1941 to 1953
The army Catering Corps did not exist as a separate Corps in the Army until the 1st January 1965 when it was granted the status of an independent Corps in its own right, under the direction of the Quartermaster General. Until then the Catering Corps had been under the control of the Royal Army Service Corps since its formation on the 22nd March 1941 under Army order 35 of 1941. Prior to that, the Regiments had their own cooks, some of whom were trained in one of the two cookery schools which existed in Aldershot and Poona in India. Trade pay was introduced in 1936, but equipment was poor and in many units meals were collected in bulk from the kitchen for consumption in the barracks rooms. In the late 1930s the War Office became aware of the difference in standards of catering in the two other services and the Army Board was tasked with addressing the problem.
In late 1936, with tensions rising in Europe, it was felt necessary to increase the size of the forces and Leslie Hoare-Belisha was appointed Secretary of State for War. One of the first things he did was appoint Major General Beck to investigate the question of cooking and food service and to examine existing methods of providing, training and a career structure for cooks. His report was not accepted, on financial grounds, and the Secretary of State appointed Sir Isidore Salmon as Honorary Catering Adviser for the Army, with the remit of looking into Army messing standards. By June 1938 he had produced a very detailed report giving all of the measures needed to make improvements. Mr R A A Byford was then appointed as Chief Inspector of Army Catering in the rank of Colonel and there quickly followed the appointment of civilian catering advisor’s in each of the home commands and the building of a new school of Catering in St. Omer Barracks Aldershot.
It was not until 27th July 1940 however, that the Quartermaster General once more raised the question of forming an Army Catering Corps. This was not unanimously supported and the then Permanent Under Secretary of State said that he felt that catering was a civilian function and those employed in it should not be of military rank. Nevertheless the Army Catering Corps was formed on the 22nd March 1941. During the Second world war the Corps became highly successful in maintaining morale and many civilian catering experts were called up to manage Army catering and the training of cooks. On the 29th May 1943, under Army order 819 of 1943, the Corps became an all tradesman Corps. On 5th October 1945 the Army Council took the decision to retain the Army Catering Corps as an integral part of the post war Army. The Corps then went from strength to strength. The first junior entrants were formed up on 19th February 1947 and were the fore-runners of the immensely popular and successful apprentice scheme, which became the back bone of the now increasingly professional Army Catering Corps.
1953 to 1973
After the war and up to the early 1960s many of the cooks were National servicemen drafted in and allocated to jobs. They were generally poorly motivated and there was little continuity, craft progression, or incentive for them to remain in the Army as regular soldiers. It was then that the British Army was Re-organised into an all regular force and this made a tremendous difference. It was recognised that catering and cooking, was the business of experts and that all aspects of the business had to be directed by selected and properly trained staff.
The training of not only chefs, but officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers in the supervision of catering in barracks and in the field became increasingly successful. Members of the Army Catering Corps had for the first time a properly managed career structure and posting plan, which ensured that they developed the proper range of skills for progress through the ranks.
The Army Catering Corps has had a long association with the local authority in Aldershot and on 19th May 1971, was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Aldershot, allowing it the privilege of marching through the town ‘with bands playing, drums beating and bayonets fixed’. Again, on 19th May 1980 the Corps received Freedom of the Borough of Rushmore, which culminated in the presentation of the Freedom Scroll in a solid silver casket, in the Rushmore Arena.
By the early 1980s, the Corps was a highly respected and integral part of every unit in the British Army. Its soldiers were fit, professional, and highly motivated, and pioneers of catering management training. It is quite often forgotten that ACC cooks served with the Household Division, SAS and Parachute Regiment. We also trained and employed Gurkha cooks, non-commissioned officers, warrant officers and officers, in British cuisine and kitchen management, as well as Gurkha cookery.
In 1991 the Corps was feted across the world as caterers and their units proudly shared, the celebration of the Corps’ 50th Anniversary. Soon after this historic milestone in the Corps’ history, pressure began to mount for the Armed Forces to reduce in size because of the perceived reduction in the threat to world peace. After considerable and wide-ranging studies one of the major decisions taken was to make 1000 ACC officers and all ranks redundant and to amalgamate several of the service-providing Corps’ under one cap badge. As a result the Royal Logistic Corps was born on 5th April 1993 and the Army Catering Corps was amalgamated into it with the Postal and Courier Service of the Royal Engineers, the Royal Corps of Transport, The Royal Ordnance Corps and the Royal Pioneer Corps.
The Army Catering Corps has therefore had a very short history, but the training and employment of cooks in the Army is still managed by professional military caterers. The Army School of Catering still exists and is still a Centre of Excellence, which is a model to many similar organisations. Soldiers passing through the RLC Training Centre St Omer, as it is now called, leave with National Vocational Qualifications and can build their portfolios during the whole of their career. Soldiers of the Army Catering Corps are still serving with distinction in all British regiments in all theatres of operation, just as their predecessors did all those years ago. Importantly, the Corps members past and present still gather annually in different parts of the country to share thoughts, words and deeds, through the Army Catering Corps Association and its satellites.