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March 8, 2010 12:08 am
Robert Baden-Powell, the father of scouting, was offered a personal audience with Adolf Hitler as part of an attempt by the Nazis to foster friendly relations with Britain in the late 1930s, according to MI5 papers published on Monday.
The invitation came from Joachim von Ribbentrop, then German ambassador to London and later foreign minister, at a reception in 1937 where the two men discussed forging links between the Hitler Youth and Boy Scouts.
The documents released to the National Archive will provide ammunition for critics of Lord Baden-Powell, who claim the scout leader showed some early sympathy with fascism.
In a letter to Von Ribbentrop after their London meeting, Baden-Powell said he was “grateful for the kind conversation which opened my eyes to the feeling of your country towards Britain, which reciprocates exactly the feeling I have for Germany . . . I sincerely hope we shall be able, in the near future, to give expression to it through the youth on both sides”.
Von Ribbentrop, sent to London by Hitler to seek an alliance with the British, was hanged for war crimes after the Nuremberg trials.
In a separate note to scout leaders, Baden-Powell said the ambassador “was a charming man to talk to, with many relations in England. I knew his uncle in India”. The comments offer further evidence of the warmth shown to the Nazis by parts of British society in the 1930s.
Baden-Powell’s note was passed to MI5, the security service, by another scout leader, who expressed “doubt about the sincerity of these German advances”.At the recommendation of MI5, the scout movement contacted Lord Cranbourne, a Foreign Office minister, who told them he “strongly deprecated close relations” with the Hitler Youth. The Von Ribbentrop meeting came at the end of a UK visit by Hartmann Lauterbacher, chief of staff of the Hitler Youth.
In a visit to the Royal Empire Society, Lauterbacher told board members about visits to Eton College, the public school, and the army’s gymnastic school at Aldershot. “He seemed properly impressed by both institutions,” one attendee said.
Sir Vernon Kell, MI5’s founder and chief, took a keen interest in the Hitler Youth after reports in The Daily Herald that it was using UK cycling holidays as a cover for reconnaissance missions. The newspaper described the boys as “spyclists”.
At Kell’s behest, agents received reports from around the country in 1937 as four groups of boys embarked on trips. Public reaction ranged from welcoming – a “sausage and mashed potato supper” organised by the Spalding Rotary Club – to suspicious. One troop leader was “found taking photographs of the surrounding country when he and his boys were on a visit to Edale recently and this was resented by residents.”
The Herald claimed its article was based on a piece in the German Cyclist magazine, which called on the boys to “impress on your memory” landmarks because you “may be able to utilise these sometime for the benefit of the fatherland”.
However, MI5 questioned whether the story actually appeared in the magazine.
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