The Cadet Corps, 1909-2009

The Cadet Corps was formed in the summer term, 1909. There had been several earlier attempts to found a Rifle Corps, most notably in 1860 in response to the growing threat to European peace from Napoleon III, when William Sewell was Warden. However, Sewell’s wish to put his Rifle Corps into uniform was opposed and defeated by the Fellows of the College. Sewell ended the Rifle Corps in 1860, to placate the Fellows, but a rack of antique rifles survived in the Old Gym for over twenty years, giving rise to intermittent demands in The Radleian for a cadet corps.

During the next forty years many argued that a school of fewer than 200 boys who both rowed and played cricket could not also support a cadet corps. In 1901, a Rifle Club was founded, despite protests to Council from six members of staff, but the Club languished and died. In 1906 a new 100-yard range was constructed south-west of College Pond, and compulsory rifle-shooting began. Meanwhile, several other schools had founded flourishing cadet corps, and Radley was lagging behind.

The driving force behind the Corps’ formation was Arthur Davies. A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, he had served in the cadet corps whilst on the staff of Ellesmere College, achieving the rank of lieutenant in 1901, attached to The King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. He resigned his commission in 1903, when he moved to Radley. His energy and determination oversaw the founding of Radley’s Officer Training Corps, but he had the full support of the Warden, Thomas Field, and its success was ensured when Field made OTC compulsory for all boys. The War Office formally accepted the services of Radley College contingent on 20th April 1909. The Corps first paraded in uniform in November, and had its first field day in drenching rain at Churn on the Berkshire Downs on December 1st.

Davies, who had already held the rank of lieutenant, was appointed a provisional captain on April 20th, 1909, and confirmed in the rank on February 1st, 1910. He was initially supported by three other members of staff, all appointed 2nd lieutenant in April 1909: Henry Lowe, Arthur Hales, and Roderick Birt. They were joined in 1910 by Lancelot Vidal and in 1911 by George Walker.

In August 1910 the corps attended its first camp at Farnborough where it was deluged with rain, inspected by Lord Kitchener, and reviewed by the Duke of Connaught. The contingent was 113 strong. The school was given a three day exeat for the coronation of George V on June 22nd, 1911. Twelve members of Radley OTC helped to line the route for the procession, stationed on Constitution Hill. On July 3rd there was a Royal Review of 18,000 cadets in Windsor Park: the contingent left Radley at 6am, marched past the King and got back to College at 11.30pm. Arthur Davies was awarded the Coronation Medal. 1911 also saw the first inter-Social Drill Competition, the first entry for the Ashburton at Bisley, the first attempt at Certificate A under instruction from Captain H. Maitland-Wilson, future Field-Marshal, and the second camp at Tidworth Pennings, where the contingent won the tent-pitching competition.


Radley OTC on exercises during the First World War

Arthur Davies remained Officer in Charge of the contingent from 1909 until 1915. He became Tutor of F Social in 1911 and was Bursar in 1914-1915. He left the school in 1915. He was succeeded as contingent commander by Francis Stevenson, who joined Radley in 1914, already holding the rank of Captain from Glenalmond College OTC. Most of the staff members who had assisted Davies were called up in 1914 and1915: Arthur Hales became a captain in the Wiltshire Regiment, was twice wounded, awarded the MC and was killed in action on July 6th, 1916; Lancelot Vidal was killed in action on September 25th, 1915; George Walker was discharged wounded in July 1917. Roderick Birt was promoted to Captain in the OTC in 1913, and remained at Radley throughout the war as Tutor of E Social. He left the school in 1918 to take up the post of Headmaster at Diocesan College, Rondesbosch, South Africa. Birt was the only serving OTC officer to remain on campus, so Stevenson had to recruit new officers to train a very eager corps. He was joined in 1914 by Alexander Macpherson, later Tutor of A Social, who served as Radley OTC platoon-sergeant between 1914-1915, promoted to 2nd lieutenant in 1915; and in 1915 by Guy Newman, who had already served in Marlborough College and Oxford University RVCs, and Bradfield College OTC contingent. They were supported by Colour-Sergeant Parminter, who had served in the South African War, and is known to have trained the recruits and the band, but it is no known how he became connected with Radley OTC. The majority of the other young Dons were called up, but those who were not called to active service were anxious to serve in some capacity: they entered the ranks of the Corps ‘and were not all very efficient privates’.

The contingent voluntarily increased its activities: there were more drills, afternoon parades and route marches, and ‘trenches were dug furiously’; in 1915 the Corps had a private camp near Wantage, and they again attended the Public Schools Camp at Tidworth in 1917.

Membership of the OTC qualified the boys for immediate advancement as officer cadets once they were called up. This relieved them of compulsory service in the ranks. Their status was indicated by the wearing of white cap bands for the last six months of their school OTC career. The Radleian regularly published service lists, and an increasing number of casualties. Connections with the Front were constantly at hand, for example, in 1918 D.B. Cancellor, who had been Senior Prefect in 1916, was attached to the Corps as Adjutant for two terms whilst he was wounded. He then left for the Front again, won the MC, and was killed in action on November 1st, 1918.

The cost of the First World War to the school was 219 boys, 7 dons, and 8 college staff: the decorations for gallantry included 1 Victoria Cross, 57 DSOs, 2 DSCs, 117 MCs, 1 DFC and 4 AFCs. All their names are inscribed on Memorial Arch.

The OTC flourished throughout the 1920s and 1930s. It was steadily increasing in efficiency and repute, and was on a sufficiently sound financial footing to withstand a reduction in grant by the Labour Government of 1929. During this period the Corps vacated its original headquarters in the Old Gym and moved into the new Armoury. Training was rationalised by introducing a progressive grade system. There were annual camps and two or three field days each year, with night operations in the winter terms. The school won the Country Life Cup for miniature range shooting on four occasions.

