Swastikas in Scouting

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Swastika Question

When one first sees a swastika and a scout symbol, often the first thing that comes to mind is the question; did scouting support the Nazi movement?  The answer is, no.  The swastika symbols have an extensive history and some have been used for at least 5,000 years.

The Origin of the Swastika Emblem in Scouting

From What Scouts Can Do - More Yarns — Baden-Powell, 1921; the full text of which can be found on the Pine Tree Web Site:

"… as you know from the account of the Swastika Thanks Badge which I have given to you in Scouting for Boys, the symbol was used in almost every part of the world in ancient days and therefore has various meanings given to it.

"Anyway, whatever the origin was, the Swastika now stands for the badge of fellowship among Scouts all over the world, and when anyone has done a kindness to a Scout it is their privilege to present him or her with this token of their gratitude, which makes him a sort of member of the Brotherhood, and entitles him to the help of any other Scout at any time and at any place.

"I want specially to remind Scouts to keep their eyes open and never fail to spot anyone wearing this badge.  It is their duty then to go up to such a person, make the scout sign, and ask if they can be of service to the wearer."

Robert Baden-Powell

The word of Swastika in Sanskrit is composed of two words,  "Su" (good) and "Asati" (to exists) which means "May good prevail."  Therefore, it also represents happiness, and is often displayed at celebrations, cultural and religious ceremonies, and at weddings or festivals of the Indian tradition.  The Swastika also is a symbol of auspiciousness, peace and prosperity.

The swastika was also a widely used Native American symbol.  It was used by many southwestern tribes, most notably the Navajo. Among different tribes the swastika carried various meanings.  To the Hopi it represented the wandering Hopi clans; to the Navajo it represented a whirling log, a sacred image representing a legend that was used in healing rituals.

The Use of the Symbol on the Scouts' Thanks Badge by Colin 'Johnny' Walker
(the original web page from Scouting Milestones is no longer available, but I have retrieved it from archives and am sharing part of it in the frame below)

Official Thanks Badge, 24 Aug 1910
I have been corresponding with Peter Ford, a UK Scout Association Heritage Research Assistant, and he has provided the 46 page "A guide to the Medals and Awards of The Scout Association."  Pages 41-44 have thanks badges; the guide is very interesting.  He has also provided me images of Thanks Badges which you can see below.  Peter let me know that "The official thanks badge was registered by James Kyle (HQ Secretary) on 24 Aug 1910."

Flag Swastica
Flag Swastika rotated
both ways (clickable)
1920 World Jamboree in London
1926 Kimberley (back)

1926 Kimberley

First of three gold Scout emblems to be made for the Chief ScoutAn interesting swastika image was sent to me by the Rover Adviser, Phillip Jones, from the 1st Dulwich Hill/Marrickville Scout Group (Dame Dixson's Own) in Sydney, Australia which you can see to the left.  The writing underneath the swastika reads: "This Swastika was presented to the late Dame Emma Elizabeth Dixson (biographical link) by the Chief Scout - Sir Robert Baden Powell in 1908.  It was one of the first three gold Scout emblems to be made for the Chief Scout.  Of the two remaining, he kept one himself, the other he gave to Mrs. Christian Thornett (biographical link)."  The scout group in Sydney says the gold swastika was presented to Dame Dixson in 1908 but in discussions with Colin Walker, these were likely privately made for the Chief Scout; not something from the UK national scout office which did not occur until 1911.  To the best of my knowledge, in the first few years all Thanks Badges were privately made.

Thanks Badge of the Pathfinder Section of Scouting in South AfricaFor good viewing of the various Thanks Badges, visit www.scoutcollecting.co.uk/ssshop4-badges-leaders-service__amp__good_service315-thanks_badges.html.  Also, some early Thanks Badges can be viewed by visiting sites.google.com/site/preaprscoutbadge/1910s-uniform-badge-and-epaulettes.

The Thanks Badge has been used in all Commonwealth countries.  In 1933 in South Africa, the Colored Division of the Boy Scout Association was formed and they chose to be known as Pathfinders.  To meet their requirements, a new Thanks Badge, a Pathfinder Badge on a swastika, was introduced to be used specifically by the Pathfinder Section of Scouting.  This badge was issued between 1933 and 1939.

