Originally formed in 1853 at Hythe as the staff of the School of Musketry, the involvement of these instructors with the Vickers machine gun starts in 1913 when the first course was taught at Aldershot between 25 October and 15 November 1913; however, the Experimental Establishment had also been based at Hythe and staff by men of the Corps had been involved in the trials of the Vickers machine gun in 1911.
At this time, it was an all ‘other ranks’ Corps without their own officers. Officer instructors and administration were posted to the Schools from their parent regiments.
The first instructors of the Machine Gun School established in France in 1914 were two Quarter-master-serjeant-instructors of the School of Musketry and the commanding officer was an ex-officer instructor of the School.
Although not commisionned officers of the Small Arms School Corps or the School of Musketry, officers who held staff positions relating to musketry wore distinguishing gorget patches in green cloth as well as a green band on their cap. As of March 1916 (Army Order 92), the posts included:
- Officers attached to the General Staff for Musketry duties at the Headquarters of Commands and Divisions;
- Officer attached to a Brigade for Musketry Duties; and,
- Staff Officer, Musketry Camp.
In July 1918 (Army Order 195), the Colour-serjeant-instructor in musketry (a Warrant Officer Class II rank) was changed to be a Company-serjeant-major instructor in musketry. These existed in the infantry battalions as well as at the School. Alongside the rank at the School was the position of Quartermaster-serjeant-instructor also as a Warrant Officer Class II appointment.
Warrant Officers Class I in the School of Musketry, appointed as Serjeant-Major, School of Musketry, wore the Royal Arms and crossed Rifles as their badge of rank; the Quartermaster-serjeant-instructors and Quartermaster-serjeants wore a Crown and Wreath and crossed Rifles, while the Company Serjeant-Major Instructor in Musketry and the Company Serjeant-Major at the School of Musketry wore a Crown and crossed Rifles. (Army Order 309 of October 1918).
At the end of the Great War, the School of Musketry was renamed the Small Arms School and under the command of General Headquarters, shortly to be joined by the Machine Gun School when it was detached from the Machine Gun Corps.
From 1919, the School of Musketry had become the Corps of Small Arms Schools and then Army Order 63 of 1923 amalgamated these instructors with the Instructors of the Machine Gun School, Netheravon, to form the Corps of Small Arms and Machine Gun Schools. The Small Arms School at Hythe continued to wear the School of Musketry cap badge, while the Machine Gun School at Netheravon wore the Machine Gun Corps cap badge. Both Schools wore the ‘SA&MGS’ shoulder title while the Machine Gun School had special buttons in a similar style to those of the Machine Gun Corps, yet with ‘Machine Gun School’ around the outside.
The Small Arms School Corps was then formed in March 1929.
Second World War
During the Second World War, the Corps was expanded to staff a Wing at Bisley known as the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.) Wing. They also provided some instructors to Command Weapons Training Schools, the Sandhurst Officer Cadet Training Unit and the Non-Commissioned Officers’ School.
A few members of the Corps served overseas, including four who were sent to France prior to the evacuation in 1940.
Post-Second World War
In 1949, the Corps accepted their first commissioned officers.
The Corps’ centenary in 1953 also saw a change of cap badge with the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen.
The last machine gun course was taught in 1961 and this ended the Corps’ association with the Vickers in British Service, yet remained involved through their attachments and secondments to other nations around the world. One former Quartermaster-serjeant-instructor recalls using them alongside the Sultan of Oman’s Armed Forces in the 1970s.
For those interested in the history of the Small Arms School Corps, Richard Fisher has authored a comprehensive study, published by Helion and Company in 2019.
- Fisher, R (2019) History of the Small Arms School Corps 1853-2017 Warwick: Helion & Company
- Hallows, 1991
- The National Archives, WO 123/58, Army Orders 1916.
- The National Archives, WO 123/60, Army Orders 1918.