Green Bar Bill Hillcourt’s Impact on Wood Badge
The First US Wood Badge Scoutmaster
As the Boy Scout program matured in the USA, it became apparent that Wood Badge could provide valuable advanced training. To familiarize the United States with Wood Badge, John Skinner Wilson, Gilwell Park Camp Chief, came from England to provide a Rover Scout Wood Badge Course for BSA at New Jersey’s Mortimer L. Schiff Scout Reservation.
Bill Hillcourt was a member of the Burnham Patrol on that WB Course, May 12-20, 1936. Four days later, May 24 to June 3, 1936, Bill was the Staff Troop Leader and “Dog’s Body” (Senior Patrol Leader) for a second course. It qualified Bill to receive his WB Beads in 1939, and to become the national Deputy Camp Chief of the United States.
After World War II and a BSA training hiatus, Wood Badge was re-awakened to become a permanent part of the American Scouting scene.
Early in 1948, the new Scout Executive who had replaced Dr. James E. West, appointed four national Staffers to get Wood Badge underway as a national training standard. Bill Hillcourt was one of the four, BSA’s first Deputy Camp Chief and by then, also the national Director of Scoutcraft.
These four National Professional Staffers decided from the start that two BSA Wood Badge courses would be run in 1948:
- The first at NJ’s Schiff Scout Reservation with Scouters mostly from the Northeast, as a proving ground for this BSA WB training
(Course #1, July 21 – August 8, 1948)
- The second at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, would be fine-tuned to become the standard of Wood Badge for the BSA
(Course #2, October 2- 10, 1948)
William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt was the Scoutmaster for both.
The Philmont course was held Cimarroncito. Thirty-five (35) men mostly from the Western parts of the U.S., assembled at Philmont’s “Big House” at noon on October 2, 1948, to launch BSA’s Wood Badge.
The course started tenuously with Professional Scouters pitted against Volunteer Scouters. SM Bill Hillcourt regrouped his Staff and broke an impasse. Patrol spirit soared and Participants overcame the obstacles of high altitude, physical and mental fatigue, slow and difficult supply deliveries, poor communications with the Philmont Ranch, and bad weather with rain, sleet, snow, and cold!
Philmont’s Wood Badge #2 Course followed that of WB #1: it was unquestionably a mountain-top experience. Tired Scouters returned home with strong, enthusiastic feelings; the future of Wood Badge in BSA was assured.
William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt’s Totem became a circle with “WILLIAM HILLCOURT” as it’s circumference; “Bill” was handwritten at an angle over a PL’s two green bars inside the circle; at its bottom, two leather throngs came out of a WB Woggle; the left one held three beads and the right one, two beads — Bill was a “5-Beader”!
Thanks to Joe Fisher of the Longs Peak Council, a personal friend of Bill’s for the above narrative.
Joe last visited with Bill a year before his death at his Manlius, NY home.
And also to Jeff Bogart, Course Director WM-62-2-98 held at Philmont’s Zastro Camp which was held 50 years after Bill Hillcourt conducted the first US Wood Badge courses.
Biography of Green Bar Bill Hillcourt
William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt is considered by many Scouters to be the Baden-Powell of American Scouting. He has had significant influence on the program of the BSA and the training Scouters recieve through Wood Badge in this country.
Who was “Green Bar Bill”?
IN THE BEGINNING….
William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt was born Vilhelm Bjerregaard Jenson in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1900. His introduction Boy Scouting came in January 1911, at the age of 11, after his parents gave him B-P’s newly translated Scouting For Boys as a Christmas gift. Bill went on to become the Danish equivalent of an Eagle Scout.
His Troop sent him to the first World Jamboree in London, in 1920, and a habit started that would move him into the international Scouting spotlight for the rest of his life.
COMING TO AMERICA….
It was 1926 and Bill Hillcourt was a “Cub Reporter” for his Copenhagen newspaper. Bill talked his Editor into sending him to the U.S. for its first National Jamboree — after all, Bill was a Journalist who was also one of Lord Baden-Powell’s Scouts. The paper ought not be “scooped” by someone else by being absent from such an austere event where England’s great Lord Baden-Powell would speak to the very first gathering of American Boy Scouts! The convinced Editor sent his Journalist to the U.S. to cover BSA’s first Jamboree for the paper!
