A CONDENSED HISTORY OF THE
ROYAL ARMY PHYSICAL TRAINING CORPS
From the British RAPTC Executive Committee
Written and produced by Mr John Roberts BA (Hons) MSc, PGCE (2002).
“MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO”
The Army Physical Training Corps is made up of very talented like-minded individuals who possess high levels of physical and cognitive skill. Through teamwork, quality control and the application of uniformed methodology, they are dedicated to the delivery of training at the highest levels. In 1946 H M the King approved the appointment of Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein as the Colonel Commandant of the Corps. This was an indication of the value and importance placed on physical and recreation training in the Army. To this day, it has proved to emphasise the significance of physical training and highlights the “Fit to Fight” Maxim adopted by the Corps. This short history outlines events that led to the development of physical training within the Army, from its implementation in 1860 to the Army Physical Training Corps, as we know it today.
From its inception the Corps has held a reputation for excellence and, above all, for devotion to duty in peacetime and in times of war. Some of the greatest assets that can be attributed to its members are tolerance, humour and a well-developed sense of “esprit de corps”. Corps members have specialised and attained personal achievements at the highest levels, in a wide variety of sports, from unit to Olympic representation. Although these are admirable qualities, the contribution made towards the general health and physical conditioning of Service personnel throughout the Army and beyond is what makes the Corps such a unique and elite organisation. This historical presentation will reflect on key individuals and key events, over time, which is considered to be of major significance in the process of development of the Army Physical Training Corps.
No historical record can be complete, or fully appreciated, without putting the work into perspective. In order to do this it would be of immense value to make basic observations, which reflect the high standards and levels of attainment needed by individuals to gain membership of this unique Corps. From its beginning in 1860, entry into this branch of military service has been restricted to exceptional individuals. Selection is still as vigorous and difficult today as it was in the beginning, when 12 of the most talented individuals, known as ‘The Apostles’ were tasked with the role of Physical Training Instructors, to improve health and fitness levels in the British Army. The process is lengthy and extremely demanding, physically and mentally, taking several years (in most cases) from initial selection to the point of transfer into the Corps. Individuals are chosen for transfer to the Corps from units within the Army and cannot be directly enlisted. The whole process involves the recognition of specific characteristics and attributes, along with exceptional qualities of physical ability, leadership and education. This means that very often, units would prefer to keep these gifted individuals, rather than release that talent to another organisation. However, most unit commanders realise the importance of channelling such talent for the benefit of all, which is why the British Army is probably the best small army in the World. Without doubt, The Army Physical Training Corps can justifiably claim to have contributed greatly to development of operational readiness in today’s modern Army.
THE BEGINNING 1860-1880
After the Crimean War (1853-1856) a great deal was learned about the health and condition of the coalition forces (Britain, France, Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire) in the war with Russia. This became even more apparent during the Indian mutiny (1857-1859) where social change and discontent led to a revolt by Indian troops (Sepoys) in the Bengal army, which was part of the British East India Company. There was considerable disquiet by politicians, military leaders and the British general public, over the conditions faced by soldiers. This proved to be the catalyst, which led to the introduction of positive physical fitness programmes and greater concern for the welfare of troops in the British Army. After a great deal of consideration it was decided that a group of twelve NCO’s from various units, led by Major F Hammersley of the 14th Regiment of Foot, should attend a six-month Physical Training Instructors course at Oxford University. The group attended the first course in 1860 and became known as the “The 12 Apostles”. On completion of the course Major Hammersley was appointed Superintendent of Gymnasiums in 1861 and subsequently held the position of Inspector of Army Gymnasiums in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel until 1876.
In 1862 it was decided to erect a gymnasium at Wellington Lines Aldershot, shortly afterwards gymnasiums were built at the Curragh (Ireland), at Chatham (1864) and another at Shorncliffe (1867). Lt Col Hammersley was also very interested in the National Olympian Association of GB and due to his efforts we have our Corps Motto “Mens Sana in Corpore Sano” (A healthy mind in a healthy body). Yet it was a further 3 years before the official Army Physical Training Regulations were published in 1865 and it was at this point that physical training took precedence over all other forms of training, particularly during the first two months of a recruit’s service. Those who showed a particular aptitude were chosen for further three months intensive course to qualify as assistant instructors, the best of these were then chosen for service with the Army Gymnastics Staff. The main object of these courses was to “strengthen the soldier, so that he could cover 1000 yards or more at a rapid pace and at the end of it is capable of using his bayonet efficiently”. The principal means of development utilised dumb-bells: barbells, climbing ropes, horizontal bar and vaulting horse. Outside activities included obstacle courses, fencing, boxing, and single stick fighting. In his book “The History of The Army Physical Training Corps” E.A.L. Oldfield suggested that in the short term “harmonious development was not achieved” because the training regime concentrated on the development of upper body strength. Yet, at the time this was necessary, due to the need to manhandle heavy equipment, guns and ammunition. However, he pointed out that the instructors were fine examples of fitness and strength and worthy of spreading the gospel of physical training throughout the Army. A visit to Wellington Lines by H M Queen Victoria in 1866 served to enhance the interest and value placed on physical training throughout the Army.
