Pupils on parade: the cadet corps remembered

Michael Portillo's call to create a new "lads army" may have stiffened the sinews in the Tory shires, but for others it has stirred a more shadowy pool of reminiscence. The Defence Secretary's proposal last week to expand the Combined Cadet Force into most British schools was supported by John Major on the grounds that it would increase discipline, self-esteem, team- work and responsibility.

Currently 130,000 young people aged 13 to 22 years serve in units based in 198 private schools and 45 state schools. The Prime Minister, however, admitted that, like Mr Portillo, he never served as a cadet. He told the Commons that he opted to play cricket rather than join other pupils on parade. So what is the real and enduring value of the cadet corps experience?

The writer and poet Al Alvarez went to Oundle School in Northamptonshire and completed four years in khaki. "I do not recall the experience with any great animus," said Mr Alvarez, who edited the Faber Book of Modern European Poetry. "It was not a question of choice, you just did it, and besides, anything was better than chemistry."

He recalls the drill and the hours spent perfecting his battledress for the weekly parade. "I think they decided pretty early on that I would never make an officer. The trouble was that I stayed on for a couple of extra terms to take a scholarship, so in the end they made me Regimental Sergeant Major. When I saw the film If, it was exactly as I remembered it. What it would be like now I have no idea, but in principle I am not against it," said Mr Alvarez.

John Mortimer has a less benign recollection of his days in the cadet corps at Harrow. "The whole thing was the most ridiculous waste of time," according to the creator of the fictional lawyer, Rumpole of the Bailey.

"I remember we had to go on some sort of exercise on a common near Aldershot, and while everyone else was crawling around in the mud I sat under a tree and read the plays of Ibsen. After a while a man on a white horse came up and said, 'Bang bang, you're dead'. I said, 'Thank you very much' and went back to Ibsen.

"Quite what the Government think they are up to with this scheme, heaven knows, especially at a time when half the country is terrified by the nation's youths. I think this is an hysterical gesture by a party desperate to cling to power."

The writer and broadcaster Edward Enfield went to Westminster School, where all the boys had to join either the Scouts or the army cadets. "I was always a completely inefficient soldier," said Mr Enfield. "I regarded the experience as part of my overall education, just as I did later when I completed my national service. Real soldiers used to come to drill us. It was quite amusing to see these sergeants from the Brigade of Guards reduced almost to tears because some of the boys used to rag about, and there was nothing they could do to discipline us.

"I regarded it as a chore, though one of the boys I used to give orders to ended up as a Major General, so I expect he enjoyed it well enough."

He believes that if the scheme is well-administered, some teenagers will benefit. Mr Enfield's own son, the comedian Harry Enfield, did not join, however. "I don't think that would have been quite his cup of tea," said his father.

One of the schools with the strongest cadet tradition is Eton, but even there attendance is not compulsory. Old Etonian Nicholas Coleridge, now the managing director of publishing house Conde Nast, worked hard to keep out of the ranks.

"I unhesitatingly elected to do social service. I enthusiastically dug old women's gardens, and for a while I supervised a very popular stamp club in Slough," he said. "The corps was extremely popular with those people that like that sort of thing. Most of them went on to become farmers in Scotland, I believe.

"However, when this scheme was first mentioned, I mildly surprised myself by thinking it might not be such a bad idea. I think that, provided it is kept on a voluntary basis, a lot of people will enjoy it. Besides I have a strong suspicion that it would evolve into a glorified 'outward bound' exercise with a lot of hiking and camping."

The television personality and sports journalist Michael Parkinson was amused to be asked about life as a schoolboy soldier. "Did I enjoy the cadet corps? Don't be daft," he snorted. "I went to Barnsley Grammar. We didn't have anything like that and besides, we all left there as fully fledged guerrillas."

News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices