November 9, 2010:
A hundred teenage members of the British Army Cadet Force in Plymouth have been suddenly told that they would not be able to carry rifles, as they traditionally have, during the annual November 11th Remembrance Day parade. The reason given was that it was inappropriate to have the teenage cadets carrying rifles in public because it glamorizes weapons. The cadets disagreed, but the decision stood.
The Army Cadet Force began 160 years ago as an organization for boys who were intent on eventually joining the militia (a local defense tradition dating back over a thousand years). The Cadet Corps quickly became a national organization and was supported by the British Army as a way to introduce teenage boys to the military, and help recruiting. The Army Cadet Force lost its government funding in the 1920s, but continued via donations from individuals and local organizations. The Army Cadet Force was similar to the Boy Scouts (also founded in Britain), but with a more military orientation. This included the local cadets marching in Remembrance Day parades, often with the rifles they had learned to use, and had practiced drilling with. Girls were allowed to join the Army Cadet Force in the 1980s.
Currently, there are about 1,700 Army Cadet Force detachments, with 47,000 cadets and 8,500 adult staff and instructors. With the decline in the number of veterans (conscription was abolished in the 1950s and the armed forces has been shrinking ever since), more and more of the adult staff have had no military experience. Thus the emphasis on military matters has declined, and the Army Cadet Force was increasingly described by its leadership as a youth, not military, organization. As a result of this, ten years ago, a new rule was introduced that eliminated cadets carrying rifles during parades. But the rule was not always enforced. This year, in Plymouth, it was. This got some media attention, especially since the cadets had carried their rifles in a parade two months ago. The sudden decision to enforce the "no rifles" rule was attributed to complaints from members of the public. But it's actually been a long term trend.
Remembrance Day commemorates the end of World War I, and has come to be an event that honors all war dead. Remembrance Day events are held in Britain, and most Allied countries who participated in World War I. In the U.S., November 11th is called Veterans Day, because Americans commemorate the war dead on Memorial Day in May, an occasion that dates to the 19th century custom of honoring the dead of the American Civil War (1861-5), and later modified to cover the dead from all American wars. Thus the November 11 commemorations in Europe and the British Commonwealth, are a bigger deal than they are in the United States.