The first and longest serving Sergeant Major (who had the position of RSM at the School) was a gentleman by the name of Tarbottom who held the position from 1872-1877. In 1876 Major Gildea (later to become Lt Col) succeeded Lt Col Hammersley as Inspector of Gymnasiums and introduced the “Assault-At-Arms” at the Albert Hall. This proved to be so successful that it eventually led to the “Annual Military Tournament”, subsequently the “Royal Naval and Military Tournament” and eventually to the “Royal Tournament” (1914). Lt Col G.F. Gildea (21st, Foot Regiment) held the post of Inspector of Physical Training up to 1880 when Lt Col W.B.G. Cleather, North Lancs Regiment took over (1880-1885). Owing to his enterprise, new ideas were initiated which formed the foundation of modern physical training, as we know it today. There was then a period of experimentation with new ideas from Scandinavia, which led to a visit to Sweden by 10 Officers and 12 NCOs in 1882 to study Danish physical training systems that had been adopted by the Swedes.
During their stay the party was presented to the King of Sweden, who took a very keen interest in what they were doing and in the fine gymnastics displays that they gave while there. The visit resulted in the adoption of the musical drill system, with and without arms, as part of the physical training curriculum of the time. However, the “Ling System” of physical training, was not fully adopted by the Army, but it did result in many innovative ideas being implemented. The most popular being the physical drill with and without arms, free gymnastics and light dumb-bell exercises usually carried out to the accompaniment of music. Often, whole battalions were seen performing bayonet exercises, then in vogue, to the popular tune of the day.
According to Oldfield, it was due to a Sergeant Major on the Physical Training Staff by the name of Clisham, that we know that the Gymnastics Staff wore red shirts and blue socks at that time. It was he who provided us with information about single stick exercises being introduced into the curriculum along with trapeze work (above bare boards). Voluntary classes were held in the evenings (when everyone was expected to attend!) and each morning all groups would run at least a quarter of a mile and occasionally more. Some years later this distance was increased to a Saturday morning cross-country run of between 10 and 15 miles before breakfast. This practice was discontinued soon after the opening of the Army School of Physical Training; even so, staff have always been permitted to take out classes for at least a couple of miles as part of a regular programme of training.
In 1885 another important milestone was reached when there was recognition of the “Army Gymnastics Staff” and members were grouped together on the ‘Army List’ for the first time as a distinct body under the general heading of ‘Schools of Instruction’. At this point there were 14 Officer Superintendents of Physical Training, serving in various parts of the British Isles and demand for vacancies on physical training courses increased dramatically. In 1885 Colonel G.M. Onslow 20th Hussars, became Inspector of Gymnasiums and remained in post until 1890. There followed a strong period of consolidation and development, where the value of physical training was becoming fully appreciated throughout the Army.
In 1890 Colonel Sir George Malcolm Fox of the Royal Highlanders became the Inspector of Gymnasia and held the post until 1897. During this time Boxing and Fencing became very popular and the value of overall general fitness levels was more noticeable and appreciated. It was soon realised that the facilities at Wellington Lines were inadequate for a garrison with the strength of 20,000 men. As a result plans for an additional gymnasium were approved by Colonel Fox. It is not clear when building work started, but the facility, initially known as the “Cranbrook Gymnasium” (now known as ‘Fox’ Gymnasium), was completed in 1894. The gymnasium was taken over as an empty shell without any equipment or apparatus, but within two years it had parallel bars, heaving beams, horizontal-bars, dumb-bells, box-horses, ropes and spring bayonet targets. Anatomy and Physiology charts were displayed around the walls along with lances, shields, swords and flags. Oil lamps were suspended from the ceiling and there was virtually no heating. The first big function at Cranbrook Gymnasium was the ‘Public Schools’ Boxing, Fencing and Gymnastics Tournament. Colonel Fox was also responsible for a number of other construction projects, one of which was the Aldershot Military Stadium. In 1890 he took several Gymnastics Staff to Sweden to investigate the Swedish system of Physical Training again, but his efforts were not to be fully realised, because they were considered too advanced at that time.
The Swedish System was finally introduced into the British Army in 1906 and an immediate radical change took place, when horizontal and parallel bars gave way to balancing beams and wall-bars and the interior of all gymnasiums were completely changed. In 1893 the first Boxing Championships were held in a hollow, near the present HQ Aldershot garrison, growing more popular each year until they were eventually looked upon as an integral feature of Aldershot military life. At this time the famous Italian swordsman Professor Masiello and his assistant Signor Magrini were invited to Aldershot to run courses in sabre. Soon skills in all aspects of swordplay began to show a marked improvement throughout the Army, becoming a very popular feature of training and sport, which complemented the bayonet skills being taught at the time. This was also very much in evidence at the Royal Military Tournament. On 15th May 1894 the Empress of Prussia visited the headquarters gymnasium and watched a class undergoing instruction in Swedish drill. Later in August 1897 Kaiser Wilhelm11 attended the Army Boxing Championships, which were held separately from the Army Athletics Meeting for the first time. In July 1895 H M Queen Victoria visited the school and watched a gymnastics display, which was a major boost to the concept of physical training in the Army. For the next twelve years physical training carried on in the same tradition, which primarily concentrated on muscular development.
