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History of the Army Technical Foundation College



A Brief Historical Survey


1939 – 1992


by Capt. (Retd.) D.B. Richards Dip. Ed. Tech.

with additional material by Major M.V. Costanzo R.E.M.E.





The training of young tradesmen in the Army is by no means a recent innovation. Prior to World War II Artificers R.A., Armourers R.A.O.C. (both specialist trades) and other tradesmen for technical corps were trained at Woolwich, Hilsea and Chepstow. The boys were taken direct from school and taught a trade in a manner similar to industrial practice; except that the military apprentices were also trained as soldiers so that they could take their proper place in the regiments or corps to which they would eventually be posted. With mechanisation going ahead it was clear, by the early 1930s, that the Army would be unable to obtain enough tradesmen for its needs from adult enlistment and existing apprentice training units. Two hundred Fitter Apprentices were recruited and enlisted on 1st October 1936 of whom 100 started their training at Bramley and 100 at Hilsea. During the summer of 1939 around one dozen Bramley apprentices went to Woolwich to be trained as Instrument Mechanics, whilst the rest of the Bramley first intake, and a few of the Hilsea intake, proceeded to Aldershot to complete their training. Some older apprentices who completed training in 1939 served in France with the B.E.F. [British Expeditionary Force] in various Field Workshops. There was still a shortage of specialist soldier – tradesmen however, so it was decided to build three new Army Technical Schools at Arborfield, Fort Darland (Chatham) and Jersey (Channel Islands). These schools were to produce tradesmen for the special needs of R.A.O.C., R.E. and R.A.S.C. respectively.


Here then, we have the seed of our present Princess Marina College at Arborfield, over 50 years ago. The School was designed to house and train up to 1,000 apprentices at any one time.


Building at Arborfield began in 1938 on the site of the Remount Depot and quickly took shape; sports fields, workshops, offices, barrack rooms, gymnasium, NAAFI, Officers’ Mess, Sergeants’ Mess and a hospital. The buildings, like many others of that period, were constructed of wood and corrugated iron and fitted with hot water central heating – they were destined to be in use for 42 years. Long before they were completed the selection of staff was being considered and some of the first incumbents were as follows:


  • Commandant and Chief Instructor: Colonel F.A. Hilborn, M.B.E. (late R.A.O.C.) [Royal Army Ordnance Corps]
  • Deputy Chief Instructor: Major W. Tanner, R.A.O.C.
  • Adjutant: Captain C. Morgan, S.W.B. [South Wales Borderers]
  • Company Officers: Captains P. Kay, 5 D.G. [5th Dragoon Guards] and W. Hughes, S.W.B.
  • Workshop Officers: Lieutenants G. Trevithick, R.A.O.C. and C. Zweigbergk, R.A.O.C.
  • Chaplain: Reverend Squires, C.F.
  • R.S.M.: B. Cook, Gren. Gds. [Grenadier Guards]
  • Civilian Workshop Instructors: Mr. MacKereth, Mr. Pugh, Mr. Wheater and many more of whom we have no record.


The Commandant and Deputy Chief Instructor were frequent visitors to the site, from Aldershot where they were serving, to advise on the construction and fitting out of the School. R.S.M. Ben Cook was Regimental Sergeant Major until 1941 when he was commissioned and became the School Quartermaster. In this appointment he was instrumental in laying out the playing fields, gardens and hedgerows of the camp area – no small task. In 1944 his work was recognised by the award of the M.B.E.


By 1st May 1939 the almost completed School was ready for its first intake of 400 boys who were badged R.A.O.C. The first prospective apprentice, J. Oakley, walked from Wokingham Station for fear that he would be late in reporting for duty. Later that month the square was completed but the workshops were not finished until June. Soon the familiar figure of R.S.M. Cook could be seen leading squads of small, newly-joined boy-soldiers and from a distance his somewhat rasping voice could be heard with remarks like: “Now, who is that officer over there? ‘Aven’t I already told yer?”


R.A.O.C. and R.A.S.C. [Royal Army Service Corps] boys were transferred to Arborfield from Jersey, Hilsea and Didcot, arriving during the summer months. Further intakes followed in October 1939 and in April and October 1940; and yet more arrived from Hilsea and Chepstow. The April 1941 intake of potential armourers was the last to be badged R.A.O.C. It was also in 1941 that the Drum and Fife Band was formed, composed entirely of ex-pupils from the Duke of York’s School. They supported the band of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards who were stationed at the School whilst the regiment was on active service. In January 1942, 250 new apprentices arrived. The first to be badged General Service Corps (G.S.C.). Significantly, from the formation of R.E.M.E. [Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers] in October 1942, all R.A.O.C. boys were re-badged R.E.M.E., the remainder keeping their G.S.C. badges. The School was thus, to all intents, the first School with a direct affiliation to the Corps.


Looking back to 1942 one must sympathise with the apprentices in their aversion to wearing brass ATS insignia on their epaulettes thus confusing them with the then familiar female element of the war-time Army. After the January 1943 intake, the powers-that-be took the point. Cloth shoulder flashes ‘Army Technical School’, in gold lettering on a black background, gave the more dignified title. It was in 1942 that “Monty” visited the School for the first time.


Apart from a break of 12 months (November 1939 – November 1940) when Colonel P.G. Davies, C.M.G., C.B.E., was in post, the first Commandant held the chair until September 1943. His regime thus saw, not only the opening of the School, but also the formation of R.E.M.E. Colonel Hilborn was the only Commandant to have served a double tour and he was commemorated by having the then Stevenson Road (after the engineer) renamed Hilborn Road, in his honour.





Colonel J.D. White, D.S.O., M.C., (late R.A.O.C.) took over as Commandant in October 1943. Two events of particular note during his tour were the ‘dispersal’ and the initiation of the Woolwich Arsenal Engineering Apprenticeship (later Cadetship) Scheme.


The Woolwich Apprenticeship Scheme was evolved to enable certain apprentices to proceed to Woolwich Polytechnic and the Royal Arsenal, with the object of taking a course culminating in the attainment of an engineering degree or diploma, thereby qualifying for an engineering commission. In November 1944 eight apprentices were selected for the course from candidates put forward by Arborfield and Chepstow. The same term a new commitment was placed upon the School, that of training apprentices as Draughtsmen (Mechanical). This was necessitated by the closing of the Army Apprentices School, Taunton.


