Cadet Corps

The Cadets movement has a long history in Australia, stretching back to the days of the colonies in the mid-nineteenth century. The oldest Cadet Corps in Australia were started in private schools like Cranbrook, with the first established in New South Wales in 1866, at The King’s School in Sydney.

The beginnings of Cadets in Australia

In those early days, the first weapons were “dummies”, made out of broomsticks and pieces of fencing. Cadets were later given carbines discarded by the mounted police, before the government supplied suitable rifles.1 By 1905, there were 20,000 Cadets spread across the country.2

But it was the post-Federation era that saw Cadets becoming a widespread educational phenomenon. The Commonwealth Cadet Corps was established following Federation, and universal military service was introduced a few years later, influenced by the country’s newfound national identity. Iven Mackay, who would later become Cranbrook’s Headmaster in 1933, was in the Commonwealth Cadet Corps while he was at Newington College.3

In 1911, Australia become the first Anglophone country in the British Empire to have peacetime conscription.4 Introduced by then Prime Minister Alfred Deakin in the Defence Act of 1903, it was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the new Commonwealth government.5 In 1911 when conscription was enacted, Mackay was appointed as a Cadet Corps lieutenant. Like many young Cadets, Mackay would later enlist in 1914, seeing major action fighting for the Australian Imperial Force.6 His military training would later influence his approach to his Headmastership at Cranbrook.

Cadets at Cranbrook

When Cranbrook was established in 1918, Cadet Corps across the country had been diminished by the effects of WWI. Much of the equipment and staff had been diverted to the war effort.7 While there were many in the community who opposed enforced conscription on principle, there was nonetheless a strong belief in childhood military training that remained widespread. Many believed that it ushered boys into manhood and prepared those who might one day enlist.8

More generally, basic training was thought to be essential for boys to develop health and discipline, as well as offering valuable character lessons about action, resilience, and courage.9 This was why Cranbrook was an enthusiastic participant in both sports and Cadets from its very earliest days. In April 1919, it required its boys to parade with B Company at Rose Bay, and early the following year, an armoury was set up. Scots College loaned a case of twenty rifles, pending a supply from the Department of Defence. Cranbrook also constructed a rifle range where the Furber Building now stands. The boys would shoot towards the bank below Harvey House, with their backs to New South Head Road.  A Junior Challenge Cup for rifle shooting was started in 1920, continuing until 1989.10

Government legislation had specified three levels of training, which were provided by Cranbrook School: from the ages of 12–14 it was necessary for boys to enrol in the Junior Cadets, from 14–18 they had to enrol in the Senior Cadets, and, finally, from 18–26 they were required to register with the home defence militia, what Australia then called its Army Reserve.11 By mid-1920, the School Corps had 100 boys.12 Early Cranbrook troops did not have uniforms, but a uniform began being worn in early 1921. Junior Cadets trained for 20 minutes a day, with marching and organised races and games, while Senior Cadets trained weekly in signalling, Morse code and flag work.13

Cadets in the 1920s and 1930s

Cadets in the 1920s came under the leadership of Mr Bullow, the Senior English Master, and the School Cadets formed part of the C Company of the 6th Regiment of 1st Military District. In 1922, the first week-long Military Training Camp was held at Liverpool, which was attended by boys 18 years and over.14 The first camps provided an opportunity to have real army skills drilled into Cadets, and activities included drills on horses, handling guns and firing live shells. It had a serious purpose, with WWI only recently ended, and the Cadets received army pay, a week’s salary of 18 shillings.15

In 1930, the Defence Department changed the structure of Cadets, separating regimental units from school Cadets, and thereby making Cadets voluntary once again. During the 1920s, changing social attitudes towards conscription as well as the reduction of government funding had diminished the demand for compulsory Cadets. Finally, in October 1929, the federal Labor government suspended the mandatory provisions of the Defence Act.16 Term 1 of 1930 saw Cranbrook forming its own detachment under the new voluntary training scheme, which was the first in the Commonwealth.17 Captain Brighton, previously Master in Charge of Shooting, became Master in Charge of Cadets.18 The school had three platoons made up of 117 boys who had volunteered, representing nearly every boy over the age of 14 years in the school at the time.19

