Scouting, Volume 73, Number 4, September 1985 Page: 26
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STILL GOING STRONG ON THE SCOUTING TRAIL
(Top) You rarely see Bill at his
home in Manlius, N.Y., because
he's constantly on the go,
touring the world on behalf of
Scouting. His most recent
and Germany where he at-
tended the world conference.
(Above) His rare collection of
walking sticks, given to him by
his many friends. At the far left
is a four-tone kudu horn,
which Bill considers a genuine
The official records state that William
Hillcourt was 85 years old this past
August 6, but don't you believe it.
In appearance, he's a youthful 65
year old. In energy and vigor, he's
approaching 40. And in heart and
spirit, he's still the patrol leader he was in Den-
mark 70 years ago.
Since 1929, when he wrote the first Handbook
for Patrol Leaders for the Boy Scouts of America,
Bill Hillcourt has been the foremost influence on
development of the Boy Scouting program. Since
1932, when his "Green Bar Bill" column started
in Boys' Life, he has been a living legend to
millions of Scouts. And for at least that long,
Bill Hillcourt—a man of positive opinions and
no reluctance to voice them—has been a burr
under the saddles at the national office of the
His talent for stirring things up appeared early
on. He came to this country in 1926, intending
to study the BSA's operations for the Danish Boy
Scouts while enroute to seeing the world. After
spending the summer at the camp of the New
York Boy Scouts at Bear Mountain, N.Y., he
took a temporary job in the BSA's Supply Ser-
vice in New York City. 'And there," he recalls,
"I got the break of my life, both literally and
figuratively.'' The break came when a 300-pound
box of World War I Army surplus signal poles
toppled over on his right leg, fracturing it in
Temporarily out of work and on crutches, Bill
hobbled into BSA headquarters at 200 Fifth Ave.
a few days after the accident to pick up his mail.
At the elevator going out, he ran into Chief
Scout Executive James E. West, the strong-willed
administrator who laid the foundations for the
young organization. Making small talk, West
asked Hillcourt, "Well, what do you think about
the Boy Scouts of America?"
Now, you don't ask Bill Hillcourt a question
unless you want to know the answer. "So," Bill
recalls, "I went back to my little room and wrote
out a little memorandum." The little memo was
18 pages long single-spaced. In it, the young
Dane had some good things to say about the
BSA, but he criticized the American mania for
collecting huge numbers of merit badges, the
BSA's penchant for awarding medals for the
inconsequential achievements, and the relative
luxury of its Scout camps. Bill was courageously
blunt in his criticisms, but disarming. "I hate
negative criticism," he wrote in his introduction.
"Everybody is able to criticize. But a criticism
September 1985 •&> Scouting
without proposals of something which might be
better seems to me of no value." It was a princi-
ple he would hold on to throughout his career.
Most significantly, Hillcourt wrote that Ameri-
can troops were not using the patrol method, the
"fundamental principle'' of Scouting.' 'The patrol
is not a unit of boys commanded by a Scout-
master," he said, "it is a unit of boys led by a
boy." What was needed, he proposed, was a
handbook for patrol leaders, which, he added,
"will be written as soon as I return to Denmark.
If you want to be the first, you will have to hurry
up. But, for heaven's sake: Let it be written by a
man who has been Tenderfoot, Second Class,
and First Class Scout, who has been a successful
patrol leader, and who has proven to be a Scout-
master who believes in the real kind of patrol
system and who has done some excellent work
in the training of boy-leaders. If you are going to
let anybody else write the book, better let it
James E. West recognized talent and enthusi-
asm when he saw it, and so Bill Hillcourt was
placed under the wing of E.S. Martin, director
of the Editorial Service. "Martin—and West,
too—became my father figures," he said.
That first memo led in due course to Bill's
Handbook for Patrol Leaders, which was pub-
lished in 1929 and later translated into five other
languages for use around the world. Ever since,
Bill Hillcourt has peppered West's successors
and other national volunteer and professional
leaders of the Boy Scouts of America with ideas
and suggestions for improving American Boy
Along the way, he wrote a large chunk of Boy
Scouting's basic literature and told three genera-
tions of boys how to become real Scouts through
the pages of Boys' Life. And always, he preached
the patrol method of Scouting, as devised by
Lord Baden-Powell, founder of Scouting. (It
was not by chance that Hillcourt took the green
bars of the patrol leader's badge in those days as
his symbol when he began writing "Green Bar
William Hillcourt was born in 1900, in Aarhus,
Denmark's second-largest city. The youngest of
three sons, he was christened Vilhelm Hans
Bjerregaard Jensen. His father was a prosperous
building contractor who fell on hard times when
a national exposition he backed went bust during
an economic depression in 1909. That same year
the nine-year-old Vilhelm enjoyed his first taste
of authorship when an Aarhus newspaper pub-
lished his poem about (continued on page 79)
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Boy Scouts of America. Scouting, Volume 73, Number 4, September 1985, periodical, September 1985; Irving, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth353644/m1/26/: accessed December 16, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boy Scouts of America National Scouting Museum.