The ‘dispersal’ took place at the time when the invasion forces were assembling for the Normandy landings; the School was evacuated and Arborfield became a concentration area for troops. Beginning on 17th April 1944, Colonel White’s command was dispersed in detachments to Aldershot, Ashton-under-Lyne, Ashford (Kent), Bury (Twocross), Chilwell, Donnington, Greenford, Gopsall Hall (near Nuneaton), Old Dalby, Sevenoaks and Woolwich. The Aldershot detachment, of 115 apprentices, continued their trade training at 13 Command Workshop. Only 67 returned to Arborfield. Of the remainder, 29 had already passed their trade tests and were awaiting postings.


The 72 in the Ashton-under-Lyne detachment started at Aldershot in the Motor Fitters’ School. They then went to Ashton-under-Lyne to the 14th Technical Training Centre, to complete the driving part of the course. 25 returned to Aldershot to await posting age.


The Ashford (Kent) detachment was 140 strong. Conditions were found to be much harsher than at Arborfield and they also experienced the whims of the flying bomb. The Bury detachment also found difficulties at first, in accommodation and training facilities, but soon settled down as a happy, compact unit sharing Lowestoft Camp with the School of Electric Lighting. The Chilwell detachment found considerable interest in attending workshops because of the variety of material being turned out for D-Day. Donnington, too, appears to have been a happy detachment; there were no complaints about the food, accommodation or training and there was no doubt that the boys left behind a good impression of the Army Technical School. The party sent to Greenford was composed almost entirely of Telecommunication and Instrument Mechanics, many of whom were at an advanced stage of their training. The first Arborfield-trained Telecommunication Mechanics were trade-tested there and obtained 100% pass rate. At Old Dalby there was a different story, with apprentices finding themselves having to sleep on straw palliasses with no sheets; but the war diary records that, like good soldiers, they enjoyed roughing it. At 17 Command Workshop they were glad of the help that the newly arrived apprentices were able to give with the pre D-Day activity but the record states that thereafter, owing to the non-availability of weapons, instruction inclined to the theoretical rather than practical. They too experienced the flying bomb during their stay. The Woolwich detachment of 20 apprentice Armourers and 20 Instrument Mechanics were attached to 7 Central Workshop. Life was decidedly unpleasant, due to the flying bomb, and the boys slept in their clothes most of the time. Broken windows and falling plaster became a regular feature, until one morning during education classes a bomb went off just outside the building. Fortunately, apart from shock and superficial injuries only one boy, A/T Meek, was admitted to hospital. After this incident it was decided to send the boys to 6 Central Workshop at Greenford and the detachment, less the boys who had passed their trade test, returned to Arborfield in September 1944.





The Apprentices’ cap badge, which has been worn by so many thousands of apprentice tradesmen, was first worn on parade on 19th August 1947. It was designed by Sergeant Jack Bolden R.E.M.E. from ideas and suggestions from the Commandant. Now that it is no longer in use, it is fitting to include some of the words written about it in ‘The Arborfield Apprentice’ in December 1946 by the Commandant of the School:


  • The Cross and the Crown stand respectively for character and loyalty; character based on the principles of Christianity and loyalty to the School, the Army, the nation and the King.
  • The Torch stands for learning and for training the mind and body on good sound health lines.
  • The Crossed Swords stand for the military virtues of discipline, steadfastness and devotion to duty.
  • The Great Wheel, which forms the basis and background of the whole design, stands for technical knowledge and skill.


A great day in the annals of the School was when the, then, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, revisited the School for the November 1946 Passing-Out Parade and took the salute. He had this to say to the visiting parents: “The aim here is to turn your boy into the very best type of soldier tradesman. We aim that he shall reach the highest ranks of soldier tradesman in the Army or the best type of specialised commissioned officer. His education is continued so that he reaches the highest grade of education standards.” Of the Parade, Monty said: “I would go anywhere to be able to see what I have seen this morning.” High praise indeed.


The year 1947 saw not only the new badge on its first parade, but also a change of title; from 1st February 1947 it became the Army Apprentices School, Arborfield. Colonel C.E.M. Grenville-Grey, C.B.E. (late KRRC [King’s Royal Rifle Corps]) succeeded as Commandant. He instituted the ‘Champion Company’ competition and founded the Old Boys’ Association. The first post-war Royal Tournament took place at Olympia and the apprentices produced their ‘Toy Soldier’ display. His Majesty King George VI showed great interest in the display and was pleased to comment most favourably on the performance.


On Palm Sunday, 21st March 1948, a service was held in the School Chapel to commemorate the ex-boys of the School who had given their lives in World War Two. Major General Sir Bertram Rowcroft, the then Director of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering [D.E.M.E.], unveiled a memorial tablet and it was dedicated by the Chaplain-General, the Reverend Canon F.L. Hughes. It is interesting to note that the intake that term included five Polish boys. Later that year on 17th August on the Passing-Out Parade, the Champion Company banner was seen for the first time. The banner had been presented to the School by Mrs. Ironside and it was appropriate that her son, Major P.W.A. Ironside, 3rd Carabiniers, was O.C. ‘B’ Company, the first Champion Company.


In 1948 the decision was taken to terminate the Woolwich Arsenal Cadetship Scheme as the success rate with the first students had been a disappointment. With hindsight this seems to have been a premature and unfortunate decision as all eight apprentices selected for the last course graduated with either a degree or a diploma in engineering; one, A/T B.G. Keast, was later to become the Commandant of the Apprentices College. The first Old Boys’ Reunion Dinner was held at the School on 28th August when 70 attended. Most were graduates from the previous two years.


In September 1949 the School welcomed Colonel E.L. Percival D.S.O., (late H.L.I. [Highland Light Infantry]) as Commandant. At the same time a new commitment was placed upon the School for, in addition to Armourers, Electricians (Control Equipment), Fitters, Instrument Mechanics, Millwrights, Telecommunication Mechanics, Turners and Vehicle mechanics, the School was to train Draughtsmen (Mechanical). These tradesmen, on passing out, were intended to go to R.E.M.E., R.E., R.A., R.A.C. and R.A.O.C., but in 1950 the War Office intimated that, in future, postings from the School would only be to R.E. or R.E.M.E.


Colonel F.A.M. Magee (late East Surrey Regiment) took command in June 1952 at a time of some difficulty. Because of a shortage of recruits it had been necessary to disband one Company (‘D’ Company) and the strength of the School was down to 643 apprentice tradesmen. The following year, on 1st June, 30 apprentices formed a guard of honour at Windsor Castle on the occasion of the dedication service of the Commonwealth Youth movement in St. George’s Chapel. In October 1953, at a ceremony in the village of Bagshot Lea, in Hampshire, two handsome maces were presented to the School Bands in appreciation of services rendered during the previous three years. One was given by the residents and the other by Messrs. G. Potter & Co., the Aldershot musical instrument makers. The strength of the School began to increase early in 1954, and ‘D’ Company was reborn. Numbers quickly rose to 800 with a prospect of topping 900 by September 1954. During the year, the War Office gave approval for the unofficial affiliation of the School with the Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment). Her Royal Highness, The Princess Royal, Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment, gave consent to the wearing of the Hunting Stuart tartan by the members of the School Pipe Band. There is no written evidence of this in the Regimental Records or that it was ever worn, nor do the archives reveal how or why the band came by the Fusilier hackle. Perhaps some reader can now solve this particular gap in the history.


