Halton Aircraft Apprentice Scheme

Nominated by: Min Larkin

Queen Elizabeth II visited Royal Air Force Halton on 25th July 1952. This was possibly Her first visit to Buckinghamshire since becoming our Monarch. The purpose of Her visit was to present a Queens Colour to No 1 School of Technical Training, the home of the Halton Aircraft Apprentices, for its outstanding contribution to the Nation in war and peace. 

In this clip you can see the Queen present the Queens Colour:

In the early 1930s the RAF was 30,000 strong, of which half were ex RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentices. However, this half provided the nucleus on which the great expansion of the RAF in the mid-1930s was centred to meet the oncoming threat of war with Germany. Not by chance did this fortunate circumstance arise. For, in 1919, Lord Trenchard the founder of the RAF had foreseen the need for a cadre of highly trained and motivated men to provide the efficient technical support on which Britain’s air power would depend in the future.

To meet this need he conceived and planned the RAF Aircraft Apprentice Scheme; whereby boys between 15 and 16 of good secondary education would be recruited for a three-year apprenticeship in aircraft engineering together with technical and general education. No 1 School of Technical Training was established at RAF Halton in 1920 for this purpose and it received its first entry of boys in January 1922.

The basic aim of Apprentice training, set forth by Trenchard at the outset of the Scheme, remained constant until it closed in 1993. This was to turn boys into versatile and qualified tradesmen and, above all, to develop them into men with self-sufficient and steadfast qualities, sense of responsibility, leadership, pride and spirit, which would enable them to form the mainstay of the new Service and to fit them for a progressive career in the RAF and, later on, in civilian life. 

The exceptionally high standard of aircraft engineering training practiced at Halton was to influence aeronautical engineering training schemes introduced by many of the worlds air forces and some of its aircraft industries. Lord Trenchard made reference to its wider legacy in a speech in the House of Lords in 1944, referring to the cultural changes that the Apprentice Scheme had created leading to the advancement of social mobility and the development of meritocracy in the RAF and, crucially, it had generated a spirit that had inspired the Service world-wide.

When the Scheme closed in 1993, 40,000 Apprentices had graduated. Seventeen had subsequently won the Sword of Honour at the Cadet College Cranwell. Of the 12,000 Apprentices commissioned, 120 achieved very high rank, with several serving on the Air Force Board. Thirteen were Knighted and countless others awarded State Honours. In later life many achieved executive positions in the aerospace industry, the legal and medical professions, the police, teaching and the church. During WWII, 2000 ex Apprentices gave their lives. One ex Apprentice won a Victoria Cross and over 1000 others were decorated for gallantry. Its Alumni includes Sir Frank Whittle the inventor of the jet engine, Don Finlay Battle of Britain hero and a triple olympian, and Cliff Mitchelmore, a very popular BBC Radio and TV presenter in the latter half of the 20th Century. 

Below is a picture of the interior of St Georges Church at RAF Halton which shows a large gallery of over 100 stained glass windows. These were designed by former apprentices to commemorate their time at Halton. To the left of the gallery is the Colour that Queen Elizabeth II presented to the Apprentices’ School in 1952. This was ‘laid up’ in 1968, and a replacement Colour presented by HRH Princess Margaret.  The tradition is that it remains laid up until it turns to dust which is thought to take 200 years or more. In the foreground to the left is the lectern based on a brass model of a Bristol Fighter aircraft, made by a the staff and apprentices of No 1 School off Technical Training in the early 1920s. 

Thanks to Lord Trenchard ordinary boys achieved extra ordinary things.

The Halton Aircraft Apprentice Scheme was nominated by Min Larkin CBE MRAeS, Archivist RAF Halton