21 AUGUST 1942, Page 8



THE Army Educational Corps was born of the ferment in men's minds at the end of the last war. The pioneers of " education in the field " were the Y.M.C.A. and certain Army officers, who early perceived the need to reinforce morale and to provide cultural interests and technical teaching for the citizens-in-arms, both at home and overseas. Prominent amongst the latter was Lord Gorell, who was sent to the War Office in August, 1918, to co-ordinate the various schemes, which had come to spontaneous life in the Army. As a result of his efforts, the A.E.C. was formally constituted as a Corps of the Regular Army in 192o.

But this was by no means the first occasion on which education had come to the Army. As early as 1767, an N.C.O. (of approved Sobriety, Honesty and Good Conduct!) was appointed schoolmaster of the Queen's Royal Regiment. Round about 1800 the Rifle Brigade took steps to make all their N.C.O.s literate, and schools for Army children were started in all units in 1811 under sergeant school- masters, who were also responsible for teaching the three Rs to recruits. Army schoolmistresses were officially appointed in 184o, and the Corps of Army Schoolmasters was established in 185o. The former continue to day as Queen's Army Schoolmistresses ; the latter was merged into the A.E.C. in 192o. Between 1920 and 1939 the A.E.C., sadly reduced in numbers in the " economy " years, established itself as the body responsible for adult and juvenile edu- cation in the Army. Army certificate examinations, which had existed before 1914, were re-organised, and four certificates, ranging from the Third, a simple test of literacy, to the Special, which was roughly equivalent to Matriculation, were introduced. The Army, after a few preliminary grumbles, accepted and supported the innovation.

At the beginning of the present war, education was suspended, except for enlisted boys and children, and many of the A.E.C. were employed on other duties. The experiences of the first winter, and pressure from civilian educational interests, caused a revival of adult education on informal lines in January, 194o. As a result of the Hamming Committee Report, a War-time Education Scheme was sanctioned in September, 1940, with Mr. F. W. D. Bendall, of the Board of Education, as its first Director. Steps were at once taken to expand the Army Educational Corps, and a number of highly qualified officers, warrant officers and sergeants (there is no lower rank in the A.E.C.) were added to the existing establishments, mostly by transfer from other arms of the Service. Besides the Directorate at the War Office, A.E.C. officers were attached to the Commands and lower formations, warrant officers and sergeants being allotted to varicas units. The duty of the officers was to act mainly as organ- isers and to form the link between units and the formidable civilian assistance which had by this time been mobilised by the Central Advisory Council for Education in H.M.'s Forces and the Regional Committees. The latter were based on universities, but represented also L.E.A.s and Voluntary Bodies, with the Board of Education in support. The warrant officers and sergeants acted partly as local organisers and partly as teachers, the bulk of the teaching within units, however, being shared between civilians and regimental personnel.

The War-time Education Scheme started as a voluntary activity, the aim being to cater first for those men and women (A.T.S. had equal facilities) who knew what they wanted and were prepared to ask for it. The first task was to ascertain and stimulate the demand, and to link it with the various civilian and military sources of supply, so far as war conditions allowed. The latter phrase is important in any attempt to appraise the progress of Army Education and the work of the A.E.C., and sometimes the difficulties are forgotten by the critics. Continuity is at least desirable in any scheme of educa- tion; and how is continuity to be ensured when units and individuals are in a constant state of flux? Good accommodation is important, but it cannot always be provided in congested barracks, camps and billets. Efficient teachers are commonly looked on as essential; but the Army is organised primarily as a fighting organisation and not as an educational establishment, and the supply of teachers within a unit is quite fortuitous.

Nevertheless, the old and new A.E.C. " went to it " with a will, enthusiastically supported by their civilian co-workers, and the demand for their combined assistance increased steadily. It early became apparent that one of the main problems concerned the 8o per cent. of men and women who had not been attracted to any form of adult education in peace, and many of whom were intensely suspicious of the word education. The first step away from the purely voluntary system was the introduction of a measure of com- pulsory education in certain Young Soldier units. The next, and more important, was the establishment of A.B.C.A. (Army Bureau of Current Affairs), which in the autumn of 1941 made it compulsory for regimental officers to discuss with their men current affairs, a subject about which the keenest interest had been evinced during voluntary periods, for at least one hour a week in normal working hours. Weekly pamphlets, containing matter and method for the guidance of regimental officers, were issued from the War Office under the able direction of Mr. W. E. Williams, of the British Institute of Adult Education, and the A.E.C. became equally responsible for fathering this compulsory form of education.

A corollary to this association of regimental officers with the education of their men has been the necessity for improving the former as teachers and discussion group leaders. Three methods have been adopted to this end: the courses at the Army School of Education mentioned above ; short courses organised partly by Regional Committees and partly by the A.E.C., which are usually held at one of the Universities, and (iii) travelling " circuses " of A.E.C. and/or civilian experts, who visit military centres and hold short courses locally. The latter experiment is only in its infancy at present, but may be expected to expand, as it has the advantages of flexibility and does not take officers far from their units.

Brief mention must be made of the numerous voluntary activities in the Army to which the A.E.C. contribute directly or indirectly. There is a considerable demand for handwork, particularly in the more static units and in hospitals, and this is normally organised more on a hobby basis than with a definite vocational bias. The A.E.C. help with advice, occasionally undertake instruction, and provide the tools and materials. Civilian lecturers and classes in L.E.A. premises are popular, and arrangements have to be made to bring the lecturer to the troops or the troops to the classes. In many places " study centres " or " quiet rooms," often combined with libraries, have been established, where the more studious soldiers can read, work at correspondence courses, or take part in such amenities as a musical circle, a discussion group or a language class.

That is, perhaps, as far as it is profitable to go in this brief survey of the work of the A.E.C. None recognises better than they do that their task is only just beginning ; that they are themselves always learning by trial and error, and that their real problem will come during the demobilisation period. The present difficulties are considerable, but the work is of great interest and immeasurable importance, not only for the war, but for the years that come after. There is no room for complacency, but there is ample scope for adaptability, initiative and faith. Fortunately, the A.E.C. is rich in all three, and perhaps they are entitled to say with Galileo: "Never- theless it moves."