In 1897 Colonel the Hon. John Scott Napier, Gordon Highlanders, succeeded Colonel Fox as Inspector. He was a thorough and talented individual who overcame many obstacles, particularly in administration and management. Prior to his time in office the only swimming facilities were the “Cove Reservoir” and the “Basingstoke Canal” both of which were truly disgusting and heavily polluted. As a result Colonel Napier decided to initiate the construction of the Aldershot Command Swimming Bath. It is interesting to note that during the South African War, Colonel Napier served on Lord Roberts’s Staff in South Africa and in his absence Colonel Fox was recalled to officiate as Inspector. Colonel Napier worked incessantly to benefit Corps and Army training and will always be considered one of the most important figures in Corps history. There is no record of any Gymnastics Staff serving abroad in the South African War, but courses continued at Aldershot during this period and Staff worked hard to improve the physical fitness of the soldiers who were going abroad, making them ‘fighting fit and fit to fight’.
Another exceptional figure, James Baldwin Betts, came into prominence in 1900 when he became Sergeant Major Instructor at the PT School, going on to become one of the most distinguished members in the history of the Corps. An interesting description of physical training during the 1880s and early 1900s was given in 1932 by the now Lt Col James Baldwin Betts DSO OBE, Army Gymnastics Staff (1894-1924) who wrote “Progressive exercises as now known were practically non-existent, for every exercise was performed on apparatus, or with dumb-bells, rifles, etc, except of course marching and hopping, physical drill, with and without rifles, marching and surmounting the obstacle course, completed the varied and strenuous course of the old-time recruit training”.
The Garrison swimming pool was visited by ever increasing numbers from the day it was opened in 1900. Many soldiers who took part in amphibian operations were taught to swim in full equipment at the pool. With the Commander in Chief, Lord Wolseley’s support and £12,000 from the Royal Military Tournament Funds, Colonel Napier was able to achieve what was considered almost impossible. During his period as Inspector he was also responsible for the construction of the outdoor gymnasium. This gymnasium proved to be a real test of courage and fitness. This has been dismantled and re-erected on several occasions and is still a prominent feature within many of the school training facilities. The period up to and including 1905 was a period of significant importance to physical training in the Army and this importance was emphasised by the Inspectorate itself, when it was brought under the direct control of the War Office. Previous Inspectors had been in a dual position as Staff Officers, subordinate to the G O C Aldershot Command, as well as independent advisors to the Army Council. Even though the Inspectorate came under the direct control of Whitehall in 1905 it was to remain in Aldershot until 1932.
When the Swedish system was eventually introduced into the British Army changes were also made to the methodology applied to physical training programmes. Heavy training systems gave way to the use of lighter and more varied combination of equipment. High-ranking Army officers, medical officer's civilians who were interested in physical education and health promotion, welcomed the new system with enthusiasm. The Official ‘Manual of Physical Training’, which complemented this process was produced by Major Charles Moore and published in 1908. The manual was so well thought of in Holland that it was translated to Dutch and used extensively. The bitter opposition to any form of change or science and thought at this time, along with the unpopularity of Physical Training generally, began to give way to almost universal approval. The system was used throughout the 1914-18 war and the post war period, proving that it was technologically and psychologically sound and as up to date as possible in those days.
During this period, the work of the Army Gymnastics Staff and the value of their instruction were becoming much more appreciated. In recognition of this work H M King Edward VII awarded the Silver Medal of the Royal Victorian Order, on Sergeant-Major-Instructor Betts in 1906 for all his good work. A year later SMI Betts was the first member of the gymnastic staff to receive a commission to Lt Master at Arms, which was the first of its kind in the British Army. When one reflects on the difficulties experienced by any ‘other rank’ in those days, it says a great deal about the character and personality of Lt Col Betts, who retired in 1924 with many outstanding decorations and a fine military career behind him. He is an example of which all members of the Corps, past and present, are justly proud.
In 1907 an officer instructor was added to the staff at the HQ Gymnasium and official recognition was given to boxing instruction. There followed a period of growth and development in all aspect of physical training. In July 1914 rumours were rife that war was imminent and training was intensified and it was at this time that the School of Bayonet Training was established at St Pol in France, staffed by Army Gymnastic Instructors. The excellent work of AGS Instructors was reflected in the high standard of fitness, of the men in the ‘Contemptible Little Army’ of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) (“that mighty little Force that stood for England”). When war began in 1914 all instructors were recalled to their parent units and skeleton staffs of 15 was left at the AGS School in Aldershot. However, this was soon recognised as a great mistake; as a result they were called back to physical training duties in units, where they originally served as instructors. There was a high demand for more AGS Instructors, which resulted in an increase of staff to over 2,299 from a pre-war total of 72. Colonel V.A. Couper, Rifle Brigade, who had been Inspector up to the outbreak of the War, had the task of recreating the AGS with 80 NCOs. During the war period over 2,000 officers and 22,500 NCOs trained as assistant instructors. Amongst them were many famous sportsmen such as Boxers ‘Jimmy Wilde’ and Bombardier ‘Billy Wells’. In 1916 general PT schools were established in France and Instructors served in all theatres of war including Italy, Salonika and Mesopotamia. At that time ‘Bayonet Fighting’ was considered to be the most important physical training skill taught by Staff Instructors.