At the February 1955 Passing-Out Parade, the Commandant announced the new trades would be taught at the School later that year. Radar Mechanic, Electrician R.E.M.E. and Fitter-Gun were to be added but the loss of the Turner and Draughtsman (Mechanical) trades would sever a long-standing connection with the Royal Engineers.


In October 1955 Colonel J.R. Cole (late Loyals) took over as Commandant, the seventh to hold office. The Passing-Out Parade on 31st January 1956 was notable for its wet weather routine; the first since the opening of the School. It was ironic that it was the day chosen by the BBC and ITN to record the occasion for television news. The Commandant referred to the awaited publication of ‘The White Paper on Boys Units’, otherwise known as the Miller Report. Some of the proposed recommendations were being implemented already and he welcomed the School’s first WVS [Women’s Voluntary Service] Lady, Miss Gunning.


An outstanding figure in the history of the School departed in February 1956 when RSM R.L. McNally, M.B.E., Scots Guards, who had spent 15 years as the School’s Regimental Sergeant Major, retired. To quote the ‘Arborfield Apprentice’ of the time – no member of the staff had played such an important role in the life of the School over such a long period. Later that year an establishment change permitted a much-needed improvement to officer manning in the form of an assistant adjutant and company seconds-in-command.


New gates for the York Town entrance to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst [R.M.A.S.] were manufactured over a number of months, in 1957, by the staff and apprentices of the School. In June the School was the subject of a complimentary article in John Bull Magazine by ex-Sergeant Robert Holles, R.E.M.E., an old boy of the School. In July, at the Passing-Out Parade the Commandant announced that, for the first time, apprentices were going to the Reading Technical College to study for the ordinary National Certificate (O.N.C.). On this occasion Long Service and Good Conduct medals were presented for the first time to two old boys, W.O. C.J. Haslam and W.O.2 H.J. Cuss. The quality and elegance of the ornamental gates for the R.M.A.S. produced another order; this time from All Saints’ Church, Aldershot, for four gates. As the church is the most senior one of the British Army the task was treated as something of special significance. Still very much in evidence these gates are a truly magnificent feature of the church and a credit to all who had a hand in their production. They were officially opened, on 29th July 1958, by Field Marshal The Earl Alexander of Tunis. 1958 was also memorable for the fact that Apprentice R.S.M. Fraser became the first apprentice to complete his O.N.C. while at the School. There was some new construction in 1959; H.Q. Company Block was complete and occupied and the construction of the new Education Block was begun. During this year the fourth Army Apprentices School, at Carlisle, was opened. The direct effect upon the three sister Schools was one of reallocation of trades. Arborfield lost Armourer, Fitter and Fitter Gun, and expanded the trades that remained. The first entry into Hadrian’s Camp, Carlisle, was in January 1960, 205 from Arborfield plus 87 new boys, joining the permanent staff of civilian instructors and officers already in situ. Arborfield received 57 new Electrician apprentices, the overall result being a drop in numbers to 700. Thus, the new Commandant, Colonel R.F. Legh, O.B.E., (late R.A.) took over a slightly depleted School. Voluntary activities were introduced during the spring term of 1960 to enable apprentices to do something of their own choice in spare leisure time. This is an astonishing thing to have to record when one thinks of the multifarious leisure activities available nowadays.





Changes were in the air in 1960. The intake was to be increased from two to three a year. The Vehicle Mechanic apprentice was to undergo a two-week driving course as part of his training in his 8th term.


The programme now included more military training in the form of a full week of this activity in the 4th and 8th terms in addition to initial draft training. There were to be three wings in each company and the formation of a senior company for the last two terms. Also, the School now was concentrating on the electronic and electrical trades and Vehicle Mechanics. The apprentices passing out were Vehicle mechanics, Electricians R.E.M.E. (B), Control Equipment Technicians, Radar Technicians, Telecommunications Technicians and Instrument Technicians. In that year the Champion Company Award was presented for the last time, as it was decided to discontinue this feature of School life – ‘A’ Company were the winners. The Champion Company banner is no longer in the possession of the College and again it is hoped that some reader can give a clue to its present location.


In September 1960 the School library moved from premises adjoining the N.M.F.I. to the new Education Block. In the winter term of 1961 a new feature of College life appeared in the form of three civilian lecturers in the Education Department and a forecast for the future of half civilian and half R.A.E.C. [Royal Army Education Corps] officers. By the end of 1962 the education Department had said goodbye to its Sergeants, Staff Sergeants and Warrant Officers; one of them, W.O.2 C.P. Salisbury, had served over seven years at Arborfield. Colonel Legh left in October 1962 to be succeeded by the first R.E.M.E. Commandant, Colonel H. Dobie, B.Sc, A.M.I.E.E. In his speech at his first Passing-Out Parade he referred to training policy changes about to take place whereby it was more realistic for apprentices to take the appropriate City and Guilds courses and to study for O.N.C., rather than take G.C.E. subjects. City and Guilds was a logical tie-up with trade training and would be in tune with industrial practice. There were changes, too, in the trade training structure. The last of the Instrument Mechanics were leaving the School and future course loading would be 44% Vehicle Mechanics, 18% Electricians and 38% electronic trades. However, an adjustment to the September 1963 intake saw the entry of the first 22 Aircraft Technicians into the School. At this time consideration was being given to the School running its own two-year O.N.C. courses and by December 1963 a start had been made with the teaching of O.N.C. mathematics and general studies. Also, the run-down of the trade of Electrician in R.E.M.E. meant that a number of potential Electricians had to be absorbed into new trades. This resulted in a concentration upon Radar, Telecommunication and Control Equipment Technicians, Vehicle Mechanics and Aircraft Technicians. Later that year an interesting experiment was conducted to compare results obtained by formal methods of teaching, scrambled textbooks, and teaching machines on which Captain John Birch R.A.E.C. wrote programmed learning courses. There was found to be no significant difference in learning between the three methods; teacher and machine were shown to be complementary rather than mutually exclusive.


