Merry we meet - Merry we meet - Merry we meet
John Gordon Hargrave
Written and compiled by George Knowles
John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) was a British writer, artist, inventor and politician. He was best known as the founder of the Kibbo Kift Kindred (KKK) in 1920, an alternative Scouting movement opposed to the militaristic views of Lord Baden-Powell. Later the KKK evolved into the politically active Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit and later still The Social Credit Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Born on the 6th Jun 1894, John Gordon Hargrave was the second son born to Gordon Hargrave and Bibet Bing, a poor Quaker family in Midhurst, Sussex. Soon after his birth, his father, a struggling landscape painter, moved the family to Hawkshead, Cumbria, a picturesque rural area of the Lake District where Hargrave gained a lifelong passion for the countryside and its wild animals. While his formal schooling was perfunctory, by the age of 12 he was producing professional line drawings and illustrations for new book publications, including those by the well-known Scottish author John Buchan (1st Baron Tweedsmuir).
In 1908 after first joining the newly formed Boy Scouts movement founded by Lord Baden-Powell, Hargrave quickly rose through the ranks earning a reputation as a leading outdoorsman. Later moving to Buckinghamshire to further his career as a commercial artist, by the age of just 17, he was working as the chief cartoonist for the London Evening Times. His main passion however was in nature and Scouting, and using the pseudonym “White Fox”; he wrote a regular column on Woodcraft for the Scouting magazine The Trail, and soon attracted an enthusiastic readership.
Hargrave aged 17
Inspired by the works of a Ernest Thompson Seton, the American naturalist and a leading authority on Woodcraft, Hargrave wrote his first book Lonecraft (1913) aimed at encouraging boys who lived too far away from an established Scout troop to go it alone and become “Lone Scouts”. The book was well received and popular, and even earned him a visit from the sons of King George V, both anxious to learn more from the celebrated White Fox.
Lord Baden-Powell - Ernest Thompson Seton
At the start World War I in 1914, Hargrave joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). As a Sergeant in charge of stretcher-bearers he was attached to the 10th (Irish) Division serving in action at Gallipoli and Suvla Bay during the Dardanelle’s campaign. By 1916 however, he was wracked with malaria and invalided out of the army to convalesce at home. After he had recovered sufficiently, Lord Baden-Powell appointed him the British Commissioner for Woodcraft and Camping in the UK. He was also invited onto the Grand Council of the newly formed Order of Woodcraft Chivalry (OWC), founded by a fellow Quaker, Ernest Westlake in 1916.
In 1919 Hargrave married Ruth Clark, a leader in the Camp Fire Girls movement, an alternative to the Girl Guides originally founded in the USA. Clark whose Woodcraft name was Minobi (meaning Glad Heart) had just published Camp Fire Training For Girls (1919) the first book about Woodcraft written specifically for girls. A year after their marriage, she bore them a son and named him Ivan Gordon Hargrave.
John Hargrave and Ruth Clark
By this time, having experienced the horrors of war at first hand, and written about his experiences in his book The Great War Brings It Home (1919), Hargrave became disenchanted with Baden-Powell’s continuing militaristic emphasis on Scouting, and in 1920 formed his own movement, the Kibbo Kift Kindred (the phrase “Kibbo Kift” is an old Kentish term meaning “those of great strength”).
Hargrave and the Kibbo Kift Logo
Like Westlake’s Order of Woodcraft Chivalry, Hargrave created the Kibbo Kift Kindred not just as a passive alternative to the Boy Scouts, but also to engage all sections of society in both physical and spiritual activities outdoors in touch with nature. Similar to Seton’s Woodcraft Indians, he organised the KKK into Clans, Tribes and Lodges, in which each member was given a special woodcraft name.
During their weekend activities of hiking and camping members were encouraged to make their own tents and wear handmade uniforms typically consisting of a Saxon styled hooded-cloak, jerkin and shorts. At larger ceremonial meetings like the annual “Whitsun Gathering”, called the “Althing”, where different Clans, Tribes and Lodges paraded with their tribal Totems, tents were decorated in bright colours and elaborate robes and regalia embossed with symbolic designs were worn or carried, particularly by officers and leaders such as the Camp-warden, Tally-keeper and Master of Ceremonies.
