All apprentices studied the same mathematics, mechanics and engineering drawing syllabuses, but engineering science was tailored to suit an individual’s trade. Included in the syllabus was English and general studies which covered, in some depth, the history of the RAF. In the third year of training, all apprentices were required to produce a set task of 5,000 words on a subject of their choice.
A National Certificate, or at least a B Grade pass in the final school examinations, was sufficient to qualify an apprentice academically for commissioning: a C Grade was the minimum requirement for graduation.31
General Service Training was an important part of the curriculum, because, once he entered productive service, an apprentice was expected to gain rapid promotion and command men. From the outset of his training he became a member of a society based on the orderly pattern of RAF life in wings, squadrons and flights, where he learned the give and take of community living, and developed a feeling for the customs and traditions of the Service. Under the guidance of his Flight Commander and the NCO instructors, he was taught drill, physical training and Air Force Law.
Leadership and management experience were provided through resource and initiative training, field exercises at summer camps and the Apprentice NCO scheme. For the many who were selected for promotion it gave greater responsibility as they progressed through the ranks. The top rank, normally flight sergeant apprentice, was in effect the head boy of the School. He commanded the whole apprentice population and also enjoyed the privilege of commanding his Entry’s graduation parade, and parades for visiting VIPs and Royalty.32
To keep abreast of changes in RAF engineering practice, four different types of apprenticeships were introduced over the lifetime of the scheme. The original Aircraft Apprentice (AA) training started in 1920 and continued until December 1966, with the graduation of the 106th Entry. This scheme produced single-skill fitters who maintained aircraft and associated equipment and could, if necessary, actually fashion small replacement parts themselves. Initially, aircraft apprentices graduated as an Aircraftman Second Class (AC2), an Aircraftman First Class (AC1), or a Leading Aircraftman, (LAC), depending on their final trade test results.33 Some who graduated as LACs in the 1920s were given immediate further training at Henlow and took up their first appointments as corporals. Most pre-war apprentices soon attained LAC rank but, following the ‘Great Depression’, from the late 1920s to the start of WW II, many did not advance beyond corporal, unless selected for flying training. After the introduction of a new trade structure in 1951, all aircraft apprentices graduated as junior technicians with some gaining accelerated promotion to corporal.34 Most post-1951 AAs were corporals within a year of graduation.
It was in the earliest days of the aircraft apprentice scheme that the term ‘Trenchard (or Halton) Brat’ came into vogue, initially as a term of derision used by ‘old sweats’ who took a rather jaundiced view of these clever young upstarts who were destined for rapid promotion to corporal.35 However, as time passed and the ‘brats’ were able to prove their worth, it became a title which
all ex-apprentices are proud to claim, even those who attained air rank.36 In the late 1950s, a study was initiated into the RAF’s youth training requirements. This was undertaken in parallel with another study into the requirements for trade specialisations and resulted in the 1964 Trade Structure, introduced in April that year. The aim of the two studies was to match the growing complexity of aircraft and their systems,