On Saturday 17th November 1964 the School presented a ten-minute impression of the life of an Army Apprentice as part of the Army display in the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall. Her Majesty the Queen, the Queen Mother, the Prime Minister and many other distinguished guests were amongst the audience of 7,000. More than 30 million people watched the performance on television. This was the first time that the apprentices had performed at the Festival and their enthusiasm and precision were a credit to their generation and a fine tribute to the memory of those to whom the Festival was dedicated.


During the same year the School obtained authority to teach an O.N.C. (Ordinary National Certificate) Course in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. As a result the Commandant was able to report at the Passing-Out Parade in December 1964 that of the previous September (1964) intake about half had begun a course which, if they were successful, would enable them to begin a 01 Course for O.N.C. in September 1965. This course was a three-term General Engineering (G) course in English, Mathematics, Engineering Science, Workshop Processes and Materials, and Engineering Drawing. Those apprentices who achieved a high enough standard in the senior test examination, taken at the end of the (G) course in those subjects, could embark on O.N.C. Those who failed to reach this standard would start an appropriate City and Guilds (of London, Institute of Technology) course. In addition, a number of apprentices entering the School were already qualified to enter the O.N.C. course by virtue of passes in G.C.E. (General Certificate of Education). Also, a number of well-qualified apprentices were accelerated one term, and completed the General Engineering Course in two terms instead of the usual three terms.





In 1965 Colonel G.W. Paris, M.B.E., A.M.I.Mech.E., succeeded as Commandant at a time of great importance in the history of the School. In August (1965) the control and sponsorship of the School was transferred from the Inspector of Boys’ Training (Army) to the Director of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering (D.E.M.E.). The following message (extract) from Major General L.H. (later Sir Leonard) Atkinson, the then D.E.M.E., appeared in the November edition of The Craftsman (magazine): “On 3rd August 1965, the Army Apprentices Schools at Arborfield and Carlisle were transferred to my control. I take this opportunity of welcoming to the Corps the apprentices and members of the permanent staffs of these Schools… The ties between these Apprentices’ Schools and the Corps are of long standing and have become progressively closer in recent years. Formal transfer of control will allow this process of integration to continue, to the material benefit, I am sure, of the Schools, the Corps and the students.”


It was fitting that the first Passing-Out Parade in the Spring of 1966, when all apprentices were members of R.E.M.E., should be reviewed by Major General Atkinson. After a ten-year respite it was also the second wet weather routine Passing-Out Parade as snow lay thick on the parade ground. Later that year it was decided that Vehicle Mechanics would no longer be trained at the School. Additionally, arrangements were completed for the final phase of equipment training in other intakes would take place in the appropriate adult R.E.M.E. Schools. Aircraft Technicians would go to Aircraft Engineering Training Wing, School of Army Aviation, Middle Wallop, for their final two terms of equipment training, while Electronic Technicians would go to the School of Electronic Engineering at Arborfield.


Two more important changes took place on 1st September 1966. The School changed its name to the Army Apprentices’ College in order to bring it more into line with that of colleges of further education in civilian life, and all apprentices were to wear the R.E.M.E. cap badge. To celebrate the later decision a re-badging ceremony took place on Saturday 8th October.


In the Arborfield Apprentice (magazine) of Summer 1966 there appeared an article entitled “Arrive derci Sierra”. The title may sound like an Italian pop song but, in fact, referred to the pending disbandment of Senior Company. ‘S’ Company had been formed in September 1960 to provide a transition phase from boy service to adult service. All apprentices were transferred (less a few N.C.O.s in each Company) at the end of their seventh term to ‘S’ Company, to complete their training in the 8 and 9 Senior Division. The idea was a sound one, particularly in view of the fact that the apprentices in ‘S’ Company were in many cases older than adult soldiers in neighbouring units. In spite of this logic, a visit from the Inspectorate of Establishments resulted in ‘S’ Company disbanding at the end of 1966. The last Company Commander was Major D.D. Lister R.E.M.E.


In March 1967, the College changed Commandants again. Colonel D.A. Brown C.Eng., M.I.E.E., F.I.E.R.E., A.M.B.I.M. was no stranger, having been Chief Instructor and Deputy Commandant since September 1966. In April, the first apprentices to complete the O.N.C. passed-out, having been taught the whole course in the College. Thirteen out of 15 were successful, one being referred in mathematics. In December, the Carr Memorial Trophy was presented for the first time to Apprentice Sergeant C.H. Richardson for the best all-round Aircraft Technician (Airframes and Engines).


Lance Corporal John Kirton Carr had been an Apprentice Aircraft Technician at the College from January 1964 to December 1966. On completion of training, he was posted to 10 Flight Army Air Corps, Bulford Camp, Wiltshire. He was tragically killed in a helicopter accident on 6th June 1967 and shortly after his death a fund was started by his friends and colleagues who presented a trophy to the College in his memory. It was to be used as an award for their future responsibilities and the contribution they would be required to make to flight safety. His parents attended the first presentation.


One memento of R.E.M.E. occupation of the Dockyard at Woolwich was the acquisition of the old Toll Bell tower (common to all Royal dockyards), which had stood by the dockyard gates, and the bell used to be tolled for the commencement and finish of work. It was removed to the Army Apprentices’ School in 1966 and re-erected at the road junction opposite the College chapel.


During the dismantling of the Bell Tower in 1982 it toppled over (the base of the main support was under attack from dry rot) and incurred considerable damage to the superstructure. However, plans were put forward to have it reconstructed by the Army Apprentices’ College, Chepstow and it was finally re-erected between the present College Headquarters and the Corps Secretariat building in 1985. On 9th April 1968 the Workshop Practice Department said farewell to two stalwart friends, Mr. Ernie Flear and Mr, D. ‘Tex’ Rickard. Between them they had over 50 years service in the College having been Instructors in the Army Technical School in 1939. Among those leaving were two apprentices who were the first ever to be advanced one term; completing their apprenticeship in eight terms instead of nine.





One of the economies of the 1968 Defence Review was to be the closure of the Army Apprentices’ College, Carlisle in 1969. This College was to be amalgamated with Arborfield and in future, all R.E.M.E. apprentice training would be concentrated at the one College. The overall total of apprentices in the two Colleges was to be reduced from 1,296 to 850 to meet R.E.M.E. long-term requirements. Protests from local people in the Carlisle area and their two Members of Parliament were of no avail and transfer arrangements were set in motion. The first of the two-year Vehicle Mechanic apprentices who arrived in Arborfield in the winter term of 1968 were joined by 45 apprentices from Carlisle. There was a considerable reorganization in Vehicle Wing, where all additional equipment, engines, assemblies and vehicles from Carlisle had to be set up. The last of the three-year trained Vehicle Mechanics passed-out from the College in the spring of 1969. Up to this time they too had been eligible to take the O.N.C. Course.


