Reflections on CCF


Looking back over the time in the CCF I covered a wide period – from the Utley era through (almost)to the  optional era.   Was this the proper work of monks is a question always in the  background.   The CCF began with drilling in the 1880s when a Sergeant came over from Helmsley in Abbot Byrne’s school days when the issue was the Dervishes in the Sudan.  In the early part of the 1900s the  army cadets were formed in schools as the Officer’s training corps.   This  was under the threat of the German menace which was gathering speed in the 1905 period onwards.  thus the officers who led their men over the top and gave their lives for their country in 1914-18 included many Ampleforth boys.  That tradition of service continued during the 20s and the pacific movement does not seem to have affected the monks during this time.  It was the time when Ampleforth from 1924 was building a modern English Public school with its eyes on Eton and Winchester whose ethos was firmly imbedded in the English upper classes, so it was natural that the atmosphere at Ampleforth reflected the upper class of the time which was certainly not pacifist.  The Second World war with Fr. George as a chaplain (he had been housemaster of JH) and further long list of OAs who died in the war drew the monks and the services very close together -a number of memorials to regiments in Thompson oak exist to prove this in the School. Michael Almand gained the VC and Freddie De Guingand was a famous general with Field marshal Montgomery.  (incidentally Ord Wingate’s son came to the school in the 1960s).  Field marshal Festing had sons in the School when he was Chief of the Imperial General Staff.  Fr. Simon Trafford had served in the guards and also Fr. Piers Grant Ferris.  Fr. Geoffrey Lynch and Fr. Augustine Measures were in the RAF.  Fr. Benedict Webb had been a surgeon in the Royal Navy.- So in the post war world with its continuing national service until  1958 or so meant that the Junior Training Corps soon to be the  Combined Cadet Force had a preliminary function to prepare the boys as well as possible to be the officers in the army navy and air force.  (Ampleforth did not have a naval section until the mid 60s, and its RAF section was spasmodic until Fr Bernard in 1962.)  From the educational point of view there was much to be said for the CCF.  It was an adult organisation patterned on the Army which gave it an authority which other organisations – the Scouts and the Outward bound and Duke of Edinburgh Awards did not have.  It had its  own peculiar discipline and drill which many realised was a good training and experience for boys.  The marching, the control of limbs, the formalised saluting all inculcated another type of behaviour which was socially sanctioned and grown up. The literature of the war and the flood of war films all glamorized the forces so that for the young there was rarely a case to be made for encouraging boys to join the forces.   Many of the parents were in the forces because fees were paid by the Ministry of Defence  Young Old boy came back, lectures were given, and a liaison officer appeared every term (Wg Cmdr. Bidie was an OA) to interview boys who wished to join the army. The CCF responded to a growing balance in the life of the school by reducing the days to one a week, but all were still involved in the early 1960s.  Gradually there was an opening of options. The Fifth years could opt out, then the whole 6th form.  Then the 3rd year until finally the CCF was one of the options which was open for Monday Afternoon activities.  The CCF had its own funds from the govt. so it had clout with the organisation of the school, and the monks involved (in  1960 it was almost all monks) saw the educational value of the activities to train the boys in leadership, confidence and also the manipulation of  technical instruments whether bren guns or radios.  The actual activities were fundamentally cowboys and indians or cops and robbers in uniform, but guided by official books and training manuals.  The boys liked the firing of guns and the activities – which had grown up support and boyish fun.  The monks saw these educational aspects and wanted d to hold on to the training for all the boys as long a s possible so that the greatest number could benefit from it.   Points which were  valid to justify the CCF when faced with severe criticism, ie. that criticisms which did not understand the role of history in a school and monastic community, and sees the present issues at the eternal ones (ie pacifism when not confronted by  a Hitler) or has the personal charism of pacifism which is a conscience led position which demands absolute fidelity – Jesus had such a charism).  Points which helped to make people understand were that service parents wanted their sons to have some of the training which they had benefitted from, that in war it was more reassuring to have the troops lead by OAs who had benefited from the values of Ampleforth and would therefore hopefully be resistant to the  more horrendous actions which human beings commit during wars.  Also the financial argument for the RAF, that a person who joins the RAF from CCF or ACF sections are statistically much more likely to yield value for money and stay the course than those without it.    Funding the CCF RAF Sections saves the RAF huge sums in squandered courses on recruits who leave after a few months.    Shooting which I had little to do with was one of the great skills which the CCF encouraged and the School over the years with the tuition of the RSMs excelled in.  Throughout all the years this aspect of the CCF has been well supported by the school – a minority sport but with great enthusiasts.  Members of the community in the CCF in my time were Fr. Rupert Everest, Fr. Aidan Gilman (ex Marines), Fr. Cyril Brooks  (RN)  Fr. Andrew Beck, Fr. Anthony Ainscough, Fr. Bernard Boyan, Fr. Timothy Wright, Fr. Edward Corbould. Fr. Simon Trafford, Fr. Peter Utley,Fr. Martin Haigh. From about the mid 80s it became clear that no more monks would be drafted into the CCF and in 1994 Fr. Simon Trafford retired and except for Fr. Edward all the CCF officers were laymen.  In my time with the CCF I met a great number of fine men and women who assisted the Section and were good companions.   I never had a facility to prop up bars, but my long years of experience in the CCF meant that I had a confidence in dealing with Colonels and Group Captains which made things easier to me and for them.   I usually got what I wanted and the people who assisted us were usually first class.  This was partly due to our name as a School, partly due to the ways the officers were treated when they came here.   They did not always receive cordial response from headmasters in schools they went into.  Of course we had army services children in the school and often their Fathers were names to mention in services circles – Generals,  Group Captains, though not many Admirals.  The services wanted to make a good impression on our boys because  if they joined that had a name for making good officers.