Tributes to Halton and the Brats
Between its opening in 1922 and the final passing-out of graduates in 1993, The No. 1 School of Technical Training at Halton became one the the RAF's most famous institutions, at least within the service, if not outside. This status was honoured most significantly by the unveiling of a sculpture at RAF Halton itself by HM The Queen on the 31st October 1997. The sculpture took the form of a copy of the "Brass Cube Test" which apprentices had to complete as part of their training.
The following is a report of the Queen's unveiling visit by Dave Symonds (Armourer) of the 69th
The Queen Unveils the Halton Tribute
Overnighting at our Chairman's house, I was plied with a surfeit of Jack Daniels and so the great day dawned a bit wobbly but, fortified by Tony's full English breakfast, I was ready to face the traffic on the way to Halton. The sky was cloudless and there had been a sharp frost.
Arriving in the car park, a sight for sore eyes greeted us - certain members of our committee cleaning their medals, after stopping at a supermarket to obtain Silvo. Did I hear the ghost of Sgt McDougal chuckling quietly - he always said we'd come good!
We walked up Chestnut Avenue and the trees were looking magnificent in their autumn colours, with the blue sky showing through. Up on Henderson-Groves airmen were directing the spectators to their allotted seats. After a certain mix-up over the ladies and gents toilets -whoops, sorry, pardon! - we were directed to our position on the side of the parade, in front of what used to be Wing Headquarters. This meant that we had the full sun in our eyes, plus the fact that the square slopes down at that end. We were in the reverse of theatre seating, so we stood at the back to see over the heads of those sitting in the front rows.
The Royal Dais was very similar to the one at the original Colour Presentation, but was now flanked by grandstands that would do credit to the British Grand Prix! These were filled with the relatives of the Passing Out Entry and the VIPs.
Whilst waiting for HM to arrive, we had time to meet some old friends. There were several 69ers present, but as we didn't have a rally point, we may have missed some. Eventually the Queen arrived, though from our position it could have been anyone - I forgot my binocs! The Parade commenced - chaps shouted, feet stamped and the band played - the memories came flooding back - "don't drop your rifle - you'll get done for creases/buttons/hair-cut/dumb insolence" - you'll gather I didn't much care for parades!
Then came a fly-past of four Harriers at 500 feet - would have been a grand sight from the Pimple - if it still existed! Last time HM inspected the Parade from a Landrover, now she is a septuagenarian she had to walk - probably the cut backs!
The standard of drill of the recruits on parade was excellent and at least as good as ours after three years of practice. Perhaps we were over-trained in the drill department. however I was disappointed that they didn't march off to Auld Lang Syne as previous Halton Pass-outs.
Lunch was taken upstairs in Groves Dining Hall, were we (2 wing) used to have pay parades. The ghostly echoes of "last threes" being shouted were drowned out by the sound of hundreds of lunch boxes being attacked. Included in the packed lunch was, of course, one boiled egg for tradition's sake, though not in the usual Transport Command sick bag! The meal was lubricated by a small bottle of Tesco's finest. Someone was churlish enough to point out the VIP menu listed in the official programme - nothing changes!
Suitably refreshed, we formed up on the Square for the march down to the Tribute site at Schools.. A DI tried shouting to get us into fives - loud comments from the assembled throng disabused him of that! We set off just in front of the delegation from the 70th - noisy uncouth lot they were, we could hardly hear the pipe band as the column was so long - about 2,000 ex-brats. Goz marched past the guardroom with his hands in his pockets just for old times' sake. We only knew the band was playing "The Bear" by the shouts from down the hill.
Arriving at Schools, now called Kermode Hall, we gathered in a circle round the covered Tribute about ten deep, and had to wait about 30 minutes until HM arrived from planting a tree for the Dental School. Visibility on the periphery wasn't very good as HM is not very tall to say the least. Anyway we saw a green hat giving a speech, unveiling the Tribute and doing a walkabout. The people in front appeared to be mainly wives and children she may have met the odd ex-apprentice who knows? It'll all be in the Haltonian.
After HM departed we had a look at the Tribute - I think it is excellent and well positioned for passers-by to see. A Tribute indeed to scraped knuckles and bashed thumbs. We went into the church for afternoon tea and cake and to have a look at the Entry windows already installed, Four so far. Compared to ours, they are fairly ordinary.
I returned Tony to Burnham and set off for home in Lincolnshire, through the rush hour traffic. Up in the Midlands the fog came down as expected after such a cloudless day. I had to stop at a pedestrian crossing in Corby to allow two witches to cross. Then I remembered that it was Halloween - times for ghosts of times past, an appropriate ending to a very pleasant day.