The new Cadet unit participated in official functions in 1930, forming a guard of honour for the Governor, Sir Philip Game, who was visiting the school, and participating in the Armistice Day service held at Cranbrook.20 It became common after that for the Cadets to form guards of honour on special occasions, including 30 years later for the then-Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, who was the official guest at the 1960 Prizegiving.21 The school also experienced its first ceremonial inspection in March 1931, conducted by Major-General Gordon Bennett.22 Despite the change to a voluntary system, public interest in the Cadets remained high, with their activities frequently making the papers during the 1930s. A photo appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald in 1930 to show the new Cadet uniform at Cranbrook, while an image of Cranbrook students being inspected by Major-General Sir Charles Rosenthal appeared in December 1932.23

Cranbrook joined the Associated Schools of New South Wales in 1929, and the first Associated Schools Cadet Camp was held in May 1931. It was the first camp held in Australia under the voluntary Cadet scheme, which may be why it continued to catch the attention of the media — a photo of the camp appeared in the newspapers in August 1932.24 The camps became a yearly institution, with training that included “camp hygiene, gas, topography, bayonet fighting, and carrying out individual and section stalks, and other evolutions”.25

Many Old Boys have a chuckle over the pranks that they played at camp. Barry Brooke and his team “barricaded the Sydney High crowd in their hut” and surrounded them with “stink bombs”.26 He also recalled “duck[ing] off down to Liverpool” to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in “Top Hat”.27 Chris Meares, meanwhile, remembered that another boy was reprimanded after he “pinched the Admiral’s cigarettes out of his car”.28

The Cadets at Cranbrook performed strongly in the 1930s, influenced in part by the Headmaster who had succeeded Perkins in 1933 — Brigadier Iven Mackay, mentioned above. Mackay was a military man "through and through", who once “while in command of a trench at Lone Pine with all of his men killed or wounded, held the post for two hours with pistol and rifle until help arrived”.29

The Sydney Morning Herald later noted of Mackay in 1941 that he had “trained the boys [at Cranbrook] as if they were soldiers, making them run in formation up and down the school”.30 One student later recalled “marching two or four abreast up the driveway each morning and having to present “Eyes right!” at the Headmaster’s office”.31 The newspaper’s opinion was that it had made Cranbrook boys “good footballers and crack Cadet soldiers”.32 The school won the Kirby Shield for Drill Squad in 1935 and 1939, which was open to all school Cadet Corps in New South Wales.33

Cranbrook also saw the establishment of a drum band in 1933, followed by a fife band in the following year, with lessons held in the Stables Building.34 By the end of WWII, the Cadet band had incorporated brass instruments and would play at many formal occasions, including Anzac Day, Empire Day and Speech Day.35 Most students have looked back on their school military training from these days as a “marvellous” experience, which taught them “discipline and team spirit” and “a sense of responsibility”.36

Cadets in WWII

The 1940s saw a resurgence of the Cadet movement around the country, due in large part to the advent of WWII. Cranbrook’s commitment to Cadets had remained high during the 1930s, but it had in fact represented only one of 18 school corps in the country before WWII. Further Cadet Corps sprung up in the shadow of war, growing to 95 between 1940 and 1946.37 Compulsory military service for duty within Australia had also been revived in 1939 due to the outbreak of war.38 The combined effect on Cadets in Australia was exponential. To give an example, there were about 4200 Cadets in Australia in 1939; this expanded by 1945 to over 22,000.39 Headmaster Mackay noted at the 1939 Prizegiving that the “outbreak of war” had increased “the general keenness and desire for military knowledge” in the Cadet detachment at the school.40

The Cadets at Cranbrook, led by Captain Scott, contributed to the war effort, including collecting money to help buy a mobile Red Cross canteen for local civil defence work, and mending camouflage nets.41 But the most significant contribution made by Cranbrook Cadets in both World Wars was in training boys who immediately enlisted after their graduation, some of whom gave their lives. One such example has been memorialised in the Brian Homes à Court Memorial Prize (see further here). Brian joined the Royal Australian Air Force four weeks after his graduation, in January 1941. He had been a Corporal in the Cranbrook Cadet Corps.42 Brian died in service in 1943 while engaging in simulated low-level attacks on coastal gunposts in Cornwall.

