Leicester led the way to the skies with first air unit
Did you know Britain's very first squadron of the Air Defence Cadet Corps, forerunner of the Air Training Corps (ATC), was formed in Leicester?
I learned this while I was having a rummage the other day and picked up an interesting and enlightening little booklet, harking from the 1940s.
Impressively illustrated, it appears to be a combined history and recruiting booklet and is full of detail regarding how the units were founded in Leicester.
One prominent Leicestershire figure, Sir Lindsay Everard, was instrumental in setting-up the organisation, as we read in the background notes.
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The original Air Defence Cadet Corps arose from a suggestion by Air Commodore J A Chamier, Secretary of the Air League. The proposal was to raise, on military lines, squadrons of young men and to train them in the broad principals of aviation, short of actual flying instruction.
The Air League sponsored the scheme, but the administration of individual squadrons was left to local committees.
"Sir W Lindsay Everard, who was closely associated with Air Commodore Chamier, while the proposals were in embryo stage, put the suggestion of raising a local squadron before certain members of Leicestershire Aero Club and the Aviation Sub-Committee of the Chamber of Commerce.
"These bodies received the idea with enthusiasm and inspired by Sir Lindsay's lead, quickly constituted the local committee, established the necessary financial guarantees and sent off what proved to be the first application for registration in the country. Hence, No 1 (Founder) Squadron was registered on July 26, 1938.
"Today, Air Training Corps squadrons flourish in every city and town. Leicester can, therefore be rightly proud that it recognised from the outset the value of such a training scheme, and that it led the country in its adoption."
Sir Lindsay Everard was a member of the well-known local brewing family and a renowned aviator who had his own aerodrome in fields near his home, Ratcliffe Hall, Leicestershire.
The purpose of the ATC was "to provide potential personnel for the Royal Air Force, and the primary aim is to fit as large a percentage as possible for air crew duties."
Leicester's ATC Headquarters was in an old hosiery factory at 51 Oxford Street and the squadrons were spaced out across the city. Each squadron had a chaplain and a medical officer and met and trained at a local school.
It appears that Leicester's great and good – mainly prominent local businessmen – ran the organisation locally.
By 1943, there were nine ATC squadrons in Leicester: No 1 (F) Squadron/1st City of Leicester, commanded by Flt Lt P R Brookman; No 51 Squadron/2nd City of Leicester, commanded by Flt Lt A Hughes; No 1181 Squadron/3rd City of Leicester, commanded by Flt Lt G W Thompson; No 1434 Squadron/Leicester Schools, commanded by Flt Lt C E Worthington CBE; No 1461 Squadron/South Leicester, commanded by Flying Officer H Hunt; No 1462/North Leicester, commanded by Flt Lt W B Giles; No 1947 Squadron/East Leicester, commanded by Flt Lt R Dickens; No 2070 Squadron/West Leicester, commanded by Flt Lt E A Underwood and finally, No 2076 Squadron/Deferred Service Airmen, commanded by Flt Lt D J Lyon.
Every Sunday, the cadets, who were aged 15 to 18, marched to Leicester Cattle Market to drill under an eagle-eyed Warrant Officer. They also undertook aircraft "patching" duties at Desford Airfield and flew in Tiger Moth aircraft.
Today, the ATC remains strong locally, with 11 ATC squadrons in Leicestershire.