At the December 1968 Passing-Out Parade, the Commandant made mention of two presentations to the College. Mrs. Williams, whose husband was until his death earlier in the year a lecturer in Electronics Department, had very generously presented a silver salver, to commemorate his long service to the College which was to be known as the Williams Prize and awarded to an Electronic Technician. Lieutenant Colonel M.W. Hall, O.B.E., one-time O.C. of 44 Command Workshop, had also presented, on behalf of his unit, a very handsome cup to replace the Commandant’s Cup.


To mark the amalgamation of the College with Carlisle, a set of wrought-iron gates were erected near the main entrance to the College. The gates, which were designed by the late Major (Retired) Percy Chivers, incorporated the famous Hadrian eagles and the regimental badges of the members of the staff at Carlisle. The gates were formally opened by Brigadier G.V. Hayward, the Commandant of theR.E.M.E. Training Centre, on 31st July 1969, the day on which Carlisle held its final Passing-Out Parade. The Standard flown at that parade is now held on permanent display in the present College.


H.R.H. he Duke of Edinburgh visited Arborfield in July 1996 and six senior apprentices were presented to him. The summer term of 1969 also saw a number of changes in the organisation of the College, particularly in the field of military and physical training. The existing establishment was re-arranged into a Military Training Wing so that all military training was handled centrally under the Military Training Officer, rather than under Company arrangements. This was in order to make the most economical and efficient use of the resources and manpower available. There was also a change concerning physical training, the aim being in future, to instruct this subject in a way which enabled each apprentice received physical education according to his own individual needs, The system consisted of carefully measuring and recording the physical condition of each boy on his arrival and then plotting his progress throughout his time at the College.


The system was researched and instituted by Major J.A.T. Brown, R.A., the Military Training Officer, and Q.M.S.I. Duncan and aroused great interest in the Army Physical Training Corps. At the Christmas Passing-Out Parade of 1969 the Commandant welcomed as a guest Mrs. G. Phelan, who had originally given to the College at Carlisle a trophy in memory of her son Apprentice Corporal Philip Phelan, an Apprentice Vehicle Mechanic who was tragically killed in a cycle accident the previous year. The first novice cyclist to receive the award at the Arborfield College was Apprentice Tradesman Clive Hosking. Also on parade for the first time was a Shetland pony, Midge, the College’s new mascot. It was also pleasing to note that the 1969 New Year Honours List included the award of the British Empire Medal to Corporal David Giles, R.E.M.E., an ex-Aircraft Apprentice from 1966 for his outstanding devotion to duty.


The first of the two-year trained Vehicle Mechanics passed out in April 1970 having, in fact, spent one year at the College (their first year was at Carlisle). In 1970 also, the technicians’ courses were reduced from nine to eight terms in the College. Those apprentices from 8 Division who had reached Class III standard in their trade passed straight to adult service. Those who had completed their O.N.C., but not taken the Class III trade test (because their eighth term was devoted to education for O.N.C.), were attached to the School of Electronic Engineering or Aircraft Engineering Training Wing, to pass their trade test, before going to adult service. That same year, on a different subject from training, two apprentices, Paul Mackie and Pat Knowles of ‘A’ Company, broke the existing world record by playing chess non-stop for 52 hours 46 minutes, and in doing so raised a sum of over £500 to buy a computerized typewriter for a disabled boy at the nearby Hephaistos School. Support for their efforts came not only from local well-wishers, but from as far afield as India, South Africa and Australia.


The College’s obsession with gates continued. Yet another set was made for Tweseldown race course and, of more local interest, the College acquired replacement main-entrance gates from Carlisle. Both sets were made by the late Major (Retired) Percy Chivers. St. James’s Palace also requested the making of three new colour mounts for the Queen’s Colours at Windsor Castle.


During the period 1968-1970 a College hovercraft project had been under way and, after many long hours of work by apprentices and interested staff, it made its first public flight on 1st June 1970. Another project was also initiated by the Electronics Department; to build a weather satellite tracking station. On 30th May 1970 this too became operational and the first facsimile weather pictures were received and recorded.


In July 1970 Colonel E.G. Bailey C.Eng., F.I.E.E., M.B.I.M., took command of the College. Notable amongst the developments during his tour were the implementation of the Donaldson Report which changed, and made more liberal, the conditions of service of the apprentice. Despite the greater ease with which the young entrant was able to leave the College in his first six months of service and subsequently was able to shorten his engagement, statistics show that, in fact, the overall effect on retention is not much changed. After an initial rush to serve for three years only, as adults, the proportions opting for the three, six and nine year engagements have been fairly constant. Another development was the establishment of an Evaluation and Quality Control cell, which set up a computer-aided test analysis system, to assist with course design and in the promotion of up-to-date instructional technology. The City and Guilds examination was also introduced for all disciplines to match the tri-annual training programme, bringing about a closer relationship with the adult training schools; while the revised education scheme for apprentices and junior soldiers focused greater attention on the educational support of training. The introduction of a General Engineering Certificate precisely matching its civilian counterpart, together with the decision to raise the school leaving age to 16 years, resulted in much discussion on the anticipated effect on numbers and quality.


In the winter term of 1972 the College had its largest intake ever, which brought up the population to 966. The quality of this intake, despite its size, was as good as the previous one. Also that year, a revival of the Arborfield Old Boys’ Association took place after a lapse of nearly nine years since 1964.


It is always with regret that one records the death of a member or former member of the College, be he apprentice or at the time, in 1972, it was sad to have to record the death of Mr. McNally in a traffic accident. As the R.S.M. for 15 years until 1956, he had been the corner-stone upon which the standards of drill and the traditions of smartness in the College were built.





In September 1973 the College received the first intake of young men who had all stayed at school until their 16th birthday. In the same month Colonel H.K. Tweed, C.Eng., F.I.Mec.E., F.R.Aa.S., M.B.I.M., assumed command. In the following three years further change and innovation considerably altered the content of the apprenticeship for both Technicians and Vehicle Mechanics. In 1974, working parties were set up to examine the implications of the Technical Education Council (T.E.C.) requirements for the College technician apprenticeship and the following year, as a result of discussion with City and Guilds of London Institute (C.G.L.I.) the National Craftsman’s Certificate was introduced for Vehicle Mechanics. This nationally recognized qualification marked a further enhancement of the vehicle apprenticeship. A highlight at the end of 1974 was a further visit by The Duke of Edinburgh, who, in his capacity as Colonel-in-Chief of the Corps, reviewed the College Passing-Out Parade on 9th December.