The opening ceremony of the 1927 “Althing” showing members dressed in ceremonial robes.
While membership of the Kibbo Kift was never substantial compared to the Boy Scouts movement, it soon attracted a number of prominent members, including: Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, May Billinghurst and Mary Neal CBE, the journalist Henry Nevinson and the photographer Angus McBean. The advisory Council also included such distinguished people as: the arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the psychologist/author Havelock Ellis, the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, the author H. G. Wells and the biologist Sir Julian Sorell Huxley.
Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, May Billinghurst and Mary Neal CBE were also leading ladies of the suffragette movement
In 1923 Hargraves met Major C. H. (Clifford Hugh) Douglas, a British engineer and pioneer of the Social Credit movement, particularly in Canada. Hargrave’s was convinced that the benefits of Social Credit system would eradicate the poverty and unemployment of post war Britain, and so gradually incorporated its theology into the KKK. However, by doing so, he also changed it’s ‘back-to-nature’ emphasis to one of political activism.
C. H. Douglas (1879 – 1952)
Not all members of the KKK were happy with these changes, which inevitably led to a schism. In 1925 after he refused to recognise a new South London Lodge called “The Brockleything”, a number of members led by Leslie Paul, formed a break-a-way faction that became known as the “Woodcraft Folk”, a movement that still remains active today.
Undaunted Hargrave continued to focus his attention on the Social Credit movement and in 1930 set up a “Legion of the Unemployed” in Coventry”. Dressed in Para-military style uniforms with green shirts and berets, they became known as the Legion of the Kibbo Kift. Later as political activism became the main stay of their activities, the Kibbo Kift name was dropped altogether and all vestiges of their ‘back-to-nature’ origins disappeared. By 1935 they were known simply as the Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit.
Hargrave as leader of the Green Shirts and a poster promoting Social Credit
From there on in the Green Shirts became part of the street politics of the 1930s marching through streets accompanied by their own Corps of Drums. While their main propaganda was aimed at the “fat cat” financial institutions and particularly the Bank of England, not all their actions were peaceful, for they regularly engaged in battles with Oswald Mosley’s “Blackshirt” fascist movement, supporters of the Communist Party and other left-wing activists throughout Britain.
Marching with their own Corps of Drums
While the Green Shirts remained popular amongst the unemployed, as a political party in Britain they gained little support. Re-named the Social Credit Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, they stood just a single candidate, W. Townend, in the General Election of 1935, at which they won just 11% of the vote for Leeds South. Disappointed, Hargrave traveled to Canada where William Aberhart had successfully won the Province of Alberta for the Social Credit Party. Acting as an economic advisor to the new government, he was later discredited by none other than Major Douglas, who disapproving of partisan politics, claimed that Hargrave lacked the experience for the post.
Returning to England a year later the Social Credit Party suffered yet another blow, with hostilities brewing in Europe and eventually leading to WWII, a Public Order Act was passed banning the wearing of uniforms by non-military personnel. By this time his preoccupation with politics had also caused his marriage to Ruth Clark to deteriorate, they separated and later divorced in the 1950s when he formed a new relationship with a popular West End actress called Gwendolyn Gray.
During World War II (1939-1945) all activities of the Social Credit Party were suspended as Hargraves encouraged his Green Shirt members to join the armed forces in support of the war effort. Sitting out the war himself, Hargraves continued to earn a living from his writing, during which time he produced a biting biography of the then Governor of the Bank of England entitled Professor Skinner alias Montague Norman, kept in touch with core members of his Green Shirts through a weekly newspaper column entitled A Message from Hargrave, and published Word Win Wars, a book about the propaganda of the Government’s war efforts.
During a visit to one of his friends, an RAF pilot, they discussed the problems most aviators had navigating in a cockpit with folded paper maps. As a result, Hargrave dreamed up a mechanical display unit that showed moving map images of the ground thus acting as an “Automatic Navigator” for the aircraft. With the aid of Cedric Williams, a brilliant young optical engineer, they built a prototype and patented the design of the invention. However, after being tested by the RAF, it was deemed to be too expensive to produce at that time, and left on a shelf and forgotten about, only to re-emerge later in the 1960’s, to the consternation of the Government.
