History of the RMVCC

Published on 7th July 2016

The RMVCC was formed on 14 February 1901 as the Royal Marines Artillery Cadet Corps at the Mission Hall in Prince Albert Street, Eastney, Portsmouth.  The first Commanding Officer was Captain William Harkness RMA and the first parade night was held at the now former Royal Marines barracks in Eastney, two days later.

Cadet McEwan of the RMA Cadet Corps in 1901

The Cadet Corps was formed, so the story goes, to “gainfully occupy the spare time of sons of senior Non-Commissioned Officers” after once when the colonel’s office window was broken by a ball kicked by an SNCO’s son playing outside.  Captain William Harkness RMA, the Adjutant of the Royal Marines Artillery Barracks at Eastney, was tasked with establishing the new cadets and on 14 February 1901 over 100 boys enlisted at the Mission Hall in Prince Albert Street, Southsea.  The first training night was held at RMA Eastney a few days later and the cadets were soon kitted out in a khaki uniform and Boer War slouch hat.  Another unit was formed at the Royal Marines Barracks in Plymouth in 1904, and then also at Chatham and Deal.  A Royal Marines Light Infantry Cadet Corps (RMLICC) unit was formed in Forton Barracks, Gosport.  Later on, another unit was formed at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines in Lympstone near Exeter.  Deal Division RMVCC closed when the Royal Marines School of Music left the town and moved to Portsmouth, and Chatham Division RMVCC transferred to the Sea Cadet Corps when Pay & Records RM left Chatham in the 1960s.

Captain William Harkness RMA

The RMVCC was formed with the motto ‘Manners Maketh Man’, our current motto ‘Be Worthy’ was adopted in the mid-20th Century.  Entry was originally restricted to the sons of serving Royal Marines SNCOs and later on other ranks from all three services. In the 1910s the RMACC joined with its sister organisation, the Royal Naval Boys Corps, to form the VCC and in 1922 entry was opened to boys from civilian families.  For some time the cadets were known as the Royal Marines Volunteer Boys Corps with the Royal Marines Volunteer Girls Corps and Girl Ambulance Corps units existing alongside until they merged after the Second World War.  The current and more appropriate title was formally adopted in 1979, although the Portsmouth Division RMVCC was the last to accept girls in the early 2000s.  The cadets in Gosport merged with the Portsmouth Cadets in the mid-1920s when Forton Barracks closed, but were to be effectively ‘stood-up’ again in the 1970s as a non-MOD cadet unit titled the RMLI Cadet Marching Band, still based in Gosport and continuing the traditions of the ‘red marines’.  The RMLICMB sadly closed in 2007 but not before joining with the Bands from Plymouth and Portsmouth Divisions RMVCC and appearing at the Royal Tournament in 1998 and 1999 to form the Massed Bands of the Royal Marines Cadets.  You can see one of their performances here.

Presentation of cadet Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, marching at the Trafalgar Day Parade by HMS Victory, the Colour Party ready to March On at Eastney Barracks, and the legendary WO2 Charles ‘Sandy’ Powell keeps a close eye on his cadets in Portsmouth

The RMVCC existed throughout the First World War, with Portsmouth Division RMVCC Portsmouth marching  in the Victory Parade in Portsmouth, but suspended for a while during the Second World War reforming in 1945.  The band of Portsmouth Division RMVCC had a cameo appearance in the film ‘The Cockleshell Heroes‘ in 1955.  This told the story of Operation Frankton, the commando raid on the port of Bordeaux and in 2007 a number of cadets from Portsmouth Division RMVCC recreated this operation.

1951 was a sad year for the RMVCC when 24 of our cadets, from the Chatham Division RMVCC, were tragically killed in what was then the worst road accident in British history.  The funerals of the 24 boys killed were held with full military and civic honours, and to this day the RM Cadets in Chatham, now part of the SCC, honour their fallen predecessors each year.

Portsmouth Division RMVCC grew to about 350 cadets by 1980, still located in Royal Marines Eastney, and the Plymouth Division RMVCC in RM Stonehouse grew to a comparable size.  A regular highlight during summer were the Cadet Tattoos, where for four nights in July each year the cadets in Portsmouth and Plymouth displayed some of their muscical, drill and field skills to packed audiences on their Parade Grounds, culminating in a musical and pyrotechnic-filled finale.  In the 1960s, the Portsmouth Division RMVCC even put on their Tattoos in Fratton Park football ground.

In 1991 Portsmouth Division RMVCC was the final ‘Corps Family’ unit to march out of Eastney Barracks, bringing to an end an illustrious history for this historic site.  The Portsmouth Cadets marched in to HMS Nelson and occupied the newly named ‘Eastney Block’ as a respectful nod to the VCC’s ancestral home.

Guard of Honour at the opening of the Corps Museum with the Captain General, and HM The Queen inspects Portsmouth Division RMVCC in Guildhall Square during her Silver Jubilee

In 1999 the Portsmouth Division RMVCC Field Gun Crew appeared in the last ever Royal Tournament at Earl’s Court, along with our colleagues from the RNVCC Field Gun Crews of HMS Collingwood, HMS Dolphin, HMS Dryad and HMS Sultan RNVCC.

In February 2001 the RMVCC celebrated its Centenary with a parade at HMS Excellent.  Attended by cadets from all three remaining units of the Cadet Corps, the parade was watched by friends and families, as well as ‘old-comrades’ with many a tale to tell of the RMVCC in years gone by.  The salute was taken by Major General Rob Fry CBE, Commandant General Royal Marines, and His Worship the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth.

In 2003, the three units were re-titled as ‘Divisions’ in tribute to the original Divisions that formed the Royal Marines prior to the Second World War.  In 2010 the RMVCC joined the Marine Cadet Detachments and Sections of the SCC and CCF to form a single umbrella organisation of Royal Marines Cadets (the SCC and CCF marine cadets being given the formal title of ‘Royal’ as a Royal Favour by HM The Queen).  The Royal Marines Cadets (RMC) now constitute the RMVCC, RMSCC and RMCCF, and they paraded together for the first time as Royal Marines Cadets on 8 July 2014, whereupon they were awarded the further honour of all being known as Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Cadets.

Today, the RMVCC is a growing part of the Volunteer Cadet Corps with aspirations to open new units by 2020.  Whilst very proud of our heritage we are equally confident of our future, continuing to provide exceptional opportunities for young people to develop into responsible and dependable members of society whilst having fun and making new friends, and above all….Be Worthy!

RMVCC cadets of the past in action… playing, gunning, running and even boxing!