History of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

Modern-day officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is the latest in the lineage of establishments stretching back to the formal establishment of the Royal Military Academy Woolwich in 1741 and the Royal Military College in 1800. 

The various sites of officer training for the British Army in history:

High Wycombe
Great Marlow
RMC, Sandhurst
RMA Woolwich
RMA Sandhurst
Mons College, Aldershot
WRAC College Bagshot

The history

The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, known as 'the Shop', was established in 1741 to educate the military branch of the Board of Ordnance to produce officers for the Artillery and Engineers. The two corps were referred to as the Ordnance Corps until 1856. Because there was strong competition to be selected to be selected as an Engineering officer, due to the good career prospects and interesting appointments, it was very much in the interest of gentleman cadets to study for their commissions. As regiments and corps were spun off on their own, so they maintained the same competitive system: sappers, gunners, signals and the tank corps. The RMA, Woolwich, remained open until 1939.

In 1939, on the outbreak of World War II, RMA Woolwich closed and its senior students were commissioned into the artillery, engineers and signals. The remainder were sent to the territorial Officer Cadet Training Units. (Up to 1939 both RMA and RMC were fee-paying establishments.)

The Royal Military College (RMC), established in 1800 was intended by Maj Gen John Gaspard le Marchant to be an Academy of three parts: a senior department for staff officer training, a legion for the sons of soldiers in the ranks, and a junior department for the training of gentleman cadets.

Interestingly, only the previous year (1799) a school had been set up in High Wycombe and was operated by a French officer, General Jarry, on what amounts to a private finance initiative. This school was to teach staff duties to junior officers. The Private Finance Initiative shortcomings soon became clear and the school eventually became the Senior Department of the RMC in 1801. It remained at High Wycombe until 1814, moving to Farnham for seven years, and thence to Sandhurst, becoming Staff College in 1858.

The RMC's Junior Department opened in 1802 at Great Marlow, but it was soon clear that the accommodation was unsatisfactory. William Pit had recently purchased Sandhurst Park, on the Exeter coaching road. It would be far enough away from London to prevent cadets becoming "distracted" by the lights of London. RMC moved into its purpose-built building, Old College, in 1812.

RMC, Sandhurst, closed briefly in 1870 when the system of purchasing commissions was abolished, as the purchase system had been the main reason for attending the RMC - its successful cadets obtained their first commissions free. From 1877 competitive examination led to the appointment to a cadetship rather than a commission; RMC became the normal route to a regular commission.

The India Military Seminary at Addiscombe, near Croydon, trained the officers of the East India Company's army. The seminary closed in the 1870s when the company's forces were transferred to the Crown. This caused the building of the two tridents at the back of Old College to accommodate gentlemen cadets for the Indian Army.

New College was completed in 1912, built as a result of the enlargement accompanying the general shake-up accompanying public outcry over the shape of the army after the Boer War. 

At the outbreak of World War II, RMA Woolwich and RMC were closed and RMC students were either commissioned or remained at Sandhurst where they joined either the cavalry or infantry OCTU. 

The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) opened its doors in 1947 in the former RMC at Sandhurst.

Short Service officer cadets and university graduates were trained separately at Mons College. Aldershot, until 1972, as a follow-on from arrangements for National Service short service officers who would not attend the full course for regular officers at RMAS.

Woman Officer Cadets were originally trained at the Women's Royal Army Corps College at Bagshot. Their training was moved to RMAS in 1984 and they were later integrated into the standard training courses of the Academy.

In 1992 a new one-year Common Commissioning Course was introduced, becoming the single point of entry for commissioned service in the British Army for all except clerical and medical officers.

The current Academy site

The site the Academy occupies was originally enclosed after the English Civil War by a local farmer who fenced off the area of Windsor Forest between the Blackwater and the Wish Stream, named Sandhurst Park. The area is wooded - a hurst - and situated on light soil - sand. At the end of the 18th century a retired officer bought the land together with Frimley Park. The farmer was forced to sell the park in 1800 to his wife's uncle, Prime Minister William Pitt. He in turn sold it on to the government a few months later with the purpose of becoming the site of the newly-created Royal Military College. The area around the Academy is dotted with ancient monuments such as the Iron Age hill fort, Caesar's Camp, to the north of the Barossa training area, and the Roman road, the Devil's Highway, running from East to West. Three counties meet just outside the Academy grounds, probably under the Tesco's car park, where the Wishstream marks the border between Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire.

Some key dates

1741 Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, opens.
1800 Junior Department of the Royal Military College is established for the instruction of officer cadets

1812 Old College opens
1814 Senior Department moves from High Wycombe to Farnham.
1821 Senior Department moves from Farnham to Sandhurst.
1858 Senior Department renamed Staff College.
1862 Old Gymnasium built, later became the library
1870s Addiscombe Seminary closes, training is transferred to Sandhurst; the two trident wings - now accommodation for the junior division - are added.

1877 Competitive examination instituted - students appointed to a cadetship rather than a commission.

1879 Royal Military Chapel opened; previous location becomes the college museum, and eventually in 1948 the Indian Army Memorial Room.

1912 New College is completed.

1930s Royal Military Chapel rebuilt and greatly enlarged to include memorials for the fallen from the College.

1939 RMA, Woolwich and RMC, Sandhurst, close on the outbreak of World War II.

1942 161 OCTU (Inf) moves from Sandhurst to Mons Barracks, Aldershot.

1947 RMA Sandhurst opens.

1948 Indian Army Memorial Room created.
1960 Eaton Hall, Officer Cadet School for National Service, is closed.

1961 Faraday Hall opens with departments of Science and Mathematics.

1970 Victory Building opens, along with Churchill Hall.

1971 RMAS is reduced to two colleges with New College left empty, due to being under strength.

1972 Course undergoes fundamental restructuring. Mons Officer Cadet School moves into New College.

1981 WRAC College closes and women officer cadets move to Sandhurst.

In addition to the official Academy site's tour of the Academy and its history, The Churchill Society London also have a more detailed history of RMA and RMC on their website.

For further information about the military history of the Aldershot Garrison, visit Ash Vale and Aldershot.

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