No Scottish military Unit has a longer history of unbroken volunteer service than that of the Edinburgh OTC.
In 1859, the War Office invited Lord Lieutenants to co-ordinate the formation of Volunteer Rifle Companies (VRC) to provide local defence in support of the over-stretched Regular Army. The students and staff at Edinburgh University responded immediately and decided to form a University VRC, which became No. 4 Company, 1st City of Edinburgh Rifle Volunteer Corps. Establishment was around 100 all ranks and the Unit continued to exist broadly unchanged, albeit with ever more modern rifles, until 1908. Meanwhile, in 1886 a University Volunteer Medical Unit was established (Edinburgh Company, 2nd Division Volunteer Medical Staff Corps) and in 1890 a University Artillery Battery was formed (No. 2 Battery, 1st Edinburgh City Artillery Volunteers),
In 1908, the Army was reorganised under the ‘Haldane Reforms’, creating the Territorial Force (TF – later the Territorial Army) and the OTC. Edinburgh University’s three volunteer Units combined to become the ‘Edinburgh University Contingent of the Senior Division of the OTC’ based in High School Yards in Infirmary Street near Old College. Of the original eight OTCs formed on 1st September 1908, it was the only one that had artillery and medical divisions. An Engineer Sub-unit was added in 1910.
The officers were all members of the TF and were mostly members of staff of the University although other professions were also represented. The Adjutant and NCO Instructors were Regulars, but there was no Commanding Officer and the Sub-units generally trained separately.
Upon the outbreak of war in 1914, the Regular staff were withdrawn but the TF officers were released from their university duties and the OTC became a full-time training establishment to provide officers for Kitchener’s so-called ‘new armies’. During the war, over 3,200 cadets were trained in the Unit and 2,250 were commissioned into the Artillery, Infantry, Engineers and Medical Corps. In addition, the Unit ran training courses attended by over 300 newly-commissioned, non-university TF infantry and artillery officers.
Not surprisingly, interest in the OTC waned in the aftermath of the war, but it did not disappear and gradually began to pick up, particularly in the 1930s with the rising threat of Nazism. In 1936, the first Commanding Officer was appointed.
During the Second World War, the OTC changed dramatically. It was compulsory for all male undergraduates to join and numbers rose to around 900 (instead of 100-150 hitherto). The role also changed: the Unit was now part of the Home Guard and had to be ready to be mobilised in the event of an invasion. It was re-named the Senior Training Corps (STC) and cadets trained for ‘Certificate B’. Unlike during the previous conflict, it had Regular Army officers and instructors.
Compulsory membership was dropped in 1944 and the cessation of hostilities saw the Unit reduced to an establishment of around 200 but with some changes: The RAMC section was disbanded and Royal Signals, Intelligence and REME sub-sections were added to the existing infantry, artillery, Royal Engineers and Pipe Band units. Training for Certificate B would continue but the emphasis was now on personal development and leadership training. In addition, female undergraduates were able to join a University Company of the local WRAC TA Unit. In effect, this was first time that women were admitted to the OTC, although it would be some years before that became their formal status.
In 1948, the Unit’s title became ‘Edinburgh University Training Corps’ (UTC) and five years later HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was appointed Honorary Colonel. In 1955, the title reverted to ‘Edinburgh University Officers Training Corps’ and two years later the Unit re-located to Forrest Road Drill Hall. The following year, 1958, all cadets became ‘Officer Cadets’ instead of having standard army ranks such as Private, Gunner, Sergeant etc.
In 1966, Heriot-Watt was granted University status and two years later the Unit was re-titled ‘Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt Universities’ OTC’. A new cap-badge, the current one, was issued in 1976.
In 1969, the structure of OTCs changed significantly: instead of Contingents having Sub-units for separate arms of the army, cadets would be organised by type of training, namely Basic, Advanced and Technical. This was the first time that all cadets (apart from females) wore the OTC cap-badge: hitherto only the infantry wore it while the other Sub-units wore the badge and uniform of their arm. (Female Officer Cadets would wear the WRAC badge until 1991.)
Following the granting of university status to Napier, the Unit became ‘City of Edinburgh Universities’ OTC’ in 1993 and in the same year moved to new premises in Colinton Road, soon re-named ‘Duke of Edinburgh House’.
In 2012, the OTC became part of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.