A new training group system was introduced in 1975. This move was linked with the incorporation of the Director of Army Training inspired common military syllabus and a rationalization of the workshop practices syllabus for all trades. A further step was taken when the Aircraft Technicians were enabled to complete their Class III trade training within the College. In the Electronics Wing a new syllabus “Basic Electronics in the 70s” was introduced. This latter marked a change in training philosophy; the existing ‘Part to Whole’. Throughout the period discussions took place between the School of Electronic Engineering and the Aircraft Engineering Training Wing, with a view to coordinating and rationalizing the College’s proposed submission to the T.E.C. of certificate and diploma programmes. These programmes were to replace the existing City and Guilds Technician Certificate and the O.N.C. in Engineering.


Command of the College passed to Colonel B.G. Keast, C.Eng., M.I.E.E., M.B.I.M., in June 1976. This was a red-letter day for the College as Colonel Keast was the first ex-Arborfield apprentice to return as Commandant. He had served his apprenticeship at Arborfield between 1945 and 1948 and, indeed, was one of the few apprentices selected for the previously mentioned Woolwich Arsenal Engineering Cadetship Scheme. His tour was marked by two events which were to have considerable significance on training. Firstly, during April 1977, the College took delivery of a powerful mini-computer system and secondly, in the September, the new T.E.C. courses were launched. The computer was obtained as a result of work undertaken by the Evaluation and Quality Control cell as part of a R.E.M.E. project known as ASCOT RAIN (ADP in Support of COntrol of TRAINing). The equipment was provided to enable the College to implement a system of Computer Managed Learning during the project. Not unnaturally the computer was received with mixed feelings but, in the following year at the summer Passing-Out Parade, the Commandant, in his address to parents, was able to say with reference to the computer: “It has not developed into a ‘Big Brother’ as some people feared but rather a ‘Man Friday’ that has helped in the decision-making process, while in no way affecting the individuality of the apprentice. The new T.E.C. programmes for Aircraft and Electronic Apprentices was the culmination of an intensive period of preparation and negotiation, and provided Diploma and Certificate courses for technician apprentices as replacements for the Ordinary National and City and Guilds courses respectively.


In October 1979, Colonel J.D.C. Peacock, M.A., F.R.G.S., assumed command of the College. The period from then until July 1981 was, perhaps, the most significant in the history of the College to date. In addition to numerous far-reaching developments in the training of apprentices, the long awaited move to the new buildings and re-designation as Princess Marina College took place. Developments in T.E.C. came in September 1979 with the introduction of a seven-term T.E.C. Certificate Course for selected vehicle apprentices. An important aspect of this was to provide an additional source of potential candidates for the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham (near Swindon, Wiltshire) through a commission in R.E.M.E.


In February 1980 the College ran an inaugural two-day leadership assessment cadre for senior apprentices, based on well-tried principles and practices used at the Regular Commissions Board and the Artificer Selection Board. It was highly a successful period of experimental learning both for the apprentices and staff concerned, and heralded the start of formal developmental training in the art of leadership for all apprentices. From February to October 1980, a one-week introductory leadership cadre was introduced for all technician apprentices in the fourth term, and for all Vehicle Mechanic apprentices in their third term. In the training of craft apprentices, the College took over the examination of C.G.L.I. Part 2 for Vehicle Mechanics from the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering in April 1980. The autumn term forecast a chilly climate to come as the Defence cuts took their toll of finances. The mainstream of training within the College had been protected but cutting back on the other activities seemed inevitable. The increase in apprentice subscriptions to P.R.I. (President of the Regimental Institute) and heavy inroads into this fund alleviated the situation, even if only temporarily. For long-term benefit, however, the Commandant decided to set up the College Trust Fund.


The target was, and remained until 1991, the raising of £50,000 by appeal to our Old Boys’ Association, to Service Institutions, to other grant-making trusts, to commerce and industry, and last but not least to parents of the apprentices themselves; the apprentices being the direct beneficiaries. The investment income from such a fund should be sufficient to double the amount which apprentices already contribute and this hopefully will be sufficient for our purposes for the foreseeable future.


In early 1981 a working party was set up to consider the future training of apprentices up to T.E.C. Diploma standard, the result of which was the phasing-out of the seven-term Advanced Diploma course and the eight-term Diploma course and their replacement by a single seven-term Diploma course. The first of the new Diploma courses started in September 1981. That same intake also saw the re-introduction of Weapons apprentices the training of whom had been moved to Carlisle in 1960 but not returned to Arborfield when Carlisle closed in 1969.


Potential Armourers and Gun Fitters now follow a six-term apprenticeship based on C.G.L.I. 200/205, at the end of which they undertake continuation training at the School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering for a period of approximately 12 weeks.


A significant consequence of the introduction of the T.E.C. courses at the College, and indeed throughout further education generally, has been the need for a dramatic increase in student assessment and administration. The answer for the College lay with the computer and additional funds were provided by the Army Committee for Instructional Technology to enable the system to be enhanced so that it could cope with the additional work. The required enhancements to both hardware and software were completed in September 1980, and not only gave the necessary power to handle T.E.C. matters, but also provided additional facilities, including the ability to generate examination papers from computerized question banks. The computer system, known as S.P.E.C. (Student Performance Evaluation by Computer), aroused considerable interest throughout the three Services and in many civilian technical training establishments.


Thus ended another chapter of College history and a new one was about to begin. Obviously over a period of forty-odd years a lot of material has been lost, hopefully not for ever, as we depend on past members of the College to correct.





After many months of delay, and the many hours spent in deliberation over plans and preparation by the members of the College New Build Co-ordination Committee from 1975-1981 the new College had at last taken shape adjacent to the School of Electronic Engineering. Captain (Retired) Ron Sherriff, the Project Officer and Secretary, is worthy of mention for his sterling work on that committee. The move began in March 1981 with Electronics Wing being the first occupants of the multi-million pound complex. The formal change of College title took place on 1st June 1981 to Princess marina College, named after the late Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, the first Colonel-in-Chief of the Corps.


The new-build project obviously took time to plan and prepare before a brick was laid, and during this period a few changes took place, namely the raising of the school leaving age; the Army apprenticeship was shortened from three to two years and the new Weapons apprenticeship had not even been envisaged. The equipment on which the apprentices trained was undergoing change and there comes a time in any project when the specifications cannot be altered any more. So it was not surprising to find the new College to be less than a perfect fit.


