Twelve-year-old Max Woosey made history last week as the second youngest-ever recipient of a British Empire Medal. That’s one of the numerous awards, recognitions, knighthoods, damehoods, and whatnot given out each year on the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List—a big deal in the United Kingdom. The B.E.M. recognizes “hands-on service to the local community,” according to a government Web site. Believe it or not, Max’s hands-on service involves sleeping in a tent every night, mostly in his backyard, going on nearly two years now.
There’s a reason for it, of course, besides just fun: Max, who lives in an English seaside village named Braunton, has been raising money for a local hospice that took care of an older neighbor at the end of his life. The neighbor, Rick Abbott, and Max had bonded over their shared love of the outdoors. But when Rick, who died of cancer in February 2020 at the age of 74, learned he had only a few weeks left to live, he gave his young friend his tent along with the admonition, “Max I want you to promise me you will have an adventure in it.”
Max kept his word. So far, he’s raised over £650,000 (more than $880,000) via a JustGiving page (a British equivalent to GoFundMe). His streak started on March 28, 2020 and has continued through gales, freezing weather, an overabundance of ants, and a trip to the London Zoo where, as part of a side fundraising venture for a children’s charity, Max spent an uneasy night with his tent pitched next to the lion enclosure.
“You could hear them roar really loudly and I was up with a torch every time I heard them,” he told The Times of London. (That wasn’t quite as dramatic as it sounds: “torch” is British for normal, boring flashlight.)
On another trip to London, Max met Prime Minister Boris Johnson over hot chocolate. The night before, he and his parents, Mark and Rachael Woosey, stayed for free in the presidential suite of the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel. The suite included a balcony where Max could pitch his tent while his parents enjoyed the hotel’s indoor luxuries. “There have been perks alongside washing smelly sleeping bags. I think I have earned it,” Rachael Woosey told The Times.
Raising so much money for a good cause is nice and all—the hospice has said that thanks to Max it will be able to hire 13 new nurses—but Air Mail Pilot is equally impressed that Max has figured out a way to do something really cool that his parents wouldn’t put up with, probably, if it weren’t for charity. He told The Times he can stay up reading comics as late as he wants in the tent, and also sneak snacks. “You can do anything you want,” he explained.
His parents may have caught on. Rachael Woosey told The Times she has tried to end the camping streak several times but the donations keep rolling in. Still, she’s insisting that Max come back inside when he hits the two-year mark.
Max isn’t so sure. “Yeah, right,” he offered. “I wouldn’t trust everything my mum says.” —Bruce Handy
In the early 1940s, when Hitler’s fleet of fighter jets seemed poised to take over the world, the British government was training a top-secret task force—Section VII—to fend off a future invasion.
The trainees weren’t the soldiers you’d imagine. Instead of young men fully armed with weapons, the Secret Intelligence Service was preparing teenage girls. While the soldiers were fighting on the front lines, these girls were learning how to make Molotov cocktails, derail trains, and fight unarmed battles.
These secret recruits never ended up having to test their skills, so Section VII’s existence never came to light—until recently. While researching his new book on Britain’s preparations for invasion during World War II, Andrew Chatterton, a British historian, found families with stories to tell.
Before she passed away Irene Lockley of North Yorkshire, one of the brave fighters of Section VII, told her daughter, Jenny, about the clandestine operation. Irene remembered being told to “kill and maim and cause as much damage to the enemy as possible.”
According to Chatterton, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of youngsters like Irene. Many kept secret knuckledusters in their homes, prepared to fight at any moment. “Once the Germans were in, these guys would have done everything they could to disrupt the occupation,” Chatterton told Daily Mail Online.
“There were whole layers of civilian defense in place in case of a German invasion,” he explains. Thankfully, the world never had to know about them. —Elena Clavarino
Mya-Rose Craig is as much of a rarity as the endangered birds she adores. At just 19 years old, the British-Bangladeshi teenager is already an accomplished ornithologist (a person who studies birds) and the author of two books, not to mention an activist, environmentalist, social media star, and one of Britain’s youngest ever recipients of an honorary doctorate in science.
While Mya-Rose is a lifelong bird watcher, her activism started 10 years ago during a visit to the Slimbridge Wetland Centre in England. That day, the reserve had adopted 20 spoon-billed sandpipers, palm-sized creatures with beaks that look like black teaspoons. (They’ve been aptly nicknamed “Spoonies.”)
“The first time I saw them, I fell in love with them,” Mya-Rose told The Times of London. But, as Mya-Rose learned that day, those 20 birds counted for 10 percent of the species’s population—worldwide. “I realized that things were really bad and that I really cared,” she said.
In 2014, Mya-Rose started Birdgirl, a blog that documented her quest to see half of the world’s bird species by the time she turned 18. That meant 5,300 species in six years—a lofty goal she managed to reach. In 2016, moved by the outpouring of support from her young readers, Mya-Rose also founded the charity Black2Nature, which pushes for equal access to nature for minority communities.
“A lot of the early things I did were motivated by a love for the outdoors,” Mya-Rose said. “At the core of it all was that I wanted to share something I loved.”
Since she started Birdgirl, Mya-Rose’s following has grown, and so has her voice. In 2021 she spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Conference alongside young activists like Greta Thunberg, Emma Watson, and Malala Yousafzai.
Because nearly every environment is home to a bird species, Mya-Rose thinks the animals can help inspire budding young activists around the world. “They’re a really good way to engage people with the outdoors because they’re really interesting,” Mya-Rose told The Times, “but also, when things start to go wrong… it’s visible.”
And as for her beloved Spoonies? “The spoon-billed sandpipers have been great at engaging people just because it’s a really cute little bird.” —Alex Oliveira