Scouts observe a day of thought

Five hundred luminaries – candles in paper bags – reflected in the duck pond at Battle Point Friday evening.

Bainbridge Girl Scouts and supporters walked the lighted path for the annual world-wide observance of Thinking Day, pausing to read the names printed on bags of the nearly 200 countries where young women are Girl Scouts.

“I think our girls finally ‘get it’ that they’re part of a much bigger picture,” said Shannon Buxton, Troop 23 co-leader, who helped plan the event. “They didn’t put all the pieces together until they saw all the countries on all the bags – how many that was.”

Thinking Day began on Feb. 22, 1926 – marking the shared birthday of scouting founders Lord and Lady Baden-Powell – to promote world peace.

For one day a year, Girl Scouts and their international counterparts, Girl Guides, think of fellow scouts in other lands.

This year’s Thinking Day has acquired the resonance of recent world events, scout leaders say.

“I was a Girl Scout on Bainbridge in the 1970s,” Theresa Peterson, a volunteer who helps manage the troops on the island, said. “We came together in peace and unity every year for Thinking Day.

“Since 9-11, I see that Girl Scouts have really banded together. We have sister troops on the East Coast now.”

Thinking Day has been a rallying point for scouts in other troubled times, particularly during World War II.

During that conflict, guides and their leaders were targeted by the Nazis for leadership they knew could be put at the service of resistance movements. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were killed outright or sent to concentration camps.

In Bielsko, Poland, the Nazi prefect ordered a troop of Guides to appear in the town square in full uniform. The 12 year-old girls were lined up against a wall and shot.Leaders were imprisoned or killed.

“The leadership was decimated by the end of World War II,” Buxton said.

By 1941, scouting was banned throughout Occupied Europe. Girl Guide materials and bank accounts were seized. Anyone caught wearing the uniform was killed, although many Guides continued to wear the trefoil pin under lapels.

Thinking Day became a clandestine focal point. Scouting historian Harriet C. Philmus wrote in “Brave Girls” (Girl Scouts National Organization Press, 1947):

“Scouting went underground...through all the years of Occupation, they met together on one special day to renew their Girl Scout promise. That day was ‘Thinking Day,’ the one day in all the year when Scouts all over the world paused in what they were doing and considered what their organization meant to them and to their sister Scouts all over the world.”

Even very young Guides aided European Resistance movements.

“That story is perhaps not so well know as it should be – remember, we have a constant influx of new leaders,” said Mary Braden, who has been involved with local scouting for 23 years. “But I think it should be remembered – to really know what those young women did, what an active part they played in the Resistance.”

Philmus records how a whole scout troop in Strasburg banded together to smuggle false papers and civilian clothes to prisoners. Luxemburg Guides led locals who were conscripted into the German army and had deserted to the unoccupied territory. In Denmark, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides braved the curfew to forage for wild fruit, picking bushels for hungry compatriots.

During the 1944 Warsaw uprising, according to scouting lore, organized Guide battalions were among the last resisters in the city’s northern district.

In Alsace, Guides played a deadly game with German troops, “tagging” them with a French flag disguised as an innocuous package. In Corfu, Greek Girl Guides printed and distributed an underground resistance newspaper.

Other Guides continued to meet and even work on proficiency badges, although being caught meant prison or death.

“We tell girls on Thinking Day to consider scouts in other countries,” Braden said, “but we need to think about the history, too. Our motto is ‘Where girls grow strong’ and these women were.

“Even today, there are governments that are afraid of the Scouts.”

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