In 1919, Air Marshal Lord Trenchard foresaw the need to produce a pool of skilled aircraft engineers for the RAF. Suitable adults proved difficult to recruit after WW1, but he persuaded Mr Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for Air, that boys between the ages of 15 and 17 years should be recruited to be trained at Halton; and the Halton Apprentice was born.
Halton received its first apprentices in 1922. Ex-Halton Apprentices soon proved their worth in Iraq, on the North West Frontier and later in WW2 they played hugely significant roles as engineers and aircrew. Halton Apprentice training was recognised internationally for the excellence in engineering training, and the development of leadership skills. Many old commonwealth and foreign countries sent boys to serve as a Halton apprentice before returning to help establish their own national air forces. By 1993, when Halton apprentice training ceased, over 40,000 boys had graduated through Halton. Although the aim of the RAF Halton Apprentice scheme was primarily to produce a cadre of well-trained SNCOs and Warrant Officers, over 20% were to be commissioned later, with many attaining the highest ranks in the Service.
There had long been an Old Haltonian Association, founded by Lieutenant Colonel AFS Cardwell from the earliest days of the Halton Apprentice. The objects of the Old Haltonians were to “stimulate interest and comradeship between all ex-Halton Apprentices”. The Halton Magazine became the mouthpiece of the Association with representatives, inside and out of the Service, keen to contribute to the growing recognition of the importance of ex-Halton apprentices to the Service and to industry. With the passing of time, the magazine ceased, and the activities of the Association decayed. However, at the RAF Diamond Jubilee Reunion held at Halton on 27th September 1980, an inaugural meeting of the RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentices’ Association (RAFHAAA) was held under the chairmanship of Douglas Hemming (37th) with AVM Michael Armitage (56th) as Patron. A Constitution was adopted, and a committee formed. The objects of the Association were to organise reunions, to maintain contact and disseminate information, to stimulate interest and comradeship between all former RAF Halton Apprentices and to increase the range and circulation of the Halton Magazine. In 1985, following negotiations with the Charities Commission, the RAFHAAA became registered as a Charity. Over the years, under numerous chairs and committee members, the Association thrived with membership peaking at over 3000 in the early 2000s. In 2010 the name of the association was changed to drop the word 'Aircraft' from the title and henceforth be known as the Royal Air Force Halton Apprentices’ Association (RAFHAA) and to be informally known as The Old Haltonians'. The proposed closure of RAF Halton in 2025 raises many challenges for the Association but the underlying wish of the membership was to see the Association ensure a legacy to the role played by ex-Halton apprentices in the military history of our country. As a first step to developing a legacy programme, membership voted at the 2021 AGM to adopt a new constitution based on the Charities Commission “Charitable Incorporated Organisation” (CIO) model, and to change the Charity to a CIO.
Currently, the RAFHAA is preparing a Business Plan (BP) to create a Heritage Centre that would incorporate the most interesting exhibits from our existing museums when Halton closes besides new digital exhibits demonstrating all aspects of Halton Apprentice training. We are also in discussion with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) about the possible acquisition and development of St Georges’ church as our heritage centre thereby protecting the stained-glass windows produced by various entries of Halton apprentices over the years. We have appointed an Architect with wide experience of developing and repurposing ecclesiastical buildings and, in due course, he will also be handling our planning application if we are successful in our discussions with DIO. Once the BP is complete, it will form the cornerstone of our quest for funding to develop an amazing and glorious tribute to the ex-Halton Apprentice.