and several thousand of them transferred their engineering skills from the ground to the air in this role. The heavy losses sustained by Bomber Command are reflected in the 2,000 casualties listed in the Apprentices Roll of Honour in St Georges Church at Halton. More than 400 of these men had been flight engineers. Of the five ex-apprentice flight engineers who flew in the Dams Raid, only one returned.61
From the beginning of apprentice training, some were posted on graduation to serve on aircraft carriers, then under the control of the Royal Air Force. When control of the Fleet Air Arm passed to the Royal Navy in January 1937 it lacked the facilities for training its own aircraft engineering apprentices.62 To meet the immediate need for these skills, volunteers were invited from the 35th, 36th and 37th Entries to transfer to the Royal Navy, and 160 of Halton’s apprentices answered the call. Subsequently the RN sent 400 directly recruited Fleet Air Arm apprentices to train with the 38th to 41st Entries.63 So ‒ be careful when telling your RN friends this snippet as they can get very upset to learn that the junior Service, in the form of Halton apprentices, provided an important element of the foundations on which the carrier force developed into a vital arm of the nation’s capability in WW II and beyond. Many of the initial Halton transferees were killed in various sea battles during the war; fifteen went down with HMS Glorious at the end of the Norwegian campaign in 1940.64
In 1943 hundreds of boys, mainly orphans and some as young as 14, were driven out of Poland by Hitler and, after a tortuous journey through the Middle East, ended up in the UK. Two hundred of these Polish boys were selected to train at Halton as aircraft apprentices and another 100 at Cranwell. They spent most of their first year in the RAF settling into their new country and learning
English. At Halton, they joined the 49th and 50th Entries which eventually graduated in the late 1940s. Although able to remain in the RAF on a five-year engagement, most opted to leave the Service.65 Many of the latter forged very successful careers in industry and academia in this country. Only five of Halton’s Polish contingent elected to return to Poland.
Halton apprentices’ loyalty and devotion to duty during WW II was recognised by the large number of decorations they received. Notable among them was Sgt Gray of the 20th Entry, an observer, who was, along with his pilot, Fg Off Garland, awarded one of the first two air VCs of WW II.66 Some 1,000 other gallantry awards went to former aircraft apprentices and 2,500 were Mentioned in Dispatches. However, on-going research into this topic is continually uncovering hitherto unknown awards. Recent discoveries include six George Crosses and thirteen George Medals.67 Given that, at the end of the war, only some 20,000 apprentices had graduated from Halton, it is clear that their contribution to WW II had been impressive and this was acknowledged by many senior commanders. For example:
‘The consistent technical excellence of the RAF has rested upon the skill and high devotion to duty of those who learned at Halton their trades and first formed their sense of duty. Their success in the air and on the ground pays a finer tribute than any words of mine to the standard of Halton’s achievements.’ - Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Portal.
‘Halton throughout the years has made an outstanding contribution not only to the RAF but to the country as a whole.’
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Dermot Boyle.
‘One thing is absolutely true, the air battles of Burma were won in the classrooms and workshops at Halton; won not just by knowledge and skill of your maintenance crews, it was won by the spirit that Halton produced.’ - Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten.
‘Halton has given the Royal Air Force not only its hard core of efficient technical NCOs and airmen but also a magnificent core of officers many of whom are in high rank in all branches of the Service.’ - Air Marshal Sir John Whitworth Jones.
Achievements of Halton Apprentices
Lord Trenchard was proud of, and took a keen interest in, his apprentices at Halton and visited them often at work and play. He had always intended that the best of each Entry should be awarded cadetships at Cranwell, but were he alive today he would be amazed to discover