Scout-led Troop Blog #14: “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt, “Scoutmaster to the World”

by | Jan 22, 2018

Bill Chapman

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a weak boy who did not like to play games and did not care for other boys. He was born in 1900 in Aarhus, Denmark, and lived in his own dream world. When he was 9 years old, he wrote a poem about trolls and elves which was printed by the Aarhus Newspaper. When he was ten years old, one of his brothers gave him a Christmas gift that changed his life. It was a Danish translation of a book written by Baden-Powell called,Scouting for Boys.”

This young boy became enamored with Scouting, learned his duties as a Scout, and took them very seriously. He became a part of a patrol and learned that to succeed in Scouting he had to get to along with other boys. He had to get to know them well, learn their interests, their likes, and dislikes. He learned his duties so well and executed them so faithfully that one day his fellow patrol members elected him to be their patrol leader.

The responsibilities of being a patrol leader strengthened his character. Frequent camping and being in the out of doors hardened his body. The boys in his gang made him into a real boy himself. There was a splendid spirit of loyalty, unity and togetherness in the patrol. (Handbook for Patrol Leaders, Boy Scouts of America, Introduction, 1950) At age 17, he earned the highest award in Danish Scouting, Knight-Scout, the equivalent of today’s Eagle Scout. He became a Scoutmaster, national instructor, writer and editor for the Danish Scouting journal. He wrote a book called “The Island,” recounting his early Scouting experiences. He toured the world looking for the best ideas in Scouting.

The boy’s name was Vilhelm Hans Bjerregaard Jensen, which was later anglicized to William Hillcourt when he came to the United States. When James West, Chief Scout Executive of the BSA, asked William what he could do to help strengthen Scouting in the United States, Hillcourt responded by writing an 18-page memorandum arguing that the BSA needed a greater focus on patrol structure and leadership. West was convinced and hired Hillcourt to write a book on his ideas which was later published and called thePatrol Leaders Handbook,” the first of its kind, and with later editions sold over 1 million copies. In it, he defined a good patrol as a “gang of good friends, standing together shoulder to shoulder whatever comes.”

The spirit of a Scout patrol is a familiar one,All for One-One for All.” A patrol is filled with adventure, work, and play but most of all, one of the finest things in the world: “comradeship.”

The job of a Patrol Leader is a chance to “turn an ordinary gang of boys into a real patrol, to help five or six or seven fellows become good Scouts.” (Handbook for Patrol Leaders, Boy Scouts of America, Introduction, 1950, pg. 2) The patrol leader is not the “big boss,” planning everything himself and ordering everyone around. A Scout patrol is a “small democracy,” where every one of its members has the right and responsibility to help in the planning, practice leadership, and learn how to do things for himself. Be the leader, point the way, but share your leadership. That’s how to get every boy and “the gang” eager to do their part in anything the patrol undertakes.

A good patrol is packed with action. Meetings, hikes, projects, good turns and ways and means of keeping your boys interested, doing something, getting somewhere, being somebody. You cannot be a good leader unless you know your Scouts. Get to know them outside of Scouts. Know about their school, interests, and hobbies. Be a welcome guest in their home and get to know their parents. Be a good example.

Green Bar Bill was a one of the most prolific writers in BSA history, publishing regular articles in Boys’ Life and Scouting magazines, including a column aimed at patrol leaders under the by-line of “Patrol Leader Green Bar Bill.” At least 12,610,000 copies of his three editions of the Boy Scout Handbook were printed. (William Hillcourt, Wikipedia, accessed 1-11-8)

With not much exaggeration, his close friend and publisher, Terry Howerton, referred to Green Bar Bill as the “Scoutmaster to the World.” (Scoutmaster to the World,, archived from the original on February 25, 2008. Retrieved 1-11-18) Green Bar Bill’s columns were signed with his first name inscribed over the iconic green bar “patrol emblem” that epitomized his devotion to teaching the patrol method.

In the Church, we add to the patrol method the requirement of righteousness. The patrol method becomes a way to implement the principle of “Quorum Brotherhood.” The Savior taught, “if ye are not one ye are not mine.” Doctrine & Covenants 38:27. President Henry B. Eyring has said that “the strength of a quorum comes in large measure from how completely its members are united in righteousness.” (A Priesthood Quorum, Ensign, November 2006)

Many troops in and out of the Church struggle with retaining boys in Scouting. In my humble opinion, many of these problems would be solved by implementing the patrol system as envisioned by Baden-Powell, effectively taught by Green Bar Bill, and as an implementation of the command of the Savior. Boys love action, the outdoors, and they love to be in charge. Given a little guidance and the opportunity, they will learn to love one another and grow in righteousness in this setting.

The patrol method, when properly employed, can energize boys in a way that harmonizes perfectly with the principle of “quorum brotherhood.” I have seen it happen and know that it works. Long ago, a Danish lad learned and then devoted the rest of his life to teaching these principles. Perhaps a return to these fundamentals will help convert your Scouts into an ideal patrol and change the lives of the boys you lead.


-Bill Chapman lives in San Clemente, California, personally witnessed in Orange County Council Troop 736, the miracle that can occur when the principles taught by “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt regarding the ideal patrol are implemented correctly. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.