Looking back on being part of a school-based cadet unit, the author reflects that, despite the fun and experience to be gained, the benefits could be achieved with non-military activities which would not present a dangerous and risk-laden career as an enjoyable and exciting activity or expose young people to an environment where bullying and hazing are normalised.
What follows is an autobiographical account of my experiences as an Army Cadet within the Combined Cadet Forces (CCF). As such, it serves as a snapshot of the organisation at a particular time and place, and should not be regarded as a definitive record as to how the CCF operates as a whole. Whilst each detachment of the CCF adheres to the same syllabus and ethos, the method by which this is implemented may vary with the leadership, members and social culture of that detachment. I have provided this disclaimer purely because aspects of my testimony may seem controversial, and it would be unfair to discredit an entire organisation on the basis of my personal memories alone.
The CCF is a Ministry of Defence (MoD) sponsored youth organisation predominantly found within the United Kingdom’s independent schools.i Divided into three branches (Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy). Members can join from the age of thirteen until they leave school at eighteen. They wear military fatigues, and are provided with military training once a week, on occasional night-time exercises, and on biannual week-long camps located at military barracks.ii It is designed to be fun, and indeed is fun, as evidenced by this author staying a cadet for the maximum five years before he left school turned eighteen. The CCF was an integral component of every-day school life. Every Thursday our uniform of blazer and tie was replaced with brassard and khaki, and school would finish quarter of an hour early to enable us to file onto the parade square. Even the school’s infrastructure was set up to facilitate our military education. An armoury, replete with ammunition and weapons, was conveniently located in the English Department, with a nearby mess for the teachers who volunteered as officers.iii This ensured that a military ethos was ever present throughout our education, even when we were not practising as Cadets.
Recruitment and the CCF
Whilst the CCF promotes self-reliance, leadership and other positive attributes within its members, it is primarily designed to ‘stimulate an interest' in the armed forces and to encourage and prepare those with an interest in becoming officers within the regular or reserve forces to enlist.iv As stated in an interim copy of the MoD’s Youth Engagement Review, ‘Cadet and [MoD] youth development experiences...can both enhance a young person’s desire to join the Service and make him/her better prepared to enter training...All the Services are particularly keen not to overtly link cadets and recruiting and this must continue in the public eye.’v In short, the CCF is designed to enable young men and women to regard the armed forces as a viable career, and one that they have already been primed for success.
This pre-emptive channelling occurred in a variety of ways. Talks were often delivered by current or former officers, who reiterated certain myths about an armed forces career, and largely glossed over the fact that ultimately soldiers exist to be called upon by their government to kill other humans for political reasons. The armed forces were presented to us as a great adventure, where we would undertake exciting new experiences in exotic locations far away, making friends for life along the way. Certainly, there is some truth to this depiction, however, it may also mislead impressionable young people into thinking that the armed forces is safer and more enthralling than it actually is. This illusion would likely be shattered if these hypothetical new recruits were mobilised for war. An even more effective recruitment tactic, however, were the trips to the various regiments, where we were seduced by the pomp, silver and ceremony of mess life as an officer, and the deadly power and technology of the weapons, equipment and hardware used by the British armed forces. A personal highlight was being driven in a challenger tank by the Royal Artillery. Looking back, the CCF, and the resources invested in our training were, as the MoD state themselves, a ‘powerful tool for facilitating recruitment’.vi Indeed, 20% of officers and 2% of non-officers in 2014 are former members of the CCF and 27% of officers and 23% of non-officers are former members of community-based cadet units.vii This reflects the traditional predominance of school-based cadets in independent schools which are more likely to produce officers rather than 'other ranks'.