In the land known as “Almost Heaven,” in the fires stoked at the Summit Bechtel Reserve, thousands of Scouts, who had trekked from across the globe, left their mark upon a steel blade. The blade, bestowed the name Cáirdeas, is now complete. And it may soon return to the place from whence it was forged.
OK, enough of my attempt at Tolkien. But the “friendship sword” project, which began at the 24th World Scout Jamboree, was just as epic.
A sharp idea
Bill and Taylor Mathews operate Edge of Normal Workshop, a sharpening service in Central Illinois. They are a Scouting family. Bill has been involved in the movement for nearly 40 years, reaching the Life rank as a youth and serving as an adult leader in Cub Scouting, Scouts BSA and Venturing as his boys, Joe and Taylor, advanced to the Eagle Scout rank. Today, they’re involved with Venturing Crew 1791 of Mackinaw, Ill., Order of the Arrow lodge and with W. D. Boyce Council’s National Youth Leader Training and camp committees.
In 2010, Bill took Taylor, who had just crossed over from Cub Scouts into a troop, to visit the National Jamboree during the BSA’s Centennial year. On their way to Fort A.P. Hill, they stopped to check out New River Gorge.
“While at the Jamboree, we visited a tent that showed the site of the new Summit Bechtel Reserve — and as we looked at the map, we realized we had been practically looking at it from the overlook,” Bill says. “That got us thinking about going to the next Jamboree.”
They went in 2013 — Bill on the staff, working at the Scottish Highland Games program area, and Taylor as part of his council’s contingent. Afterward, the staff and Bill began brainstorming how to improve that program area for the next Jamboree. Since he had decades of blacksmithing expertise, he thought about introducing a Scottish Highland arms and armament element.
“I thought to myself, ‘What Scout wouldn’t want to see sharp things and fire?’” he says.
The idea was approved, and Bill started working on a plan.
A big hit
Scouts and Scouters learn to Be Prepared. To put on a fun, educational station at the National Jamboree, Bill and Taylor, who turned 18 before the big event, studied and worked on their craft for four years, creating knives, swords, long bows and blacksmith bellows — everything to show Scouts what these items were like during the time between the 1300s and 1600s.
At the 2013 National Jamboree, the first at the Summit, the Mathews served at the Highland Games area on Mount Jack. They had two tents, one displaying 20 hand-crafted armament replicas, the other where Scouts could see how these items were made as the duo used a basic anvil, handcrafted forge and bellows.
Bill talked about blacksmithing as he created iron points for longbow arrows so Scouts could learn about the craft. They also showed the entire process of creating an arrow, including attaching the points and fletching.
The Mathews were invited back for the 2019 World Scout Jamboree.
“The thing I really wanted to improve was the blacksmith area, to make it fully interactive rather than just a demonstration,” Bill says. “So I had the idea for us to forge a sword together.”
The World Scout Jamboree, the first in the U.S. since 1967, saw more than 40,000 Scouts meet at the Summit Bechtel Reserve. About half of them stopped by Mount Jack during the week to help forge a 3-foot steel sword. With the help of Jamboree staff member and Scottish Gaelic instructor Laura Buckner, the Mathews called the blade “Cáirdeas,” a word from the Scottish Gaelic language that means “friendship.”
The interactive experience built upon previous demonstrations — this time with Scouts taking a hammer to the blade, helping shape it. During the World Scout Jamboree, the Mathews got a request to finish the sword so it could be displayed at the Summit.
“There was quite a bit of pressure put on us by ourselves, knowing that this sword will be on display for years to come,” Taylor says. “We wanted this to be something we can look back on and be proud of.”
After the Jamboree, the bladesmiths took Cáirdeas home and began working on it.
“The sword was extremely rough, and we had to do a lot of work to turn it into a museum piece,” Taylor says.
So began a more than 2-year process to install a birch wood handle and etch the name on one side of the blade and details of the project on the other. The bladesmiths embedded a gold coin from the World Scout Jamboree in the handle. When it was finished, the sword measured 4 feet long and weighed more than 5 pounds.
The Mathews plan to head back to the Summit to deliver Cáirdeas so it can be on display for future visitors.
“This has truly been forged in Scouting!” Bill says.
Sign up for the 2023 Jamboree now
As the story of Cáirdeas demonstrates, jamborees offer so many incredible opportunities for Scouts to connect, learn about unique topics and have amazing experiences. The upcoming 2023 National Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve will be on July 19-28, 2023. You can learn more about it and register at https://jamboree.scouting.org/.