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Introduction of the Halton apprentice scheme

 

In his memorandum, ‘Permanent Organization of the Royal Air Force’, which was presented to  the House of Commons as a White Paper by Secretary of State Winston Churchill in December 1919, Trenchard placed great emphasis on the importance of training, particularly of skilled ground crew.9 He argued that the best way to ensure that the training of our mechanics in the multiplicity of trades necessitated by a highly technical Service […] is to enlist the bulk of our skilled ranks as boys, and train them ourselves. This has the added advantage that it will undoubtedly foster the Air Force spirit on which so much depends.’ Later in the paper, he continues, ‘The training of all these boys will eventually be carried out at Halton Park.10 […] The first entry under the scheme will take place early in 1920 at Cranwell […] and move to Halton as soon as permanent accommodation is ready.’

He provided more detail about his intentions for the scheme in a letter to Churchill in November 1919, writing, ‘It is necessary to enlist the bulk of the technical tradesmen of the force as boys, because the Royal Air Force cannot hope to compete in the recruitment of men who have served full apprenticeships and who

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                                can command high wages in civil life.’ He goes on to say that apprentices were to form 40% of all ground

                                                 crews in the  Royal Air Force, and 62% of all the skilled   tradesmen.11

 

   It was clear that Trenchard wanted highly skilled men at a price the Service could afford from its very meagre budget, and men who would foster an ‘Air Force spirit’. Thus in late 1919 the Halton Apprentice Scheme was promulgated to Local Education Authorities, and entrance examinations were held in London and the provinces.12 Medically fit potential recruits were offered training in the trade of their choice, or one the selectors thought more appropriate for them.13 The rigorous selection procedure ensured that recruits would be of the highest quality, and because of their resourcefulness and intelligence, they could be expected to complete their apprenticeships in three years rather than the five normally served by civilian engineering apprentices. A shorter course meant a cheaper one, which no doubt pleased the Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill.14

In February 1920, still known as Boy Mechanics, the first intake of 235 was accepted at Cranwell for a threeyear apprenticeship.15 The first four intakes trained at Cranwell, and it was not until January 1922 that the first cohort arrived at Halton to become the 5th Entry. This move coincided with the adoption of the rank of Aircraft Apprentice.16 Two entries a year were planned.17

 

    On arrival at Halton, apprentices were signed-on for twelve years from the age of 18, allocated accommodation and kitted out and they very soon found their lives falling into a well-ordered routine governed largely by bugle calls.18 They were woken with Reveille at 0630hrs, called on colour hoisting parade at 0730hrs and sent to bed at 2145hrs.19 Apprentices were not allowed time to dwell too much on their personal thoughts, as evenings and most of the weekends were taken up with room cleaning, inspections and parades. Recreational facilities were available in abundance, including a debating society, aircraft modelling and playing in one of the several apprentice bands, in addition a wide variety of sporting facilities was available.20  A world-class RAF hospital on the doorstep ensured their medical and dental care were second to none, and spiritual needs were more than well looked after; but few enjoyed the compulsory church parades every other Sunday! In addition to all these privileges they enjoyed six weeks’ holiday a year, mid-term breaks, and were paid, albeit a paltry amount.21

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