Many people have heard of Sandhurst but do not know much about the Military Academy. Here is a potted history and information about its role today.
Over 200 years it has built an unrivalled reputation as a world class centre of excellence in the theory and practice of leadership. It is particularly renowned for its standards and admired for its expertise in training leaders the values of moral, physical and intellectual courage. Its mission is to develop the qualities of leadership, character and intellect which are demanded of an Army officer on first appointment.
The founder was John Gaspard Le Marchant who, in 1793, was fighting against Napoleon as a cavalry officer. He was not happy with the ability of some of the other officers. The Army was not doing well and his view was that the soldiers were brilliant but their officers were awful and they needed training.
Le Marchant drew up his plans for consideration by the Army Commander, the Duke of York, who was the son of King George III. Le Marchant recommended a training college with three departments:-
• staff training for officers with at least four years commissioned experience so they were already aware of the problems of the battlefield.
• junior cadets of 13 to 14 years old
• senior cadets of 15 to18 years old who at the age of 18, providing they pass all their exams, would be commissioned “without purchase”.
It was customary in those days to buy a commission but based on his experience in Flanders, Le Marchant is quoted as saying that “enthusiastic amateurs are not necessarily leaders of men and they are most certainly lacking professional skills.
The Duke of York accepted the project and staff training began with 30 officers at High Wycombe and soon after with 16 cadets in temporary accommodation in Marlow. After one year, the 16 had increased to 42 but more had to be done as the Army was short of officers facing the French in campaigns in India, Egypt, Europe and the Caribbean.
The Duke of York took the details to his father, King George III, and gained Royal Assent so that the College could be called the Royal Military College. It was agreed with certain provisions:-
1. the first 100 cadets were to be orphans of officers killed in service
2. the next 80 cadets were to be sons of serving officers
3. the next 100 cadets were to be sons of Gentlemen.
The designation Gentlemen Cadet was used until 1940. Winston Churchill was a Gentleman Cadet in 1893. The orphans were to receive their training free of charge but all the others had to pay a fee of up to £90.00 per year.
With the Royal approval in place, the Treasury purchased 450 acres on which to build the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. Work started in 1803 but it was not finished until 1812 due to the slow release of money by the Treasury. The original budget, using today’s values, went from £9 m to £23 m. From 1939 to 1945, it became the Officer Cadet Training Unit for the Royal Tank Corp and the Infantry.
In 1947, the Royal Military College, Sandhurst amalgamated with the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, which had been founded in 1741 to train cadets for service in the Artillery and Engineers, and then became The Royal Military Academy, giving officer training to all who serve in the Army.
But first, how does a cadet arrive at Sandhurst? Over 3,000 young men and women apply for Sandhurst each year. They have to pass a challenging selection process starting with the basic criteria of a good education, being physically fit and being sponsored. Those who are considered suitable are invited for a two day test which includes a mental aptitude test, group activities and discussions, planning exercises and a series of interviews. Those considered suitable go forward to a four day Army Officer Selection Board. The tests are physical, general and service knowledge, tests involving the application of rules, general motivation and preparedness. The examination is in motivation, moral compass, values and standards, background and the taking of opportunities in the acceptance of responsibilities. Candidates will be graded:
2. they have potential but need to develop and may return for a further Army Officer Selection Board process within one year
Those who pass attend RMAS for one week for a full briefing prior to joining. This consists of a comprehensive briefing on what happens at Sandhurst, attention to clothing and physical military and academic expectations of cadets, together with the standards behaviour required and a medical inspection. They are also issued with their boots to ensure they are well ‘broken in’ before they start their training.
Up to 700 Cadets attend the commissioning course each year. In addition, Sandhurst trains some 140 Reserve Army Officers and another 140 Regular and Reserve professionally qualified, these are Doctors, Dentists, Nurses, Vets, Lawyers and Clergy. Courses are run for officers commissioned from the ranks of the Army’s senior non commissioned officers, so everyone who holds the Queen’s Commission is now trained at Sandhurst.
The average age of Cadets on the regular Commissioning Course is 23 and 15% come from overseas, whilst 13% are women and over 80% of all cadets have a University Degree before coming to Sandhurst.
The one year commissioning course has a military emphasis but 51% of the work is academic with such subjects as Behavioural Science, Communications, Management Studies, Defence and International Affairs. Demanding military exercises are continuous and often held in the Brecon Beacons, Scotland, France or Bavaria. These exercises reflect what might be expected in a battle situation or a public order encounter. They bring together experiences encountered in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. In all the exercises, the “opposition” is usually provided by a company of the Ghurkhas.
Sandhurst is more than a Military Academy. Over the last 200 years, it has acquired a worldwide reputation of excellence with high personal standards achieved by the graduates. To maintain these achievements, the RMA has set up the charitable Sandhurst Trust to foster and preserve links between serving and retired officers to support the cadets undergoing training and continues to promote the understanding and development of leadership.
The Trust also acts as hosts to RMA guests and arranges visits, functions and tours for groups who wish to learn more about the Academy, its history and how Army officers are trained. A tour would begin with a short historical background, followed by a visit to the Royal Military Chapel and Roman Catholic Chapel of Christ the King. The tour includes an explanation of the Grand Entrance and descriptions of the Sovereign’s Parade and the Indian Army Memorial Room, together with stories of Academy traditions and humour.
The tour would not be complete without knowing how a cadet is selected to come to Sandhurst and what happens to him / her once they are there. A visit to the History Room showing Sandhurst since 1812 in pictures, photographs and documents completes the tour after visiting the shop. If parties come by coach, then they may wish to proceed on a tour of the grounds and see the many fine facilities that make up the Academy.
Sandhurst is very much part of our national fabric and being world famous attracts cadets from over 100 countries around the world.
If you wish to consider visiting Sandhurst, then the contact is Jenny Richards at The Sandhurst Trust, telephone 01276 412000. Email Jenny Richards at