In October 1918 Lt Col R.B. Campbell became Inspector and it is interesting to note that the Third Army, which was the first to fully appreciate physical training and bayonet skills training, was to make such a firm and magnificent stand against the German advance in 1918. During the war 33 members of the AGS were killed in action and many others were wounded and subsequently decorated for their outstanding courage. After the Great War the number of staff decreased rapidly to 200 and later to 150. In 1919 the AGS became known as the Army Physical Training Staff (APTS). The work of instructors at the school increased and there were often up to 400 students on courses at any one time. The APTS was to lead PT in the country and had several members obtain Olympic colours in fencing, boxing and modern pentathlon. Most large public schools employed ex APTS instructors, who were used in a range of occupations. At the end of the Great War in November 1918 the Army Gymnastics Staff gradually reduced in numbers, but continued the good work during the difficult demobilisation period. The British Expeditionary Force Sports Board was formed in 1919 and owed its success to the many thousands of officers and men trained in sports and recreational organisation during this difficult period.
FIGHTING FIT AND FIT TO FIGHT: 1920-1940
The rapid run down of staff after the Great War eventually reduced the APTS to only 150 men, stationed at the HQ in Aldershot, at all overseas posts and with garrisons or schools of instruction. In 1920 the Inspector Colonel Campbell and Captain Wand-Tetley of the staff fenced for Great Britain in the Olympic Games. The training of the British Modern Pentathlon team first took place in 1920 at the Army School of Physical Training and continued at Aldershot for many years. “Tough Tactics” teams were organised to operate in the front line and instructors were posted to new formations such as the Commandos, the Parachute Regiments and to the Special Air Services. Training was designed to prepare the troops for battle and in the process many instructors went into action with the men they had trained. This was an important year in the history of the Corps. It was in 1922 that the first Athletics Course assembled on 25th May at Aldershot. The first course for Adjutants and RSMs was also held at Aldershot. It was the year that a link was created between Pragmatism and Theoretical aspects of physical training, through research and experimentation carried out by Captain W.B. Stevenson R.A.M.C. This was done to establish a connection between physical exercise and medical science, in order to get the best from Physical Training. From this time on PT became more scientific and professional, leading the way in military and civilian aspects of PT development.
At this time it was recognised that there were important lessons to be learned from the study of physical education in other countries, and this led to the development of liaisons between Denmark, Czechoslovakia and France. Many countries such as South Africa, India and others benefited greatly from training by APTSIs who served at institutions in their countries. These liaisons were also extensively developed with the Territorial Army and to Officer Training Corps Camps. 1925 was the year in which Major Dinwiddy was instrumental in making the Mind, Body & Spirit a more representative magazine of the APTS. A visit by Major Wand-Tetley to Ollerup in Denmark in 1926 led to an arrangement, which enabled QMSI Mills to do a 3-month course in Denmark to study the ‘Nils Bukh’ method of training. A course was later arranged at Shorncliffe for Staff Instructors on this method of training. Later in 1927 Major Wand-Tetley and Captain Bradley Williams arranged another visit to Ollerup and came to the conclusion that this system was not ideal, but better than the existing one. At the end of the year long trial, the APTS produced evidence that a combination of the ‘Ling System’ and the ‘Nils Bukh’ system was the most suitable method of physical training. During 1927 Colonel Henslow became Inspector, succeeding Colonel Heathcote, and in 1928 new PT Training tables were introduced. By 1929 the number of staff instructors fell to 148 and there followed a period of quiet but concentrated study on physical training methodology. Eventually, in 1931 the new ‘Manual of Physical Training’ was introduced into the system and remained in force until 1939. The same year two accommodation blocks for personnel on courses were completed. The new blocks were a marked improvement on past buildings.
A visit by HRH Emir Feisal in 1932 was followed by a visit by T R M King George V and Queen Mary on 19th April 1934. On both occasions the visitors were very impressed and interested in the work being carried out. Early in 1935 it was decided that the Army and the Nation were not as fit as they should be, in comparison to Germany, Italy and Sweden. Anti-war propaganda was also seriously affecting recruiting and the preparedness of the Nation for any future confrontation. The British Medical Association determined that the best course of action, for the health and fitness of the nation was to follow the example set by The Army Physical Training Staff. New trained soldiers Physical Training Tables were introduced in 1936 and General Staff Officers in all Commands had to ensure they were carried out. In 1937 Staff Instructors carried out rehabilitation exercises with injured Service personnel and excellent results were achieved, which have subsequently been developed into the remedial therapy wing, as we know it today. The building of a second gymnasium at the school began in 1939 and the start of National Service gave a boost to the APTS. By September 1939 staff had increased from 169 to 280.
