reports that Germany was trying to expand the influence of the Hitler Youth in Britain in the late 1930s, before Hitler decided the British were his enemies.
The Scouts’ founder met the then German Ambassador to Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who later became Nazi Germany’s Foreign Minister, in London in 1937.
The details of the meeting are from a memo written by Baden Powell at the time and included in the secret MI5 file, (Britain’s internal security service) which has now been released to the UK National Archives.
The Telegraph report says Baden Powell found that Ribbentrop: ”Seemed very much in earnest and was a charming man to talk to.” Baden Powell’s memo adds:
I told him that I was fully in favour of anything that would bring better understanding between our nations and hoped to have further talks with him when I return from Africa.
According to the file, Baden Powell told Hubert Martin, the Scouts’ International Commissioner that the Germans were:
Most anxious that the Scouts should come into closer touch with the youth movement in Germany.
Lord Baden Powell added he held a:
Long talk with the Ambassador who was very insistent that the true peace between the two nations will depend on the youth being brought up on friendly terms together in forgetfulness of past differences. He sees in the Scout Movement a very powerful agency to bring this about if we can get into close touch with the Jugend Movement [Hitler Youth] in Germany. To help this he suggested that if possible we should send one or two men to meet their leaders in Germany and talk matters over and especially he would like me to go and see Hitler.
Martin alerted MI5 to the memorandum after they intercepted a letter listing the people the Hitler Youth leaders met while in London. An MI5 operative informed Martin:
I told him that the activities…were a small part of a large scale German propaganda which aimed at promoting Anglo-German friendship. I said that I was not in a position to advise him as to the policy which might be desirable for the Boy Scout movement to adopt towards these German approaches. I agreed with him that it was a matter of importance which I thought the leading people in the Boy Scout movement might like to discuss with someone in the Government.
The new MI5 information shows that the Hitler Youth’s Chief of Staff, Hartman Lauterbacher, also visited Eton College and the then Army Gymnastic School at Aldershot.
Meanwhile, the Lincolnshire Echo
reports from the same batch of declassified files that the County of Lincolnshire in southern England hosted 22 young German cyclists on a supposed ”cycling tour” of Britain in 1937 and ’38.
However, when MI5 discovered the Baden Powell invitation to Hitler, suspicions were aroused and strengthened when the county’s Chief Constable told Special Branch, Britain’s police intelligence unit, that the cyclists were members of the South Bavarian troop of the Hitler Youth.
A newspaper headline of the time subsequently referred to them as the ’’Spyclists.”