** French boy scouts French Scouting

French Boy Scouting

Figure 1.--French Scouts at the 1929 World Jamboree. Note that some of the boys wear berets, but the uniforms look much like British Scout uniforms.

Note: A HBC contributor has graciously submitted some fascinating information about French Scouting and Scout uniforms. This is, however, a very complicated topic, in part because there are so many different associations. We would be very interested in any additional information that HBU visitors might have about French Scouting and Scout uniforms. France has had one of the most active Scout movements in Europe. The movement quickly crossed the Channel only a few years after it was founded by Lord Baden Powell in England. Like many European countries, there is no single country-wide association in France, but instead several different associations, including some divided largely on religious lines and some secular groups. This has been furthur complicated by the appearance of disident Scout groups objecting to some of the modern trends in the established Scout associations, especially the declining attention to uniforms.


The French Scout movement is generally considered to have begun in 1911. A lot of independent troops sprung up in the 1910s, then joined a variety of different associations--mainly accordingly to religion: Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. That creation of separate, independent associations has continued to this day. The America practice of boys from many different religious and ethnic background participating in the same Scout troop has never been widely practiced in France. By 1920s the Scout de France was formed and had added Wolf Cubing and a national camp. Pope Pious XI in 1926 receives French Scouts in Rome giving them full support. Scouts de FRance in 1927 created a camp-school at Chamarande. Father Sevin created a camp-school on the English model of Gilwell-Park--the "Cham" training seminars.


Like many European countries, there is no single country-wide association in France, but instead several different associations. The different associations are divided largely on religious lines and some secular groups. Catholic prelates were initially suspicious of the early Scouting movement, seeing it as largely Protestant in character. They wanted their own separate Catholic associatin that they could control. differences as well as ifferences as to how Scouting should be aspproached. Foreign readers should note that in France, any one can use the word Scout to create his or her own association. While an American Federal law reserves the term Scout to the Boy Scout Association, such a law was never passed in France and many other countries. Many French individuals and groups have creating small Associations, many of which havre not lasted long periods. Scouting can refer to Scouting based on the principles of Baden-Powell or to ones own personal principles. You could, for example, create a Fascist association and call it a Scout group if you wanted to do so. The structure of French Scouting is thus rather complicated. There are two major federations and one independent organization. In addition there are about 50 small independent units outside the formal Scouting struture. These tend to be small units that often do not last long. Some of these asociations have operated for years. Five French Scout associations are members of the international Scout association. We think the best is to review each of the associations, providing some basic pacts. As you can understand this is not historical research, just a few hints from what I have been able to learn. For some associations, the uniform is not very important. You may be surprised, however, to see that a lot of associations still stick to traditional Scout uniforms. HBU will add information hre on the different associations as we acquire it.


The Girl Guides and Scouts of France belong to the Movement of the French Scouting, composed of primarily of six Associations and a number of smaller associations. Scouting is an educational movement for the young people, founded on voluntarism; it is a movement in non-political matter, opened with all, in accordance with the goals, principles and methods such as they were conceived by the founder; Lord Baden Powell. Like the Public School, they accomodate children and adults without reference of race, belief or origin. The associations are structured in Local Groups.


We note many images of French Scouts hiking and camping. French Scouting avtivities seem similar to those of other Scouting groups in Europe. We do not have, however, detailed information on French Scouting activities. Nor do we see many images suggesting Scouting activities beyond the traditiional ones. Religion appears to be an important part of French Scouiting. The Catholic Church has played an important role in French Scouting. There are different associations in France, some with a Catholic formation and other of a more secular nature. This may be because most of or information on French Scouting is from historical rather than modern images.

Figure 2.--French Scouts with the characteristic berets and short shorts worn in the 1950s. The boy on the left wears the cord shorts popular in the 1950s while the boy on the right wears the newer beige uniform. I am not sure if the uniform differences here represent different Scouting levels.

