A History of Bloxham School's Combined Cadet Force

Bloxham School CCF contingent across the yearsBloxham School's army cadet force has had a number of names since its foundation in 1910. Originally known as the OTC (Officer Training Corps), it was renamed the Junior Training Corps in the 1940s, and then the Combined Cadet Force in 1948.

Bloxham was one of the few schools in the country to have been granted its own cap badge, but then switched to that of the Royal Green Jackets (following the amalgamation of the Rifle Brigade with the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry in 1966) and now the NCOs wear the Rifles cap badge with the rest of the CCF wearing the old school badge.

The OTC was founded in 1910 as part of the reforms to Britain's armed forces following their poor performance in the Boer War (1899-1901). In addition, a General Staff and a territorial (part time) force complemented the regular army and changes to weapons, tactics and fighting methods all aided Britain as it prepared for the "inevitable" war which broke out in August 1914. Many of those Bloxhamists who fought and died in the Great War had been cadets in the OTC in the years leading up to the war, and several of the photographs of the 79 fallen in the Egerton Library show them in their OTC uniforms. The OTC had a very high profile at Bloxham school in the years immediately preceding and following the First World War, with two afternoons a week devoted to it. Most students joined, and those who did not wish to do so could join the Scouts or do cross country running instead. As well as regular drill and firearms training, the OTC took part in regular exercises, including night exercises and large-scale field days, which often involved as many as ten schools and the Oxford University OTC. Under the command of Wilson Housemaster Jackson Knight (himself a Great War veteran who had suffered shell shock at the Somme) the Corps rose to a level where it was recognised as one of the best in the country – Brigadier-General Luckock commented after his 1929 inspection that:

"in a long experience of OTCs I have never seen a corps as good as this one is now."
Brigadier-General Luckock, 1929

Assisted by KT Dewey (who took over command in 1931) and by Sergeant Major Stevens, Knight's leadership of the Corps reached its peak with the 1928 field day, in which OTCs from Radley, Rugby, Magdalen College School and Abingdon joined the Bloxham contingent and two aircraft in the countryside around Bloxham. The excellence of the OTC Band at that time was due in no small measure to the efforts of the Drum Major, Dimitri Zvegintzov ("Zog"), remembered by one of his contemporaries, Roger Armstrong, as

"extremely efficient and exacting... he would twirl his mace so skilfully that I longed to be in the band." Roger Armstrong

The son of a White Russian princess, Zog would go on to enjoy a distinguished military career as Brigadier Zvegintzov CBE. It was Knight who was responsible for the preparation of the shooting VIII for the prestigious Ashburton Shield at Bisley, first entered in 1927. Bloxham finished sixth out of the 80 schools that entered the Ashburton in 1929, a remarkable achievement for a small school without the shooting tradition of so many of its rivals. Under Dewey's rather more relaxed leadership, the OTC continued to make a national impression, winning the guard-mounting competition at the Tidworth public schools' camp in 1932 and the wonderfully named Boys' Own Paper Efficiency Shield in 1934.

The corps, by now renamed the JTC, continued to play an important part in school life during and after the Second World War, providing boys for the nightly fire watcher's patrol which kept a look out for German bombers passing overhead and for anyone breaking the blackout. In the years after the war, the profile of the corps was reduced, reflecting what was happening in the nation as a whole, as defence spending was cut and a reaction against military training developed in the 1960s. The numbers in Bloxham's newly renamed CCF declined, though for those who opted to join benefitted from a reduced emphasis on drill and greater opportunities for training visits (including to units in Norway and Germany) and adventurous training in Britain. Meanwhile the big events, the biennial inspection by a senior visiting officer, the guard of honour on Remembrance Sunday, and the annual summer camp, continued to play a major part in school life. Under Contingent Commander Lt. Col. Ken Spring, field days became ever more ambitious, for example the 1972 NEWD (Night Exercise Without Darkness), which involved canoeists, skin divers, paratroopers dropping by aerial ropeway and engineers borne by rafts.

The reduction in the size of the School's CCF continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s (as was inevitable after it became a voluntary activity). However, the commitment shown by its members has continued at the same level, with the inspections, exercises and annual camp still significant events in the school calendar. Meanwhile, the increasing number of cadets volunteering to attend the Bloxham Service of Remembrance in recent years has helped to enhance the contingent's public profile. The highlight of the CCF's recent history was the 2014 Biennial Review and Inspection, which was conducted by General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, himself an Old Bloxhamist. Remarkably, this was the second time an Old Bloxhamist DSAC Europe had carried out the inspection, the first being General Sir Edward Burgess in 1983.