RAF Halton Museum
A group organised by Mike Hyde under the auspices of Marlow Museum visited RAF Halton in October. This huge base near Wendover originated from a gift of land immediately prior to the First World War by Alfred Rothschild whose 19th century mansion, Halton House, is now used as the Officers’ Mess.
Our tour party first visited the Trenchard Museum which traces the story of RAF Halton from the time when Rothschild first invited the Army to use his land for its summer manoeuvers in 1913 to the present day. The soldiers were soon joined by a squadron of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). By 1916, Halton was accommodating up to 20,000 infantry troops. In 1917 there was a pressing need to expand technical training in the RFC and Halton became the main training unit for aircraft mechanics with 14,000 men trained there in WWI.
On Alfred Rothschild’s death in January 1918, the estate was purchased for the Royal Air Force which had been formed on 1st April that year from an amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. Halton went on to become the gateway to the RAF’s Apprenticeship Scheme. The first entry arrived in January 1922 and Halton went on to host this scheme for 73 years, training 40,000 apprentices who become the RAF’s ground crew and skilled tradesmen. The base continues to train specialist roles for all three services.
WWI Training Trenches
The other objective of the group, a number of whom are involved in Marlow Remembers Word War I (MRWWI) which is planning to commemorate the centenary of the Great War, was to visit the system of training trenches at RAF Halton. Extensive evidence can still be seen of the military activity that was undertaken in the area between 1914 -1917 when learning to dig trenches was an important part of a soldier’s basic training before being sent to the Front. There are original remains in the form of now shallow ditches – similar to those at Pullingshill Wood which were surveyed by Archaeology in Marlow – but which had once been deep excavations.
A sizeable portion of the trench system was then restored by RAF apprentices in 2009 using Field Engineering Manuals from the period. The results are impressive.
To walk these trenches, as our party was able to do, is to gain insight into how soldiers on the Western Front lived, albeit without the threat of being under fire.
Anyone can visit the Trenchard Museum and special conducted tours of the trenches can be requested. Such visits must be pre-booked and identity documents must be produced to satisfy security requirements at this working armed services base.
For more details see: www.raf.mod.uk/rafhalton/aboutus/visitingus.cfm