This article on the UK’s Service Cadet Organisations is divided into Five Parts:


1.0     Introduction

This article is about the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) military-orientated youth organisations, officially termed Service Cadet Organisations, although sometimes referred to as cadet forces, military cadets, or simply cadets.

“The Cadet Forces are among the UK’s largest and most successful youth organisations, with nearly 140,000 cadets across the country.” (RFCA NE, 2018).

The cadet forces are composed of the Sea Cadets, Army Cadet Force, Air Training Corps, and Combined Cadet Force.

Cadet forces aim to provide challenging and enjoyable activities for young people, based on the values, standards, and traditions of the armed forces. Cadets are provided with a variety of opportunities including learning new skills, engaging in adventurous activities, and working towards a range of nationally-recognised qualifications which can all help with their future educational and career aspirations. They are also encouraged to take on leadership responsibilities and get involved in local and national competitions. Cadets are also supported by local regular military units who provide high quality training.

There are also opportunities for adults who volunteer to help with the cadets through training and gaining recognised qualifications.

Although adult volunteers and cadets do wear uniform, they do not incur any liability for service or compulsory training in the armed forces.

This article is divided in to five parts for easier reading. Part One is this introduction which outlines what UK service cadet organisations are, as well as a brief history. Part Two outlines the four cadet organisations, the training syllabus of the Army Cadet Force, and the various military activities, adventurous training, community work that young people may undertake during their time with the cadets. Part Three focus’ on the role and work of the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association. Part Four looks at Cadet Force Adult Volunteers, as well as some MOD groups linked to the cadets. Finally, Part Five will provide a summary, a list of useful publications and links, and references.

1.1     What are Service Cadet Organisations?

UK Service Cadet Organisations are:

  • Voluntary Youth Organisations which are,
    Sponsored by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) and provide,
  • A range of military, adventurous, and community services for,
  • Boys and girls aged:
    • 10 to 18 for the Sea Cadets.
      • 10 for Junior Sea Cadets.
      • 12 for Sea Cadets.
      • 13 for Royal Marines Cadets.
    • 12 to 18 for Army Cadet Force.
    • 13 to 18 for Air Training Corps.
    • 13 to 18 for Combined Cadet Force.

“The chance to develop new life skills, to fulfil personal ambitions and to realise their full potential in an environment which is challenging, fun and above all safe, is one which many young people seize with both hands and go on to do great things.” (Brown, 2018).

Collectively, the Sea Cadets, Army Cadet Force, and Air Training Corps are termed Community Cadets (MOD, 2017a).

You do not have to be a UK citizen to join as a cadet.

1.2     What are Service Cadet Organisations Not?

The UK Service Cadet Organisations are not a recruiting tool for the armed forces, and are not part of the armed forces (Wood, 2014); although a PowerPoint slide “Why does the Army support the Cadet forces?” appears to suggest otherwise (Urquhart, 2012, p.6). ForcesWatch (2015) also refutes the MOD’s line that school and college visits and the CCF are not recruiting tools, stating “both of which have a strong recruitment agenda behind them, contrary to the repeated denials of this in recent years by the MoD.” A report by Mark Francis MP, “Filling the Ranks”, in July 2017 states:

“There are legal constraints on direct recruitment from the cadet forces but within these constraints it may still be possible to provide further information to cadets about potential careers in the Armed Forces – should they wish to pursue such a route of their own volition.” (Francis, 2017, p.10).

While cadet force adult volunteers (Section 4.2) and cadets wear uniform, they do not incur any liability for service or compulsory training in the armed forces as a result of being a member of a service cadet organisation.

According to a UK MOD Freedom of Information (FOI) request, between 01 July 2007 and 30 June 2010 approximately 82,000 cadets left the Army Cadet Force (ACF) and the Combined Cadet Force (CCF).

As of June 2018, the ACF had 39,000 cadets and 9,000 adult volunteers in 1,600 detachments across the UK. As of 2014, the CCF had 42,950 cadets and 2,810 adult volunteers in over 400 secondary schools across the UK.

  • A CCF contingent may include Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and/or Royal Air Force sections.
  • There is an aspiration to increase this number to 500 schools by 2020.

The data includes all reasons for leaving including:

  • Over age:
    • ACF need to be aged over 12* and under 18 (*aged 12 by 01 September at the start of year 8 in school or equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland).
    • Typically CCF would join in Year 8 or Year 9.
  • Non-attendance.
  • Disciplinary.

Of the 82,000 cadet leavers during this period, 5,400 could be matched to a Joint Personnel Administration (JPA) service personnel record (JPA captures all service personnel from Army, RN and RAF, as well as Adult Volunteers and Reservists).

This gives a conversion rate (i.e. those who joined the Services) across the cohort of 6.6%, with:

  • 7.8% being male cadets.
  • 3.7% being female cadets.
  • 6.7% from the ACF.
  • 6.0% from the CCF.
  • The average leaving age being 15.5.
  • The assignment type of converters being:
    • Regular forces: 3,484.
    • Cadet force adult volunteers: 782.
    • Volunteer reserve: 1,172.

1.3     Brief History

Cadets and cadet forces date back to the 1850s when a number of schools formed units “as a means of training young people to support the masses of volunteers who were required to boost the army following heavy losses in the Crimea War and the possibility of further war.” (MOD, 2016).

Known as Cadet Corps, or cadet battalions, they were attached to ‘parent’ Rifle Volunteer Battalions for Home Defence, recognised by the then War Office, and permitted to wear the uniforms of their parent battalion (MOD, 2016). The parent volunteer battalions would later become the Territorial Army, now Army Reserve. Orphanages were also established during this time to look after children who had been orphaned as a result of the Crimean War, and were operated with the help of sailors returning from the Crimea. The Naval Lads’ Brigades was established and, over the following 50 years, 34 Brigades of Boys were formed.

After the threat of war receded, some cadet battalions became Rifle Clubs and those not associated with schools became social welfare organisations – the forerunners of the Army Cadet Force.

In 1910, due to the success of the brigades they were sponsored by the Navy League, a pressure group set up to influence maritime thinking in Parliament.

In 1919, the British Admiralty recognised the Naval Lads’ Brigades and the title Navy League Sea Cadet Corps was adopted. Also, following World War One, there was a reluctance on the part of the public to support any military organisation because of the huge losses incurred in the war and, subsequently, cadet forces received no support from government and had to be entirely self-supporting.

In 1938, a former Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force (RAF) officer, Air Commodore Sir John Adrian Chamier (CB, CMG, DSO, OBE), established the Air Defence Cadet Corps. He is generally referred to as the Founding Father of the Air Training Corps (ATC).

Although this comprised units set up in some independent schools to provide part-time training for young men intending to join the RAF, they were hugely successful and their value noted by the government at the time.

In 1941, by Royal Warrant, the Air Defence Cadet Corps became the ATC.

In 1942, the other cadet forces regained their prominence and were once again financially supported by the government.

After the Second World War (1939 to 1945), the Cadet movement was no longer a force preparing young people for war. The focus now shifted from providing pre-Service training to equipping young people with the essential life skills of self-reliance, teamwork, leadership and responsibility through a wider range of exciting and stimulating activities.

Since the 1950s, the cadet forces have been recognised as voluntary youth organisations with the aim of providing an opportunity for young people to exercise responsibility and leadership in a disciplined environment.

Main Menu Continue on to Part 02