The first unit raised was at Dunedin High School (now Otago Boys High School) in 1864, making it the oldest youth service organisation in New Zealand. About 1870 there were several secondary school units in existence, among those being Nelson College, Christ’s College, Wellington College and Auckland Grammar School. As well at schools, some open Defence Cadet Units existed.
There was a big focus on having drill in schools (under the Education act 1877) for fitness and well being. Under The Defence Act Amendment Act 1900, the Governor could make regulations for a Cadet Corps in connection with public schools, and give control to the Education Department. This was the Public School Cadets, running from1902 until it was disbanded in 1910.
In 1911, Lord Kitchener stated, during his visit to New Zealand, that the Cadet movement had an important role to play in the Defence of the Empire. Subsequently, the Army began to provide uniforms, rifles and other equipment to the units. This Army support continued through World War I, with many ex-school cadets making up the First Expeditionary Force.
Lord Kitchener had arrived after visiting Australia on board HMS Encounter. He was the most famous soldier in the entire Empire for his time. Having arrived at Bluff in the South Island on 17th February, he was here in New Zealand to inspect the troops and fortifications in each District. This was to include the Public School Cadets and the Defence Cadets.
The Defence Act of 1909 created the Territorial Force, which was aimed at having a compulsory part-time force where civilians would be given basic military training. The goal was to have 27,000 Territorial 18-19yr olds, with another 38,000 cadets (Junior Cadets 12-14, and Senior Cadets 14-18yrs). The Senior Cadets were to feed into the General Training Section (18yrs-21yrs), until being in the Reserves from 21yrs- 30yrs.
Junior Cadets lasted just a short period from 1910 -1912. Senior Cadets thrived on the other hand, and became wide spread throughout NZ High Schools and Colleges. Many ex-Cadets went on to serve in WWI and then later in WWII. It became widely known as School Cadets and at its peak in the 1960’s, nearly 60,000 boys were in school cadets.
The first Sea Cadet Unit in New Zealand was TS (Training Ship) Steadfast in Christchurch, formed 21st October 1929. Dunedin followed in 1938, Wellington (Petone) 1941, and then Auckland 1943. TS Steadfast and TS Cornwell have since amalgamated into TS Godley (as a result of the Christchurch earthquakes). The Sea Cadet motto is ‘Ready Aye Ready’.
The Air Training Corps was formed in September 1941. Its purpose was to train potential recruits for the RNZAF during WWII by providing basic knowledge and training as well as to provide an insight into Air Force work to prepare young men for the Air Force when they were old enough. In 1950 under the RNZAF Act the ATC was part of the RNZAF (until 1972). The ATC motto is ‘We Train to Serve’.
The 1971 Defence Act, established the NZCF, as a volunteer organisation, for which the Minister of Defence was responsible. The open units were required to be initiated and funded by the community and the Chief of Defence Force was authorised to “direct and supervise” the NZCF and provide military support which was initially confirmed as uniforms, training and some equipment at a cost of no greater than $400,000.
Cadet Corps open units came into being in the 1980’s, starting with the City of Porirua Cadet Corps Unit on 1st Nov 1985. These units were supported and run more like ATC and SCC units, complete with parent support committees, and being community based, could draw support and funding from their immediate community.
During January 2014, over 1,000 Cadets plus staff celebrated NZ Cadets being 150 years with a substantial 7 day camp based at Waiouru. Activities included flying (based at RNZAF Base Ohakea), shooting, tramping, mountain biking, RHIB boat rides (supported by RNZN) to name but a few. Later in 2014, all Cadet Forces Units (with the support of the RSA’s throughout NZ) organized and fully participated in the Armistice Day commemorations on 11th November.
NZ Cadet Forces is New Zealand’s premier youth service based development organisation, offering a modern training program that includes firearm safety, field craft, leadership, teamwork, community service and drill (to name just a few) plus weekend activities that include camps, and flying and sea based activities for Air Cadets and Sea Cadets, all within a framework that is safe and challenging. It continues to run in partnership with NZDF and the community.