Brats of the Thirty-Third

(A synopsis of THE ENTRY, based on extracts from an article of the same title by the late Phil Sherwood)

The 33rd Entry shuffled into Air Force history in January 1936, when a motley collection of schoolboys, aged between 15 and 17, arrived at RAF Station Halton, over a period of some three weeks, for apprentice training at No.1 School of Technica l Training. It was an 'expansion entry'; the RAF was expanding desperately in an attempt to match the Luftwaffe, then seen to be a very serious threat in the light of the deteriorating relations with Nazi Germany.

The Entry, some seven hundred strong, was designated No. 4 Apprentice Wing and accommodated initially in the somewhat isolated Maitland Barracks. Training started immediately, with most boys selected for the trade of Fitter 2, covering the maintenance and repair of all aero engines and aircraft in RAF service at that time. A lesser number started their training as Fitter Armourer, an equally skilful trade, so say the Armourers.

It was not long before the 33rd began to show their mettle, and the spirit and camaraderie that was to be displayed in the war years and later. Some of the Entry felt that the apprentice life, painted and gilded in Air Ministry Pamphlet 15, 'Ca reers for Boys in the Royal Air Force', differed markedly from the reality. To remedy this two of the Entry left Halton unobtrusively, went to a private airfield near Reading, wheeled out an aircraft, refuelled it with the help of a local garage owner, an d attempted to take off. They made it as far as the hedge on the airfield perimeter and crashed. Their intention, we understand, had been to fly to Spain and the civil war there. Clearly the stuff of which heroes are made?

The Entry made further history whilst at Halton, in that it was the last Entry to wear pantaloons and puttees and a dog collar tunic, and the last entry to witness a drumming out and public flogging on the barrack square. Moreover, the 33rd was the only e ntry whose Passing Out Parade was cancelled - the parade ground was covered inches deep in snow. These highlights and others are commemorated in the 33rd Entry stained glass window in St. George's Church. Finally, in his Passing Out Address the Air Officer Commanding recorded that fifty-three apprentices had been transferred or discharged for various reasons; the reasons were not specified!

Posted from Halton in December 1938, the Entry was dispersed among the home and overseas stations of the Royal Air Force. Its exuberant spirit should have been diluted, but not so, it survived, and in no small measure contributed to the history of the Roy al Air Force. The Entry's first casualty was Robert Keogh killed in a Fairy Battle crash in 1939. The two Cranwell cadets, James Deas and Ralph Clifford, were both killed in action in 1940, flying Lysanders with No. 28 Squadron in France. Two more of the Entry were lost when the S.S. Lancastria was sunk by enemy aircraft off St. Nazaire in 1940.

Research has also revealed that during WW2 a further fifty-three members of the Entry were killed in action as aircrew, either as flight engineer or pilot: this figure could well be higher, as it has not been possible, even now, to trace the whereabouts, or oth erwise, of everyone who were members of this remarkable Entry. Research also revealed that Herbert Birtwhistle, Eric Datson, John Stephens, Charles Ward, and Ted Scott died whilst Japanese prisoners of war, four in the notorious Changi Jail, Singapore, and Ted Scott in Japan, where he had been forced to work underground in a coal mine.

The Entry was represented in almost all the major actions of the war. Dennis Horsfall was the flight engineer in 'dinghy' Young's Lancaster on the Dambuster's Raid. They had set course for home, but the aircraft was caught by a parting burst of flak as it crossed the Dutch coast. It failed to return and all perished. Gordon 'Oggie' Ogden was a flight engineer on the first Halifax raid on the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. 'Plenty of cloud cover and no enemy opposition' was the briefing. A parachute descent from a cloudless sky alive with enemy fighters was the reality. 'Oggie' spent the rest of the war as a guest of the Third Reich, but was still able to assure the Air Commodore who welcomed him home that, 'after Halton it was a piece of cake'! James F Martin was killed in action at Alamein and Claude Woodruff lost his life flying Spitfires in the defence of Malta. Three of the Entry spent some time behind enemy lines; John 'Spanky' Macfarlane, a flight engineer, in Crete, where his activities, after baling out of his burning Halifax, earned him a Military Medal, and Fred Pawsey, a Spitfire pilot, in Croatia where he assisted in a successful attack by Spitfires and partisans on a German held village. Another McFarlane, Vict or, taken prisoner in 1940 escaped f rom a hospital in France. He turned up at Gibralter almost 12 months to the day after his capture. It's not known why he took so long to get back, but he was, nevertheless, the recipient of a well deserved Military Medal in recognition of his exploits dur ing his escape.

And there was Graham 'Blondie' Hulse, Spitfire pilot, decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, who successfully baled out of his damaged Spitfire whilst on operations in Italy. In 1950 Graham again baled out successfully, this time from a Meteor 7, which broke up at around 400 feet on a vertical climb, following a low level high speed pass across the airfield at the Central Flying School at Little Rissington. Graham was practising for his aerobatics display at the forthcoming Royal Air Force Pageant at Farnborough. He landed, within a very few minutes, just off the eastern edge of the airfield, and walked back to the crew room with his parachute over his shoulder, having refused to return in the airfield ambulance. Sadly 'Blondie' Hulse was to lose his life when flying F86 Sabres on operations in Korea with the United States Air Force. The late Clive Butler survived two awesome crashes whilst piloting a Halifax, both accidents following multiple engine failure shortly after take-off. He walked away from the first unscathed, but was not so lucky on the second, which ended in flames with Clive very badly burnt. McIndoe took him into his care at East Grinstead and began surgery to repair the damage; a task that took 47 operations carried out over sever al years. There were many more similar known incidents and displays of bravery by airmen of the 33rd Entry, but unfortunately, and with sadness, space does not permit their inclusion here.

