The ACF and CCF (Army) can trace their beginnings to the late 1850s. This was when the local Militia units were reorganised into a nation-wide Volunteer Force, the predecessor of the Territorial Army (TA). Some of these new Volunteer units also formed Cadet Companies. At the same time at least eight public schools formed their own school’s independent Cadet units, sometimes referred to as School Corps. In the late Victorian period, some other independent Cadet Corps units were founded by Miss Octavia Hill, a pioneering social worker and founder of the National Trust.
In 1908, the Volunteer Force was reorganised into the Territorial Force (TF), later the TA. The Volunteer Cadet Companies and the "Octavia Hill" Cadet Corps formed the (TF) Cadet Force under the administrative control of the newly formed TF Association (TFA). The (Public) Schools Corps formed the Junior Division of the Officer Training Corps (JTC). In 1914, the War Office took direct control of the Cadet Force and the title Army Cadet Force (ACF) was adopted. Immediately after WW1, the TFA resumed responsibility for the ACF. As a result of the "Geddes Axe," a major drawdown of all HM Forces, all official support was withdrawn for the ACF in 1923. Therefore Lord Allenby formed the British National Cadet Association (BNCA) to try and maintain a core of ACF units by their own efforts and also to lobby for the reinstatement of Government funding support for the ACF. Some limited official funding for the ACF was achieved in the 1930s.
The ACF, as we know it today, was reformed in 1942 as a result of its and the other UK Cadet Forces' support of the Home Guard during the German invasion threat of 1940-41. The War Office provided support through the TA Associations, later TAVRA then RFCA. The BNCA continued to act as advisors to the War Office, and latterly the MOD, on ACF matters. The APC syllabus was reintroduced with an emphasis on basic military and leadership skills. In 1945, the BNCA was renamed ACFA. The JTC became part of the CCF, as CCF (Army) in 1948.
In 1957, as part of the Thorneycroft Review of HM Forces in the post National Service era, the Amery Report on the future of the Army’s Cadet Forces was produced. As a result of this report, the purpose of the Army's Cadet Forces was altered from a direct HM Forces support role to that of a national youth organisation sponsored by the MOD. CTC Fimley was established and the specialist KGVI Leadership syllabus was developed. The overall importance of basic military training was reduced and replaced by adventurous training.
In 1960, the 100th Anniversary of the Army’s Cadet Forces was celebrated by the presentation of banners to the ACF and CCF at HM Tower of London by the HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. Later on, HM The Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh attended A UK Cadet Forces service in Westminster Abbey and reviewed them in the grounds of Buckingham Palace
Subsequent developments in the ACF include:
- Greater emphasis on obtaining publicly recognised qualifications, especially First Aid, DoE Award, and BTEC in Public Services.
- The integration of female Cadets within most Cadet Force units during the 1990s.
- Some opportunities for Cadet exchanges with selected overseas Cadet Force units.
- Limited opportunities for selected ACF Counties to hold Annual Camps in Germany.
Currently, the ACF has approximately 7600 Adult and 44000 Cadet members, while the CCF (Army) has approximately 1300 Adult and 26000 Cadet Members. About twenty-five per cent are females.