“He Spoke to Us about Honor”

by Melvin Leavitt

Editorial Assistant

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    Arthur Sadler, the longest serving Scout in the world, remembers the early days with Baden-Powell

    One night in early 1908, passersby in Colchester, Essex, England, must have rubbed their eyes and looked again. Among the dim splashes of lamplight, a short, broad-shouldered man with three heads and six legs came striding up North Hill through a heavy rain. He walked boldly up on High Street, down Culver, and stepped into a doorway. Inside he shed his dripping raincoat and, without so much as a flourish, turned into three boys. From the right arm of the coat stepped Arthur Sadler, from the left arm his brother Stanley, and from between them their brother Herbert.

    Standing unconsciously at attention, Arthur spoke to the man at the desk. “We’ve come to join the troop, sir.”

    The man was friendly but non-commital. “You’re soaked,” he said. “How far have you come?”

    “We live on Baker’s Lane.”

    The man shook his head. “I’m sorry, but that’s two miles from here, and we’re looking for boys who can guarantee 100 percent attendance. With this Colchester weather I’m afraid we couldn’t count on you.”

    Arthur wiped the rain from his forehead. “Try us a month, sir. If you find you can’t trust us, drop us.”

    Arthur Sadler was a 14-year-old newsboy when Robert S. Baden-Powell—hero of the Boer war, and perhaps the greatest military scout in history—published the first installment of his soon-to-be-famous handbook Scouting for Boys. As a newsboy Arthur was able to buy one of the first copies off the press, and he devoured it to the last comma.

    What he read set his imagination on fire. Every boy could be a scout just like Baden-Powell, only they would be not war scouts but peace scouts, using the same techniques of woodcraft and survival that Baden-Powell had used in India and Africa.

    He could hardly wait to get home and put the concept into action. He organized a homemade Scout patrol consisting of himself, two of his brothers, and three neighbor boys. Scout staves in hand, they began hiking across the English countryside, applying the program taught in the handbook.

    Then, early in 1908, word spread around town that a Boy Scout troop was being organized in Colchester by Geoffrey Elwes, a close friend of Baden-Powell himself—the first troop in Colchester. In fact, aside from the Brownsea Island experiment where Baden-Powell first tried out his program, it may have been the first troop in all England. The word also went out that troop members were being chosen very carefully, because the Colchester First Troop must set the example for all the troops that were to come later. It must include only boys whose word of honor could be absolutely trusted.

    So, with only one raincoat among them, the three already-Scouts set off to become a part of it all.

    The man at the desk was dubious, but something about the three boys impressed him. Maybe it was just that they had walked two miles in the rain to join, or perhaps it was the understanding of the Scouting program that they had gained in their own patrol. Whatever it was, Arthur and his brothers got their month’s trial period, and for as long as they belonged to the troop none of the three ever missed a meeting, although it often meant two miles of rain or snow coming and going. They believed in the simple advice their father had once given them: “If you give your word, keep it!”

    Since that rainy night Arthur Sadler has never stopped being a Scout or guiding his life by the Scout oath and law. Almost certainly the longest continuously registered Scout and Scout leader in the world, he has spent 45 years as a Scoutmaster, holding the position eight different times. He has also held many leadership positions on the council level.

    At 82 he is still in robust good health. Every morning he does push-ups and other vigorous physical exercises. Sundays often find him singing tenor solos in the wards near his home. He still walks, speaks, and thinks like a young man. Above all else he is a dedicated Latter-day Saint. He was once introduced to a group of Scout leaders as a man whose first love was Scouting. When he stood up to speak, he told the audience that as much as he loved Scouting, his first love was the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Although he is up-to-date on the latest innovations in the movement, Sadler can also remember how it was in the very dawn of Scouting. Those first troop meetings began with parade and inspection. Sadler says, “Inspection was very strict and in minute detail. We’d get a demerit if we went with a button unbuttoned.” Baden-Powell (or B.P. as the boys called him among themselves) often dropped in on the meetings and inspected the troop personally. Sometimes he gave them their advancement tests. Sadler had to start a fire for him with only two matches—in a driving rain! He also attended their courts of honor and awarded their badges. He pinned on Sadler’s First and Second Class badges and his All-round Cord. The All-round Cord was a green and gold shoulder braid, representing a rank* roughly equivalent to that of Star Scout.

    Sadler recalls that in order to earn his First Class rank he went on a 14-mile hike alone in a snowstorm. He had to take notes of every change of direction and make a scale map of the hike afterwards.