Another Old Boy lost in WWII was Lawrence Osborne, for whom the Osborne Gates at the school were named (see further here). Osborne’s Air Force Squadron was part of the Coastal Command that sank three submarines during 1943, the year that Osborne was killed in action. It had been an intensive period for the Squadron’s operations, during which it had concentrated its patrols over the Bay of Biscay. The Australian War Memorial notes that the “vital significance of the Bay to the German submarine campaign meant it was also heavily patrolled by German aircraft and 461 Squadron lost five Sunderlands to them”, one those being flown by Cranbrook’s Old Boy Osborne. He now has a place on the Roll of Honour in the Australian War Memorial.43

Cadets after WWII

WWII had reignited faith and interest in Cadets, and it had strengthened the affiliation between the Cadets and the Citizen Military Forces.44 This continued after the war; the increasing availability in the 1950s of staff and equipment, along with fears about communism, created an environment for continuing military training. School-based cadet numbers were thriving, growing to over 31,000 by 1958, and surging to over 42,000 by 1966, the equivalent of 13 per cent of all eligible males.45

At Cranbrook, Captain Scott had departed in 1948, with Mr William Waters taking his place as Officer in Charge. Cranbrook joined the 7th Cadet Battalion, which also included Cadets from Scots and Waverley Colleges.46 In 1951, Headmaster Brian Hone presented the colours of the Cadet unit — the School Cadet flag — to the Reverend Arthur Deane for consecration before they were hung in the Chapel. Headmaster Hone “reminded the Cadets that colours have a ‘long and honourable history’ and were carried into battle as a rallying point”.47

In 1952, Cranbrook introduced its first ever Naval Cadets, which was also a first for New South Wales. By 1953, the school had two platoons and nearly 70 Cadets in total.48 Founders’ Day celebrations in 1954 featured platoon training on Hordern Oval, including a platoon attack, weapon assembling, firing and dismounting, and an anti-tank demonstration.49 At the annual camp in 1960, Cadets were given a taste of advanced infantry tactics. They were handed rations and had to travel 10 miles over 24 hours while avoiding ‘the enemy’. Points were given for “action on contact with the enemy and control of the patrols by patrol commanders”.50 In 1961, Mr Anderson took over from William Waters as Commanding Officer of the school’s Cadets. Cranbrook teacher, Mr Dan Massey, would later succeed Anderson in 1967. By 1969, the Cadet training was emphasising field action over drill training 51

The last decades of the Cadets

Cadets at Cranbrook were meeting the challenge in the 1960s of dwindling support from the Army, which had led to staffing their units with school teaching staff. This was a position reflected around the country. But “Cadet responsibilities took teachers out of the classroom for one day for every three weeks of the school term”, which was on top of planning activities, or rather “unplanning half the arrangements made by the Army”. This situation would gradually lead to a loss of motivation and falling Cadet numbers through the late 1960s.52

By 1970, an inspecting officer visiting Cranbrook, Lieutenant Fargher, was trying to rally the Cadets by referring to their role in preparing “against the sort of fate that had recently overtaken Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Cambodia”. But he also spoke about student protests and clashes with police at anti-war marches.53 The social protests of the 1960s had changed social attitudes and had taught people to question governing powers.

These conditions, along with the Vietnam War, were changing how people viewed Cadets and the need for military training in children and teenagers. There was also the fact that the Army itself was struggling with funding. It was this as much as the social climate that precipitated the Labor Government’s decision in 1975 to withdraw funding from Cadet Corps across the country.54 Early that year, the Army had found itself half a million dollars in debt, and needed to refocus its limited resources on combat demands.55

As it turned out, the end of Cadet funding in 1975 also brought an end to the Cranbrook Corps. The Cadets program at Cranbrook had been competing in the 1960s against other outdoor activities, such as the Adventure Group introduced by Headmaster Gethyn Hewan, the Explorers and Travellers Club led by Martin Pitt, and Outward Bound, formed in 1961 by Mark Bishop, who would later become Headmaster in 1963.56 Outward Bound had started out small, with 30 or so volunteers kayaking in local waters, but it was expanded to Upper Vth year in 1965, involving 80 students being trained in bush survival skills over five days. This was expanded again in 1970, and extended to Form IV.57

From Cranbrook’s perspective, it was increasing support amongst staff to expand these outdoor activities, including support from the then-Commanding Officer of the Cadets, Dan Massey, that undercut the need for continuing the Cadet Corps at Cranbrook. Outward Bound was expanded once again in 1975 to include Forms IV and VI, the same year that the Cadets at Cranbrook was abolished.58 (See further about the history of Outward Bound here.)

Overall, former Cranbrookian Cadets have strong memories of those days of “stepping out like veterans”, whether it was the daily morning marches on the school oval, training with weaponry, the public military parades to the rousing tunes of the brass marching band, or the “dark patent glossy colour” that their boots, belts and buttons would have following a hard polish.59 They also, whether or not they felt it at the time, formed an integral part of Australia’s military landscape in the twentieth century.

