The tradition of cadet units in schools goes back over 150 years to 1859. In 1948, the Combined Cadet Force was formed, covering cadets from all three Services.

In 1859, the idea of cadet units in schools was developed by the Secretary of State for War, Jonathan Peel, who wrote to public schools and universities, inviting them to form units of the Volunteer Corps. Several schools took up the idea, and the first Cadet Corps in a school was formed in 1860 at Rossall School. Other units formed soon after at Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Hurstpierpoint and Felsted School – although Felsted School’s armed drill contingent pre-dated the 1859 letter from the War Office.

These early units were focused on Army activities and were usually associated with Rifle Volunteer Battalions for Home Defence, with cadets wearing the uniforms of their parent volunteer battalions. The Corps evolved over time, focusing on Officer Training, and during the First and Second World Wars many of the young men who served in the units went on to serve their country in the Armed Forces.

Sedburgh School 1914

Sedburgh School with the Ashburton Shield in 1914

After World War II, the structure of the Armed Forces changed, including the cadet units in school, which became the Combined Cadet Force in 1948, incorporating sections from all of the Armed Forces, the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force. Over the following decades, the focus of the group moved away from being a recruitment pathway into the Armed Forces, the number of CCFs in state schools slowly grew, and for the first time girls were allowed to join.

Harrow School Contingent

Harrow School

Today, CCF contingents are very different to those early groups of young people. Although they are still based on the ethos of the Armed Forces, their focus is on helping young people to develop and reach their full potential by providing challenging, active, adventurous and fun activities.