World War I saw the beginning of aerial combat. By 1 April 1918 the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) had amalgamated into the Royal Air Force. Hugh Trenchard had been appointed Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) and quickly discovered that specialist groundcrew were in very short supply.
Wartime use of aircraft accelerated the development of new technologies. Aircraft power plants were vastly different from those that powered buses and lorries. Airframes, with their need to reduce drag and provide control in the air, were a totally new challenge. Armourers were asked to develop new fusing methods for equally new explosive devices like air-dropped bombs. Aircraft electrical systems included bomb release mechanisms and synchronised gun firing through the propeller via the use of an interrupter mechanism. The addition of a third dimension to navigation meant aircraft instrument makers had to produce new indicators for such things as turn and bank, air speed and an artificial horizon.
For these reasons and others, Trenchard instituted the aircraft apprentice scheme based on No 1 School of Technical Training. This was originally located at RAF Cranwell but later more permanently at RAF Halton, in 1920. RAF Cranwell and RAF Locking later switched exclusively to training aircraft apprentices in the ground and air radio trades.
Entrance to the scheme involved a highly competitive exam, intelligence and aptitude tests, and medical examinations. Admittance was limited exclusively to males between the ages of 15 and 17½ when the Royal Air Force assumed legal guardianship of the lads as in loco parentis.
Initially, training was a three year course, although this was changed briefly to two years for some apprentice entries during WWII. Training took place over five and a half days a week, and consisted of both academic and practical training. In addition, basic military training was given. Originally, applicants were required to be British subjects and of "pure European descent" (and were required to prove this if there was any doubt). Later, Apprentices were accepted from both Commonwealth and other countries.
The 106th Entry who passed out in December 1966 was the last of the Aircraft Apprentice entries. A three year long Technician Apprentice scheme; a two year long Craft Apprentice scheme; and a one year long Administrative Apprentice scheme were initiated in September 1964, with 107 entry being the first Technician Apprentice entry; 201 entry being the first of the Craft Apprentice entries; and 301 being the first of the Administrative Apprentice entries. Later, a one year scheme for mechanic apprentices was also introduced (the 400 series entry apprentices).
It is estimated that as many as forty percent of Brats achieved commissioned officer rank, and a considerable number achieved Air rank. Whatever their former rank, ex-members of the scheme are very proud indeed to be known as "Trenchard's Brats" - or just Brats.
Graduates of this illustrious scheme include many famous and outstanding airmen such as Sir Frank Whittle (father of the jet engine); Olympian Donald Finlay, who also fought as a pilot in the Battle of Britain, and several former officers of Air rank, such as Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Keith Williamson GCB AFC, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Armitage KCB, CBE (56th entry).
Mike Armitage is Patron of the alumni association, whilst Air Commodore Rod Brumpton (106th entry) is the current chair. Air Marshal Cliff Spink CB CBE (104th entry) and Air Marshal Sir Dusty Miller KCB (210th entry) are Vice Patrons.
The Brats alumni association, a registered charity, is called the RAF Halton Apprentices Association, the RAFHAAA, which can be contacted through the Old Haltonians website. Additionally, the Association has its own social networking website. The Association also publishes a magazine called The Haltonian, twice a year. Bill Kelley(55th entry), who was the Editor of The Haltonian magazine for 25 years until the end of June 2010, was appointed MBE in the New Years Honours 2010 "For services to the RAFHAAA." The current editor of the Haltonian magazine is Stuart Morgan (202nd craft apprentice entry). Stuart is also the webmaster of the Old Haltonian social networking site.
A triennial reunion for Brats is organised by the association. The RAFHAAA may be contacted through RAF Halton airfield.
RAF Halton also has its own memorial to the brats opposite Kermode Hall, very close to St. George's C of E church which is resplendent with very many stained glass windows commemorating the 40,000 or so apprentices who were trained there. Brats are also remembered at the Halton Grove at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.
- RAF Halton on the Royal Air Force Web Site
- Old Haltonians social networking site for RAF Halton Apprentices Association (Old Haltonians)
- Official site of the RAF Halton Apprentices Association (Old Haltonians)
- Brat Videos Gordon Taylor 65th entry
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