  • 1. A “carbine” was a lighter, shorter version of a rifle that had been specifically developed for cavalry and mounted police. “But as the stocks were too long for the boys, the Government was urged to give them proper rifles.” Quotes are taken from a history of The King's School, quoted in “In School and Out: Schoolboys on Parade”, Australasian, 19 December 1942, p. 27.
  • 2. Craig Stockings, “Australian Army Cadets”, in The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2008, published online 2009, accessed online at, extracted 11 January 2018.
  • 3. “Sir Iven Giffard Mackay, KBE, CMG, DSO, VD (1882–1966)”, Army Museum of New South Wales, accessed online at, extracted on 12 January 1918. See also Jeffrey Grey, “Mackay, Sir Iven Giffard (1882–1966)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 12 January 2018. 
  • 4. The first conscription dates to the French Revolution. Regarding the conscription in Australia, see “Conscription", Australian War Memorial, accessed online at, extracted 11 January 2018; and specifically in respect of Cadets, see Craig Stockings, “Australian Army Cadets”, in The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, op. cit.
  • 5. The legislation gave the government power to conscript for the purposes of home defence, but at that point, it did not allow soldiers to be conscripted for overseas service. See “Conscription”, Australian War Memorial.
  • 6. By 1912, Australia had 89,074 senior Cadets across 446 training locations. It was common in WWI and WWII to see the Cadets as a pretraining for enlisted forces. This is noted by historians but articles at the time also reflect this view. An article in The Bulletin in 1946 noted that Brisbane Grammar “sent 1019 men to war out of a total of 1350 of military age”. That school alone provided “five generals, two colonels, 18 lieutenant-colonels and 32 majors: “The Service Man. Cadet Movement Flourishes”, in The Bulletin, Vol. 67, No. 3458, 1946, p. 18. For a history of Cadets in the WWI period, see Maxwell N. Waugh, Soldier Boys: the Militarisation of Australian & New Zealand Schools for WW1, Melbourne: Melbourne Books, 2014. For a history of Mackay’s service, see “Sir Iven Giffard Mackay, KBE, CMG, DSO, VD (1882–1966)”, Army Museum of New South Wales, accessed online at, extracted on 12 January 1918. Mackay was decorated with a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, and a French Croix de Guerre. In the 1920s, he spent time studying and working at the University of Sydney, but he also re-enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces (named the Militia from 1930), holding three Brigade Commands.
  • 7. “In 1916 many units had their belts, pouches and rifles withdrawn by the military for use by the adult army.” See Dr Craig Stockings, “The Great Debate: Conscription and National Service 1912 – 1972”, The Proceedings of the Conference held at the Pompey Elliot Memorial Hall, Camberwell RSL, by Military History and Heritage Victoria, 30 May 2015, accessed online at, extracted 11 January 2018.
  • 8. Cadet training programs were designed to be an “elementary recruit training as preparation for entering the ranks of the Citizen Forces", what was then called the Army Reserve: Dr Craig Stockings, “The Great Debate”, op. cit.
  • 9. In 1921, the Headmaster wrote that “games” were important because “they contribute to physical and mental health, establish habits and motives which help in later life; and not infrequently they reveal a bent that might otherwise go undiscovered”:  David Thomas and Mark McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory: Cranbrook School, 1918-1993, Caringbah, NSW: Playright Publishing, 1998, p. 24.
  • 10.  Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part One: 1919-1930", Old Cranbrookian, Vol. 43, No. 1, 2005, p. 11.
  • 11. Craig Stockings, “Australian Army Cadets”, in The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History, op. cit.
  • 12. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part One: 1919-1930", op. cit., p. 11.
  • 13. Loc. cit.
  • 14. Loc. cit.
  • 15. Loc. cit.
  • 16. “Conscription”, Australian War Memorial. See also Dr Craig Stockings, “The Great Debate”, op. cit.
  • 17. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part One", p. 12.
  • 18. Loc. cit. Captain Scott (“Scotty”) took over in 1932, remaining until 1948: Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Three: 1932-1948", Old Cranbrookian, Vol. 44, No. 1, 2006, p. 10.
  • 19. Records indicate that during the 1930s, unless physically prevented, the boys at Cranbrook were expected to enter the Cadets on turning 14 years of age: Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Two: 1931", Old Cranbrookian, Vol. 43, No. 2, 2005, p. 10.
  • 20. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part One", p. 13.
  • 21. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Four: 1949-1975", Old Cranbrookian, Vol. 44, No. 2 (2006), p. 13.
  • 22. Photos of this event appear in Thomas and McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory, pp. 39–40.
