About Boys into soldiers?: Secondary school cadet training in Australia and New Zealand during the Second World War

Between 1939 and 1945, nearly 250 Australian and New Zealand secondary schools provided their male pupils with military training, either as a mandatory component of their syllabus or as a voluntary extra-curricular activity. This cadet training, designed to provide the participating youths with a grounding in military skills and ethos, was justified by many headmasters and political figures in the context of the ongoing global conflict, with educators pointing to their pupils’ imminent future of conscription into Territorial and Militia service, the desirability of mobilising boys in the spirit of ‘total war’ and the potential threat of a Japanese invasion. However, martial ideals were not the only reasons given by educators and military figures for supporting cadet detachments. Many headmasters advocated the ability for cadet training to prepare adolescent boys for futures as civilians, not soldiers, citing its moral- and character-developmental aspects, with more than one headmaster going so far as to claim that he wished to establish a cadet detachment at his school to prevent “hands-in-pockets slouching” amongst his pupils. This, coupled with common accounts of disruptions to cadet detachments’ training programmes by the input of both youths and schools to suit their own, non-martial, desires, indicates that the realities of cadet training during wartime were more nuanced than would otherwise appear. This seminar will present the argument of my thesis: that despite the ongoing global conflict and the corresponding sentiments of ‘total war’ and mass mobilisation that wove their way into the rhetoric surrounding cadet training, during the Second World War in Australia and New Zealand educators’, pupils’, military authorities’, governments’ and public figures’ supported, opposed, and participated in cadet training for a wide variety of reasons, and the frequently-stated intention of preparing boys for military service was often ignored entirely in practice in favour of less martial objectives.



E212 Forgan Smith Building (1)