Scouting Levels

The levels in French Scouting are much more difficult to assess than in other countries because of the different associations. The first level added to regular Scouting was Wolf Cubs. The program was active by 1920 as there were Wolf Cubs at the 1920s national camp marking the creation of the Scouts de France. A number of images from the inter-war era show French Cubs and Scouts pictuted together. I'm less sure as to what extent there were common activities. Many of these portraits are outdoor portraits, presumably in camping settings. French Scouts today are generally divided into different branches, although there are differences between the different Scout associations, the basic pattern is:
La branche lutins: Sprites are a relatively new group to prepare the youngest children beginning at 6 years for Cub Scouting
La branche louveteau: Wolf or cubs scout
La branche scoute or �claireur: Boy Scouts
La branche �claireuse or guide: Girl Scout or Guide
La branche pionnier:
La branche compagnon:


I'm not sure when the term jamboree was first used, but the Scouts de France held the first national camp in 1920. This was the year the British held the first international Jamboree and the term jamboree has been accepted around the world.


The subject of French Scout uniforms is rather a complex matter because a lot of Scout associations have been active in France, but there has been no central controlling association. Different people have created Scout groups, each having its own history and uniform. There is nothing like one unified Scout Association such as in the United States. To make this topic even more difficult the documentation on the Scout associations do not often describe their uniform, either on the Internet or in published articles. This is not their primary concern, especially with modern Scout groups, most of which give increasingly less attention to uniforms.

Early years

The inititial French Scout uniforms were very similar to British uniforms, a military-like uniform worn with very long short pants and kneesocks. Many of the early uniforms were simpily copied from the English uniform, mostly khaki shirts and shorts. This continued into the 1920s. Gradually French Scouts developed their own disrinctive uniform. French Scouts began wearing navy blue, coarse woolen cloth (drap) or corduroy short pants, navy blue or white kneesocks, and navy blue sweaters. Cubs usually had light blue shirts and not just sweaters like the English. French Scouts by the 1930s were commonly wearing their own distinct uniforms, although this varied greatly among the different independent associations. This change appears to have occured in the late 1920s as images in that period show French Scouts wearing both the new and old uniform. The various different French Scout associations have different uniforms. I do not yet, however, have details on these various uniforms or when they developed. One reader indicates that the different associations until the 1950s for all the associations with dark shorts (blue, usually, but also black) and kaki shirts. The Scout shirt would have been light shirt: it would have been a light brown, because in those years everyone sewed his own shirt (or asked his mother) with the color he found less expensive which was often khaki.

Figure 3.--French Scouts at the 1937 American Jamboree. Note the distinctive uniform of a light colored shirt (perhaps blue) and darker shorts that the boys are wearing.

Post-war era (1945-69)

French boys enthusiastically joined the Scouts after liberation. The Germans had outlawed French Scouting as they did in other occupied countries. The uniforms worn by both Cubs and Scouts were short pants uniforms, often with rather short cut shorts, much shorter thabn worn by French Scouts in the 1930s. French boys at the time did not wear jeans and considerable attention was given to the uniform. Many French Scouts wear the distinctive beret. Some French Cubs and Scouts have worn courderoy shorts, often with grey knee socks and hiking boots.

Modern uniforms (1970-to date

French Scouts like Scouts all over Europe in the 1980s and 1990s have given much less attention to uniforms than was the case in previous years. Boys do not seem to wear the traditiinal short pants uniforms and in fact the idea of uniforms in general does not seem to appeal to modern French boys. One of the French Scout groups wear blue shirt with the rather long short pants that became popular in the late 1980s.


The garments worn by French Scouts are essentially the same as those worn by English and other Scouts around the world. In fact the uniform by the principal French Scout association was for years quite similar to those worn by English Scoits--although there were variations early on in the uniforms worn by some of the smaller associations. The one uniquely French Scout iniform item was the beret--an item that after World War II (1939-45) was adopted by many natinal Scout associations around the world, but not by other youth groups.

Scouting Symbols

Some important symbols of Scouting posed problems for French Scouts. For politycal matters, the first Scout Movement in France did not use the fleur-de-lys which was adopted by most Scout movements. (The United States was another exception.) The reason of course was tht the fleur-de-lys was the symbol of the Bourbon kings of France and thus a controversial political smbol still used by royalist parties which were still of some importance in the early 19th century. French Scouts instead of the fleur-de-lys preferred the T cross with the trefoil or other symbols (arch, cock, etc) of French tradition. The Boer/Smokey Bear hat chosen by Baden Powell proved another problem. Many French Scouts thought it looked too English. Many French felt thtat England was too dominate around the world and objected to anything that looked to English--especially when association with a youth group helping to form young minds.