    In the basement of the troop’s meeting place was a fully equipped gymnasium where the Scouts underwent rigorous physical training. They also were given expert instruction in the ancient art of quarterstaff, which is spoken of in the legends of Robin Hood and his merry men. For this they used their Scout staffs. In those days the Scout staff was essential equipment for the Boy Scout in the field. It was used for vaulting streams and hedges, hiking, measuring the depth of waters, and a host of other things.

    Each troop member paid a penny a week in dues, and they occasionally put on plays to raise funds.

    Sadler characterizes the troop’s Scoutmaster Wallace Cole as “a strict disciplinarian, but very fair and just.” There were 12 patrols of eight boys each, led by 12 patrol leaders. These patrol leaders were young adults between the ages of 18 and 21.

    The uniforms in those days were navy blue shirts and shorts with brown leather belts. The Scouts also wore shoulder knots of the patrol colors pinned to the top of the left shoulder. Merit badges were sewn to the sleeves of the Scout shirt.

    In addition to the weekly meetings where the patrols studied basic Scouting skills, the troop members spent many hours hiking and camping in the copses surrounding Colchester. They especially looked forward to the annual summer camp, which Baden-Powell often attended. Their favorite campsite was a seaside resort town named Walton-on-Naze on the east coast. To them it meant surf swimming, salt breezes, and a whole summer full of fun squeezed into one week.

    Each patrol had its own army tent inside which the Scouts put down their ground sheets and straw ticks for comfortable sleeping. They made the straw ticks themselves with straw donated by local farmers.

    But before the tents could be set up, the area had to be cleaned in keeping with the 11th Scout law. The members of one patrol, at arms length, walked from one end of the camp to the other, picking up rocks and trash and carrying them to the dumping area. The other patrols followed at regular intervals, and then the patrol leaders did the same. Finally the troop officers would inspect the results. “You can bet the camp was clean before we retired for our first night’s sleep,” Sadler says.

    Each day at camp began with tent inspection. Sadler says, “Everything, and I mean everything, was removed into the open air and arranged strictly as to detail. The bottom canvas was rolled up around each tent, and the entrance flaps were tied back to let the fresh sea breezes blow through. After that came the inspection of patrols and individual Scouts. Demerits were charged to patrols in which all was not strictly in order.”

    The days were spent in physical exercises, Scout advancement work, and fun. The high point of most days was the swim period. Each afternoon the troop leaders announced the standing of the patrols in the competition for the “Elwes Camp Cup.” This was awarded to the patrol with the fewest demerits for the week. Sadler’s patrol, the Ram Patrol, won the cup three summers in a row. The third summer he was the patrol leader and so received the cup personally from Baden-Powell.

    Each night there was singing and storytelling around the campfire. Each Scout was expected to contribute something, but everyone looked forward especially to the times when Baden-Powell spoke to them. He painted vivid pictures of moments when only woodsmanship and ingenuity stood between him and death, of jungle and mountain skirmishes in far-off places with dark and exotic names, of how his little force of brave and clever men held the town of Mafeking in Africa for seven months against forces outnumbering them ten to one. But after the stories of spying and fighting were ended, he always spoke to the boys about something else. “He spoke to us,” Sadler says, “about honor.”

    He explained to them that a man might be honest because he is afraid someone is watching, but honor comes from within, and a man must never be without it because without it a man is nothing.

    Sadler says that in those days the Scout slogan “Do a Good Turn Daily” was considered an absolute obligation. Boy Scouts wore their neckerchiefs tucked inside their shirts each day until they had done a good turn. And it didn’t stop at just one good turn a day. Sadler says, “We used to go around looking on the sidewalk for a piece of orange peel to kick into the gutter so some elderly person wouldn’t slip on it; we were taught to respect old people very much. And a good turn wasn’t something someone asked you to do. It had to be on your own initiative.”

    When Arthur was 16, two six-foot-one Mormon elders in tailcoats and top hats came visiting. The Sadler children could see the tops of the elders’ hats coming way off down the lane in spite of the tall hedges, and the younger ones would call out, “Here come the poplar trees!” The tall, young Americans taught the family and the family was baptized. The Church was unpopular in England in those days, and the family suffered some harassment for their decision, but they stayed faithful, walking four miles each way to their meetings.