Thanks Charm reverseThanks Charm obverseThe Girl Guides and Girl Scouts have used a Thanks Badge but the symbol they used was not a swastika.

I have come into possession of what I will call a "Thanks Charm."  It used the fleur-de-lis of the Thanks Badge beginning in 1923 and the British Medal of Merit.  What is interesting is that the swastika is rotated 45° and reversed from a normal Thanks Badge.  It has a 9ct mark on one of the legs of the swastika.  It is my understanding that the gold used in Thanks Badges was 18ct gold but I have more recently learned that there are some 9ct badges.  Also, only the swastika looks to be gold.  This Thanks Charm looks to be fabricated from the fleur-de-lis from a type-6 Thanks Badge as it looks to be exactly the same design and a swastika.  The diameter of the Thanks Charm is 29mm.  I bought it from an eBayer from Bulgaria.

1917 Kelburn Scouts Thank You BadgeThis Thanks badge is reported to have been "made on behalf of the 1st Kelburn Scout Troop in Wellington and presented to their Scoutmaster N Robertson on occasion of his departure for the war.  He had been drafted into the Wellington Rigles Regiment and left for Glasgow in November, 1917."  This information is from the New Zealand Museums website - www.nzmuseums.co.nz/collections/3087/objects/517049/1917-kelburn-scouts-thank-you-badge.

The problem with the 1917 date, is that this is a type-6 fleur-de-lis which was not used until 1923.  The link above for good viewing of the various Thanks Badges provided me the information about the date.  Another interesting aspect of this pin is that it used a 45° rotated swastika.  This is another part of interesting history on this subject.

British Medal of MeritThe Medal of Merit in Great Britain and the Colonies

This medal with Boy Scout symbol, swastika and green silk ribbon was the third version of the Medal of Merit.  It was designed by Baden-Powell in 1928 and the design continued though 1934.  During the 1930's, letters of protest were sent to Scout Headquarters from British Scouters who had traveled abroad.  The letters requested a change of design for the Thanks Badge and the Medal of Merit.  The response was that any medal with a swastika design could be returned for a new design issued after 1934.

The Scout Association (UK) Heritage Collection were nice enough to share with me a copy of a letter written by The Council of Jewish Scouters written in April, 1933 asking that the "Swastika" be removed from the Scout Movement.

French Swastika Badges
Swastika Badges in France

The Swastika badge was awarded in thanks to adult leaders after many years of service.  There were three levels of this badge: bronze, silver and gold.  France has several scout organizations and each had its variation of the badge.  Examples can be seen at the right.  This information was obtained from fr.scoutwiki.org/Svastika.  (By using the Chrome browser, you can get an English translation.)

French Swastika BadgeAn additional Swastika badge from another scout group was added to the web page referenced above and I have added it to the left.

Estonian 1930-40 Boy Scouts Merit AwardEstonian 1930-40 Boy Scouts Merit Award

I did find a early scout badge from Estonia labeled "Estonia Scouts District Swastika Badge 2nd Class."  Upon further research, I belive this is a "Estonian 1930-40 Boy Scouts Merit Award."   The award from Estonia can be found on this page www.emedals.com/europe/estonia/medals/an-estonian-1930-40-boy-scouts-merit-award-eu6442.

Czechoslovak Scouting Award.

Presented to the World Scout Bureau from the Boy Scout AssociationThe recipient of this award was a Senior Greek Boy Scout leader.  You can read more at this link, svasticross.blogspot.com/2010/11/swastika-scout-medal.html.

World Scouting Museum

The Museum is the home of the World Scout Bureau Memorabilia Collection.  One of the items they received in 2003 was the plaque to the right.  This plaque was obviously presented to the World Scout Bureau in the late 1920's or early 1930's from the British Boy Scout Association.

The World Scouting Museum shared a Lone Scouts of America (LSA) pinback button with me that had a swastika on it.  I found the LSA had an interesting history so I am sharing it in the frame below along with the swastika pinback button.