Following the end of WW 2 'brats' of the 33rd continued to add to the laurels of their Entry. One member acted as RAF representative at the War Crimes trial of Japanese prisoners who had tortured and executed the crew of a crashed Liberator. The Concorde design team included three design leaders from the Entry. Bill McAllister retired as Servicing Manager of the American Flying Tigers Airline and Norman Pash continued to fly as a civil airline pilot and was subsequently Flight Manager of Channel Express ( Air Services) Limited. In 1950 Ron Everson was posted to command the Blind landing Experimental Unit (BLEU) Flight at Martlesham Heath engaged in the development of automatic blind approach and landing. The system developed by BLEU's boffins was proved in practice in the air whenever fog occurred during the winters of 1950-53. Automatic approach and landing is now commonplace in Service and Civil aviation. Ron was awarded an AFC and Mike Burgan, his boffin observer, an MBE. In later years Ron was seconded to the Ghana Air Force and commanded their Air Force Station at Takoradi. The entry achieved another notable first with the appointments of the first two Air Attaches from the Technical Branch. In 1952, 'Jock' Hunter was appointed Technical Air Attache to the British Embassies at Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen. 'Jock' held the post for some four years until, upon relinquishing the appointment in 1956, he handed over to none other than the Entry's own John Ramsden. And Jack Dymond earned his place in Air Force history by being involved with the creation and development of the RAF Museum at Hendon. The late William 'Bill' Sykes, OBE, retired in the rank of Air Vice-Marshal, believed to be the only ex-apprentice to have reached that rank in the technical branch. And the Entry has its own live Earl, Vivian, Group Captain, the Earl of Ilchester, the ninth of that line and a worthy descendent of those Fox-Strangways who valiantly defended their ancestral Abbotsbury home against Cromwell's troopers.

It is unlikely that it will ever be known how many of the Entry received commissions in either the technical or general duties branch of the RAF, or honours and awards, both during and after WW 2, but it is undoubtedly very many. Research has revealed som e information on this and it is known that more than one hundred members of the Entry received commissions, three reaching the rank of Air Commodore. Details of those known to have received honours or awards are tabled on a separate page. Click here to view this page. It should, however, be said that the award of a commission, or other decoration, more often than not resulted from being in the right place at the right time, i.e. a measure of luck was always involved.

It is most unlikely that this brief story of the Entry could have been told without the energy and determination of the late 'Wilbur' Wright, retired Hurricane, Spitfire and Typhoon pilot, who amongst other achievements became a successful author. His boo k ' Down to a Sunless Sea' became a best selling paperback in 1981. Wilbur initiated the research that has drawn together all the surviving and traceable members of the Entry, and he introduced and edited the quarterly Newsletters, which not only kept mem bers in touch with one another but also gathered them together for annual Reunions. At that time, he was ably assisted by Bill Sykes, Jim and Nora Goody, Pete Dunstan, Jack Dymond and Les Rockey. The Newsletters are still a feature of the 33rd Club, now ably edited by Bob Wilkinson, and though the average age of members is now eighty the Reunions are still the highlight of the year for many members. So successful was the Club (the first Entry to organise one it is said) that it soon had its own distinctive badge (displayed on the home page). The Entry took the laurel leaf that surrounds all RAF badges, placed within it the apprentice wheel, embellished that with the symbol '33' and the motto 'Tertius Decam Tertius Primus Erit'. All this without the ble ssing of the Chester Herald! The 33rd acknowledges that there were other Entries, but none to compare with the Thirty-Third.

Members of the Entry are naturally scattered throughout the land, throughout the world for that matter, and wherever there is a fair nucleus there will be found 33rd Entry mini clubs, with their own mini reunions, on occasion even monthly.

Apprentice training, the brain child of Marshal of the Royal Air Force The Lord Trenchard, commenced at Halton in 1922, and between then and 1993, when the apprentice scheme, as we know it, ended, over 40,000 boys from the UK and Commonwealth, collectivel y and individually known as 'Trenchard's Brats', had completed a technical apprenticeship at No.1 School of Technical Training. The ending of apprentice training in 1993 was a sad day for all ex-apprentices, and they believe a sad day for the Royal Air Fo rce. To mark the 75 years since the start of the apprentice scheme, and as a memorial to those 40,000 plus apprentices, a 'Tribute' was erected in front of Kermode Hall (Schools) and unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11 on 31st October 1997. The 'Tribute' in the form of the basic metal work test job, and sculptured in Scottish black granite, was financed by donations from individual ex-apprentices.

Finally, it is an unfortunate fact that many of the Entry have remained untraced. One such, until the mid-eighties, was Charles Barber. That is, until a group of aviation enthusiasts dug deep into the Rye marshes to exhume the remains of Spitfire X4784 an d its pilot, Pilot Officer Charles Bertram Barber. Both had laid there since they had plummeted from the sky in 1942. P/O Barber was buried with full military honours at Finningley on 15th October 1986. The 33rd Entry was represented and, and i ts wreath, in the form of an apprentice wheel, bore the inscription, 'One of Trenchard's Brats, in honoured and respected memory from his fellow ex-brats of the 33rd Entry RAF Halton, 1936-1938.'



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