Trenchard’s legacy.

While ex-Halton apprentices who became high achievers contributed much to its legacy, Trenchard’s aim in founding his scheme had been to produce a cadre of well-motivated, highly trained airmen capable of becoming competent supervisors in the direction of work and control of men. Most ex-apprentices did exactly that. They were the true heroes of the piece, becoming SNCOs and warrant officers whose training taught them never to accept second best in keeping our aircraft serviceable and safe. They gave of their best in the inter-war years, during WW II, throughout the Cold War and in peacetime, in all theatres, in all circumstances and rightly earned the sobriquet, ‘The Backbone of the Royal Air Force.’ Thus it is as an apprentice engineering school that Halton is best remembered, and indeed revered, not only in this country but across the industrial world.
Perhaps our founder Lord Trenchard summed up his, and the legacy of Halton in a speech he gave in the House of Lords in December 1944 on the air campaign during the war. Here is the appropriate extract
‘Some of your Lordships will remember that after the last war we set up in the Air Force a very large training School at Halton. It was, I believe, the largest of its kind in the world. It was a great experiment and was bitterly criticised at the time Nevertheless, I feel justified in saying that the experiment has richly justified itself. There is no doubt at all in my opinion, that Halton and the Halton spirit have been a pillar of strength to the RAF all over the world. The Halton trained men have provided the nucleus on which the great expansion of the air force was centred. They have set and maintained an extraordinarily high standard of efficiency. You have only to look at the promotions and honours gained . A large number of these men are senior Air Vice-Marshals and Air Commodores running the highest technical offices in the Air Force. Surely the efficient maintenance of aircraft has also been one of the outstanding features of the war and that has been made possible by the Halton training of our men.’75


On 25 July 1952, No 1 School of Technical Training, RAF Halton received the highest accolade that any unit in the RAF can receive ‒ the award of a Queen’s Colour. This Colour is unique in being the only one to be awarded to a youth training school in any of the armed forces and, having been received from Her Majesty by a sergeant apprentice, a unique custom was established that it may, on occasions, be carried by an NCO.76 This custom continues at RAF Cosford, the current home of No 1 School of Technical Training, where young men and women are trained as aircraft engineering technicians on a modern apprenticeship course.

Acknowledgement. I am indebted to Gp Capt J Monahan for providing access to his, as yet unpublished, PhD thesis.
Notes: TMA – Trenchard Museum Archive;

TNA – The National Archives

1 Armitage, M; ‘The Origins of the Boys’ Service in the RFC and the RAF’, in Spirit of the Air, Vol 1, No 2, 2006, p29. Boys were actually serving in the RFC within a year of its formation. In July 1912 Maj Sykes (later Maj Gen Sir Frederick Sykes, CAS April 1918 to March 1919) wrote to the War Office suggesting the establishment of nine boys per squadron, plus ten for the airship squadron and four for the Flying Depot, and received authority from the Director of Military Training on 10 April 1913 to enlist twenty-five boys in the Military Wing of the RFC. Although War Office instructions regarding the terms of enlistment of boys were not received until 16 June 1913, twenty-five boys had been serving since 28 February 1913. See also McInnes, L and Webb, J V; A Contemptible Little Flying Corps, (The London Stamp Exchange, 1991) p21.