The final move of the main College was completed in early July 1981 and Monday 13th July was the first day on which the College was fully operational in its new location. (Aircraft Wing remained in Bailleul Barracks and finally moved in September 1985). The change of location was a considerable achievement; over one thousand people and the equipment of such a complex institution moved in a fortnight with little outside assistance. There will always be the memory of those apprentices who helped move the library of some ten thousand books in what seemed almost as many boxes, which weighed far more than they had any reasonable right to weight!


During the summer leave period the College band embarked on a tour of the U.S.A. traveling 12,000 miles through nine states in what turned out to be a highly successful venture. In Europe a party were climbing on the ‘Jungfrau’ (Switzerland) and were paramount in saving the life of an Austrian climber who had fallen and was injured. Sergeant Challinor A.P.T.C. (Army Physical Training Corps), Apprentice Corporal Spencer and A/T Willis were recognized by the award of the G.O.C.’s commendation for their conduct during the incident. A further example of the best traditions of the College.


Certainly 1982 started well when Mrs. Peggy McMaster W.R.V.S. was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours List. She was more affectionately known to the apprentices as ‘Mrs Mac’.


In the shadow of the Falkland Islands war, H.R.H. The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Colonel-in-Chief of the Corps, officially opened the new buildings on Thursday 15th April 1982 and unveiled a commemorative plaque in the main entrance hall of the College. The Band set off once again on a tour to B.A.O.R. and performed to their usual high standard.


The Falkland Islands war inevitably involved members of R.E.M.E. and as far as we could establish at least 37 ex-apprentices served there, mostly with the Royal Marines. Thankfully, none lost their lives but ex-apprentice Andrew Owen was severely burned on H.M.S. Sir Galahad whilst serving with the L.A.D. (Light Aid Detachment) of the Welsh Guards.


The College wished ‘Charlie’ the resident barber a happy retirement after nearly 30 years service with R.E.M.E.


On Wednesday 20th October (1982) the College entertained The Worshipful Company of Turners.


The beginning of 1983 witnessed a change of command when Colonel S.J. Roberts B.Sc.(Eng.), C.Eng., F.I.Mech.E., F.I.E.E., F.B.I.M. became the 15th Commandant.


The winter term of 1983 was significant for its changes; the reorganization of the training programmes as a result of the Home Defence requirement for trained soldiers in the Composite General Reserve (C.G.R.) Companies; the arrival of the ‘One Year Apprentice’ on the closure of R.E.M.E. Company at the R.A.O.C. Apprentices College, Deepcut (near Farnborough) and the seven term apprenticeship reduced to six terms. Her Majesty’s Inspectors from the Department of education and Science visited the College for five days, an event which happens approximately every four years, and their report was more than satisfactory.


Mr. J.A. Wedgwood, Chairman of the Southern Electricity Board presented a cup to the College, to be awarded to the best Electronics Technician, and the first recipient was Apprentice L/Corporal K. Milner of ‘C’ Company on 16th December (1983). Three apprentices passed out from R.M.A. Sandhurst, R.J. Mitchell who won the coveted Sword of Honour, A.T. Powell, who received the Anson Memorial Prize and P. Martin.


Despite the unemployment situation in the country, recruitment was very low and falling rapidly. The College population in the summer term 1984 was at its lowest point in the 45 years of its history (493). However, some aggressive advertising and presentations at schools and careers conventions resulted in an upsurge in enquiries and firm acceptances for the future terms.


On the architectural side, the College was being enhanced by the erection of the main entrance of the supporting pillars for the College gates. The original 1939 gates were found at the rear entrance to the WOs’ and Sergeants’ Mess, in the old College and these were repositioned at their original site. The existing gates, which were inherited on the closure of Carlisle Apprentice College, were now going to be hung at the new entrance and wicket gates added by Mr. Sadd. The entrance gates have become part of the history of the College, for all apprentices have passed through them on entry and again when they left on completion of training. The Arborfield Old Boys’ Association adopted them as its symbol. The gates were officially opened by Major General T.B. Palmer C.B., D.G.E.M.E., in August 1984. But the year ended on a sad note At approximately 0400 hours on 27th December 1984 the gates were demolished when a car overshot the junction of Biggs Road and Princess Marina Drive. They were repaired and re-hung later.


After that incident we began 1985 on a happy note with the selection of Brigadier G.B. Berragan (late R.A.O.C.) to be the Director General of Ordnance Services, Logistic Executive (Army) in the rank of Major General in October 1985. An ex-apprentice of entry 48C, he joined ranks with major General (Retired) Baldwin (42A) (late Royal Signals) as our illustrious two-star Old Boys.


In February, a service of dedication was held in Saint Eligius Church, Arborfield, when a new Lectern Bible was presented by the parents of Kieth Baker. He was an ex-apprentice (78C) who was due to join R.M.A. Sandhurst but was tragically killed in a climbing accident.


As mentioned previously, it was intended to re-erect the Bell Tower and this came to fruition in February 1985. After various meetings and attempts to raise funds for the project, it was decided to completely rebuild the tower as an identical replica of the Old Tower. The woodwork was completed to a standard of workmanship which was a great credit to the staff of our sister College at Chepstow, and the metalwork was superbly copied by Messrs. Horton, Hunt and Spreadborough of our own A & G Wing. The footings were dug by a combined effort of ‘J’ and ‘A’ Companies and final placement was made with the assistance of 1 Training Regiment Royal Engineers at Hawley. The bell rang again before the College and Garrison Church service on Easter Sunday after an absence of four years. Past members of the band in the ‘forties will no doubt be pleased to know that one of the Maces, which was found in a very poor state, has been restored through the generosity of Potters (the original presenters) and Colonel Sam Roberts. The Mace is now kept in the Commandant’s office and is only removed for use on Passing-Out Parades.


May 1985 heralded the addition of the R.A.M.C./R.A.D.C. (Royal Army Medical Corps/Royal Army Dental Corps) Junior Leaders from Mychett, on its closure. So history repeats itself. There are, once again, three different cap badges worn by apprentices as there were in 1939.


Once again it was departure/arrival times for the Commandant. Colonel Sam Roberts was handing over command to Colonel M. Soar B.Sc.(Eng), M.I.Mfg.E., M.B.I.M., on the 16th September 1985. Like so many Commandants before him, Colonel Roberts experienced change during his tenure. He achieved almost all the aims he had set himself in 1983; will be remembered for his ‘open door system’ and his drive to increase the strength of the College from 400 to 750 in two years.


The summer leave, for some, was extended to enable the College to take part in Exercise BRAVE DEFENDER, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all concerned.