The Automatic Navigator invented by Hargrave
Also during the war, Hargrave discovered he had the ability to heal through the “laying on of hands”, and so spent a number of years experimenting with a variety of alternative “psychic” and “hands on healing” techniques. After the war, further attempts to rebuild the Social Credit Party met with little success, but never one to give up easily, in the 1950 General Election, Hargrave himself stood as a candidate for Stoke Newington and Hackney. After gaining just 551 votes and losing his deposit, Hargrave finally realised the futility of trying again and a year later on the 12th May 1951 passed a resolution to dissolve the Party as a political organisation.
After the final demise of the Social Credit Party in Britain, Hargarve settled down into a life of relative obscurity with his new partner Gwendolyn Gray, who he later married in 1968. Continuing to earn a living as a freelance writer, commercial artist and author of books, of which he wrote The Life And Soul Of Paracelsus (1951), The Paragon Dictionary (1952) and a re-write of his WWI experiences The Suvla Bay Landing (1964). He also wrote an entry on Paracelsus for the 15th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and regularly published illustrations and cartoons in such leading publications as Vanity Fair and the Daily Sketch.
In 1967 Hargrave once again gained public notoriety when after reading an article in the Sunday Times he learned that “Concorde”, a new super-plane being built in collaboration between the British and French Governments, was to be equipped with a moving map display. After more research, and from descriptions and photographs, this appeared to be similar to the “Automatic Navigator” he had patented during WWII. What followed was a long and drawn-out battle with the Government for recognition and reward.
Initially his claim was dismissed out-of-hand, but eventually in 1976 he was able to force a full Public Enquiry. Unable to afford an expensive barrister to take on the might of the Governments professional legal team, Hargrave prepared and conducted his own defence. Sadly however, while the enquiry conceded that Hargrave’s invention had indeed been copied and developed to create a modern equivalent for Concorde, they disallowed any monetary award on a trivial point of technicality.
After the stress of the enquiry Hargrave, now 82 years of age, was undoubtedly tired and deflated, but his spirit was rekindled later that year when a Rock Musical called The Kibbo Kift was staged at the now famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Written by Christopher John Judge Smith in collaboration with composer Max Hutchinson, it related the story of his early movement. Hargrave himself was invited to the Traverse Theatre for the “First Night Performance”, which proved to be well received, so much so that it was staged again in the following year at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
Old memories die hard they say, for the effect of the musical brought many old comrades back together. Inspired by this, Hargrave spent his last few years setting up a Foundation of the Kibbo Kift, this he dedicated to maintaining an historic record of events and preserving some of the regalia worn by members of the KKK and its successors, The Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit and The Social Credit Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Today the Foundation’s extensive paper records are held by The British Library of Political and Economic Science at the London School of Economics, while their substantial collection of costumes, robes, banners and other physical artefacts are housed at The Museum of London.
On the 06th June 1981 to mark his 87th birthday, a reunion of Kibbo Kift Kindred and members of the Green Shirts was held at Ashton-Under-Hill, Worcs, after which his health began to fail. Having led such a colourful and extraordinary life, just a year later at the age of 88, Hargrave died in London on the 21st November 1982.
Burial site at Hampstead Cemetery in London, England
May he rest in peace?
A select bibliography:
At Suvla Bay (1916)
The Wigwam Papers (1916)
The Totem Talks (1918)
Tribal Training (1919)
The Great War Brings It Home (1919)
The Confession of the Kibbo Kift (1927)
The Alberta Report (1937)
Words Win Wars (1940)
Social Credit Clearly Explained (1945)
The Life And Soul Of Paracelsus (1951)
The Paragon Dictionary (1952)
The Suvla Bay Landing (1964)
The Facts of the Case Concerning the Hargrave Automatic Navigator for Aircraft (1969)
Plus to many others to mention.
Written and compiled on the 09th November 2011 © George Knowles
Best wishes and Blessed Be
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