In the 1910s, the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire (a predecessor body of Cardiff University) attempted to set up an Officer Training Corps. This would allow students to train as military leaders during their studies at Cardiff with the aim of applying for Commissions afterwards. Without the training, students aiming for a military career would have to enlist as Privates and were placed at a disadvantage compared to students at universities where Officer Training Corps had been established. Much to the frustration of staff and students, it was consistently opposed by the Army Office (later the War Office), despite enlisting the support of many prominent politicians. The files containing the correspondence of this saga are held in Cardiff University’s Institutional Archive (ref: UCC/P/L&P/25).
The Council of the University College made their first proposal for an Officer Training Corps on 15th June 1910. Due to the large number of science and engineering students, the University proposed to form an Engineers Field Unit, but this proposal was rejected because the Army Office felt that ‘the supply of officers for the Special Reserve of the Royal Engineers is now equal to the demand, it is considered inadvisable to form further Engineer units of the Officers Training Corps’. The Army Office suggested that an application for an Infantry Unit Training Corps would be ‘favourably received by the Army Council’. The Principal, E. H. Griffiths wrote to all Members of Parliament for South Wales and Monmouthshire asking them to use their influence to persuade the Office to reconsider, enclosing with it a summary of reasons for establishing an Engineers Unit.
There is a break then until 29th October 1913 when the University made a further proposal, this time heeding the Army Office’s suggestion of establishing an Infantry Unit. However, this proposal was again reciprocated by a letter asking the registrar to provide numbers of students who had taken commissions during the last five years and the probability of the increase in these numbers in the near future. The Principal replied that they were unable to obtain reliable data of the number of students who had taken commissions but explained that they intended to increase the numbers in the future. He reminded the Army Office of their suggestion that a proposal to set up an infantry unit would be ‘favourably received’.
Despite the Army Office’s earlier suggestion, on 9th March a further letter was received reporting that the Officer Training Corps could not go ahead in Cardiff. On 26th May the Principal wrote back asking the War Office to reconsider its decision. The War Office did reconsider its decision and on 27th October 1914 conditionally accepted the proposal. They were, however, unable to supply personnel, arms or equipment which meant that students would have to self-fund entirely. As the Principal pointed out, this was the equivalent of another rejection.
In November 1914, the Council of the University College published their correspondence with the War Office in order to demonstrate to students and the public that the failure to set up a training college was not through want of effort on their part. The matter was also discussed in the House of Lords (the Hansard report is available online at http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/lords/1914/mar/19/officers-training-corps). The Earl of Plymouth asked on behalf of the University College why permission had not been given to set up the Officer Training Corps at Cardiff. The Lord Chancellor’s response is interesting and illustrates that the War Office had rather lost patience with Cardiff:
In 1910 Cardiff was unwilling to furnish anything excepting an Engineering officers training corps… In 1913, Cardiff offered, after three years, to furnish an officers training corps of Infantry, and the inquiry made then was, in effect, whether some officers would result if we founded a unit there. It costs a good deal to found an officers training corps. It is a thing the General Staff do if they have a prospect of getting officers, but they want some assurance to that effect. All we got was the answer referred to by the noble Earl, that “the Registrar hopes,” and so on.
His answer goes on to complain that ‘other Welsh Colleges [have] not been very good in regard to the furnishing of officers’. In the conclusion to his answer, however, the Lord Chancellor suggests that Cardiff should not give up hope and, in fact, nearly 60 years later, Cardiff became part of the Wales University Officer Training Corps.