  • 23. “New Cadet Uniform at Cranbrook”, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March 1930, p. 20; and “Cranbrook School Cadets Inspected”, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 1932, p. 14.
  • 24. A full description of the first Associated Schools Camp appears in "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Two". For the newspaper photo in 1932, see “Associated Schools’ Cadet Corps Go Into Camp”, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 August 1932, p. 14.
  • 25. "The Associated Schools' Cadet Camp", The Cranbrookian, Vol. 12, No. 1, 1931, p. 16.
  • 26. Barry Brooke, interview by Vicki Mesley, 13 September, 1994, interview S244/27.
  • 27. Ibid.
  • 28. Chris Meares, interview by Vicki Mesley, September, 1994, interview S244 26.
  • 29. “Action is Watchword of General Mackay”, in Cairns Post, 10 February 1941, p. 8. The same article noted that “Mackay is popular with his men. It is said that new recruits dislike him on first acquaintance. They … resent his insistence on military formality and discipline. But this feeling is quickly supplanted by deep respect for his ability, and for the care he always shows for the men under his command.” There were many former students who held “fond memories of Iven Mackay’s coaching techniques in cricket and athletics or of him standing at one corner of the oval giving vigorous support to the 1st XV”: Thomas and McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory, p. 53.
  • 30. “Action is Watchword of General Mackay”, op. cit. See also Chapter 3 in Thomas and McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory.
  • 31. Thomas and McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory, p. 54.
  • 32. “Action is Watchword”, op. cit.
  • 33. The success and commitment might also have something to do with the fact that those students who wanted to be excused from attending Cadets during Mackay’s time were instead required to attend weekly sessions of community singing, an unpopular alternative amongst the boys: Thomas and McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory, pp. 54–55.
  • 34. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Three", p. 13.
  • 35. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook", p. 14.
  • 36. Horace Marcus Podosky, interview by Graham Cole, 19 July, 1995.
  • 37. “The Service Man”, op. cit.
  • 38. This obliged soldiers in the Citizen Military Force (now Army Reserve) to serve in the region known as the South-West Pacific Area, which included New Guinea and adjacent islands: “Conscription”, Australian War Memorial, op. cit.
  • 39. “Australian Army Cadets”, in The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History.
  • 40. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Three", p. 12.
  • 41. Thomas and McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory, p. 78. See a more in-depth description of wartime activities of Cadets in Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Three", p. 12.
  • 42. Thomas and McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory, p. 85.
  • 43. “Flying Officer Henry Lawrence Osborne”, Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial, accessed online at, and, extracted 25 January 2018.
  • 44. Australian Army Cadets, “History”, accessed online at, extracted 11 January 2018.
  • 45. “Australian Army Cadets,” in The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History.
  • 46. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Four", p. 12.
  • 47. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Four", p. 12.
  • 48. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Four", pp. 12–13.
  • 49. Ibid, p. 13.
  • 50. Ibid, p. 13.
  • 51. Ibid, p. 15.
  • 52. Cranbrook officer quoted in Craig Stockings, The Torch and the Sword: A History of the Army Cadet Movement in Australia (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2007), p. 161.
  • 53. Janet Howse, "Cadets at Cranbrook, Part Four", p. 15.
  • 54. On 26 August 1975, the Minister for Defence announced that the Australian Cadet Corps was to be disbanded from 1 January 1976: “Australian Army Cadets”, in The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History.
  • 55. Ibid.
  • 56. David Thomas and Mark McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory, p. 171.
  • 57. Thomas and McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory, pp. 171-173.
  • 58. Mr D M Massey became the Deputy Headmaster of Cranbrook in 1972.
  • 59. The “stepping out like veterans” quote is from “In School and Out: Schoolboys on Parade,” in Australasian. Memories of Old Boys come from Alan Sharp, interview by Vicki Mesley, 23 June, 1994, interview S244/23; Barry Chard, interview by Vicki  Mesley, 31 August, 1994, interview S244/25; Colin Douglas, interview by Vicki Mesley, 10 March, 1994, interview S244/26; James Todhunter, interview by Graham Cole, 12 October, 1993; Frank Tebbutt, "Memoir" (Cranbrook Archive, 2016); Kenneth Leonard Everingham, "Memoir", (1995).