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.
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.
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.
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.