Playing at soldiers

Berkshire Education Committee was interested in national proposals for a scheme to train teenage boys not yet old enough to join the armed forces. A committee comprising councillor and chair of the committee, H G Willink and Messrs Mansfield and Childs of Reading University reported back. Their main concern was that the men most suitable for running such a programme were away at war, but they also felt that younger boys should not be militarised. Another big issue was the connection between social class and officer status.

Report of Cadet Training Sub-committee to the Education Committee

First report of the Special Sub-committee appointed on 29 April 1916 by the Berks Education Committee to consider the Lord Mayor of London’s “Scheme for the National Organisation of Cadet Training”.

We have met and considered this Scheme; and have also had before us a detailed Scheme of the Essex Education Committee “for the formation and organisation of Cadet Units”.

While not prepared to recommend either Scheme in its entirety, for reasons which will appear, we desire to express our appreciation of the aim underlying both, and to state that in our opinion there is need for some well-considered system by which lads below 18 years of age may not only gain the benefits of discipline but may also undergo a training which will exercise and develop their intelligence. We are convinced that this is essential if the youth of the country is to be adequately prepared either for future naval or military service or to be efficient and useful citizens of the Empire.

The Lord Mayor’s proposals fall under two heads, viz:

1. The establishment of a “National Cadet Council”, with certain relations to other authorities and with a quasi-subordinate system of City and County Cadet Committees…

2. The early introduction of a uniform system of training, upon lines following generally those of the Australian Cadet Scheme (which is established by law) but on a voluntary instead of a compulsory basis.

Under such a Scheme, lads above elementary school age and under 18 would be organised as Senior Cadets, who would receive a minimum of training in Physical Drill, Company (and some Battalion) Drill, Field Training, and Musketry. Boys from 12 to (say) 14, or Junior Cadets, would undergo a training which could only be called military in the sense of being preparation for military work. It would consist of Physical Exercises and Marching Drill, together with any two of the following: Miniature Rifle Shooting, Swimming, Organised Games, and First Aid. Senior Cadets to have a simple uniform, but Juniors none.
As regards the relations with existing formations – OT Corps would not come under the Council at all, the Boys’ Brigade, Church Lads’ Brigade, and YMCA, as well as the Boy Scouts, would remain separate, but close communication between them and the Council would be encouraged; and no objection is raised to lads or boys passing to or from them and Cadet Units, or even belonging to one of them and to a Cadet Unit also.

Note: The Essex Scheme, which contains no reference to the Lord Mayor’s proposals, invites “the co-operation of District Educational Sub-committees, School Managers, Teachers and others, with a view to the formation of Cadet Units”, the membership age to be from that of leaving the elementary school till 19, but no admission after 18….

The Scheme … lays down an elaborate curriculum of instruction, to be given in connection with the Evening Continuation Schools…

One further point may be noted. The Australian lad of 14 receives a “Record Book” in which his military history is entered up to the age of 26 years, and individuals unable to produce a Record Book with a clean service sheet are debarred from any service under the Commonwealth Government. There would, however, appear to be insuperable difficulties in the way of including this valuable feature in any voluntary Scheme, at any rate before the system was in practically universal operation.

Taking the Scheme as its stands, we are of opinion, in regard to the first “head”, that the establishment of some such central consultative body as the proposed “National Cadet Council” is desirable, provided that its functions are in the first instance confined to inquiry, ventilation and discussion; and do not extend to an immediate setting-up of a definite new Scheme, still less to its actual bringing into action.

We give due weight to the objection that the absence on active service, or the employment on other war work at home or abroad, of so many of the men best fitted to construct or introduce a system of such importance is a serious obstacle to arriving at a satisfactory decision upon the best lines for it. But we also feel strongly that the present united spirit of patriotism in public opinion ought to be utilized before reaction sets in, as may very likely be the case when the end of the war comes into sight…

The important point to bear in mind is that no new Scheme can be satisfactory which will not fit into a general plan for National Training for Home Defence, or which will in any way prejudge the question whether such training is to be on a voluntary or compulsory basis….

There are certain points which to us seem fairly clear, and which may be worth stating, if only to elicit discussion.

