(Official view below but to see the scheme from an apprentice viewpoint click the link at the bottom below the Queen's Colour 
photograph which takes you to the story of a 29th entry apprentice in the 30's and is very informative)


The Apprenticeship Scheme was launched in October 1919, when selection examinations were held around the country. In January 1920, the 1st Entry of 235 recruits began their three-year apprenticeship at Cranwell, whilst permanent accommodation was being completed at Halton. The Boys were signed on for 12 years' service from the age of 18 and assigned to the trade of Carpenter, Sheet Metal Worker, Fitter or Electrical. The Schools at Halton and Cranwell were renamed No 1 and No 2 School of Technical Training, respectively, in March 1920 and Halton’s first Apprentice Entry, No 5, arrived in January 1922, at which time the rank of Aircraft Apprentice replaced the earlier term Boy Mechanic.

The Aircraft Apprentice, a boy of around 15, spent 20 hours a week on technical training in the workshops, 9 hours on physical training, drill and games, and 8 hours on education. Other time was spent on barrack duties, ‘homework’, inspections and recreational activities, including sports, a model aircraft club and a debating society. The marks gained in the final examination in skill-of-hand and trade knowledge determined the graduating rank and rate of pay of the new airman. No 5 Entry graduated on the 17 December 1924 when, aptly, the reviewing officer was Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Trenchard, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). As planned by the CAS, those scoring most highly were considered for Cadetships to Cranwell, where up to 20 % of the officer cadets were ex-apprentices.

Throughout the twenties, entries were around 500 strong, dwindling to around 200 at the start of the next decade. However, the 31st Entry, which began training in 1935, numbered 551 and by the 34th the intake was 1250 strong, reflecting the expansion of the Royal Air Force as war loomed. To meet demand a new school was constructed at Cosford near Wolverhampton and opened in August 1938 with 2 Apprentice Training Wings. No 5 (Apprentice) Wing from Halton moved to Cosford to provide experience and continuity for the new school. During the early stages of the War the Course was shortened to 2 years and from 1940 fewer Apprentices were trained to allow for the introduction of short intensive training courses for airman conscripts. However, the 47th Entry, which commenced in August 1943, saw the return of the 3-year course. At the same time the scheme was extended to include Electricians.

The Apprenticeship Scheme remained the only method of regular entry into the Royal Air Force throughout the War. Attempts to expand the Scheme from 1945 were hampered by a lack of interest among potential recruits with 3 intakes a year each averaging around 150, against a planned capacity of 500. With the continuation of National Service, these apprentices graduated into a largely conscript Royal Air Force, where their skills were more important than ever.

In 1964, an effort to match the training of airmen to the increasingly complex aircraft they were required to maintain resulted in the replacement of the single-skill Aircraft Apprentice with the Technician Apprentice. This individual was trained in the trades of airframes, propulsion, electrics and armament and graduated in the rank of Corporal. At the same time the Craft Apprentice was introduced to train airmen in the previous single skills. Craft Apprentice courses were 2 years in length and, whilst the Technician Apprentices retained the entry numbering system of the earlier series, Craft Apprentice Entries were assigned numbers in the 200 series. Another innovation was the Administrative Apprentice and entries in the 300 series were allocated to these apprentices, all of whom belonged to the trade of Nursing Assistant. Entries 201 and 301, the first of each series commenced training concurrently in 1964. Entry numbers in the 400 series were assigned to one-year Mechanic Apprentice Courses, which were introduced from October 1969. During this time, a small number of Dental Technician Apprentices underwent training in parallel with the Aircraft Technicians.

The introduction of the Technician Apprentice anticipated the adoption of the repair by replacement concept in preference to the traditional maintain by repair approach. However, with the cancellation of the TSR2 project, their planned employment was undermined. The Craft Apprenticeship ceased in the early 1970s and a one-year Direct Entry Technician scheme was introduced. Concern over the shortcomings of the Apprentice Technician Course led to the creation of the 3-year dual trade Apprentice Engineering Technician, specialising in airframes and propulsion only. During the 1980s, demographics and a preference among recruits to take Direct Entry Technician places for the greater short-term financial benefits thereof, led to increased difficulties in achieving Apprentice recruiting targets. Following the recommendations of the Aircraft Engineering Trades Review, implemented in 1991, all aircraft tradesmen entered the Service for initial training as mechanics. Further training was given later to qualify them as technicians with the opportunity for advanced training for the award of a BTEC Higher Certificate. Today, Royal Air Force technical training has been accredited against national standards as a Modern Apprenticeship providing a structured system of technical, academic and vocational training.

The Apprenticeship Scheme came to an end with the graduation of the 155th Entry in 1993. Over the 71 years of Apprentice Training at RAF Halton, 35,114 Aircraft Apprentices graduated. Many have gone on to great deeds and among them, to date, are a holder of the Victoria Cross, 4 recipients of the George Cross, 220 who have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and 249 who have won the Distinguished Flying Medal. Twenty per cent have been commissioned and 50 have achieved Air rank. Moreover, the strength of character, resourcefulness and the esprit de corps engendered by the scheme has been central to the success of the Royal Air Force and has provided a model to be aspired to by all those currently serving and, indeed, those undergoing training at No 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Cosford.

The Apprentice Badge or ‘Wheel’. In planning the Apprenticeship Scheme, the Air Ministry clearly felt their responsibilities towards the young boys keenly and it was considered necessary to provide some insignia to distinguish them from adult airmen "so as to check smoking and the forgathering of boys with men". The four-bladed propeller within a circlet, to be manufactured in brass, was approved on 17 April 1919 and worn on the sleeve of the left arm, being, of course, highly polished at all times.

The Queen’s Colour. The highest award that the Sovereign can bestow on a Service formation or unit for distinguished service is a Colour. The Queen’s Colour for No 1 School of Technical Training was presented to a parade of Apprentices on 25 July 1952 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the presence of Lord Trenchard. The present Queen’s Colour was presented by His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent on 25 September 1990. The Colour is unique in being the only one in any of the armed Services which is paraded by non-commissioned servicemen, a privilege which normally only falls to commissioned officers. This tradition dates from the original presentation when Sergeant Apprentice F M A Hines received the Colour from Her Majesty on behalf of the School. The badge of No 1 School of Technical Training incorporates a symbolic tree of learning derived from the beech trees typical of the Halton area. The motto "Crescentes Discimus" can be translated to mean ‘As we grow, we learn’.


Life at Halton by Harry Osborne (29th entry)


The Halton Aircraft Apprentices Association (HAAA)

The HAAA is open to all those Apprentices who underwent all or part of their training at No 1 School of Technical Training, or on the four preceding courses of technical training held for boy Mechanics at Halton, Cranwell and Flowerdown, prior to the establishment of the School.

Contact details for the Association are as follows:

HAAA, Royal Air Force Halton, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP22 5PG.

Tel: 01296 623535 Ext 6300

Fax: 01296 696896