Apprentice memorial unveiled

The Old Boys Associations of the former Arborfield, Carlisle, Chepstow and Harrogate schools have joined together to plan, design and build a new memorial to all Army Apprentices who were trained as soldier-tradesmen and who served worldwide in peace and war.

It will be dedicated in special ceremony to be held at the National Memorial Arboretum on 7 September 2011.

The memorial, which incorporates the motto ‘Remember with Pride’, is engraved with the Army Apprentice school badge and HM The Queen’s crown.

Square bashing – an introduction to the Army

Before the Second World War apprentices had been trained in many locations throughout England.

New national memorial to The Army Apprentice

New national memorial to The Army Apprentice

The aim of the Army apprentices Schools was to train the future technician Warrant Officers and Officers of the Army.

To become an Army Apprentice one had to pass the aptitude and intelligence tests in the Army Recruiting Office.

There were four other Apprentice Schools, Aldershot, which taught Chefs, Arborfield, near Reading which taught vehicle mechanics, armourers, gun fitters, radar technicians, electronic technicians, aircraft technicians, Chepstow, which taught plant fitters, survey technicians, marine engineers and other Royal Engineers trades and Harrogate which taught radio technicians, and communications specialists.

Carlisle Apprentice school

Situated close to the M6 and to the east of the city was Hadrian’s Camp, the home to the Carlisle Apprentice School.

Parts of the camp, such as the drill sheds and internal roads are still visible, although nature has reclaimed much of it.

The accommodation for up to 1,000 Army Apprentices was in wooden huts known as Spiders. These Spiders were grouped in 6s’ around a central ablutions, or wash block.

Each hut housed 16-18 boys so each spider complex would hold around 100 boys.

Hadrian’s Camp itself was originally built long before the Second World War. It opened as an Army Apprentices School in 1960 with the first Apprentices transferring from the older Apprentice Schools in Arborfield (near Reading) and Chepstow.

Originally the camp took boys aged 15 or 16 mostly from the Midlands, North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and they spent 3 years there learning to be fully qualified soldiers and tradesmen.

The trades taught included vehicle mechanics, armourers, gun fitters and instrument technicians.

Upon completion of the three year training, the apprentices were posted to regular army units as fully qualified REME craftsmen with some vehicle mechanics going to the Royal engineers.


The first 6 weeks training consisted mainly of drill, square bashing and associated military training culminating in a Passing Out Parade, where proud parents came to watch their sons turned into smart young soldiers.

The rest of the first year of training comprised of education, particularly English, maths, physics, technical drawing and basic bench fitting.

Bench fitting was carried out in well equipped workshops and consisted of learning to use hand tools, files, saws, micrometers, vernier gauges, etc. as well as power tools such as lathes, pillar drills, milling machines, all the skills that a tool-maker would use in industry.

Army Apprentice memorial artists impression

Army Apprentice memorial artists impression

At the end of the first year there were both educational exams for the Army Certificate of Education and GCE O levels as well as a practical test of bench fitting skills.

Once these hurdles were successfully overcome, apprentices could then begin 2 years of concentrated study of their particular trades.

Throughout the three years there was also regular PE, sports and military training.

In addition, Hadrian’s Camp had an Anglican church, Roman Catholic church, and an Other Denominations church (mainly Church of Scotland) and all apprentices had to attend church every Sunday.

The camp had its own cinema, NAAFI canteen, NAAFI beer bar for those aged 18 or over, and NAAFI shop.

National memorial

David Cooper, a former apprentice in Carlisle says that the Army Apprentices Memorial was the brainchild of one or two ex-apprentices from Arborfield & Chepstow, who then thought that it should embrace all ex-Army Apprentices.

A steering committee with representatives from all four Apprentice Schools (Arborfield, Carlisle, Chepstow and Harrogate) was then formed.

Funds were raised by approaching the Army Corps with whom apprentices served (RE, REME, ROAC, RSigs, etc) for donations as well as the town councils where the schools were located, but most of the funds came from individual donations from ex-apprentices, their widows or families.

540 ex-apprentices have subscribed to have their names engraved around the perimeter of the Memorial.

To date nearly £70,000 has been raised, which will pay for the construction of the monument, the Dedication ceremony and a legacy fund to maintain the monument in perpetuity.

The dedication ceremony on 7 September will be attended by many ex-apprentices and their families, civic dignitaries from the towns associated with the Apprentice Schools and senior officers from the various Corps that took the apprentices as soldier tradesmen.

The Memorial is being dedicated by Major General “Gerry” Berragan, himself an ex-Arborfield Apprentice.

About the memorial

The symbols of the cross and the crown incorporated into the memorial stand respectively for Character and Loyalty.

Four granite benches surround the memorial, each inscribed with the name of one of the four main Army Apprentice schools.

The Army Apprentice Scheme ran from 1923 to 2004 and trained more than 70,000 soldier tradesmen for the technical corps of the British Army, 50,000 of who passed through the four main schools.

Young men, who started as early as 14 years old, have gone on to serve in every conflict since the First World War, including Afghanistan.

Major Gordon Bonner (Retd), Honorary Secretary of the Memorial Steering Committee, said: “This memorial is a fitting tribute to those friends and colleagues with whom we served and to those who gave their lives in the service of this country.”

Thank you

A big thank you to David Cooper for his help in recounting life behind the fence at the Carlisle Apprentice School

More information

The Army Apprentice Memorial website

National Memorial Arboretum


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Thanks to Royal British Legion for the images


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