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Oxford UOTC

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The Oxford University Officers’ Training Corps (OUOTC) was one of 23 such bodies formed at universities in Great Britain following the establishment of the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) by Royal Warrant in 1908. The formation of the OTC was proposed by a Committee set up in 1907 by Richard Haldane, Secretary of State for War, to investigate the problem of the supply of adequately trained officers for both the regular and reserve forces of the army. The Committee proposed that an OTC should be formed which would have two divisions, the Senior Division in universities and the Junior Division in schools. The hope was that it would attract young men into the Army and provide an efficient system of progressive military instruction for prospective officers. The report of the Committee was published in February 1907 and the OTC came into existence in April 1908.

The formation of the OTC brought existing University Rifle Volunteer Corps and School Cadet Corps into one corporate body. At Oxford this meant that the Oxford University Rifle Volunteers Corps (OURVC) now formed the basis of the Oxford University Officers’ Training Corps.

The 1st Oxfordshire (Oxford University) Rifle Volunteer Corps was formed in 1859 and was established (together with many other volunteer corps across the country) in response to the threat of war with France while the regular army was preoccupied with the Indian Mutiny. From 1881, the OURVC served as one of several volunteer battalions of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry and in 1887 became known as the 1st (Oxford University) Volunteer Battalion or the Oxford University Volunteers (OUV). One of the other volunteer battalions in the Oxfordshire Light Infantry was the 4th (Eton College) Volunteer Battalion.

In 1908, the newly formed OUOTC was based in premises at 9 Alfred Street with the University Delegacy for Military Instruction. The Delegacy had been established in 1904 to superintend the instruction of candidates for commissions in the army and had ensured that military history was given a recognised position among University studies. Candidates registered with the Secretary of the Delegacy and attended a series of lectures which were also open to candidates in Group E of the Pass School. Candidates were expected to gain a BA degree as well as receive military instruction and the practical experience of being attached to a regular army unit. The Delegacy consisted of the Vice-Chancellor, the Proctors, one or more person appointed by the Secretary of State for War and six members of Convocation. The Delegates made an annual report to Convocation, which was published sporadically in the University Gazette, between 1906 and 1939. There were no reports at all between 1917 and 1924. These reports gave financial and administrative details of the Delegacy and statistical information on the number of candidates and commissions received.

The creation of the OUOTC meant increased responsibilities for the Delegacy, for under the regulations of the OTC issued with Army Orders on 1 July 1908, a University furnishing a contingent of the OTC ‘…must possess a committee of military education officially recognised by the University authorities, and certain officers of the Contingent must be ex officio members of this committee’. These responsibilities included the appointment of lecturers, the conduct of examinations and the administration of grants. After the creation of the OUOTC in 1908, the Delegacy made two annual reports to Convocation, one continuing to report their own accounts and business and the other the activities and work of the OUOTC. This included details of the strength of the Corps, lists of officers, details of field operations, camp, annual inspections, examinations and commissions received. This separate report on the OUOTC only lasted from 1911 to 1913. After this date the Delegacy’s report changed to include operational and statistical information on the OTC. For the purposes of this catalogue, the records of the Delegacy for Military Instruction are listed with those of the OUOTC.

An important aspect of the new OTC was the provision of permanent staff from the regular army to provide rigorous training for the cadets. Training during term took the form of short courses (usually about one per week) which took place at a time that did not interfere with University work or sport. Training included parades, attending camp and studying for voluntary examinations. These examinations were held twice a year in March and November, and took the form of certificates A and B. Certificate A was designed primarily for members of the Junior Division of the OTC and B for the Senior Division; both examinations contained written and practical elements. Although the examinations were voluntary, successful candidates gained some advantages; for example, the holder of certificate B was entitled to a commission in the Special Reserve of Officers or the Territorial Force.

The First World War broke out in the midst of the Long Vacation in 1914 so most undergraduates and many fellows were away from Oxford during the early rush to enlist. For those who were still in Oxford and for others too, the simplest way to join up was to apply to the Delegacy for Military Instruction. However, the process of applying through the Delegacy was deemed too slow and cumbersome, so the OUOTC set up an ad hoc committee to speed up the application process. By the end of September 1914, the committee had processed around 2000 applications for commissions.

A School of Instruction for young officers was set up in Oxford in January 1915 and regular army officers previously appointed to train the OUOTC were involved with the training and instruction. By March 1916 about 3000 officers had passed through the School. In 1916, the School was superseded by two Officer Cadet Battalions formed at Oxford (these were No.4 Oxford and No.6 Balliol College; Jesus College served as a Garrison Battalion), in which candidates for commissions, many of whom had served in the ranks, underwent a complete course of training for up to seven months.

The strength of each cadet battalion was about 750 men and they were quartered by companies in Keble, Wadham, Hertford, New, Magdalen, Trinity, Balliol, St John’s and Worcester Colleges. For example, C Company of No. 4 Officer Cadet Battalion was quartered at Keble College under the command of Captain FW Matheson.

The majority of cadets who passed through Oxford on this scheme were not members of Oxford University. Entrants to an Officer Cadet Battalion had to be aged over 18 and a half and to have either served in the ranks or with an OTC.

After the First World War, the objective of the OTC continued to be ‘to train leaders for the Territorial Army and the Supplementary Reserve and to build up a potential reserve of Junior Officers to meet a national emergency’. The Standing Orders issued by the OTC included ‘efficiency’ as an important part of the conditions of service. A cadet was deemed ‘efficient’ if he attended cadet camp, took part in a minimum number of parades and was a regular participant on training courses.

In 1948, the Senior Divisions of the OTC were reorganised and became part of the Territorial Army; as a result of this, their name was changed to ‘University Training Corps’. This new title remained until 1955 when the term ‘Officer’ was reinstated and it became once more University Officer Training Corps. The first women were permitted to join the University Training Corps in 1948 though they trained in a separate sub-unit from the men. Women cadets continued to train separately until the early 1960s when they were finally allowed to join what had previously been all male units.

From 1955, the overall number of University Officer Training Corps in Britain reduced as it became common practice for some to incorporate others, for example, Oxford University became responsible for students who attended Reading University and for certain students at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham. The University Officer Training Corps, including Oxford, also began to recruit cadets from the polytechnics then in existence.

The headquarters of the OUOTC and Delegacy remained at 9 Alfred Street from 1908 until 1920 when it moved to 20 St Michael’s Street. This was followed by a move to Yeomanry House in Manor Road in 1929, where the Corps remained until 1994 when it took up residence in Harcourt House in Marston Road. In c1998 the Corps moved to Falklands House in Oxpens Road, a purpose built building erected to serve as the headquarters for several detachments of Oxford University cadet forces.