At the outbreak of war on 3rd September 1939, it was felt that the total number of staff needed to be increased dramatically and by November it totalled 520, by December the same year to 750. From then on numbers increased until a total of 3’000 was reached in 1945. In order to expand so quickly men, who had civilian physical training qualifications, such as schoolmasters, well-known athletes, games players and sports coaches, were recruited and trained at the School in as short a time as possible. Amongst these were international footballers and cricket players such as Billy Wright, Jack Peterson, Tommy Lawton, Joe Mercer, Frank Swift, Don Welsh and many others. During the spring of 1940 21 instructors were posted to France and were all, with the exception of SI Campbell, evacuated from various ports in the north-west of France. Instructors served in all theatres of war including the 26 dropped with the Airborne Forces at Arnhem, where four were killed and sixteen were taken prisoner. War ended with about 2000 instructors, but this number was rapidly reduced by the demobilisation of the Army to around 400. However, Staff continued to be deployed throughout the world in Headquarters, Garrisons and with larger Units. It was at this time that the Army Physical Training Corps became heavily involved in rehabilitation of sick and wounded soldiers. A revised form of Physical and Recreational Training Handbook was issued in 1940. It was also decided that staff should be formed into a Combatant Corps with its HQ at Aldershot. As a result The Army Physical Training Corps was formed On 16th September 1940 and Col G.N. Dyer, C.B.E, D.S.O became the first Commandant. Since then many of its members have been decorated for gallantry or mentioned in despatches.
The revised forms of training and unarmed combat were designed to toughen up soldiers for a new concept in warfare ‘Total War’. The ‘Basic and Battle’ Physical Training Pamphlet contained all the necessary guidelines for log exercises and the use of assault courses, which are designed to test all aspects of movement over a wide range of obstacles. Fifteen feet logs ranging in weight between 120-150lbs were used, to build up overall muscular strength and to develop teamwork. Artillery shells weighing 56lbs were also used extensively for the same reason, but with added consideration for those who were destined to serve with Artillery units. In preparation for the heavy work of loading guns onto landing craft for the ‘D-Day’ landings, a close relationship was encouraged and developed between the ASPT and the Royal Naval School at Mersea. Special Forces, Airborne and Commandos, attended the Army Physical Training School to learn and develop unarmed combat skills and other techniques required for specialist roles. During the early part of World War 2 many instructors were attached to Convalescent Depots, British Red Cross Hospitals and Physical Development Centres. More than 120 APTC Instructors served at these centres and were responsible for the upgrading and personal development of over 60,000 trainees. Between the Wars there were two schools of physical training in India, one at Poona and the other at Ambala. Another School was opened at Kasauli during the Second World War where many APTC Instructors served. These schools were of great value in terms of the standards of fitness of the Indian Army and its contribution to the war effort.
In 1938, just before war with Germany was declared, there was a second visit to the APTC School at Aldershot by a German contingent. The Commandant and Chief Instructor of the German School of Physical Training visited the school and attended the Royal Tournament.
WORLD WAR TWO AND THE AFTERMATH: 1940-1960
As a result of the new title and status of ‘Army Physical Training Corps’ there were positive moves to update and modernise the training and skills of instructors. Revised physical training programmes and unarmed combat (close combat) skills were also introduced and refresher courses for existing staff were implemented. Staff Instructors were highly trained in weapons handling and Physical Training became much more vigorous and aggressive, to bring about required results faster. All Instructors wore uniforms and equipment at all times, during exercise periods, so that the link between physical training and battle conditions could realistically be achieved. In some cases special PT pamphlets were produced, as guidelines for the smaller more isolated units that had no Corps Instructor. During the early days of the War the ASPT also provided three special support cyclist platoons, which were on permanent standby to assist in any emergency within a fairly wide area.
During the autumn of 1940 air raids were a common occurrence within the general area of the ASPT at Aldershot. Slit trenches were dug on Queens Parade and also on the schools athletics practice ground. Fortunately, the damage to the school was minimal during this onslaught, even though a stick bomb landed in Queens Avenue and an incendiary bomb hit Hammersley Barracks cookhouse. At this time ‘Gun Manhandling’ was given priority and the Eastern Command School of Physical Training were tasked to develop suitable techniques. This was very successful and beneficial to all ‘Army Service Arms’ that handled larger weapons and equipment, such as Bofors and 5.5 Howitzer guns and to the other three Services. The ‘Gun Manhandling’ courses took place in Aldershot and at many other locations at home and abroad. By 1941 the Corps numbers had reached 1800 men. It was a difficult period because the numbers of staff and students were far greater than the facilities were able to cope with. This in turn had led to a determined effort to finish the construction of the ‘new’ gymnasium, which had begun in 1939. When completed the gymnasium was named ‘Wand-Tetley’, in honour of one of the Corps distinguished officers. The outside walls were used for climbing and scaling practice and the whole external area contained a number of assault and confidence building constructions. Another very difficult and tortuous training facility used extensively at this time, was known as ‘The Monkey Rack’, which involved climbing, confidence building, strength, rope techniques and balancing, all in full kit.