1. We think, with the Essex Committee, that elementary schools ought to be left outside the movement. In our opinion, boys under 14, and even somewhat older, are not proper subjects for treatment upon military lines, still less for discipline of a military nature unless perhaps in the case of individuals who are going straight into naval or military service, as Navy “boys” or into the Regimental Bands. In the elementary schools sufficient foundations will be laid by ensuring physical development on sound lines, mainly through Swedish exercises, the performance of which under proper tuition should give all that is required, at so early an age, of the habit of attention and movement by word of command. No doubt, in terms, the military tone is disclaimed by the Lord Mayor, but it would be safer to keep it right out by excluding youngsters from the Scheme altogether. It is apt to grow in apparent importance, for boys begin by delighting in playing at soldiers, and they are certainly capable, under expert handling (which, however, they would never get in our school), of attaining an extraordinarily high level of smartness and precision of movement in drill; but this is not the right ideal. For boys of a low grade, drill may supply valuable elements of alertness, obedience and self-respect: even a kind of esprit de corps. But the process is too mechanical to be a satisfactory means in the formation of character; and after all, playing at soldiers may pall unless largely mixed with free movement of mind and body. It is quite possible to become drill-sick – a bad preparation for Army or Navy. (Quite enough time can be given to drill during the last years of cadetship.) We consider that for young boys the imaginative scope of the Scout curriculum is preferable and invaluable; and we welcome the Lord Mayor’s expression of willingness to co-operate with Sir R. Baden-Powell. We should like to see the By Scout movement encouraged, and if possible extended for one year, or more. It might perhaps be the link between the Elementary School and the Cadet Corps, e.g. by being made the only avenue of entrance to the latter. Similarly, admission to the Boy Scouts might be made the reward of proficiency in Physical Exercises. In fact the whole period preceding military age should (for the purposes of preparation for membership of a national defence force) supply a gradual development of training, the elasticity of the earlier stages passing only by degrees into a mastery of the elements of military discipline.

2. The only useful connection with Elementary Schools would consist, we think, in their power of directing boys just leaving school into some Cadet Unit. The importance of getting hold of them early cannot be over-estimated. Only a small proportion go to secondary schools, or even to evening continuation schools; and so long as there is no compulsion no means should be neglected of avoiding a break, even temporary, between school-guidance and the guidance of a well-managed Cadet Unit. Otherwise, as is too often seen today, ground is lost which is very difficult to regain.

3. The Essex Committee appear to contemplate putting their Cadet system under the Board of Education with the object of thereby obtaining grants. We are not convinced of the wisdom of this proposal. It appears to us that the success of the experiment of cadet-training must largely depend upon the retention of local flexibility and the opportunity of varying in detail the training which is offered. Such freedom might become difficult if the working of the Scheme became subject to the official regulations and routine which usually govern the award of Board of Education grants.

4. A proposal was made, coming from an influential quarter, at one of the conferences held by the Lord Mayor, that in any Scheme which might be adopted Senior Cadet Units should be divided into two classes, one class (certain secondary school units) training cadets with a view to their becoming officers, and the other class (being all other Cadet Units) training for the ranks; and that in the case of secondary schools the former class should consist only of schools at which lads habitually stay on until about 17…. We desire to dissociate ourselves from this idea. In these days, when commissions are given freely to selected men from the ranks, and when several distinguished officers, including the Chief of the General Staff, are well known to have risen in this way, such a differentiation, especially at so early a stage, seems unwise; and moreover the Labour Party would, very naturally, be up in arms, and the whole Scheme would probably be doomed from the outset. We hope that the proposal will not be pressed.

5. A more difficult question will arise as to the relations between lads in secondary schools on the one hand, and lads, on the other hand (a large majority) who upon leaving elementary schools have gone into regular work for their living. Should separate units be formed? Or should combination be aimed at? No simple answer cn, we think, be give. Different conditions will entail different solutions in different localities… Whatever the solution, the problem involves another, viz the supply of Instructors. School Units naturally fall under their own masters; but there will be difficulties in providing instructors for outsiders, except where combination can meet the case. Yet masters are not always competent instructors in drill; and the soldierly ones soon go off to the Army, indeed the Service Acts will fetch those of military age. On the other hand, Drill-Sergeants do not necessarily make good trainers in matters beyond drill. Nothing very satisfactory can be expected till the end of the war, when there ought to be plenty of the right sort.
It will be gathered from what has been said that we do not see how the Berks Education Committee can usefully take a practical, definite line at present. Not that the Cadet Movement is not educative, if properly guided. On the contrary, not only is such training educational in itself, but also the system contains in it the germs of educational development outside itself. If it takes root and flourishes, still more if it should eventually be established on a compulsory basis, it may lead to an extension of continuation schools and classes alongside of, but for other purposes than, cadet training. Such an extension is notoriously what is needed in this country if we are to hold our own. We see in the misapplied efficiency of our great adversary in this war the tremendous power of thorough organisation in preparation and in execution; and we are beginning to realize, perhaps, that thorough organization is possible in any sphere only in proportion as it has at its disposal trained intelligence universally diffused.

But we recognize hat in this country under present conditions the time is hardly ripe for following either the Australian or the Essex lead, with or without adaptations. And even if we thought otherwise, the attitude of the rate-controlling authorities is not yet sufficiently encouraging to induce us to risk a failure. For a serious attempt ending in failure would be a misfortune….

H G Willink
E D Mansfield
W M Childs

11 May 1916

Report of Cadet Training Sub-committee to Berkshire Education Committee (C/CL/C1/1/19)

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