by Lt. Col. Roger Jones (retd.)
End of the First World War
In winter 1917/18, the Canadian Army established its ‘Khaki College’ at Witley Camp in the UK to run classes and lectures of a vocational and rehabilitation nature. It also set up an extension in France at what was called ‘The University of Vimy Ridge’. This came to the notice of General Brudenell White and General Birdwood and, when the German 1918 offensive was defeated, classes for Australian troops were established with attendance reaching nearly 10,000 in December 1918. George Long, the then Bishop of Bathurst, was a key figure in this. Post-war, when Army Certificates of Education were established for promotion purposes in the Permanent Military Force (PMF) in the 1930s, these were originally offered through the Australian Instructional Corps (AIC)1
Second World War and afterwards
Just after the outbreak of the Second World War, C.E.W. (Charles) Bean, Australia’s Official Historian in WW1 and one of Bishop Long’s supporters, wrote to the Army Minister suggesting a similar scheme. On 11 September 1939, the Minister wrote back acknowledging it and saying he had passed the suggestion to the Military Board. In May 1940, details of the new British Army scheme came to hand. Later, the government of NSW (urged on by Sydney University, where Dr. Magdwick was then Secretary of the University’s Extension Board) pushed the issue. On 17 December 1940, the Military Board submitted a plan devised by Sydney University and strongly advocated by the Adjutant-General, Major General Victor Stantke. The Minister set up an Advisory Council chaired by the Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Sir Robert Wallace and, on 21 January 1941, the Minister publicly announced the inauguration of the scheme in a speech in Sydney. On 5 March 1941, War Cabinet agreed to the Army Minister’s proposal and the other two Services indicated they would do something similar.
On the publications side, the AAES (Australian Army Education Service, 1941-48) did not produce any army training pamphlets as such. It published the ‘Current Affairs Bulletin’, the soldier-friendly but frequently controversial magazine-style ‘Salt’ – a handbook for Education Officers (also used by the Navy) – and a long series of newsletters and other teaching and guidance material including basic literacy/numeracy workbooks. [Years later, in 1950, I did my teacher-training year at Claremont Teachers College in WA and I was amused to be given, among my prescribed texts, copies of ‘Good Instruction, Parts 1 and 2’ – which was a post-war RAEC (UK) publication and a very good introduction to large-scale basic literacy/numeracy teaching. This was the approach which the British had found necessary with the introduction of their National Service Scheme.]
As for rehabilitation training, it is of interest that the whole post-war Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme was introduced after the War Cabinet’s approval of an Army agenda item submitted by the AAES and approved by the Military Board and Army Minister. A number of vocational pre-occupational schemes and correspondence course schemes were run during the war years in conjunction with mainland universities and institutes. There was also a huge effort at War’s end under the ‘Orders for Demobilisation of the AMF’ issued in August 1945. This led to the establishment of pre-discharge Formation Colleges’ in places such as Wewak, Lae and on New Britain. There were peak enrolments of between 2,500 to over 4,000 each. These Colleges conducted basic literacy, trade refresher, pre-vocational and other vocational-type courses, with suitably-qualified and willing instructional staff recruited from all corps and, in some cases, being directly transferred to the AAES (which in 1948 became the AAEC or Australian Army Education Corps).
In 1946, the need to supply troops in the BCOF (British Commonwealth Occupation Forces) in Japan, and troops in Korea during the Korean War, with library and other services, as well as pre-discharge re-settlement assistance, led to the AAEC re-establishing some of its Second World War functions. In addition, it was tasked with providing schooling facilities for the families accompanying Australian and other Commonwealth servicemen. The AAEC staffed a school with volunteer civilian teachers drawn from Australian state and independent school systems – one of whom was Harold (Hal) Porter (1911-1984) a noted Australian novelist and writer.
The ‘1948-52 Crisis’ in the AAEC and its outcomes
In 1948, the then Australian Secretary of the Department of the Army visited British Army establishments in both the UK and in Germany and recorded adversely on the performance of the (UK) RAEC at the time. His report questioned the role of the AAEC. (The British Army had been having huge problems because their government had just introduced universal National Service and had made the RAEC responsible for a huge amount of the necessary basic literacy/numeracy training.)
The Australian Military Board, taking a limited view of Army educational needs at the time, decided to cut the newly-formed AAEC to 3 officers and 29 ORs but in November 1950 the Adjutant-General subsequently increased this to 7 officers and 41 ORs. This took into account several factors: the pending Services Vocational and Educational Training Scheme (SVETS) and revised Army Certificate of Education introduction, as well as the needs of the Apprentices School formed in 1948.
The Military Board approved the Adjutant-General’s decision but it went to the then Minister for the Army, Jos Francis. In February 1951, he wrote on the file ‘From what I have seen personally of the existing AAES at work in the field, I have not been impressed with it’, and demanded a total review of the whole service.
After further Board/Adjutant-General/Board consideration, in May 1951 the Minister finally agreed to a limited increase to the AAEC establishment, subject to a full review in 18 months.
The new Director of Army Education, Major Arthur John, conducted the review over the period July 1951 to October 1952. As a result, in late 1952, the Minister finally approved the proposed new AAEC establishment and role.
The Minister’s 1952 approval had been based on his endorsement of a new AAEC overall aim. This was expressed as ‘to play its part in the development of those qualities on which the soldier’s military skill so largely depends – intelligence, sound morale and mental alertness’.
This overall aim was little changed from some earlier statements of the role of the old wartime AAES. The problem was that the review then went on to prescribe the ‘major functions’ of the Corps, limiting them to such matters as preliminary and basic education for apprentices and bandsmen, instruction for NCO promotion requirements, instruction in current affairs, maintaining the education centres and SVETS.
So, while its overall aim was little changed, the actual functions of the new Corps were quite limited. This made the Corps very vulnerable to the push that was then going on in both civilian life and the Services in the late 1950s for vocational-type training to be based on what was then called ‘training systems’. In more recent years, many of the original AAEC/RAAEC functions themselves have been made less necessary as Army recruitment requirements have changed and become more selective, with outsourcing, and because the range of community-available services in areas of major troop concentration have tended to make those functions untenable or unnecessary.
Thus, although the Corps was granted the title ‘Royal’ in August 1960, by the late 1960s it was fighting to retain many of its broader adult education and support functions against the constant encroachment of the ‘training systems’ concept. The Corps is now primarily made up of training technology specialists supported by some technical NCOs and administration staff.
Members of the old AAEC, later RAAEC, and newer members such as those who served in TPNG, however, can take pride in the organisation’s earlier initiatives and achievements.
The AIC was formed in 1921 to implement military training and ‘train the trainer’ training for all corps in the AMF. Members of the Corps undertook 6 months initial training at the Small Arms School followed by a year’s probation before appointment. At its peak in 1942, after it was made responsible for training in the 2nd AIF, the militia and the Voluntary Defence Corps (VDC), it had 234 ‘quartermaster-commissioned officers’ and 889 warrant officers. In 1953, following the formation of specialist corps responsible for their own training, the Corps was disbanded and its remaining officers transferred to other corps.