The Lord Gorell and the creation of the Army Educational Corps

Lord Gorell is remembered the man who established the Army Educational Corps (AEC) on 15 June 1920.

Born Ronald Gorell Barnes, the Third Baron Gorell, in 1884. He was educated at Summerfields School and Harrow School, and after studying history at Balliol College, Oxford, he followed his father and brother into studying law. He qualified as a barrister but found he didn’t get on with the work so turned to journalism instead. It would be through family friends he was able to secure a job at ‘The Times’.

Mounted photograph of Colonel, the Lord Gorell, Director of Staff Duties (Education) War Office, 1919

When World War One broke out Gorell was initially turned away because of poor eyesight. In October 1914 he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as an Able Seaman, where he worked with the Anti-Aircraft Corps while also continuing his journalism. He was discharged in 1915 due to a breakdown attributed to ‘overwork’. He spent his time recovering in Ireland when he heard from a friend that the Army had relaxed its eyesight requirements. He returned to London in an attempt to join the Army and this time he succeeded.

He joined 7/Rifle Brigade in France He was sent to France where he eventually rose to the position of Adjutant within the 7/Rifles Brigade. He was injured in the Somme and evacuated to London. After recovering, he returned to the Western Front and worked as a ‘staff learner’. In July 1917 he was summoned to the Training Branch in General Headquarters (GHQ) where he worked as an aide. He was responsible for producing doctrine pamphlets and a wide variety of tactical manuals.

In 1918 he became more involved with the British Expeditionary Force’s (BEF) educational schemes. This led to him being transferred to the War Office and put in charge of army education. He was chosen due to his experience and contacts in education and journalism. With the war ending the attention turned to demobilisation and the resumption of civilian employment. Education became a way to prepare men for the return to civilian life. The aims of the new education schemes were three-fold; to sustain the morale of the troops with new stimuli and challenges, to broaden the outlook of troops, and to help them obtain civilian employment.

Once in charge Gorell began to create a centralised educational authority that would displace the voluntary sector. He wanted to establish a permanent authority for Army education and set about doing so by downplaying or reducing the roles of existing organisations that were currently dealing with Army education. For example, he claimed that the YMCA had handed over their educational work to the Army in 1919.

By 1919 the curriculum contained a mixture of liberal arts, academic subjects and vocational subjects. The system was reliant upon volunteer teachers who taught subjects they already had knowledge of. The delivery of education was reliant upon the interest of soldiers and their access to teachers. The worry was that those who were teaching vocational subjects would be in the most hurry for demobilisation and a return to their trade. Teachers were also worried about breaking union rules by teaching non-members. Gorell advocated for the use of peacetime teachers to stimulate interest but knew that demobilisation would take them away from the Army. He responded by obtaining authorisation for additional daily payments to be made to education officers and instructors.  This resulted in a new Army Order which laid down a fresh foundation for army education, stating that it was the duty of commanding officers to ensure that education was properly conducted and was an essential part of military life.

CAS and QAS in Aldershot in 1919, pre AEC.

He created two Army Schools of Education, in Oxford and Cambridge. The schools were approved after the Armistice and provided ‘short intensive courses in the methods and means of instruction’ to enable officers to teach subjects they were already familiar with to their men.

Gorell got an added boost to his developing educational authority as General Sir Henry Wilson gave a speech where he emphasised the importance of the role of education that Gorell viewed as support for a permanent educational organisation in the army. The catalyst for forcing a decision about army education’s long-term future was the impending deployment of battalions of regular soldiers to relieve the mainly conscripted Armies of Occupation. There was a worry that teachers would leave and army education would fade away without a decision on its future.

Gorell’s new educational template wasn’t without its opponents. It became clear to Gorell that Army senior leaders wanted an incremental improvement on the pre-war educational system rather than a revolutionary change. There was also opposition from within the Army itself as some disapproved of the idea of his idea of a ‘military university’. This idea proved to be counter-productive to the acceptance of the new Corps. The curriculum also proved an issue. The subjects taught and the level they were taught at remained the same as they had been pre-war.

Gorell proposed a model for the new corps which meant that it would be considered a ‘combatant’ corps and would be eligible to enhance their careers by attending the Staff College with the option of early retirement after 15 Years’ service. One of the main reasons that Gorell proposed this was because of his awareness that some of his educational personnel were decorated front-line veterans and wouldn’t be attracted to a Corps with restricted career opportunities.

Gorell wanted the AEC to work in higher level teaching and to take on a more administrative role in education. The aim was to focus on developing expertise and work across the Army’s headquarters to organise and supervise educational work. It would be the job of regimental officers to carry out lower-level educational training. The AEC was to ‘guide and assist the natural leaders of the army’ in delivering educational training.  He felt that by undertaking this teaching that the army’s leaders would be better at conducting military training.

Ultimately this meant that the education budget doubled. AEC officers would train regimental officers who were to deliver the majority of the teaching. In 1920 the two schools in Oxford and Cambridge were amalgamated into one school in Newmarket. There was however a disconnect between Gorell’s vision and the new environment in the Army after the war. Gorell wanted the AEC to offer broader subjects while it was suggested that they instead offer a separate but narrower curriculum. Gorell opposed this as it was too much like the CAS, which he had previously advocated against in favour of his own vision of Army education.

AEC Capbadge

As government spending became an issue after the war a report was done to find ways to reduce spending. It was decided that the new corps was costing too much money and would need to be reduced. They remained combatants but were to work as cyphers on signal traffic at headquarters. The Geddes Axe of the 1930s reduced the size of the Corps, and a number of duties such as resettlement training were handed to civilian authorities and the Corps worked mainly on preliminary education.

Sources for this piece:

Adjutant General’s Corps (AGC) Museum. (2019). The Royal Army Educational Corps. Available at: [Retrieved 20 April 2020].

Beach, J., ‘Bolshevising the Army? Lord Gorell and the Army Education, 1918-1920’, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, 88(354), pp. 170-98.

Beach, J.(ed.). (2019). Lord Gorell and the Army Educational Corps, 1918-1920. Cheltenham: Army Records Society.

Hawkins, T.H. and Brimble, L.J.F. (1947). Adult Education: The Record of the British Army. London: MacMillan and Co. Ltd.

National Army Museum. (2020). Royal Army Educational Corps. Available at: [Retrieved 20 April 2020].

Ryan D. (1989). ‘Education in the British Army’ in Stephens M.D. (ed.) The Educating of Armies. London: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 75-89.

Wayper, C.L. (2004). Mars and Minerva: A History of Army Education. Winchester: Antony Rowe Ltd.

White, A.C.T. (1963). The Story of Army Education 1643-1963. London: Geroge G. Harrap and Co. Ltd.