Combined Cadet Force



Thank you to Bryan Gourlay for sending me his recollections of the short time that he spent in the CCF.

Bryan wrote:

ATC (Air Training Corps)

"I notice someone mentioned they had been in the ATC.  I’m sure a good number of others will have had similar experiences as boy soldiers.

The ATC was an independent unit.  The CCF was similar but was associated with a school."

Prospect of National Service

"Like many other Edinburgh schoolboys in the mid 1950s, I joined the CCF.  Driving this decision was the ominous prospect of doing National Service a few years down the line.

I knew a boy who had used his CCF experience to swing a three year short-term commission in the RAF, which seemed much more appealing to me than becoming a foot soldier for 18 months."

Army, Navy or RAF?

"Of course, you couldn’t immediately join the CCF’s  Air Force section.  You had to join the Army section first of all, and pass your Part I Test, before deciding whether to stay in the Army section or transfer to either the Navy or RAF section."

 The Kit

"One of the biggest tests was learning how to cope with the army uniform we were allocated from the school’s store. There was no telling how old these uniforms were or how many boys had worn them before.

They were not the more comfortable fatigue-type uniforms you see cadets with today. We had a World War II (or older) battledress, a khaki ‘hair’ shirt, tie, trousers and gaiters etc., complete with a web belt and a Balmoral and a Glengarry for our headgear.

We had to buy our own boots and haversack from the Army and Navy store in the High Street."


"It was a bit of a rude awakening.  The battledress jacket had to have razor-edged creases steam ironed into just the right spot on the arms – not the middle – and the trousers also creased in particularly complex manner.   That was for starters.

We had to buy just the right khaki-coloured Blanco for coating the belt and gaiters, and polish all the belt brasses and cap badge until they dazzled old ladies on the bus to school."


"The boots were another story altogether.  They were a grainy leather and came complete with cuddy heels (horseshoe shaped), soles full of round studs (segs) and a steel tips to make just the right noise as we marched up and down.

The toe-caps then had to be transformed from the original leather into a highly-polished almost patent leather state you could see your face and other parts of your anatomy in."

Polishing Boots

"I spent countless hours in our outhouse with a tin of black polish, a candle, brushes and cloths.

If I remember correctly, a layer of polish was applied to the toe-cap, the table-spoon was then heated by the candle flame to burn the polish across the cap, also using the brush and finally the cloth to buff things up and measure progress. Some timely spitting might also have been involved.

This process was repeated over many days and weeks endlessly trying to reach a shine that would live up to inspection and be as good as my fellow cadets.

On CCF days, a final buff up was carried out before setting off for school, and several times during the day, along with a silent prayer that it wouldn’t rain and muck things up."

 Sgt Jimmy Veitch

"The driving force of our Royal High CCF unit was sergeant major Jimmy Veitch, the school’s assistant janitor, whose uniform and bearing put us all to shame.

Under his stern-like ‘guidance’ we learnt how to march up and down the playground, not to mention marching and crawling around the Calton Hill practicing our ‘battle’ techniques."

 Rifle Range

"From time to time, we had an excursion to the rifle range.  That would be beyond imagination today.

We’d start in the dark bowels of the school basement where the CCF’s rifles were to be found, chained up for security reasons. These were World War I and II Royal Enfield 303s, a fearsome sight for 14 year-old boys.

 We were each allocated a heavy rifle and proceeded to march down Regent Road, past Holyrood House, St Margaret’s Well and the right-hand side of Haggis Knowe that took us behind Salisbury Crags to the Hunter’s Bog rifle range."

 Hunter's Bog

"A well-rehearsed plan was put into action.  

Some boys were put to the extremities of the Hunter’s Bog with red flags to keep stray people from getting shot. 

Another squad was sent forward about 200 yards or more, to the target area where they hid behind a concrete embankment ready to indicate on the target where the bullets had hit.

The remainder where instructed on how to use a 303, in particular holding it tightly.  It had a kick like a mule and was known to break young boys’ collar bones.

