The Service Arts and Technical Organization (SATO) was a voluntary organisation, which started life in Calcutta in 1943 , during World War II, as the Service Architect's Organization (SAO). This group of British allied service men and women with architectural and planning backgrounds held technical meetings and produced a syllabus for a School of Indian Architecture and Regional Planning, in conjunction with Sris Chandra Chatterjee who had been campaigning for the formation of a school for twenty years. This was adopted as a faculty by the University of Calcutta.
The group then went on to form the Service Arts Club, a forum for general arts discussion and education for servicemen and women in India. This met at Bengal Government School of Art. Groups formed in other Indian and Burmese cities under the umbrella of the Service Architect's Organization. These groups also had civilian members and held exhibitions, lectures, discussion groups, gave educational advice and undertook small architectural projects. They proposed a full education programme, part of which was supervising distance learning candidates in SE Asia for the London School of Planning and Research for Regional Development course in Town and Country Planning.
Plans to develop cultural and educational centres at military bases were presented along with the new name - Service Arts and Technical Organization - in January 1945 . By this time the organisation was spread throughout SE Asia, with over twenty regional groups which established their own sections and societies in accordance with the artistic interests of their members. The following were the published aims;
1. to build up a service organization of all those technically concerned with planning, building and engineering reconstruction, and to represent their views
2. to develop and assist cultural and scientific planning activities
3. to form clubs and groups and educational and cultural centres for the purpose of holding exhibitions, discussions, lectures etc, to keep libraries and to organise service "Technical Colleges"
4. to assist in the education of students
5. to assist services welfare and education and to give talks to Reconstruction and Planning Units to educate the public concerning possibilities and the use of experts
6. to keep members in touch with current events, especially professional matters concerning technical personnel for reconstruction
By September 1945 , under the leadership of the General Secretary, Percy Johnson-Marshall, the organisation moved away from general arts endeavours and cited its first priority as an information provider concerning "resettlement and reconstruction". With this in mind "propaganda" concerning this was made available, along with the establishment of a programme of technical education for troops. Attempts to give the organisation official educational status within the British Army were supported by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Association of Building Technicians (ABT) and the Association for Planning and Regional Reconstruction (APRR) who formed a Joint Committee and unsuccessfully approached the War Office.
Regardless, Percy Johnson-Marshall set-up an experimental "tech" of 80 students, and coordinated education for the group. This included efforts to ensure that troops had access to distance learning courses whose exams were ratified by relevant professional bodies in Britain. SATO also addressed technical education for Indian and Burmese nationals and this was exemplified by the opening of the SATO Polytechnic in Rangoon on 12 November 1945 .
Having finally been given official sanction the polytechnic operated both in-college and distance learning courses and provided access to text books, public lectures and touring exhibitions.
Percy Johnson-Marshall ceased being the general secretary in November 1945 when he was repatriated. Shortly afterwards SATO ceased to exist with the gradual repatriation of the organisation's active members.