Parachute training skills were also developed at this time and Battle Swimming Training in full equipment with ‘small-arms’ was emphasised. Medical Officers were appointed to the Corps as Hygiene Specialists and had to attend the appropriate Physical Training Courses before being posted to the Army Medical Corps. Dr J E Lovelock, the Olympic 1500 metre champion, was one of those seconded to the school. The success of his work led to the development and operation of the Physical Development Centres, which employed more than 120 Corps Instructors. Centres were situated at Kingston-upon-Thames, Skegness and Hereford and catered for the needs of over 60,000 trainees from 1941-49. In 1942 the words “Fighting Fit and Fit to Fight” that were constantly expressed by Field Marshall Montgomery, were adopted as the Corps Maxim. 1944 saw the naming of school facilities and accommodation blocks, after Inspectors who had been in office at appropriate times during their construction or development. In the same year new pamphlets on Basic and Battle Physical Training were introduced. A significant event took place in 1946 when HRH King George V approved the appointment of Field Marshall Montgomery of Alamein K C, GCB, DSO, as the first Colonel Commandant Army Physical Training Corps (1946-1960).
Operations in Burma and the Far East made it necessary to carry out Jungle Warfare Training for Instructors, because they could be sent at a moment’s notice to units moving to these theatres of war. To facilitate this need, a ‘Jungle Warfare Assault Course’ was constructed at the school in Aldershot, which included bunkers, foxholes, booby-traps and obstacles of all descriptions. This proved to be very popular with most Instructors because it was extremely challenging and difficult to overcome. There were also experiments with different methods of tree climbing, where bayonets were tied with a ‘Pull-Through’ to the boots and used like climbing irons (crampons). From 1947 the introduction of what were to become highly technical and internationally recognised standards of gymnastics came to the fore. This field of endeavour has proved to be the catalyst for many Instructors who aspired to National, International and Olympic representation and is an important part of the history of the Corps. Several gymnasts have represented Corps, Army, National, International and Olympic squads over the ensuing years. One major achievement was APTC team, which won the British team championships for 9 consecutive years during the 1950’s and 60’s. Standards of performance and high levels of achievement were also gained in many other sports including fencing, boxing, pentathlon, biathlon, basketball and athletics, to name a few. Although there were many high achievers during this post war period, times were very difficult because instructors were deployed with units throughout the world. Korea, the Indian Sub Continent, Malaysia, Borneo, Aden, Suez, Northern Ireland, Germany and many other countries were amongst those where instructors were deployed.
Between the 1950’s and 60’s Instructors were encouraged to qualify as Remedial Gymnasts and the AMRU’s were absorbed into two Joint Services remedial centres at RAF Chessington and Headley Court. Shortly after the 2nd World War Adventurous Training also began to emerge as a new distinct and exciting medium of training and endeavour. What had been experienced by many in active service conditions, led to an awareness of the value of outdoor recreation and training, particularly in terms of physical fitness, endurance, courage and ability in extreme conditions? This has subsequently become a major part of the Corps Instructor’s itinerary, along with parachuting, swimming, endurance, sport and education. The good work of the Corps was recognised by the Army and in particular the Garrison Town of Aldershot, resulting in the Award of the Freedom of the Borough of Aldershot in 1960.
This period of Corps history encompassed the majority of the Conscription ‘Call-up’ period between 1939 and 1962. The men called up for compulsory service with the Corps are and always will be, held in high regard by ‘Comrades in Arms’ and fellow Corpsmen, for their positive contributions to this great organisation. This abridged version of Corps history, does not allow for comprehensive or in depth presentation of the achievements of so many instructors, during times of War or Peace, but will acknowledge such achievements in the comprehensive historical publication being produced at a later date.
During the early 60’s attitudes to British institutions and conventions were marked by an overpowering complacency. Working-class people enjoyed package holidays to Mediterranean resorts and revelled in pubs and clubs. Britain became the harbinger of the so-called “permissive society” in which drink and drugs were freely available. England’s soccer heroes fought to victory in the 1966 World Cup, to add an aura of patriotism to a new and aggressive youth. This presented overwhelming opportunities for sports, recreation and leisure enthusiasts to create an impression, which stimulated and motivated the ‘New-Wave’ post war ‘Freedom Culture’ into worthwhile activities. Sports of all description were encouraged at all levels within society and the services, amongst these, was particular interest in the development of Adventurous Training. As this became more popular, specially trained officers and instructors started to take appropriate professional qualifications in activities such as: yachting, climbing, canoeing, skiing, mountaineering and rock climbing.
At this time many members of the Corps were selected for British and Olympic teams in a wide and diverse range of sports including fencing, athletics, boxing, pentathlon, biathlon, canoeing, yachting, basketball and many others. The overall effect was to stimulate more interest in courses at the School in Aldershot, from within services in the UK and from a great number of other countries. However, a great deal of work had to be done to accommodate this influx of participation so Hammersley Barracks was extended to cater for this need and a new floor was also included in the renovations to Fox Gymnasium. The first Colonel Commandant of the Corps, Field Marshall Montgomery also ended his term of office in 1960 and was succeeded by General Sir A James H Cassells GCB, KBE, DSO, A D C (1961-1966). National Service ‘call-up’ ended in 1962 bringing an end to an era and highlighting moves into ‘new ideology’ and ‘innovation’.
