that over 20% were commissioned, with 110 attaining air rank.68  One of these, MRAF Sir Keith Williamson, a Cranwell apprentice, became CAS, and several others served on the Air Force Board, including Air Chf Mshl Sir Michael Armitage who was AMSO in the early 1980s and has been the Patron of the RAF Halton Apprentices Association since its foundation in 1980. Of those apprentices who became Cranwell cadets, thirteen won the Sword of Honour, giving credence to Trenchard’s vision that the new Service should base the selection of its future leaders on ability and merit, and not class and social background. Halton apprentice training gave many a boy from a humble background the chance to aspire to heights not normally expected of him. This very deliberate commissioning from the ranks was an outstanding example of social mobility, uncommon for the time.69

Of the Halton apprentices who achieved air rank, thirteen were knighted. One, Sir John McGregor, left the RAF as a sergeant after WW II, emigrated to Hong Kong where he joined the colony’s Civil Service in a lowly position and made his way up the promotion ladder to become head of the Hong Kong Executive Council and adviser to the last Governor, Chris Patten, during the negotiations leading to the transfer of the colony to China in 1997. Thousands of former apprentices made senior officer rank. On-going research indicates that some 1,000 have been awarded State Honours.70 Uniquely, at the moment two former Halton Craft Apprentices hold high executive positions in the two principal RAF Charities: Air Mshl Sir ‘Dusty’ Miller is President of the Royal Air Forces Association, and Mr Lawrie Haynes is Chairman of the Trustees of the RAF Benevolent Fund. In his day job Lawrie is CEO of Rolls Royce Nuclear and Marine. Well known to all those who follow air shows around the country is one of the nation’s most skilled display pilots, Air Mshl Cliff Spink, who was a Halton apprentice in the 104th Entry.

Although thousands of former apprentices had very successful careers in the RAF, many did not reach their full potential until life beyond the Service. The aircraft industries were naturally the first port of call for many exapprentices where they made magnificent contributions on the shop floor, at all levels of management, and in the boardrooms. Many former apprentices who trained as pilots and flight engineers continued to fly with civil airlines. The majority of these pilots became aircraft captains, two making notable contributions to the introduction of the Blind Landing System. Captain Eric Poole was the first pilot to land an aircraft using the system while carrying passengers and Captain Charles Owens was the first to land an aircraft using it with Her Majesty the Queen on board.71


After leaving the RAF, many ex-apprentices turned away from engineering altogether and forged successful second careers in other professions including medicine and the law. Some became top surgeons and a few served on the Crown Court circuit. Considering they were the two professions most apprentices had spent three years avoiding at Halton and Cranwell, a surprising number became vicars and policemen. In the latter respect, two Cranwell apprentices excelled, one becoming a bishop and another followed in Lord Trenchard's footsteps by becoming head of the Metropolitan Police.

Some former apprentices ended up as BBC TV stars. Most notable of these was Cliff Michelmore who, having graduated from Halton in 1938, was serving as a squadron leader with a military wireless station in Germany in the mid-1940s when his talent as a broadcaster was recognised by the BBC. He later hosted Two-Way Family Favourites, a radio programme much loved by the UK population in general and especially by personnel serving in Germany in the immediate post-war years. Michelmore, ultimately became the anchor man for BBC TV news and current affairs programmes.72 

The most famous of the aircraft apprentice alumni is Air Cdre Sir Frank Whittle who gave the world the jet engine. Whittle initially applied to join the 7th Entry at Halton in January 1923 but failed the medical owing to his lack of height. In an article he wrote for the Halton Magazine while in Halton Hospital for a short period in early 1944, Whittle explains the advice he was given by a flight sergeant physical training instructor which enabled him to add three inches to his height, enough to be accepted for the 8th Entry in September 1923.73  However, because the permanent barrack building programme at Halton had fallen behind schedule, this entry was trained at Cranwell. Interestingly, at the critical stage of the development of the engine which was to power the first flight of a British jet aircraft, Whittle requested and received the support of four ex-Halton apprentice engine fitters to help out in his workshop at Power Jets.74 Whittle’s final examination results along with those of 40,000 other former Halton apprentices are preserved at the Trenchard Museum Archives at Halton.

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