RAF Cosford's 75th Anniversary Air Show

Posted on Monday 15th April 2013


This year RAF Cosford celebrates its 75th Anniversary and part of the festivities include the annual Air Show hosted by the West Midlands station. The Air Show organisers plan to focus this year’s theme on the history of the Shropshire base, in addition to the anniversary of the Spitfire’s entry into service. RAF Cosford has a rich and distinguished heritage which members of the public are invited to share and enjoy at the event on Sunday, 9 June.


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in the beginning
By 1934, plans were in hand for the rapid expansion of the Royal Air Force to meet the threat of Nazi Germany. One of the greatest problems was the provision of aircrew and technicians to maintain and fly aircraft during the first months of a war, and to train the influx of men who would be mobilised later. One of the answers to the technician shortage was the expansion of the Apprentice Scheme and the provision of a new school.
The first Commanding Officer, Group Captain W J Y Guilfoyle OBE MC arrived on 21 July 1938, subsequently taking up residence at Albrighton Grange. No 1 Apprentice Wing arrived shortly afterwards on return from leave and training commenced on 4 August 1938. The winter months arrived and there were still hundred of window frames without glass and workshops without doors. Even the big éclair doors were still not fitted, but instruction proceeded, complete with overcoats, scarves and boots. The busy routine of No 2 School of Technical Training became established and links, both social and sporting, were established with the local communities.

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Early building work of the grass hangars at RAF Cosford.

cosford at war
On 4 September 1939 one day after war was declared, the war syllabus for training flight mechanics and flight riggers was introduced. The school expanded and apprentice training gave way to adult training. The civilian instructors, many of whom had been in the reserve for years, found themselves back in uniform and were soon doing camp duties.
The main activities on the airfield during the early years of the war revolved around No 9 Maintenance Unit. This lodger unit had opened on the 15 March 1939 to function as an aircraft storage unit. The first aircraft to arrive for storage, an Anson (N5055) was received on the 24 March 1939. Receipts and issues of aircraft rapidly became a matter of routine. They arrived at Cosford, were moved to their dispersed sites at which they remained until they were required for issue. They were then prepared to operational standard, test-flown and subsequently issued.

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Aircraft were often flown to and from Maintenance Units
By 1944 it became more and more obvious that the war was being won, although there was still some way to go. One problem that was identified was the need to return men to civilian life on the completion of hostilities. Obviously the problem was a huge one, men had learned new skills but few of them had relevance to civilian life and when they did there was a great deal of competition. Other men had wished to return to old skills and jobs but found that they were very ‘rusty’ or that techniques had changed after many years of war. There was therefore a need to vocationally train airmen before they could be demobbed. In September 1944 the School for Instructors for the Education and Vocational Training Scheme (EVT) was opened to train those instructors that the scheme required.
Furthermore, in February 1945 it was decided that all RAF repatriated prisoners-of-war should pass through No 106 Personnel Reception Centre at Cosford. No 106 PRS was formed on 7 March 1945 and was responsible for:
1. The initial reception and medical examination to determine whether ex-prisoners-of-war were fit to proceed on leave.
2. Subsequent medical boarding and disposal following leave.
The first group of 99 prisoners-of-war arrived at 3 hours notice on 10 April 1945. Most were in a severe state of malnutrition and 23 were admitted to hospital for intensive treatment, others were transferred to No 4 Medical Rehabilitation Centre, also located at Cosford. Given warm accommodation, good food and sympathetic attention, physical recovery was often rapid and in one case a patient recorded a weight gain of 14lb in only 3 days.

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POWs returning to Cosford assisted by the WRAF.