After setting the back-sight to the correct distance we loaded a clip of five large 303 bullets, settled into position, pulled the rifle stock in as tightly as we could, then pulled the trigger.   This was followed instantly by a loud dull thud and the obligatory mule kick."

 Part 1 Test

"After couple of school terms, the novices had to face up to their Part I Test at Dreghorn Barracks, where they were put through their paces by regular NCOs.

This started with inspection and drill on the parade ground in our immaculate, fully bulled-up kit.

We then had to demonstrate some of our tactical skills over a bit of rough ground, the NCOs taking great delight watching us doing a ‘monkey crawl’ through the mud – thoroughly mucking up our uniform and boots."

 RAF Section

"Pretty soon after passing my Part I, I joined the small group in the RAF section as much to get away from boots and gaiters than anything else.

We became ‘Brylcream Boys’ with spanking new uniforms from the Turnhouse air base. Black shoes were the order of the day, highly polished, of course."

National Service Discontinued

"The end of my CCF career came soon after I read that national service was being discontinued and I was going to miss the cut-off date by about three years.

I apologetically turned in my uniform as the prospect of joining the RAF voluntarily seemed to have lost its appeal."


Hunter's Bog

"I don't know if there is now any trace left of the rifle range in Hunter’s Bog.  I’m sure one of your energetic contributors will jog up there and find out!

It is shown as the Volunteer Rifle Range on the 1876 Ordnance Survey map, with measurements shown up to a distance of 600 yards, and it is clearly shown on the 1919 chronological map of the city."

Please click on the thumbnail image below to see an enlargement of part of this chronological map.

Edinburgh Chronological Map  -  Published 1919  -  East Section ©

 Health and Safety

"As kids, we kept well clear of Hunter’s Bog when we heard firing.  I’m not sure how our politically correct, safety-freak masters would react to young boys blasting off with 303s in the middle of the city nowadays." 

Bryan Gourlay, Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland:  February 29, 2008


Reply 1

Thank you to Lily Laing, Park Rangers' Office, Holyrood Park who replied:

Rifle Ranges at Hunter's Bog

"There is very little evidence of the ranges left to-day. They were demolished in 1961. They  were initially, in 1859, below the Dasses*.   They changed directions some years later.

There was a photograph from the Evening News on February 21, 1961, that showed workmen demolishing the rifle ranges.

Lily Laing, Park Rangers' Office, Holyrood Park:  March 11, 2008

*  The Dasses are ridges of igneous rock to the N and NE of the summit of Arthur's Seat, dating from volcanic times.

History of the Rifle Ranges

Lily Laing also sent me a brief history of the rifle range at Hunter's Bog, Holyrood Park.

-  The range was set up in the 1830s by a garrison from Edinburgh Castle.

-  By 1877, there were eight firing lines running down the Bog.

-  The range was later realigned with the targets on Arthur's Seat.

-  The army stopped using the range in the 1950s.

-   Edinburgh Rifles Club continued to use it until 1961.


Reply 2

Thank you to Mike Melrose, Edinburgh,  who replied:

Rifle Ranges at Hunter's Bog

"Lilly Laing is geographically spot on.  There were two levels of shooting position facing roughly North East.  The target line must have therefore faced South West.

When we were kids in the Canongate in the early sixties we used to go and dig or pick up bullet cases where the cottage and shooting positions were, and find the spent bullets in the slopes below Arthur's Seat where the targets were.

 Incidentally, the Scottish photographer, Lindsay Robertson, currently has a superb photograph in the City Art Centre of the area where the ranges were at this time.  This exhibition is currently being shown together with the Ansel Adams exhibition

Mike Melrose, Greenbank, Edinburgh:  March 17, 2008.


Reply 3

Eric Gold, East London, replied:

Rifle Ranges at Hunter's Bog

"It was interesting to hear about the old rifle ranges in the park as we, as bairns, would play there. 

I found a blank or maybe a live bullet, but my ma gave it to Big Ginger the Policeman at the bottom of the brae for safety reasons."

Eric Gold, East London:  March 17, 2008


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