Bill didn’t return to Denmark. He broke his leg at the Jamboree and while awaiting passage home, visited Scout Executive Dr. James E. West at the BSA office on Times Square in New York City. Awaiting the building’s elevator with his leg in a walking cast, the doors opened; Dr. West stepped out and Bill fell forward trying to step in — right into Dr. West’s arms! Two handicapped Scouters met abruptly.
What they had in common caused Dr. West to invite Bill Hillcourt to his office. Once there, Dr. West learned all about Bill Hillcourt, why he was in the U.S. for a BSA Jamboree, and visiting BSA & West.
THE START OF A NEW CAREER….
Bill’s enthusiasm about Scouting and being a journalist led West to offer Bill his first job in the Supply Service of the new, expanding BSA Program. Later, Bill challenged West’s implementation of the scouting program — that BSA didn’t follow B-P’s Patrol Method correctly. West challenged Bill to write a replacement for BSA’s 1910 Official Handbook, that had been published as an Americanized version of B-P’s Scouting for Boys.
Bill had already written his first book three years earlier at 23: a tale of Scout camping, based upon his own Patrol’s experiences. But this book had to be written in English; boys not only had to read it, but enjoy it, and follow B-P’s Methods. Bill always enjoyed telling his story of how a Dane with poor English came to learn our language well enough to write a best-selling book for American boys.
To improve his English, particularly when it was already corrupted with “Americanisms”, Bill used to go to Times Square to watch movies. He spent two months on BSA’s payroll attending American movies He’d watch a morning matinee; then a different early-afternoon matinee; then yet another late-afternoon matinee. This is the way Bill learned the colloquial American language of English. His first Boy Scout Handbook was a smashing, run-away, best-seller success; it was written as Boys talked. Boys understood it; they liked it; and they followed it. Bill’s new BSA career was off to a running start.
Bill Hillcourt went on to write a Patrol Leader Handbook, a Scoutmaster’s Handbook, and the Field Book; then updated them from 1929 until he retired. In 1932, while writing the various handbooks, Bill started to enliven the pages of Boys’ Life with his famed Scoutcraft features, leading generations of boys into the outdoors. For four decades until he retired, Bill wrote his feature columnunder his pseudonym of “Green Bar Bill”, with a logo of “Bill” hand-written on top of the two green bars of a PL.
Bill became involved in Wood Badge in 1936 when John Skinner Wilson, Camp Chief of Gilwell, came to introduce Wood Badge to the United States. After adapting the training to the BSA program, Bill served as Scoutmaster of the first two courses (and many others thereafter). You’ll want to hear more about this.
In 1964, Bill wrote Baden-Powell – The Two Lives Of A Hero, yet another distinguished writing effort. As he wrote in his acknowledgements, “….I have had the unstinted help of the three leading characters in the life of Baden-Powell — himself (B-P), his mother (Henrietta Grace Powell), and his wife (Lady Olave Baden-Powell), and …. numerous other people.” (One of whom was B-P’s daughter, Betty St. Clair.)
RECOGNITION AS A WORLD SCOUTING PROGRAM LEADER…
For his work with and for the youth of the United States, Bill received:
- the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award
- the St. George Award
- the Silver Buffalo, BSA’s top Scouting Award.
As a World Scouter, Bill’s work for InterAmerican Scouting was recognized with its highest award:
- the Youth Of The American
and for his work with youth around the world, he was honored with:
- the Bronze Wolf, World Scouting’s highest award.
William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt was a personal friend of B-P. When Bill died at 92 on November 9, 1992, in Stockholm, Sweden, he still had several of B-P’s original, signed sketches hanging unadorned on his apartment walls in Manlius, NY. Two copies of B-P’s original serialized newspaper articles that
became B-P’s Scouting for Boys sat idly yellowing on a bookcase shelf beside several autographed first-edition copies of B-P’s Scouting for Boys.
In his life-time, William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt became Scoutmaster to the world; revered by BSA Scouters everywhere as the “B-P” of American Scouting — equally as important as William Dickson Boyce, Ernest Thompson Seton, Daniel Carter Beard, and Dr. James E. West as BSA founders!