B-P had a good ear for words, and he liked to use new names for fresh developments in Scouting. When, therefore, the idea of a great gathering of Scouts was under discussion, he avoided such obvious words as “Rally” or “Parade”, as these were not quite suitable, since they carried with them old meanings which he wanted to avoid. So the word “Jamboree” came to his mind. He was once asked why he called a world camp of Scouts a “Jamboree” – a word few had heard before. His answer was: “What else could you call it?” Later he wrote: “Different people assign different derivations to the word, but whatever its derivation, it will have quite a distinct meaning for most people after this year. It will be associated with the greatest gathering of boys that ever has been held. ‘Jamboree’ to them implies a joyful, cheery gathering of boys with broad-brimmed hats and broad grins – complete in their workmanlike kit of shirt, shorts, staff and scarf. They are the important part of the Jamboree.

Little did B-P know that by 1933, that a rally of Boy Scouts would be added to the meaning of “Jamboree” in the Oxford English Dictionary.


How did it all begin? Like many big things it started in a small way and gradually grew into something great. This takes us back to the war of 1914-18. It had been hoped to have some kind of celebration of the tenth anniversary of the foundation of Scouting; this happy event should have taken place in 1917. In July 1916 the Committee at the Headquarters of Boy Scouts in London decided that “an Imperial and International Jamboree shall be held in 1918 – provided the war is over in 1917”. But the war was to last another year and plans had to be revised.  It was then decided to have the Jamboree in 1920, two years after the end of the war. (A similar position was reached when it was eventually decided to have the Sixth Jamboree in 1947).

Some felt that B-P was aiming to high, and that his plan for an International Jamboree was too ambitious, and would be a terrible risk and possibly a failure. They might shake their heads and look gloomy, but B-P had a bigger vision and calmed their misgivings. One critic even suggested that all this bold planning would be so disastrous that the Movement might “totter to its fall”. To which B-P replied: “Don’t be frightened; you take too serious a view of the whole matter, If the Movement is tottering, let it totter. As a matter of fact, it has plenty of vitality under the surface, and is quite capable of doing a very big thing in promoting international amity – and, what is more, it is going to do it.”

So the plans went on maturing.

The first question was – Where? Today, in planning a Jamboree, we think of a suitable camping area – an outdoor site, but back before 1920, the natural idea was of an indoor display and exhibition. This at once suggested Olympia in London, described in the Guide Book as “a huge glass-roofed building covering six acres, used for spectacular entertainments”.

The second question was – Where will the Scouts sleep? Some would have to sleep at Olympia in readiness for taking part in performances, but what about the others? This was not an easy question to answer; a camping ground near Olympia takes some finding. At last permission was obtained for using the Old Deer Park at Richmond, and there a camp was set up to take 5000 Scouts.

It is difficult for us to realize the nature of the problems that faced the organisers of the First Jamboree; we can draw upon the experience of our predecessors, but they were planning something new for which there was no guidance beyond their own common sense. That they succeeded is a tribute to the qualities called into play by Scouting as much as to their native abilities. They had B-P to stimulate them; he was an unfailing source of inspiration and of ideas; his fertile brain and inventiveness worked at full speed during those months of preparation; the success of the Jamboree was his achievement. It would be easy to fill pages with the names of those who gave their best as his supporters, but there were, as always, many hundreds of Scouters and Scouts who share in the work without appearing in the limelight. That, of course, is true of every Jamboree.

At Olympia

Olympia provide two kinds of opportunity; first a vast arena for displays, and second, small annexes for exhibitors. In the main arena, two large back-scenes were painted, and a drop curtain made to shut off the scenes when not in use. The concrete floor of the arena was covered with a foot of earth for competitions, tent pitching etc. These facts will illustrate how the first Jamboree was very different from subsequent jamborees, as it was more of an exhibition than a camp.

Over the course of the Jamboree, the exhibitions included trek-cart work, firefighting, tumbling, Morris dancing, physical training, etc. One exhibition, if one had been able to look into the future, would have been very interesting. Gilwell Park was in its first year, and prepared an exhibition of hike tents and hiking equipment, rafts and other outdoor objects. These were all novel to most, but have since become part of the Scouting we know today. One other exhibition was a zoo, with Contingents from various countries bringing animals; a lioness cub from Rhodesia, an alligator from Florida, a crocodile from Jamaica to name a few. Imagine a zoo at a Jamboree today!

There were also many competitions, such as tug-o-war, obstacle trek race, relay dispatch-carrying, band and bugling.

At Olympia began the custom of printing a daily paper. The Sunday Service had some 8000 Scouts present, and services were also held at Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral.

The weather also played a part, with heavy rain meaning some of the Richmond camping area was flooded as the Thames river overflowed. Scouts were moved to schools and private houses through the Richmond suburb. The Jamboree open day, Monday 2nd August 1920, was attended by 14,000 people, so there was a lot of interest. More and more, as the days went by, the significance of the Jamboree became clear. What started as a ‘rally’ of Scouts to celebrate the tenth year of the Movement (albeit three years late) developed into a great demonstration of international goodwill. The Scout Movement had come into its own, and the public recognized it for what it really meant – a new citizenship of youth knowing no boundaries of race or geography.


When invitations had been sent out to other countries to send Scouts to the Jamboree, few thought that the response would be anything like what actually happened. The following countries were represented:

Commonwealth countries

Australia Ceylon (Sri Lanka) England Gibraltar
India Ireland Jamaica Malaya
Malta New Zealand Scotland South Africa
Swaziland Wales    

Other countries

USA Belgium Chile China
Czechoslovakia Denmark Estonia France
Greece Italy Japan Luxembourg
Netherlands Norway Portugal Romania
Serbia Siam (Thailand) Spain Sweden

Chief Scout Of The World

On 6th August, B-P was acclaimed Chief Scout of the World. This tribute was spontaneous, it had not been planned as part of the programme when the Jamboree was being organised, but as the days passed it became more and more evident how strong a hold this one man had of the hearts and loyalties of those thousands of boys from so many lands. This title was considered most precious by B-P of all the titles bestowed to him over his lifetime.

Jamboree Ending

The Jamboree ended on Saturday 7th August 1920. A number of lessons were learned from the experiment, and those were carefully noted for future guidance. An indoor exhibition limits the activities and prevents a demonstration of genuine outdoor Scouting. All subsequent Jamborees have been in camp. Then it was noticed that the public was chiefly attracted to the happiness of the boys and not the spectacular displays. Finally, it was realized that above all else a Jamboree is a manifestation of good comradeship between the boys of many nations and the more that aspect can be stressed the more successful a Jamboree.

From: The Jamboree Story, published by The Boy Scouts International Bureau, 1957.

Darryl Bretherton #7786

There was no official badge for the 1st World Scout Jamboree. Shown to the right is a placeholder logo owned by the World Organization of the Scout Movement for the 1st World Scout Jamboree.

Two badges are known, however. One was for the South African Contingent. Another, showing a tent, was apparently made by an individual attending the jamboree.