In the following months prisoners-of-war arrived in their thousands. They arrived at all hours of the day and night and reception staff frequently worked around the clock to complete the reception tasks. Most prisoners-of-war were suffering from the effects of malnutrition and associated stomach disorders. During the period of 10 April to 4 June 1945, 9,185 Officers and men passed through the unit and of this number 210 were admitted to hospital.
The importance of Cosford as a training school during the war is highlighted by the fact that in its major training task, some 70,000 engine and airframe mechanics and armourers attend courses to convert them to fitter standard. The hospital’s importance can be gauged from the fact that 42,000 patients were admitted between June 1940 and the end of the war.
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the post-war rundown
The immediate post-war years saw a rundown in the size of the training task at Cosford in step with the general reduction in the size of the RAF. On 23 January No 2 and 3 Wings were amalgamated with No 1 Wing which became primarily concerned with the training of engine and airframe assistants – the major task of the school from 1946 until 1950. No 4 Wing which was responsible for the School of Training Organisation and Method survived until 6 May 1948, when on the disbandment of this Wing, the School of Training and Organisation and Method became a separate unit.
Further rationalisation saw the end of Officer Training at Cosford. The Officer Training School now known as the OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit) moved to RAF Spitalgate on 28 February 1948.
However, the changes in training were not all losses. In March 1946, the RAF School of Physical Training became firmly established at Cosford with the closure of the Schools at RAF Loughborough and RAF St Athan. The School was to stay at Cosford until 1954 when it moved St Athan. There the School of Physical Training was to remain for 23 years, before returning again to Cosford in 1977, where it remains today.

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RAF Physical Training in 1950.
In October 1948 a number of Cosford personnel were detached for duty on the Berlin Airlift. This event, closely to be followed by the Korean War and the Emergency in Malaya, awoke the British Government and public opinion to the realities of the Communist threat. There was a need to re-vitalise Britain’s Forces after the post-war rundown to meet the new conditions. The RAF needed modern jet aircraft and highly skilled personnel to fly and service them. Once again there was to be an emphasis on youth training and in May 1950 nearly 22 years after the first apprentice had arrived, the first boy entrants marched through the gates of Cosford.
the boy entrants
The RAF aimed to concentrate the training of all Boy Entrants at Cosford and Instruction commenced on 23 May 1950. Initially No 2 S of TT trained boys as mechanics in the following trades; Airframe, Engine, Electrical, Instrument, Armament, Radio and Telegraphic. The courses lasted for 18 months. During the first 3 months of his course, the Boy Entrants spent much of their time behind a school desk as his academic knowledge was brought up to the required standard. In fact, formal education accounted for 20 per cent of all instruction that the Boy Entrants received at Cosford. As the Boy Entrants progressed, the emphasis switched from academics to technical instruction. In addition, the boys were taught General Service Knowledge and Service Discipline, and underwent Ground Defence Training. Physical education and sport were also an important feature of the timetable and, on the moral side, attendance at Church Services was compulsory.

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Boy Entrants brushing up on their academic knowledge.

As part of his training each Boy Entrant had to choose two sports to concentrate on, one of which had to be a team game. In at least one of the two sports, the boy would receive organised coaching. In addition, each boy had to choose two hobbies or pastimes. One of the most popular of these was the Boy Entrant Band, which soon became well established and a familiar sight at both internal and external ceremonial occasions.
The number of Boy Entrants at Cosford peaked in 1955. In August of that year a further school was opened at RAF St Athan and Cosford lost Boy Entrant Training in the trades of Airframe, Engine, Armament, Electrical and Instrument Mechanics.

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Electrical training started at Cosford but moved to St Athan in 1955.

In January 1963 Boy Entrants at Cosford numbered 1,799 out of a total station strength of 3,437. However, change was on the way and a major alteration of the RAF trade structure in 1964 marked the end of the Boy Entrant Scheme. The demise of the scheme was as rapid as its rise 14 years earlier, and a major chapter in Cosford’s history came to a close with the pass out of the last Boy Entrant Entry No 51 in July 1965. Appropriately No 51 Entry proved to be the most successful of all Boy Entrant courses at Cosford with 140 from the original 142 boys who undertook training under the scheme graduating.

Air show tickets can be purchased online at www.cosfordairshow.co.uk, by calling the 24-hour ticket line on 0871 230 1083 (10p/min plus network charges), or at various other outlets details of which can be found on the website. Advance adult tickets are priced from £20, representing a 20% discount on tickets bought on the day and FREE admission for children under-16 accompanied by an adult as well as FREE car parking. Tickets are also available at the RAF Museum in Cosford, the Midland Air Museum in Coventry, Tourist Information Centres located in Stoke-on-Trent, Stafford, Solihull & Shrewsbury and selected branches of the Midcounties Co-operative.

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