The College Yeomanry and the Officers’ Training Corps

As far as I can tell, University College Reading published only two editions of its student handbook:  1907-08 and 1908-09. They could be purchased for sixpence (£0. 0s. 6d), approximately £3.20 in today’s money.

Both covers
These are shelved in the Reading Room at MERL (for some reason the apostrophe shifted to the left in 1908)

The handbooks contain notes by the Principal and information about Halls of Residence, College Rules, the Orchestra, College Societies, Biographical Sketches of the Staff, and the words and music of the College Songs.

In addition, both volumes contain an article that amounts to a recruiting poster for The College Yeomanry – two College troops had been formed in 1906. They had 45 recruits by the end of the first term and 68 by 1908. The article points out the many advantages of joining, including free instruction in horsemanship. It stresses that:

…. the yeoman, as he [is] engaged in superior work, receives higher pay than the foot soldier …. Uniform, equipment, horse, instruction, and all ammunition necessary for classification firing are provided free of charge.‘ (1908-9, pp. 50-51)

The final paragraph appeals to the students’ sense of patriotism (see also the note below):

‘Apart from the personal benefits and the advantage to the personal life of the college …. it is the duty of every able-bodied citizen to qualify himself to take part, should occasion require it, in the defence of his country.‘ (p. 51)

According to the Handbook, all departments of the College were represented in the Yeomanry. This image from the 1907-8 Handbook shows the troops by the south-east corner of Acacias at London Road. Despite some relatively superficial architectural changes it is still easily recognisable.


Modern version
Acacias in April 2022
R. L. Pearson, Officer commanding

Second Lieutenant Pearson is seated front centre in the photograph. He had been seconded from his regiment to command the College Troops and was also a member of academic staff, appointed Assistant Lecturer in Physics in 1905 and promoted to Lecturer in 1907. He remained on the staff until 1948-9 and was the founder and warden of St Patrick’s Hall.

Part of the Yeomanry’s Calendar entry, 1908-9
The Officers’ Training Corps

By all accounts the College Yeomanry was a success, due in no small part to the leadership of Pearson. According to the College Review of 1908-9:

Much credit was throughout due to their officer, Lieutenant R. L. Pearson, (Lecturer in Physics) for the energy and enthusiasm which he brought to the discharge of his duties.‘ (p. 154-5)

Nevertheless, the College troops had to be disbanded when the Berkshire Yeomanry moved its training camp from the summer vacation to May, a month during which the recruits could not be released from their studies. There was a degree of regret at this, but maybe not from everyone. In the words of Childs:

…there were some who lamented the disappearance of the gay uniforms and capering steeds of the yeomen.‘ (Childs, 1933, p. 107)

The leadership of the College felt forced to consider other ways in which students could contribute to the defence of their country, and an application was submitted to the War Office for recognition as part of the Officers’ Training Corps (OTC) scheme.

The application was successful and the proposal was given a significant boost when Viscount Haldane, Secretary of State for War, consented to explain the scheme to the students. He was accompanied by Brigadier-General Murray (Director of Military Training) and Captain G. S. Clive and Captain R. C. Maclachlan of the Rifle Brigade. The meeting took place in Wantage Hall on 30th April 1909 and was chaired by the College President, J. Herbert Benyon.

Haldane presented the rationale behind the OTC:  the country would rely on the public schools and universities to provide  a reserve of trained officers to supplement those in the regular army in times of war. I don’t know whether the full text of his speech still exists, but the summary in the College Review (Vol. I, 1908-9, pp. 154-7) with its depiction of ‘modern’ warfare fought with vast numbers of men, weapons and transport is, for me, a spine-chilling premonition of the horrors of the Great War, only a few years away, and the termly reports in the Review of members of the College ‘Killed in Action’ and ‘Missing and Wounded’.

The account continues:

[Haldane] concluded with an eloquent appeal for “common science, common ideas, common patriotism,” as a condition of maintaining the position of the British Empire in the world.‘ (p. 157).

The article in the Review recorded that the OTC already had between 40 and 50 recruits. Four years later numbers had risen to 3 officers and over 100 cadets. Over 200 men had been trained and 9 had became officers, 8 now holding commissions in the Special Reserve and one in the Territorial Force.

By now Pearson had been promoted to Captain and successive accounts show the Reading cadets performing well, including a report from March 1913 of field operations at Cookham Common and Greenham Common with 2nd Lieutenants Palmer and Dewar. A later article of December 1913 describes how Wantage Hall had been handed over to the military authorities at the end of the summer term so that 50 cadets under the command of R. Dewar could be instructed in drill, field training and musketry.

I think the instructor was Robert Dewar who had been appointed Professor of English Literature in 1912 (a parallel position to Edith Morley’s Professor of English Language). He certainly fought in the 1914-18 War and the Annual Report of 1918-19 noted his return to the College in February 1919. Professor Dewar later became Dean of the Faculty of Letters (1934-1948).

The campus plan

The existence of the Yeomanry and Officers’ Training Corps explains two features on a campus map of 1911. It shows existing and planned building developments and includes an armoury and ammunition store.

Edited map

    • A:  the original location of the Armoury;
    • B:  the planned new Armoury;
    • C:  the planned location of the Ammunition Store.

Not all aspects of the plan were realised:  the south cloister, for example, leading from the present L16 to the L22 Building was never built, and a later map shows the armoury still in Location A. So I don’t know whether a separate ammunition store ever existed. If it did, I wonder whether anyone was concerned about its situation at the closest point to the Abbey School.


Similar patriotic sentiments to those addressed to male students were expressed about women in the College Review in 1913. It was reported that women students had attended lectures on First Aid and Nursing with a view to setting up a voluntary aid detachment of the British Red Cross Society:

‘It is very satisfactory to find that there are many women students in the College who desire, quite as keenly as the men students who join the Officers’ Training Corps, to take part in the work of national defence and to bear their share of patriotic responsibility.‘ (p. 106)


Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Holt, J. C. (1977). The University of Reading: the first fifty years. Reading: University of Reading Press.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. I, 1908-9.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. II, 1909-10.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. V, December 1912.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. V, March 1913.

The Reading University College Review, Vol. VI, December 1913.

University College Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1918-19.

University College Reading. Calendar, 1908-9.

University College Reading (1907). Students’ handbook. First issue: 1907-8.

University College Reading (1908). Student’s handbook. Second issue: 1908-9.