Visitors to the National Trust Parke estate at Bovey Tracey might be forgiven for thinking they have strayed into a warzone. On some weekday evenings a group of Army Cadet Force youngsters can be found making their way stealthily through the undergrowth during their training procedures.
The ACF can trace its beginnings to 1859 when there was a threat of invasion by the French. The British Army was still heavily involved abroad after the Indian mutiny and there were very few units in this country. The Volunteers were formed to repel the possible invasion and this was the organization that was the forerunner of the Cadets.
However, the invasion did not materialize and a year later the Cadets were formally created. This was mainly due to many social workers and teachers seeing in it great value as an organization for the benefit of boys, particularly bearing in mind the appalling conditions in which so many of them then lived. Among these pioneer workers was Miss Octavia Hill one of the founders of the National Trust. She realized that cadet training was important for character training and although she was certainly not a militarist, she formed the Southwark Cadet Company in order to introduce the boys of the slums of that area to the virtues of order, cleanliness, teamwork and self-reliance.
Over the past three years, the Bovey Tracey ACF Detachment has had a cumulative total of 710 cadets and adults train in Parke. Training has been conducted during both day and night and subjects taught have included camouflage and concealment techniques, observation and basic patrolling skills, quick attacks, ambush and defence training, obstacle crossing and reaction to enemy fire, escape, evasion and survival skills, fire control orders and recognition of enemy targets, communications training, day and night navigation training, and manoeuvre exercises. The cadets get immense enjoyment from the manoeuvre exercises which have been planned around three fictitious counties, one enemy and two friendly, that border the River Bovey.
So if you should come face to face with one of these chaps – ”Don’t panic!”, but you may need to show them a passport!