1915 – 3 May 1986), who married John Hall King (4 Nov 1913 – 2004), and they had two sons; and The Hon. Betty St. Clair Baden-Powell, CBE (16 April 1917 – 24 April 2004) who, like her mother, met her future husband on board ship, an older man (by a decade) who shared her birthday. She married, on 24 September 1936, Gervas Charles Robert Clay (16 April 1907 – 18 April 2009).[12] They had a daughter and three sons. Betty Clay was also prominent in the Guide Movement in Northern Rhodesia until they retired to England in 1964, when she became involved with the Girl Guides in England until her death. In addition, when Olave's sister, Auriol Davidson née Soames, died in 1919, Olave took her three nieces, Christian (1912–1975), Clare (1913–1980), and Yvonne, (1918-2000), into her family and brought them up as her own children.

War work During 1915 and 1916, with World War I in progress, Olave assisted directly with the war effort in France. Robert had seen the usefulness of the YMCA's recreational huts for the soldiers and persuaded the Mercers' Company (of which he had been Master in 1912) to pay for such a hut at Val-de-Lievres, Calais. It was to be staffed by adults connected with Scouting. Olave was one of the team of five men and three women that staffed the hut at the start. She persuaded her mother to look after the children for time she would be away.

Olave left for France on 7 October 1915, when her second child was five months old. Her regular work in the Mercers' hut included serving cocoa and cigarettes and chatting to those who came in. She also recalled in her autobiography playing her violin and singing at the Christmas Concert. Olave also adopted a number of stray animals during her time in Val-de-Lievres.

During this time, Robert had organised the Scouts to sponsor another recreational hut. Olave and two others started this hut at Étaples after Christmas 1915. At the end of January, Olave was ordered home due to sickness, ending her three months in France.

Ewhurst Place Olave and Robert moved into Ewhurst Place outside Robertsbridge in Sussex in April 1913. In June of that year, the 1st Ewhurst Scout Troop was inaugurated. Olave was the warranted Scoutmaster of this troop, assisted by the family's housemaid and the gardener. Olave accompanied Robert on many of his Scouting tours and to events. She also typed letters for him. In 1915, the Baden-Powell's bought a small car, and after Robert taught her to drive, Olave often drove him to engagements.

Although most famously connected with the Girl Guides, Olave's first offer to help them in 1914 was turned down. The Girl Guide Movement had started following pressure from girls who wanted to become Scouts; the Movement was set up by Robert Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes Baden-Powell, but was not progressing well. After the reorganisation of the Girl Guides in 1915, Olave again offered to help, this time successfully, and she started organising Guiding in Sussex. She became the County Commissioner for Sussex in March 1916. In October 1916, the first conference for County Commissioners was held and it was here that the Commissioners unanimously requested that Olave take the role of Chief Commissioner – she was just pregnant with her third child. During this period she organised a great number of women in other parts of Britain to take up roles in Guiding. In 1918, Olave was acclaimed Chief Guide, a title she much preferred to Chief Commissioner.

Recognition In 1932, she was awarded the Dame Grand Cross of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE) by King George V, in recognition of her volunteer work. Finland awarded her the Order of the White Rose of Finland, and Peru the Order of the Sun. In 1957 she was awarded both the 14th Bronze Wolf, the only distinction of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, awarded by the World Scout Committee for exceptional services to world Scouting, and the highest distinction of the Scout Association of Japan, the Golden Pheasant Award.

Death of Robert Baden-Powell In October 1938, Olave moved to the Outspan Hotel, Nyeri, Kenya with her husband, where he died on 8 January 1941. She received thousands of letters of condolences: she was helped to reply to them all by Bertha Hines, the wife of David Hines who was away fighting the Italian army that had invaded Ethiopia and Somalia – often Olave would mind Bertha's baby daughter Penny while Bertha typed letters.

World War II In 1942 she braved U-boat attacks to return to a grace and favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace (in which she lived from 1943 to 1976), since her own home, Pax Hill, had been taken over by the Canadian military. Through World War II she toured the United Kingdom. Fortunately she was on a visit when a V2 missile damaged her apartment in 1944. As soon as she could after D-Day, she went to France, toured throughout Europe as the war ended to help revive Guiding and Scouting.

Post World War II Olave led the Guide Movement world-wide for forty years, travelling all over the globe helping to establish and to encourage the Guide Movements in other countries, and bringing membership to over six and a half million world-wide.

Having suffered a heart attack in Australia in 1961, she was finally banned from travelling by her doctor at the age of 80 in 1970 when she was diagnosed with diabetes from which she eventually died.

In 1968 the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) had given Olave a credit card to defray her travel costs. When she stopped travelling, the BSA asked her to use the card for 'keeping in touch'. This included paying for the over 2000 Christmas cards she sent to those personally known to her.

Olave died on 25 June 1977 at Birtley House, Bramley in Surrey, UK. Her ashes were taken to Kenya to be buried in the same grave as her husband's remains. She was survived by her two daughters, her son having predeceased her.

Legacy The Olave Centre for Guides was built in north London in Olave's memory. This has the World Bureau and Pax Lodge in its grounds. Pax Lodge is one of WAGGGS' four World Centres.

As a child, Olave learned the violin; her first violin she called Diana. It was a copy of a Stradivarius made by Messrs. Hill for the Paris Exhibition and many years later it was presented to the Guide Association. It is still available on loan to Guides who are seriously learning to play the violin prior to them acquiring their own instrument.

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Baroness Olave St. Clair Baden-Powell (Soames)'s Timeline

February 22, 1889
Chesterfield, Derbyshire County, England, United Kingdom
October 30, 1913
Age 24
Battle, East Sussex County, England, United Kingdom
June 1, 1915
Age 26
Battle, East Sussex, England
April 16, 1917
Age 28
Hawkhurst, Surrey County, England, United Kingdom
June 25, 1977
Age 88
Bramley, Surrey County, England, United Kingdom