HE WAS born John Gordon Hargrave in 1894 to a Quaker father and artist mother in Midhurst, Sussex.
But it was under a less likely name that he was to find fame and become the central figure in a peculiar and little-told episode of Britain between the wars.
For by 1920, Hargrave was known as White Fox, the founder of the Kindred of Kibbo Kift – a breakaway Boy Scout group that began life as spiritual campers with their roots in Robin Hood and American Indians and ended up seeking to overthrow the banking system under the name of the Green Shirts.
Their story was told one Monday evening this March in the upstairs of a West End pub. Its teller was the wonderfully named Judge Smith – founder member of late 1960s prog-rock band Van der Graaf Generator no less. Our host was the Sohemian Society.
Hargrave had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War. He returned with his pacifism reinforced by the horrors he had seen. Having already worked his way up to a senior position in the Boy Scout movement, he fought with its founder Robert Baden-Powell over what he saw was its militarization of the nation’s youth and was kicked out.
In 1920, he formed a breakaway group that took its name from an old English translation of ‘great good’ – the Kindred of Kibbo Kift.
Its members dressed in tunics and hooded cloaks. They practised woodcraft, camping, arts and – way ahead of their time – the Indian meditative practice of yoga.
They were organised in clans or tribes and carried staffs mounted with skulls and animal heads. They trained in the use of the long bow. Think Robin Hood mixed with the pagan scenes from The Wickerman.
In the words of Judge Smith, Hargrave ‘elevated camping to the level of a spiritual exercise’. His Kibbo Kift was to be a force for good, for profoundly raising the health of its members’ bodies and minds. It was fired in no small part by the cult of Hargraves’ personality. This was no democracy – there only one White Fox and that was Hargraves.
By 1930, Hargrave took his members out of the woods and into the cities. He had become convinced of a radical theory known as Social Credit that sought to overthrow the existing economic model.
His Kibbo Kift became the Green Shirts, who marched the streets of London to the sound of their drums, clad now in tunics and berets in the colour of their name.
Oswald Mosley’s fascist Black Shirts were a feature of the time – albeit an extreme one – and members of the Communist Party were also out and about, agitating. The Green Shirts scrapped with both of them.
They also lobbed green bricks through bank windows and held a graffiti campaign against the rule of the financiers. An arrow was fired at Downing Street.
Under his given name, Hargrave even stood for Parliament under the Social Credit Party in Hackney. He didn’t fare very well. In fact, he did so poorly he lost his election deposit.
Despite this, his theories found support from such respected writers as DH Lawrence, HG Wells, Ezra Pound and John Steinbeck. When in his 80s, he told Smith members of the Kibbo Kift had numbered 10,000.
His life after the Kibbo Kift was no less interesting. He became a psychic healer, inventor and novelist. He died in November, 1982.
Chatting in the bar after his talk, I asked Smith how he had come to know Hargrave. He said after leaving Van Der Graaf Generator he had wanted to write a rock opera about an English eccentric.
In the White Fox — dissident Boy Scout leader, revolutionary, psychic healer, inventor, didactic leader, pacifist, agitator – he found his subject.
For a much fuller article about Hargrave and the Kindred of Kibbo Kift visit www.kibbokift.org from where these photos have been gratefully sourced.