    Arthur took the Scout oath seriously. “On my honor I will do my best” was for him an inviolable law. He never did anything halfheartedly. In school he was at the top of his class. He taught himself shorthand in his spare time as a self-improvement project and became skilled enough to take dictation at well over 100 words per minute. This later led to a job as personal secretary to a member of parliament. He was an enthusiastic athlete, always giving the best that was in him to each sport. As a teenager he ran a three-mile race in which he was required to start last because he was considered the fastest. Some of the competitors were given a full minute head start. Arthur ran with all the strength he had and a little more, catching the leader just 100 yards from the finish line and edging ahead to win. Years later, at the age of 48, he ran in a cross-city, five-mile race in Salt Lake City. He finished second in a field of 32 runners. He won medals in both England and the United States for his skill in soccer. In this rough and tumble sport he had to use “brains instead of brawn” as he puts it, since at five-foot-two he couldn’t run over the top of many opponents. He played his last soccer game at the age of 60. He is also a qualified member of the U. S. Soccer Referee’s Association. Cricket is another favorite sport. He once played against the Australian test team in a match in San Francisco.

    Thanks to his experiences in the First Colchester Troop, Scouting soon became an indispensable part of Arthur’s life. When his work took him to Berkhamsted, England, he was made assistant Scoutmaster of the local troop and organized a fife and drum corps.

    At the age of 23, Arthur emigrated to America, arriving in Chicago on July 4, 1915. The very next day he was made Scoutmaster of the Logan Square Branch Troop. There were six LDS and 18 nonmember boys in the troop, and under Sadler’s guidance they won the championship flag of the Chicago area. Sadler later served as Scoutmaster of seven other troops in several states.

    He has to laugh a little when he recalls one of his camping experiences as Scoutmaster of the Spring Lake (Utah) Troop. “We enjoyed a very nice overnight camp by the shores of Utah Lake. Our transportation on that occasion was a wagon and two horses provided by a local farmer. Not being a farmer myself, I left the details to the assistant Scoutmaster. The result was fine for the Scouts, but not so good for the horses—we forgot to provide any hay for them!”

    In recent years Sadler has been able to influence large numbers of boys through invitations to speak to Scout troops, firesides, Scout leader groups, and other gatherings. Last February he spoke at seven different wards. He has also been invited to participate in various jamborees, leadership training programs, and summer camps.

    At summer camp, as Sadler moves from camp to camp, offering encouragement and advice, it’s obvious that he is at home, doing what he loves to do best. He sits with the young men at their campfires each night and talks with them much as Baden-Powell talked with him and his companions at Walton-on-Naze. And like Baden-Powell, when the usual songs and ghost stories and adventure stories are all finished, he talks to them about honor. He eats each meal with a different patrol, and no matter how disastrous the cooking, he makes the Scouts feel that he has been honored to share it with them. And he really has.

    It is no mystery why Sadler has given so much of himself during his 65 years as a Scout. He loves Scouting because he loves boys. His faith in them is absolute. He accepts wholeheartedly, and often quotes, the statement of Baden-Powell: “If you will give a boy a task to perform, within the range of his capabilities, and place him on his word of honor, you can rely confidently upon his accomplishing the task assigned to him.”

    To Scouts he says, “Don’t just acquire a merit badge or skill award—earn it! If you’re swimming the mile, swim the mile; don’t cheat yourself by resting your feet on the bottom for a minute if you get tired.” He tells of a time when he was able to save two friends from drowning because of leaders who had insisted he really fulfill the swimming requirements.

    Needless to say, Brother Sadler’s sons and grandsons have all been active Scouts. His son is a Scout leader in Las Vegas, Nevada; three of his grandsons are Eagle Scouts; and he has four great-grandsons just starting out in Cub Scouting.

    He has received many honors, including the Silver Beaver award, but the honor he treasures most is the honor of working with Scouts. He has always set a good example for them, in the Church as well as in Scouting. He has held Church positions in all the areas where he has lived, and he served a full-time mission to his native England where he served as branch president of his home branch of Colchester.

    It’s been a long time since Arthur Sadler paid fourpence for the first installment of Baden-Powell’s handbook, but his enthusiasm has never cooled. In him young people in and out of the Church will always have a friend.

    He sums it all up when he says, “So long as I live I shall have in my heart a great love for boyhood and a sincere gratitude to young people for the happiness and joy my continued active association with them has afforded me through nearly three quarters of a century. May God bless them one and all.”

    The Colchester First Troop: (1) Arthur, (2) Herbert, and (3) Stanley. The Scout staves seen in the picture were once an indispensable part of a Scout’s equipment

    Show References

    • All Scouting ranks are now called awards but were ranks when Mr. Sadler received them.