Uniformed Youth Group Biography: Sir Francis Fletcher Vane (England, 1861-1934)

Figure 1.--

Sir Francis Vane was a fascinating character in Edwardian England and the post World War I era. He is today a little known individual who played a major role in shaping the Boy Scout movement. Vane was an interestig character, with wide ranging and seemingly contradictory passions and interests. He was an peer of the realm, an aristocrat with democratic as well as socialist and republican sympathies. He was a career soldier who spoke against war. He was a loyal imperialist who challenged jingoism and the demonising of the enemy. He was eventually fired from the army because of his efforts to prevent a cover up of a number of military murders in Dublin after the 1916 Easter Rising. Vane's life in many ways parallells that of Baden-Powell, but they were individuals of very different outlook. Vane played a major role in founding the British Boy Scouts, an assocaition with anti-militarism sympathies which presented a major challenge to Baden Powell's Boy Scout Association. Although Vane's British Boy Scouts were largely absorbed into Baden-Powell's mobement, Vane's influence played a mahor role in directing the Scouts into becoming a less militaristic and more internationalist movement. Vane later played a major role in founding the Italian Boy Scouts.


Francis was born in Dublin to an Irish mother and an English father. He grew up in Sidmouth, Devon, but we have no details about his childhood at this time.


Vane entered Oxford Military College in 1876. This is not a college we know much about. The British military academy is Standhurst. We do not know how the Oxford Military College related to Standhurst, but attendance was an alternative of entering the British army. We note that several prominent Victorians and Edwardians attended the Oxford Military Academy. The College no long exists, but I'm not sure when it was closed.


Vane began his army career in 1883, serving with the Worcester Militia and Scots Guards. He also served with the Submarine Mining Regiment. He was appointed Captain in the 26th Middlesex Cyclists in 1888. Vaner served in South Africa through most of second Boer War (1899-1902). He was appointed a magistrate in 1902, but was soon dismissed because he was considered to be too 'pro-Boer' in his judgements.

Working Boys Cadet Corps

Vane showed an interest in youth groups at an early stage of his life. As a resident at Toynbee Hall in East London, he organized a Working Boys Cadet Corps in 1886. East Londn was a working class area and there were few recreational oportunities for working class boys at the time. Such a organization was quite different than the middle-class oriented Boys Scouts later to ne founded by Baden Powel, another army officer. I'm not sure what kind of uniform, if any, the Working Boys Cadet Corps had.

Anti-war Movement

Vane in 1903 after his Boer War experiences wrote pamphlet attacking British war methods which was published by the South African Newspaper Company. He worked as a correspondent in South Africa for: Daily News, Manchester Guardian, Westminster, and Truth. Vane published a book expanding on his earlier pamphlet, Pax Britannica in South Africa. He ran as a Liberal Party candidate for Burton on Trent in the 1906 General Election. In the years leading up to World War I, Vane was active in antiwar and suffragette campaigns. He published another book in 1909, On Certain Fundamentals which was a review of his political and philosophical outlooks. It shows a man with an inquiring, but ften undisciplined mind. No doubt a good editor would have assisted him. Even friends agreed that his ideas ranged from throughly sound to extrondiarily strange.

British Boy Scouts

I am not sure to what extent Vane knew Baden Powell. Given their many similarities (military, Boer War, and youth group experiences) one would think that they would have known each other and exchanged exoeriences. Vane was appointed London Commissioner of Scouts in Baden Powell's Boy Scout Association. This resumably reflected in experience working with youth groups in East London. He was eventually fired for taking initiatives. I am not sure to what extent he discussed the issues involved with Baden Powell. Vane alone when many other Scout organizers were concerned with what they saw as the milutarization of the Scout movement. He became President of the rival British Boy Scouts (BBS), merging with the Boys Life Brigade to form the National Peace Scouts. The BBS presented a major challenge to the BSA. Vane introduced a Girls Scout Troop into the BBS, a departure from Baden Powell's BSA which decided to remain only for boys, but incouraging a separate organization for girls--the Girl Guides. He also pursued an active international agenda and in 1911 helped to found the first international Scout organization, the World Order of Scouting. Because of Vane's bankruptsy in 1912, however, the BBS as a major Scout group was ruined. While the BBS was no longer a threat to the BSA, Vane's effort to spread the movement abroad appears to have had an influence on Baden Powell who was to later persue this objective energentically.


Like many Britons, Vane fell in love with Italy and traveled widely there. He liked to winter in Italy and bough a home Bagni di Lucca in the Alps. He published a book, Walks and Peoples in 1908. He helped to found the Italian Boy Scouts, The Ragazzi Esploratori Italiani, in 1910 as part of his work with the BBS. Vane founded a Scout troop at the local school near hs winter home. It proved very popular and the movement spread, especially after gaining the approval and support of the Catholic Church. Vane worked with Italian educator Remo Molinari to found the Ragatzi Exploratori which were also called the Boy Scouts della Pace (Peace Boy Scouts. The official ceremony was held July 12, 1910 at Lucca in Tuscany. The press coverage and the subsequent presence of King Vittorio Emanuelle III at San Rossore on November 6, 1910 gave helped to publicise the Scout movement in Italy. As a result, new troops called Kagazzi Patrioti were founded in Lucca, Pisa and Florence. Soon the movement spread to other Italian cities.

World War I (1914-18)

Vane wrote The Other Illusions in 1914. The book was published by the National Labour Press, only 3 weeks before the World War I erupted. The title was suggested by Norman Angell in reference to his book The Illusions of War which addressed the economic aspects of war. Vane's addressed the romantic and philosophical justifications of war. Vane published on Principles of Military Art in 1916-17. He wrote a more interesting book on the the 1916 Irish revolt in Dublin, The Easter Rising, but the Army Censor prevented publication and there unfortunately are no intact manuscripts surviving. He also wrote War Stories, describing incidents from South Africa, World War I and the EasterUprising which was also suppressed by the Censor.

The Easter Rebellion (1916)

Vane served on the Western Front and was then posted to Ireland in 1916. He led the defense of the Portobello Barracks in Dublin when the Easter Uprising occurred. He was appalled by the savegery of some British soldiers. He tried to have Captain Bowen-Colhurst arrested for murder of Francis Sheehy Skeffington. Bowen-Colhurst ordered the summary execution of Skeffington and two others despite the fact that there were no charges and no proof of complicity in the Uprising. Vane was outraged when he heard that Bowen-Colthurst was allowed to carry out his duties as if nothing had happened. Army offuicials in Dublin refused to take action. Vane took leave and went to London and reported the incident directly to the War Office. Bowen-Colhurst was arrested, but the result was Vane himself was discahrged from the Army.

Post War Years

Vane chaired meetings for Labour and Liberal candidates during the 1918 General Election. He moved to Itlay in 1918 where he active support the Italian Scout movement. He left his beloved Italy in 1927 after Musolini's Fascists suppressed the Scout movement. Vane wrote Tox, Or Everyboy in 1924. It was for his wife who was dying. The book was privately published privately in Italy. His final book was the autobiographical Agin The Governments - Memories and Adventures of Sir Francis Fletcher Vane which he published in 1934. Sir Francis died in 1934. He was 73 years old. His death was little remembered by the Scouting movement in which he played such an important role.


Working Class Movement, "Sir Francis Patrick Fletcher Vane, Bt." Working Class Movement Library, undated.


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Created: December 4, 2000
Last updated: December 4, 2000