Meanwhile, changes in defence policy reduced the likelihood of British troops being involved outside Europe, in operations that would normally have given them the experience in facing danger, hardship and challenge. Adventure Training (AT) in the Army was actively encouraged in order to replace this deficit. The first Inspector of Physical and Adventurous Training was appointed in 1974 and subsequent AT courses were held in Norway and many other locations. Courses included canoeing, climbing, trekking, cooking, survival, initiative training, skiing, mountaineering, cold water swimming and specialist courses in winter warfare. In 1966 Physical Efficiency Programme Exercises (PEP EX) were introduced as a personal aid to fitness. This was designed around light exercises, to suit all ages and physical abilities and was carefully chosen for the purpose of developing good all round fitness. It was also introduced as a countermeasure in the absence of physical fitness facilities or restricted space. At this time there was considerable growth and interest in ‘remedial training’ at the school, where selection was based on aptitude, flexibility of attitude and the ability to work and study hard. First class education and a minimum of 13 years service remaining after training were also basic requirements. Training was conducted at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield and lasted 3 years. One Instructor per year was selected to attend the course and after completion, instructors were posted to A.M.R.U. Saighton Camp Chester for a period of 4 years. Course number one started on the 23rd of August 1965.
An International flavour was actively encouraged on courses during the 60’s and 70’s and there was a distinct effort to spread the gospel (in terms of physical education and training) to many commonwealth and other countries. Students came to the school from Malaysia, Borneo, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and many other countries to attend a huge range of courses. 1968 saw the establishment of a board of trustees for the Corps Museum, which had authorisation for a permanent post of museum attendant (curator). In 1969 the museum registered as a charitable trust. The Fielder Centre was built in the 1970’s (additional lecture rooms were added in 1978 complete with a remedial centre). This worked in conjunction with the newly introduced APFA tests (The Army Personal Fitness Assessment Tests) at the ASPT, to provide very much needed purpose built lecture rooms and a fitness laboratory. This was a significant development, because of the indifferent performance of certain elements of the British Army following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. As a result the Adjutant General ‘again’ ordered a study of Army physical fitness. A working party was set up, and a new set of Physical Training Pamphlets were produced, which included mandatory tests for all personnel up to the age of 40 years (suitably graded). 1979 was the year in which the magnificent ‘Fox Gymnasium’ became a listed building by the secretary of state for the environment.
It was necessary at this time to emphasise training in ‘urban conditions’ for the soldier’s role in Northern Ireland. To facilitate this process training included endurance, Aikido, internal security, search techniques, house searches, weapon training, radio skills and many others. In 1976 when boxing was at a high point and ‘superstars” challenges were popular, John Conteh the world L/Heavy Boxing Champion and many International athletes visited and trained at the school. To round off this period of Corps history the Duke of Edinburgh visited the school in December 1980, to view the latest physical training techniques. Outstanding achievements in a wide range of sports and displays, during the period 1960’s-1980, had established the Corps as a world leader in the development of outstanding technical, practical and theoretical education in the fields of physical training, recreational and adventure training and remedial therapy. It was Field Marshal Montgomery, who said, “Modern warfare requires from a man a great deal more than the simple ability to fire a weapon at the enemy …it is the job of the APTC to take an ordinary man and make him “Fit to Fight and Fighting Fit”. The methodology employed to achieve this goal has to be controlled and implemented by professionals such as the Army Physical Training Corps. Photographs on pages 22-23 are included to highlight this period of Corps history.
- All APTC Instructors are expected to reach this standard of gymnastic ability and can be called upon to participate in team displays and tournaments such as the Royal Tournament.
The early part of this period of Corps history saw the demise of the famous Royal Tournament. This great institution started under the direction of Major Gildea in 1876 and had been enacted every year since, with the exception of the period during the two world wars, coming to an end in 1981. At the same time the Corps was honoured by being awarded the ‘Freedom of the Borough of Rushmoor’ complementing the award of the ‘Freedom of Aldershot’ which they received in 1960. These days, adventure training has grown to such proportions that the Joint Services Adventure Training Schools are overwhelmed with applicants for courses. Winter and summer courses are equally as popular and levels of competence were attained up to and including the extremely hard ‘Alpine Grades’ and ‘Very severe and Harder Individual Pitch Grades’. This includes expeditions such as the 4 man team led by a Corps Instructor, which climbed the ‘best in the world’ level climb of ‘Lost Arrow Spine’ in Yosemite Park California.
A letter to the Commandant Army Physical Training Corps Brigadier D.W. Shuttleworth OBE, ADC from the Chief of the General Staff General Sir Edwin Bramall, GCB, OBE, MC, ADC (Referring to the Falklands campaign) said:
“Without doubt, the single most important factor which underpinned the success of the ‘Land Battle’ was the fitness of our troops in the most appalling conditions and formidable terrain. I have no doubt in my own mind that the remarkable physical feats carried out by the troops in the ‘Task Force’ reflect the determination with which the ‘Fit to Fight’ programme has been carried through during the course of the last few years ----“.