The Swastika and BSA

National Executive Board Pin 1910-19191913 Scout's Handy BookBSA did not develop a Thanks Badge and the only use of the swastika as a pin that was worn by the National Executive Board from 1910 to 1919.  However, BSA did use the swastika on several books that I have been able to identify.  The spine of the The Scout's Handy Book in 1913 and the back cover of the Universal Indian Sign Language produced for the 1929 World Jamboree.  As I previously mentioned,  the swastika was a widely used Native American symbol but interestingly, there is no reference to the symbol in the World Jamboree book.

Universal Indian Sign Language back coverUniversal Indian Sign Language front cover

Comanche Trail Council Indian Camp, 1937 National Scout JamboreeJ. Michael Clinch, who is working on a compilation of BSA council and OA lodge merger histories, sent me the below additional information:

  • The Piankeshaw Council #739, headquartered in Danville (Illinois) was founded in 1926.  A regional non-OA honor society, the Tribe of Gimogash was active in this council from 1918 until 1930, when it was replaced with Swastika Lodge (55), whose totem was the thunderbird.  The lodge changed its name in 1935 to the Waukheon Lodge (55), possibly due to Nazi Germany's appropriation of the ancient swastika symbol.  The lodge totem and the translation of its name was "thunderbird."

In most cases by 1935, the swastika was not being used in scouting but I did find the image to the right which referred to the Comanche Trail Council Indian Camp at the 1937 National Scout Jamboree on wikipedia which had been uploaded by J. G. Howes.

Another reference that has come to my attention is listed under Scout Honor Societies on the US Scout Service Project web site; Order of the White Swastika.  That web page is www.usscouts.org/honorsociety/orderwhiteswas.asp.  The web page makes reference to a Sports Illustrated article that is no longer available but I have located the interesting article in archives and am sharing it in the frame below.

Excelsior Shoe Company Associates their Advertising with Boy Scouts

Before I share the advertising of the Excelsior Shoe Co., I have to share that it was the Excelsior tokens that got me focused on the subject of Swastikas in Scouting.  I noticed that there was a common reverse of many advertising tokens between the years 1908 and 1935 which I now realize are the same years as the Thanks Badges using the swastika from the UK and the Commonwealth.  The descriptions and links to these tokens begin at www.sageventure.com/coins/tokens.html.

The Excelsior Shoe Company took advantage of the opportunity to associate their advertising with the new Boy Scout movement that began in 1910.  They created a "Boy Scout" shoe, and issued commemorative tokens between July 1910 and January 1914.  You can learn about the classification and get links to these tokens at www.sageventure.com/coins/scout.html.

When a scout bought a new pair of shoes from Excelsior, he got the token to the left with them.  It was holed at the top center.  These tokens were made of copper.  When the scoutmaster could prove that everyone in his troop had bought shoes, he received the same token but in silver.

An interesting article on similar tokens with swastikas, titled Death of an Icon, Swastikas on Jewish tokens once common as 'Good Luck' charms by Steven H. Kaplan was written for The Shekel, volume 47, no. 1, January February 2014.  The article used many of the tokens from my website for which I was acknowledged.  I have made a pdf out of Death of an Icon as a reference for others.

An Inglorious End

After World War One (1914-1918) a new German political party, the National Socialists, popularly known as the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler took possession of the swastika.  It was then that the innocent device was chosen as their Party emblem.  Their Black Swastika (as it was known) was made into a symbol of 'The Vocation to fight for the Victory of the Aryan Race' which they considered themselves to be.  This became a specific 'Aryan/Nazi' symbol with an anti-Semitic purport.

Black SwastikaHitler and his Nazis took over Germany in January 1933 and on the 15th of September 1935 raised their party flag to Germany's National Flag.  It was under the cover of this flag with the Black Swastika that the Nazis committed their crimes against humanity.  Although the Black Swastika is rotated 45° and as opposed to the traditional swastika which displays it in a "square" configuration, they so much discredited and soiled the swastika that, when they finally disappeared in May 1945, the emblem could no longer be used for anything else.

Information compiled by Craig Murray

Updates made by Alex Bennett 2023
Another interesting article on swastikas - www.worldglobetrotters.com/Links/Swastika/swastika.htm