Getting the Tribute to Burma
he 69th Entry decided that it would be nice to somehow give a flavour of the tribute to their members in Burma, who would otherwise have found it difficult, or impossible, to travel over to see the real thing. To this end, 69th Armourer Dave Symonds made a replica in wood, using Beech, as that was a tree common in the woods around Halton, and it was shipped off to Burma. The following is an update from Tony Parrott.
Following the inauguration of the Tribute by the Queen at Halton, Dave Symonds (Armourer) manufactured a replica in wood (using beech, the woods around Halton) which was sent to our Burmese friends. The following is an extract from a letter sent by Lt Col Khin Myint:-
The tribute you sent was wonderful and we do appreciate it very much. I showed it to our close comrades in Rangoon and eventually I found an appropriate resting place for it at the Air Force Repair Depot. All the newcomers of later generations will always be able to come and have a good look at it and will realise that there had been some Burmese Aircraft Apprentices who took the opportunity of undergoing Technical Training at RAF Halton in 1951.
It was gratifying to know that all the remaining few of the Burmese A/As of 6T9 Entry, no matter how small in number and stature, are not yet forgotten by their friends of the developed world.
We are so much indebted to you for your kind and continuous effort in keeping us (the remaining few of Burmese "Soixente Neuf RAF Apprentice tribe") informed of how our British cousins are spending their lives together in UK. We very much enjoy reading your 6T9 News and other articles of interest about the RAF in general and RAF Halton in particular.
Quite a few reunions have been successfully passed by, and with other residents abroad, we feel sorry that we cannot be with you all; we have had to console ourselves by murmuring 'wish we were there'.
With best wishes and sincere regards to you all - Khin Myint, 18-10-1999
I personally doubt if any of us will ever forget their personalities and the way we all learnt from them by their friendship and true comradeship.
Another more-permanent memorial to the Halton Apprentices was originally proposed by the 40th Entry and took the form of a feature at the Royal British Legion's National Arboretum in Staffordshire, near Alrewas. The arboretum contains around 350 memorials, including non-military ones such as to the RNLI and even HMS Amethyst's cat, Simon. The 69th's Jack Strange attended the unveiling of the Apprentice's memorial in September 2000:
The Halton Apprentices Grove Dedication
by Jack Strange, 69th, 13th September 2000
"When beech leaves are falling, - er'e we roam, Old memories come calling; of Halton - and home"
The Halton Apprentices' Grove at the National Arboretum near Alrewas, Leicestershire was proposed by the 40th Entry to be dedicated as a reminder of the Halton Apprentices scheme: the beech trees, badge and song. Jack Neville and Bill Woodward persevered and developed the concept despite minimum support in the early days. However their efforts have produced a magnificent Memorial Grove.
On 13th September 2000, despite the fuel crisis, some 200 Brats and their families gathered at the National Arboretum at Alrewas. Dignitaries present were our President Group Captain Steve Lilley, OC RAF Halton, our Chan man Group Captain Ian Blount (84th) and Wing Commander Fletcher-Smith representing the CO of No.l School of Technical Training.
Jack Strange at the new Halton Grove, National Arboretum
The Grove is a grassed area enclosed by a high hornbeam hedge with beech trees in each corner. In the centre of the grove is an apprentices wheel; the propeller is planted with lornica and the wheel is completed with a surrounding of beech hedging which will be kept trimmed to a height of 3ft. Nine individual memorial flowering crab trees are set out around the wheel.
At the rear of the wheel is a wooden seat with a simple "2000" set in it and at the entrance to the grove is a half ton Leicestershire Granite Stone on which is set a memorial plaque naming the entries which have contributed to the grove including the Naval Air Wing, the Polish and the Ceylonese entries.
Gp Capt Ian Blount unveiled the stone in the presence of the No. l School of Technical Training Queen's Colour which was carried by Flyingg Officer Simon Cowrey (155th) and Colour Warrant Officer Ted Bayles (106th).
Gp Capt Ian Blount gave an address in which he stated: "During 70 years of Apprentice Training in the Royal Air Force over 70,000 youngsters received three years' training in aircraft maintenance and manhood - which produced a core of self-reliant, high-quality engineers who formed the backbone of the service for three-quarters of a century. Many of these died as young men during the Second World War. Some went on to reach the highest ranks in the RAF whilst others went on to almost every conceivable career. So the Apprentice Scheme boasts Air Force Board Members - including a Chief of Staff - a High Court Judge, broadcasters, politicians, the upper echelons of the church, ambassadors - the list is endless. One or two went to jail!"
Following the unveiling Ian Blount took the salute from a march past of two flights of Brats.
Though the National Arboretum is only partly complete it is worth a visit. There are already a number of Groves dedicated to service and civilian organisations. When the Arboretum buildings are complete there will be a chapel, exhibition hall, toilets and cloisters. The National Lottery has provided money towards the arboretum. However at this time the builder has gone bust.
Suggest if you can make a visit in 20 years time it will be well worth it!!