It is interesting to note that Scouting in France, and several other European countries, developed differently than in Britain. One reason for this was that there were no church-based uniformed youth organizartions as was the case in Britain. These groups in Britain actually preeded the Scouts. Thus parents with strong religious affiliation would chose groups like the Boys' Brigade and Church Lads' Brigade. The development of uniformed youth groups was a destinctly British phenomenon. Thus French parents did not have an option to Scouting. As a result, a much more diverse Scout movement developed. Rather than one national Scout association, the Scouting movement splintered into separate association, often along religious lines. Left and right wing political movements did found competing youth groups, although these were less important in France than other European countries.

Figure 4.--Pierre Jobert is famous in France for is cptivating images of French Scouting. He wonderfully conveys the enthusism of the biys.

Scouting Types

Most French Scouts belonged to the principal main line of Scouting. There were also specialized Scouting unit. The most important was also Sea Scouting, although our information is still limited. France was, however, one of the small number of countries in which Sea Scouting was important. The boys belonging to the Sea Scouts wore a destinctive blue an white uniform. HBU has at this time little information on how popular Sea Scouting was or its history. As in other countries, Sea Scouts were a small part of the overall Scouting program. We also note Air Scouting, but know very little about them. They do not seem very important, but hopefully French readers can tell us more. We are unsure at this time if there were other specialized units of French Scouts.

Social Class

Scouting was a voluntary movement, in sharp contrast to he totalitrian movements like the Hitler Youth, Bailla, and Pioneer movement. And because there were costs associted with Scouting that had to be born by the family, it tended from the beginning to be a middle-class movement. Iy is not that working-class boys were not interested, but they either had to work or could not afford the uniforms. Thus there was reltively little class mixing. This was the case in the United States, but even more so in Europe with stronger class lines and lower working class incomes before World War II. The Cathlic Church was another factor. The Church played a very important role in French Scouting and sponsored separate Catholic assoiations. And the Middle-class was the bed rock of French Catholocism. The French working-class was heavily imfluenced by Communsts and Socialists which rejected religion. That is not to say that there were not Catholics among the working-class, but it was much more divided than the middle-class. And the French adults involved with Scouting were mostly middle-class, including the priests and other Church staff. One author is critical of French Scouting, charging that it was training an eliete, ignoring the working class, and inculcating elitest, conservtive values at an early age. He complains that the idea was to direct the normal emotional, aggressive, and religious energies by taking control of their imagination. The means were games and outdoor activities that appealed to the boys. He further charges that they ignored the working class and through an elitist training program instilled an unhealty religious, patriotic, and militaristic ethic. [Laneyrie] Scouting is not without faulkts, but this sounds to us like a typical left-wing criticism of any institution representing staunch social values amd a solid moral code. Ironically this is precisely what the Communist Pioneer movement was doing in Communist countries.


HBU has for most countries had to rely primarily on photographs to illustrate French Scout uniforms. Photographs provide the most accurate view of uniforms, especially the details of the various uniforms worn in the different French Scout associations. They often do not, however, convey the spirit and activities pursued by the Scouts. Just as Normal Rockwell beautifully illustrated the spirit of American Scouting. Pierre Jobert in France did much to illustrate the spirit of French Scouting in the 1950s and 60s. His drawings still are widely used by French Scouts even though the uniforms they wear have largely changed.

La Hutte

La Hutte (The Hut) was a multi-store chain of sporting goods. It was the official supplier of scout and cub uniforms and equipment in France. I'm not sure when the began offering Scout uniforms or what their current status is. We do know that in the 1950s they were the official Scout supplier. They bragged in 1957 about their hard wearding corduroy shorts.


Laneyrie, Philippe. "Quarante Ans de Scoutisme Catholique en Region Stephanoise (1925-1965): Modalites D'implantation et Role Social," ("40 years of Catholic scouting in the Saint-Etienne area, 1925-65: patterns of implantation and social role") Cahiers d'Histoire Vol. 34, No. 2 (1989), pp.: 135-159. The article sounds to us like a lot of left-wing pysco babble, but he does doscuss the middle-class and Catholic foundation of Scouting in France.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: 1:41 AM 7/11/2014