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:
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.
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 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
Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, opens.
For further information about the military history of the Aldershot Garrison, visit Ash Vale and Aldershot.
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