RAF HALTON WING REORGANISATIONS IN THE 1950s
By Roger Harvey 76th
I have been doing some research into life at Halton in the 1950’s and RAF Halton wing reorganisations in the 1950’s. Initially the work has consisted of collecting information about all of the Entries that spent some time at Halton during the fifties. The Entries that I have therefore focussed on are from the 56th, who passed out in May 1950, to the 93rd who arrived at Halton in September 1959.
I am in the process of building a database to contain the main important facts about these Entries. Ultimately it will contain information such as the number joining the Entry, number on the passing-out parade, service number range, reviewing officer details, etc. This I am still working on and making good progress. Whilst progressing the database, which has involved reading through old Halton magazines, looking through entry websites and contacting members of these Entries, I have become very interested in just how, and indeed how many times, the Wing and Entry distribution changed during the fifties. One major reason for this interest is that my Entry, the 76th, was caught in the middle of one of these reorganisation upheavals at the beginning of our final twelve months. More about that later.
So onwards to what my research has uncovered, with extracts from several Halton Magazines, illustrating just how they were justified by the authorities at the time, and a very revealing extract from the Station Diary of January 1956! My sources reveal that the Wing / Entry structure essentially remained unchanged from 1922 until 1949. The system was that an Entry was located into one of the three (sometimes four) Wings when it was formed and stayed there until pass out.
The Summer 1950 edition of the Halton Magazine – see Appendix 1 – refers in an article about the 57th Entry to a major reorganisation taking place in January 1949- At this time the Apprentice Wing organisation was changed as follows: All Engine Fitters of all Entries were housed in 1 Wing. To 2 Wing went all Airframe Fitters and finally all of the remainder, that is Armourers, Electrical and Instrument Fitters were placed in 3 Wing.
This regime existed until May 1952 and its successor is described in the May 1952 edition of the Halton Magazine – see Appendix 2. The new organisation, yes you have guessed it, was to return the system of having three Entries in each Wing, the Entry staying as a unit for the whole of their time at Halton.
You could be excused for thinking that the above might be the last change; however, I am afraid not! In January 1956 it was decided by the authorities that there would be a ‘Nine-way split’. Entries were divided up equally over all three Wings and Squadrons, in other words there was a complete mix! Why was this? To get the real truth you must first read Appendix 3 and then 3A. This reorganisation had some quite painful effects, particularly on my Entry (the 76th). We all lost whatever apprentice rank that we held and, at the same time, two thirds of us were moved from 2 Wing. The parents of affected sons received a letter informing them that their son had not done anything wrong!
How long did the ‘Nine-way split last’? The answer, until October 1959! This time it was once again to be Entries by Wings, but this time with a new slant! The six more senior Entries were moved to 1 and 2 Wings, and the three most junior Entries (Rooks) were placed in 3 Wing – see Appendix 4. The organisation within the Wings was that of earlier times: whole Entries together in Squadrons. From the material that I have, I am not clear just how 3 Wing was organised from a disciplinary standpoint, whether NCO Apprentices were used from the senior Entries in 1 or 2 Wing, or whether permanent staff were used. Perhaps somebody who was at Halton at that time could let me have that information. A snapshot of Entry location in October 1959 indicates that, 1 Wing housed the 86th, 88th and 90th Entries, 2 Wing the 85th, 87th and 91st Entries and 3 Wing the three most junior Entries, namely the 92nd, 93rd and 94th Entries. I understand that, at the end of the juniors’ first year, some sort of passing-out parade took place prior to the Entry being relocated to 1 or 2 Wing. Please put me straight if I have got this wrong!
1. Extract from the Summer 1950 magazine, Page 65. (57th Article). Nearly three years ago on September 22nd 1947, the 57th Entry arrived at Halton and were together in 2 Wing until December 1949, when it was divided according to trades, the engine specialists going to 1 Wing, the fitter airframes remaining in 2 Wing and the electricians, armourers and instrument makers going to 3 Wing.
2. Extract from the February 1952 magazine Page 21. (Current Events). During the last year our planners have decided that the segregation of trades into Wings brought about in December 1949 has not proved as successful as expected. So a return to the old “Entry to a Wing” organisation is imminent. Not for us to go into the pros and cons of the matter, but we do have a feeling that the Entry should be the first consideration. Certainly forebears at Halton thought so; the tradition of keeping Entries together was of twenty seven years duration.
3. Extract from the Summer 1956 magazine Page 14. (Commandant’s Report 74th Entry). A major domestic upheaval has arisen as a result of the decision to rearrange the distribution of Apprentices between the three Wings. Previously a complete Entry had become one Squadron and were kept together throughout their time here. This had disadvantages and a system has been adopted whereby each Entry is divided evenly between the three Wings. One result is that senior apprentices carry more responsibility and learn more of the art of leadership.
3A. Extract from the Station Diary of January 1956. The organisation of Wings into Squadrons by Entries has been abandoned for the following – amongst other – reasons:
(1) Loyalty to the Entry appeared to be greater than loyalty to the Flight, Squadron, Wing, Station or Service.
(2) Mass bullying on an Entry basis, i.e. organised in gangs by the worst element in the Senior Entries was prevalent and growing.
(3) Segregation of Entries prevented Apprentices from getting progressive experience in responsibility for juniors.
4. Extract from the Spring i960 magazine Page 22. (1 Wing Notes). For some time it has been mooted that the “Nine-Way Split” organisation was to be replaced by Squadrons being identified by Entries and that 3 Wing would contain the three junior Entries.
It seems quite shocking to me, the lack of continuity in the thinking of the authorities about just how the system should be organised. Perhaps a major contributing factor was the continuous turnover of senior staff at Halton, from the Commandant downwards. It would appear that nobody ever looked back at what had gone before and whether previous reorganisations had been successful. Each time a change was made, some quite traumatic for the Apprentices involved and probably quite costly too, it was simply carried out on the basis of what seemed to be a good idea at the time! No lessons seemed to have been learned from the past!