Some friends of mine recently had the sad and unenviable task of clearing a relative’s house. Throughout our lives (and to a greater and lesser extent) all of us gather “things” around us. These unique, personal and very human collections say an awful lot about us – both in relation to our character and our family history. As objects come to light again and are re-discovered by those left behind, they provide a window to another time and place. And so it was that my friends finally got round to emptying the rather full garage. There, hidden away in a corner, they found, of all things, a tarnished silver cup on a black stand. You know the sort of thing, a winner’s award for football, cricket, darts or some other competition sport or pastime. The difference with this cup, however, was its all important inscription. It reads: “A.C.F. 7th Cadet Regt Musketry”. Being a former cadet myself (albeit of the Air Training Corps) I knew straight away that “A.C.F” stood for Army Cadet Force. So this was a cup awarded to cadets in the 7th Battalion for their best rifle shooting. And three of those winners are then dated and listed beneath: “1944 ‘A’ Coy (Maldon)”; “1945 ‘C’ Coy (Southminster)” and, they must have been good; “1946 ‘C’ Coy (Southminster)”. My friends showed me the cup and, intrigued, I decided to go in search of its story.
During the war years Maldon and the surrounding district had an extensive network of Home Defence services – everything from the military to the A.R.P., Police, Fire Service and many other organisations besides. More or less all of the local residents who were not on Active Service abroad did their bit. Age was no barrier and even the youngsters were encouraged to get involved. As part of that Maldon area’s Army Cadet Force - the 7th Cadet Battalion of the Essex Regiment - was open to; “any boy 12 years or over”. By the time they reached 17, however, if they were not joining the regulars, they had to enrol in the Home Guard. (Maldon’s Home Guard was another Battalion (the 2nd) of the Essex Regiment). Wartime membership of the Army Cadets grew over the succeeding war years, necessitating a number of re-organisations and changes in title. Maldon’s Grammar School (now the Fambridge Road campus of the Plume Academy) had its own resident corps and by the summer of 1941 it was; “larger than it has ever been and certainly as keen and enthusiastic as it can be…”. A year later mention is made in contemporary records of the; “Dengie Hundred Cadet Corps” and that this was; “intended primarily for boys not of the Grammar School”. There were enough of the Dengie contingent to form a Burnham Platoon, a separate Platoon for Maldon Town (in addition to the school) and, as mentioned on that cup, at Southminster. There were also smaller “Sections” at Cold Norton and Bradwell. By the summer of 1944 the Grammar School unit had been re-designated as; “Number 1 Company, 7th Cadet Battalion, Essex Regiment” and Maldon Town’s was “Number 2 Company”. Not long after that it changed again with letters replacing numbers – Maldon Town was “A Company”; the Grammar School was “B Company”; Southminster was “C Company” and so on. The Grammar School was at pains to say that “B Company”; “takes part in everything the other companies do” and that included amongst other things; “Musketry Competitions”.
There were clearly some good shots amongst the pupils of “B Company”. On one occasion Sergeant Goulding won the “Donegal Badge and the Senior Cup”, Corporal Leatherdale won the “Senior Silver Medal”, Cadet Parker the “Junior Cup” and; Cadets Barrell and Johnson “a silver medal each”. It was commented, however, that, due to shortages, it was; “a pity that these trophies are such a long time coming”. We know from that remarkable garage discovery that at least one Cadet Musketry cup was in place and being physically awarded from 1944 when the school’s (doubtless) rivals, Maldon Town “A Company”, won it. However, it would appear that even the Town was then thwarted by Southminister, who took it over the two following years. We can’t be absolutely sure where all of those competitions took place, but the old TA Centre, the Drill Hall in Maldon’s Tenterfield Road, had an integral range. I remember shooting on it in the 1970s. In those days it was a dark and very dusty place where the crack of rifles and the bark of the Range Master (aka the Range Control Officer) regularly broke the silence of the long, old brick room. Was it here, I wonder, that the cheer went up one day in 1944 when the last cadet to shoot finished his rounds, stood up and his score made Maldon victorious? Maldon still has an Army Cadet Force Detachment and, all these years on, it still meets at the Drill Hall. The Army Cadet Force (now open to boys and girls aged 12 to 18) is one of four cadet organisations sponsored and supported by the Ministry of Defence (the others being the Combined Cadet Force, the Sea Cadet Corps, and the Air Training Corps). As the Force’s own promotional material puts it; “…for action and adventure, fun and friendship, the Army Cadet Force is hard to beat. It inspires young people to…step up to any challenge”. Amongst those challenges the ACF still holds shooting competitions. I wonder if the winners continue to hold aloft hard won silver cups as fascinating as the one recently re-discovered in a certain Maldon garage.