The 5th Officer Cadet Battalion at Trinity and St. John’s

Watercolour from The Blunderbuss
This painting from an issue of The Blunderbuss shows Great Court, Trinity College, with red and grey clouds above forming figures of soldiers. Notes of solemnity crept in to the otherwise light-hearted magazine as the war progressed.

From 1803 to 1916, young military officers had been trained in conjunction with University education through the Officers Training Corps (OTC), forming the National Reserve of officers. However, due to the unforeseen number of casualties in the first two years of the War, conscription was introduced in 1916 and in the same year the Officer Cadet Battalions (OCBs) were formed. With training no longer conducted alongside University education, the OCBs produced 73,000 commissioned officers at locations around the country, including the 5th OCB, based at Trinity and St. John’s.

The OCBs cultivated an atmosphere of peacetime University life through sport, amateur drama productions and humourous magazines. The Blunderbuss (98.b.91.1), the magazine for the 5th Battalion, ran from July 1916 to October 1918, featuring articles, poems, sport results, photographs, artwork and topical humour for the officers in training.

Whilst humour provided a way of coping with the strain of preparing for war, sporting competitions within and between battalions fostered the camaraderie and fellowship that would become emblematic of the British army during the War. Understanding the importance of this bond and of instilling leadership, H. Montagu Butler, Master of Trinity, wrote of the 5th OCB:

“They will feel that they were wise in Training, not only man by man but together in close league, in the hope of being fitted to lead, to command, to influence, to inspire.”

Blunderbuss painting and letter
The Blunderbuss, magazine of the 5th Officer Cadet Battalion. Pictured here is the introductory letter from the first issue, written by H.M. Butler, Master of Trinity.

As the War progressed, the tone of the magazine remained the same, but notes of solemnity did creep in along with the publication of lists of dead and wounded. However, the bonds of friendship and duty grew to characterise the British Army during the First World War, thanks in part to institutions such as the 5th OCB.

Cartoon from The Blunderbuss
A cartoon about gas mask training from The Blunderbuss. The cartoons made light of the difficult drills as well as poking fun at various instructors.
Cartoon from The Blunderbuss
The cartoons from The Blunderbuss also captured the social side of being a young Officer in Cambridge.

Further reading:

Chris Baker (2010) “Training to be an officer”, The Long, Long Trail.

Hew Strachan (1976) History of the Cambridge University Officers Training Corps.

See also our interactive timeline of World War I for a look at some of the events that shaped Trinity’s wartime experience.

2 thoughts on “The 5th Officer Cadet Battalion at Trinity and St. John’s

  1. Pingback: Trinity and the First World War | Trinity College Library, Cambridge

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