Officer training in the British Army of 1914-1918

As the British Army expanded so greatly during the period 1914-1916 and suffered the continual loss of officer casualties, a most serious problem developed in producing men who could lead and command, both as officers and NCO’s.

Sandhurst and Woolwich

The Royal Military College at Sandhurst and the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich (for the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers) had both existed for many years before the Great War as the primary route for the training of a prospective officer before he would be commissioned. They both continued in this role throughout the war and were considerably expanded to cope with the greater numbers.

Officer Training Corps

OTCs were formed in 1908 at Universities and Public Schools to attract young men into the army and carry out training sufficient to allow the recruit to be commissioned at a later date. There were 23 OTC contingents of the ‘Senior Division’ at Universities and 166 of the ‘Junior Division’ at schools. The Inns of Court, part of the legal establishment in the United Kingdom, also had an OTC. The OTCs continued their activities throughout the war and played a key role in providing the raw material for selection as officers.

Officer Cadet Units

In February 1916 a new system of training for officers was introduced, after which temporary commissions could only be granted if a man had been through an Officer Cadet unit. Entrants would have to be aged over 18 and a half, and to have served as a ranker or to have been with an OTC. The training course lasted four and a half months. The Officer Cadet Battalion had an establishment of 400 cadets at any time (although this was raised to 600 – if the unit could accommodate them – in May 1917). More than 73,000 men gained infantry commissions after being trained in an OTB, with increasing numbers coming from ‘the ranks’ as the war went on.

OTB NumberLocation
1Newton Ferrers
2Pembroke College, Cambridge
3Bristol
4Oxford
5Trinity College, Cambridge
6Balliol College, Oxford
7Moore Park, County Cork, Ireland
8Lichfield
9Gailes, Ayrshire
10Gailes, Ayrshire
11Pirbright
12Newmarket
13Newmarket
14Berkhamstead
15Romford
16Kinmel, Rhyl
17Kinmel, Rhyl
18Bath
19Pirbright
20Crookham, Aldershot
21Twezeldown Camp, Fleet
23 (Machine Gun Corps)Bisley. Moved to Catterick early 1918
24 (Tank Corps)Hazeley Down, Winchester
Household BrigadeBushey
1 CavalryNetheravon
GarrisonJesus College, Cambridge

Continued development of an officer

In addition to the harsh world of “on the job” training in action, many training schools and facilities were developed behind the lines in France and Flanders and the other theatres of war. Specialist courses on tactics and technologies such as the machine gun and poison gas were developed, and all officers were regularly withdrawn from duty in order to attend. Not only did they update the officer on developments but they provided a welcome respite from the strain of front line command.

Links

A soldier’s life in the British Army