An extract from the Daily Telegraph on the following day supported this claim by suggesting that:
“The value of very hard fitness training --without which the approach battles to Port Stanley, could never have been so speedily and skilfully mounted. The very high standard of junior leadership and responsible quick-thinking professionalism shown by the private soldier is one of the tremendous new strengths of the British Army. Realised and enhanced especially by active service in Northern Ireland and the deliberate fostering of special adventurous and outward-bound type training, which provides additional risk taking skills, has paid excellent dividends”.
This is a testament to the quality and work of the Army Physical Training Corps Instructors and to the value of adventure training as a training medium. Although the emphasis in APTC history is primarily orientated to physical, recreational and remedial activities and training, it must be understood that the main objectives of the Corps is to prepare troops physically and emotionally for war. This objective can best be achieved through well-defined strategies, which are reflected in this work. Corps Instructors were also attached to and trained units in the Gulf War in 1991.
To ensure that the Corps were as up to date as possible a ‘Training and Development Team’ was set up at the ASPT Aldershot, during the mid 1980’s. This was designed to define the role of the APTC, to update training methods and to review the ‘Total Concept’ of physical and recreational training in the Army. The role of Inspector of Physical Training also came to an end in 1991 and then became known as Commandant APTC, the first Commandant being Brigadier P.J.Sanders 1991-2 the present incumbent is Brigadier R. M. Wilde C.B.E. With the disbanding of the WRAC (Womens Royal Army Corps) in the early 1990’s all women interested in a career in physical training were to undergo the same training as men. This had to be the same process for induction into physical training and subsequent transfer into to Corps. In 1992 the first female officer was commissioned into the APTC and the period of emancipation had arrived. The first group of WRAC Physical Training Instructors ‘re-badged’ into the Army Physical Training Corps on 10th April 1992. Since that time there has been an increase in the number of female instructors in the Corps, which reflects the high standards they have achieved.
From the early 1990’s there has been a surge of Higher Academic Achievements by Corps Officers and Instructors, ranging from Diplomas to MSc’s degrees in Sports Science. Many have gone on to gain degrees in other related subjects and also in teaching. As a result there has been a dramatic increase in the number of officers in the Corps, of which there are now more 50. This is proportionately very high in a Corps with a total strength in the region of 425 personnel. During this time, the quality of staff training and indefatigable attitudes, have resulted in a number of commissions into other Corps. Overall, very high standards physically, technically and academically have been achieved by Corps Instructors in all fields of endeavour, which is particularly so in adventure training, remedial therapy and sports science.
To commemorate its centenary year the Army School of Physical Training was dedicated ‘Fox Lines’ On September 18th 1994. In 1996 the Corps received the ‘New Standard’ and in 1997 said farewell to Colonel Commandant Field Marshall Sir Peter Inge GCB. Between 1997/8 a major refurbishment of ‘Fox’ gymnasium took place, which was completed in December 1998 with further work being carried out on the floor during the following year. During this period of Corps history a number of Instructors received Awards and Medals for outstanding courage and gallantry. This reflects on the true meaning of devotion to duty and the high standards maintained by Corps Instructors, in peacetime or on active service, as they always have. In the year 2000 the Corps celebrated its 140th Anniversary and the 40th Anniversary of the Freedom of Aldershot. Lt Colonel M.P. Stallard suggested that “The 1990’s have given rise to rapid changes in the Army largely from the post ‘Cold War’ era and there is no question that the APTC has moved with the times”. “APTC Instructors have earned recognition as outstanding soldiers, which are a reflection on the suggestion that nobody has ever earned a ‘Crossed Swords Badge’ who wasn't up to the job”.
This condensed history of the APTC has attempted to reflect the overall quality and standards of its Officers and Instructors and its role in peacetime and war. The outstanding achievements of individuals within the Corps have not been enlarged upon, because it would result in a volume of immense proportions. Suffice to say that there are many that received the highest accolades, honours and awards in recognition of their efforts, service and courage. It was Field Marshall Montgomery who said; “Modern warfare required from a man a great deal more then the simple ability to fire a weapon at the enemy. The soldier must be able to cross many miles of country on foot, climb hills and swim rivers by day and by night and at any season of the year, and at the end of it be able to attack the enemy vigorously”. Though this concept was his considered view in 1954 it still stands today, even though technology and strategies have changed greatly since that time. The belief by some, that the past two or three decades have seen the quality of young instructors on entry to the Corps greatly improve, is absolutely correct but so has Technological Transfer and the Socio-economic Environment. It may be more appropriate to suggest that but for the excellent qualities and abilities of past A.G.S-APTS and APTC Instructors; we would not be where we are today. Let no Corpsman, or woman, say; “he is a better man than I, or I a better man than him”. Perhaps the importance of ‘note 1 page 1’ “bearing in mind that no man is an island in a Corps where quality and uniformity are so very important” has become more meaningful and significant to the reader of this brief history of the APTC.
“MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO”
REFERENCE: Lt Colonel E A L Oldfield, History of the Army Physical Training Corps (1995) Gale & Polden LTD, Aldershot. APTC Museum archives.