Francis Stevenson continued in command until 1923. His officers were now all men who had served in the war, who brought much experience and distinction to the corps: Arthur Hedgecock, former Irish Guards, Vyvyan Hope, former RGA, Francis Nugee, Leicestershire Regiment, awarded the MC in 1918 and Officer in Charge of Radley OTC from 1923-28, Edward Stephenson, former Coldstream Guards, Kenneth Boyd, Lancashire Fusiliers and OC of the Corps from 1928-32, Alan Rawlinson, Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars, who had served in France for 5 ½ years. These were joined in 1923 by Leslie Huggins, ex- Artillery, another holder of the MC, and in 1925 by Richard Eason, who became the Officer in Charge in 1932 and held the position into the beginning of the Second World War, resigning in favour of Ranulph Waye who was promoted to the rank of Acting Major on his appointment as OC of the Corps on September 1st 1941.

A photograph of Radley Viscount Montgomery of Alamein addresses Radley JTC, 1947.

A photograph of Radley Viscount Montgomery of Alamein addresses Radley JTC, 1947.

By 1940 the OTC had been replaced by the Junior Training Corps of Army Cadets. The Second World War gave a new incentive to the Corps, assisted by novel and realistic training methods linked to the war effort. The progressive issue of battledress released the boys from the constrictions of puttees and buttons which the OTC uniform demanded. The JTC also liaised and trained with the Abingdon Home Guard, particularly on the defence line of the River Thames. Physical fitness was developed beyond all previous levels, each boy being expected to obtain at least five standards in some athletic track or field event. Similarly initiative and instructional ability were vastly improved. By 1946-7, there were 320 first class shots in the school. All this promoted a sense of high achievement, both individual and corporate. On the whole, wartime duties were considered more agreeable than irksome and training with the Corps considered a necessary duty in order to pass Certificate A, a useful step towards a commission in the army. The JTC was inspected by Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Paget, Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, on at least two occasions. His report stated that Radley was ‘the best contingent he had ever seen’.

In February1941, Radley established an Air Training Corps, the earliest at any school in the country. It had 42 cadets. This was followed in January 1943 by the Sea Cadet Corps, with 41 cadets. The ATC and the SCC worked jointly with their counterparts from Eastbourne College who were evacuated to Radley in 1940.

In 1948 the three separate Service sections were combined to form the Combined Cadet Force in HMC School Contingent. For the next twenty years the Corps continued to operate in a pattern similar to that of the inter-war years: drill, field days, and camps held in Wales. Several boys’ log books survive from camps in 1960-61, under the direction of Tony Money, who had won the MC in Africa in 1942:

Wednesday 3rd April [1961]
We left Radley at 9.00 in an Army lorry provided by the “Paraboys” from Abingdon.
We stopped in Monmouth to eat the very high quality indeed packed lunches and to raise the level of the River Wye!
We arrived at the Deriug Lines at 2.00 and made our beds for Tuesday [Thursday?]. We arrived at the Rifle Range near Cwm Crwdi at 3.45
After meat and two veg and an exploration of the rifle range (the butts of which contained an amorous couple!) and a quick glance at the local sanitary arrangements, of which more will doubtless be said, we all gathered round the camp fire to sing songs and tell doubtful stories.
Eventually the dons’ curiosity overcame them and they joined the party, whereupon the jokes took a cleaner turn!

However, the Corps was increasingly losing its way, particularly after the abolition of National Service in the mid-1950s. In 1968, Geoff Treglown took over as OC from Ranulph Waye. Treglown has left a detailed account of his time as contingent commander:

When I took over in July 1968 the CCF was one of the traditional areas of trouble in the College – and justifiably so. While a few did in fact get much out of the CCF, for many it was a complete and utter waste of time, most of which was spent doing nothing but standing about. No doubt it had standards to set and traditions to maintain but they needed to be presented in a challenging way and not in the manner of the 1930s – possibly correct then but not in the seventies.

Ranulph Waye had run things very much by the traditional book. Boys were in the CCF for three years and then left to do nothing. My first move was to reduce the period of service to four terms (six terms for the RN Service). This I believed was the time needed to cover the training syllabus in a positive manner. At the same time all those boys not in the CCF were to take part in a ‘Wednesday Option’.

CCF Exercise on the River Thames, 1972.

CCF Exercise on the River Thames, 1972.

Treglown’s pattern remains the basic structure in use in 2009. His greatest innovation was an annual expedition, the first to Iceland in 1969, which was supported by the Armed Forces, but whose primary purpose was to undertake scientific research such as surveys of bird migrations. Over the next fourteen years, Geoff Treglown led expeditions to Iceland, Greenland, Sweden, and treks across Scotland and Snowdonia, in addition to annual Easter and Summer Camps in Scotland, Wales and the Lake District.

In 1977, Treglown was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for his work with Radley CCF. During his time as contingent commander, Treglown estimated that over half of Common Room had attended field weekends and Corps camps. He stood down as OC in 1984, and was replaced by Richard Pollard, who held the post until his retirement in 2008, achieving the highest rank of any school Corp commander in the country: Lieutenant-Colonel. Pollard was also supported by many members of Common Room, and by the RSM Jim Pettifer and his successor, Gary Miller.

Pollard continued the pattern established by Treglown, assisted by many of the same members of Common Room, particularly by John Wylie, who also retired from Radley in 2008, having completed consecutive stints as commander of both RAF and RN sections. The scientific expeditions have been replaced by the Community Action Programme’s annual trips to Romania and Kerala, but the field weekends and Easter and Summer Camps continue.