The death of Captain (Retired) Walker occurred in June 1986. He had been a member of the Education Wing staff from 1968 to 1986; 4 years as a serving officer in the R.A.E.C. and the remainder as a civilian lecturer. He will be particularly remembered by past Aircraft Apprentices for the interest he took in their careers whilst at the College.


Colonel Soar’s time was a comparatively quiet one as far as change was concerned. The last intake for the R.E.M.E. ‘One Year Apprentice’ was in May 1988. The College became the center of interest for all sorts of study groups as a result of the imminent Defence Cuts and finally Exercise BONNIE DUNDEE saw the College take up its role in the large U.K. exercise in Home Defence.


The latter part of 1988 witnessed a change in command to Colonel P.H. Kay O.B.E., B.Sc.(Eng), C.Eng., F.I.Mech.E., F.I.E.E., and looked forward to 1989 the Golden Jubilee Year.


In 1989, the Worshipful Company of Turners decided to make the following annual award to the College. The Company’s Silver Medal, together with a monetary award and Certificate to the apprentice who achieves the highest standard of craft skills during his training. The first recipient of this prestigious award was Apprentice Armourer Timothy Leak in February 1989. The Commandant also received the Kitster Trophy awarded by the Livery Company.


1989 saw the start of the 50th year of the establishment of the College, its Golden Jubilee. Whilst the College undertook its normal routine and everything to the outside world was peace and calm, underneath a great deal of activity was taking place. Committees were organizing the Golden Jubilee celebrations. The first of these was Golden Jubilee Passing-Out Parade. The Parade took place on the 21st April 1989. The reviewing officer was Major General A.S.J. Blacker C.B.E., the Representative Colonel Commandant R.E.M.E. Incorporated into the normal Passing-out Parade were a contingent of ‘Old Boys’. Included in their number were some from the original intake of 1939. Amongst these Old Boys was Keith Evans who joined in 1945 as an Instrument Mechanic and now works in the College as a Mathematics lecturer. Peter Spargo was also on parade having originally joined the College on 4th May 1939. Peter is a staunch member of the Old Boys’ Association and meets all his old friends at the annual reunion.


The College commissioned a painting by the artist David Rowlands to commemorate the Golden Jubilee. The center of this painting depicted the Passing-out Parade and around the periphery, it contained scenes of College life over the years. The original now hangs in the College foyer but many members of the College both past and present purchased limited edition signed prints.


A special event took place during the year when Colonel (Retired) John Peacock, who was the College Commandant from October 1979 to January 1983 returned on a visit to present a sword to the Apprentice Drum Major. This sword, which normally hangs in the Commandant’s office with the Mace, is worn by him on all ceremonial parades.


As usual, the Old Boys’ Association had their annual reunion in October 1989. The programme of events over that weekend followed the normal format. The Saturday morning parade was reviewed by D.G.E.M.E., Major General Shaw. In the evening, however, instead of the normal stag dinner, a dance was held in the College Gymnasium. This was much enjoyed by the wives of the Old Boys and everyone agreed that it was a great success.


On 20th November 1989 we were honoured by a visit from H.R.H. Princess Alexandra. She spent the afternoon meeting staff and apprentices at their place of work. During her tour HRH named the College Hall “Princess Alexandra Hall”.



THE 1990s


1990 will be remembered by the College staff as the year in which they prepared the College, and themselves, for contractorisation. The College, of course, was not to be sold-off but the Ministry of Defence had decided, as a trial, to replace Burnham Lecturers, Instructional Officers and Military Instructors with contract personnel. Naturally enough, there was concern for jobs and the possibility, however remote, of redundancy. The Chief Instructor and the Senior Education Officer were totally involved in writing the Statement of Requirement.


On 2nd August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait and, as did the rest of the world, the College watched fascinated. The first R.E.M.E. soldiers deployed to the Gulf in September 1990 and by the start of the Land War in February 1991, 3,700 R.E.M.E officers and tradesmen were deployed. An accurate figure for the number of ex-apprentices who took part in the war is not available. It is estimated, however, that Old Boys, in rank from Craftsmen to Major spent some time in the Theatre. Although British and R.E.M.E. casualties were very light, two R.E.M.E. NCOs lost their lives. Neither were ex-apprentices. The full story of the Corps’ activities during the Gulf War is to appear in the second volume of “Craftsmen of the Army”, to be published shortly.


Late in 1990, the contract to provide teaching staff was won by SERCO; a company well known to the Ministry of Defence in other fields. The company was well placed to understand the needs of the College having a number of retired Army officers (one late R.E.M.E.) on its board of directors. The contract was to commence on 25th March 1991 (for 3 years) and the period prior to that date was filled with staff selection and detailed planning. This change inevitably saw the loss of the majority of the R.E.M.E. staff from the College. The SERCO contract manager in Arborfield was to be an ex-R.E.M.E. officer (although not, unfortunately, an ex-apprentice) while the senior member of contract staff in the College itself was to be a retired R.E. officer who had served as a Company Commander at Chepstow. As this is written, the contract has been running for exactly a year and has proved to be a great success so far. There have been some teething problems as apprentices get used to being taught by contractor personnel, some of whom have little knowledge of the Army, but generally things have gone very well indeed.


Once he had seen the start of the contract Colonel Kay decided to hang up his boots and retire from the Army. He had been given the difficult task of steering the College through a period of great change – a task that he had carried out with great success and an abundance of enthusiasm. In May 1991 he was relieved by Colonel P.H. Gibson B.Sc.(Eng), C.Eng., M.I.E.E. who came to the College hot-foot from the Gulf War where he had been Commander Maintenance. The College was not to be allowed a period of quiet and consolidation however. “Options for Change” was with us and the Ministry of Defence was studying the whole future of apprentice training in the Army. The study continued throughout the second half of 1991 and, at one time, it was rumoured that the College might close. During the Old Boys’ Association annual reunion, held as usual in October, the Commandant briefed those attending on the options for the College and explained to them his hopes for the future. He mentioned that, should the College survive, the arrival of the first female apprentice was only a matter of time. In December 1990, the Executive Committee of the Army Board (E.C.A.B.) met to decide the fate of all the Army Apprentice Colleges. E.C.A.B. sent two recommendations to the Secretary of State for Defence. The first, that apprentice training should reduce to a single year, has been accepted and the new course will commence in September 1992. Under the new scheme, the College will undertake basic military and technical training with the final months of the apprenticeship (until C & G and B.T.E.C qualifications) taking place at the adult training schools (S.E.M.E., S.E.E., and S.A.E.). The second recommendation concerning the long-term fate of Chepstow, Harrogate and Arborfield, is still to be considered. The omens for Arborfield, at least, look good.