Our History

The War Years (1941-1945) 1362 (Devizes) Squadron

The ATC came into being in February 1941 with boys being eligible to join at the age of 16 years. In those days of early school leaving, it was quite common for cadets to be in full time employment but they were obliged to leave the ATC on reaching age 18 at which time they would probably have been liable for call up to the armed forces. Membership of the ATC would have given them the option of the RAF as first choice.

The Devizes unit had its first parade on 29 March 1941 as 1362 (Devizes) Sqn. Forty boys enrolled initially and by December 1941 there were 71 regularly attending cadets.

The squadron met wherever it could in those days. Rooms were used in the Secondary School (now Devizes School) for classroom tuition, the Scout Hall in Southbroom Road (still standing) was used for Physical Education and by early 1943 a sectional hut had been acquired (at a cost of £100) and erected “for the duration of the war” at the end of Long Street. This hut was used primarily for technical training.

The ATC was intended to provide pre-entry training for the Air Services. The preliminary training covered drill, physical training, signalling and “lectures on subjects of interest to air minded youths”. On completion of that phase, cadets proceeded to more technical subjects finally undergoing specialised courses to fit them for some specific role in the RAF. There was a technical section training prospective wireless operators, mechanics, flight mechanics, instrument repairers and engineers. The aircrew section studied mathematics, navigation, signalling, aircraft identification and administration work.

Regular visits were made by cadets to local airfields, primarily Netheravon some 12 miles south of Devizes.

From contemporary press clippings, it appears that the squadron met on Sunday mornings (1045) for a formal parade, on Tuesdays for PE, Wednesdays and Fridays (1915–2130) for technical/aircrew training.

The committee was keen to encourage social activities and sports. The squadron fielded soccer and cricket teams and there were facilities at the new hut for table tennis and miniature billiards. As far as can be gathered, the soccer matches and practices were held at the Devizes Town Football Club ground in Nursteed Road. Social Evenings and Dances featured prominently in the programme of activities.

Chairman of Committee Mr F W Eden June 1941-August 1945
Commanding Officers Fg Off B R Beasley March 1941-December 1942
Fg Off J S Etheridge December 1942-August 1945

 

Post War (1945 – 1973)

1362 Squadron had never achieved the 100+ cadet numbers needed for full squadron status and actually operated as an independent flight throughout the war years with the correct title 1362 (Devizes) Flight. [Active cadet numbers had risen into the low eighties from time to time.]

Immediately after the war, an national exercise was undertaken to rationalise the structure of the ATC with the aim of having large units of ideally 150 to 200 cadets either as stand-alone squadrons by amalgamating units or by umbrella squadrons having detached flights. The Devizes committee recognised that the necessary numbers of cadets would never be achieved so 1362 Flight/Squadron was formally disbanded on 1 August 1945. But that was not the end of the story for the Devizes unit immediately became part of the newly formed No. 1102 West Wilts Squadron with other flights at Melksham, Trowbridge and Bradford-on-Avon. Fg Off Etheridge remained in command of the Devizes unit.

Two years National Service with the armed forces was compulsory for all able-bodied young men until the early 1960s. Membership of the ATC gave a near guarantee of acceptance into the RAF which, for many, was a far better proposition than joining the Army. The ATC remained oriented towards technical training and success in the Proficiency subjects was helpful towards getting a technical trade within the RAF. [The Royal Navy was very selective about its intake claiming that the time to train national servicemen exceeded the remaining useful service time.]

The unit history is unclear until 1966 and any information regarding 1945 to 1966 would be much appreciated.

By 1966 the unit had become 2397 (Devizes) Squadron based first at the (then) Southbroom Secondary Modern School before moving to Hopton Barracks in London Road. The squadron HQ there was the former gymnasium which had a Hunter fighter aircraft outside and also a Canberra bomber nose section. The Commanding Officer at about that time was Flt Lt John Wesley. The location being quite distant from the town centre (at a time when few people had cars) did little to encourage membership and the unit closed in early 1969. [ It is intriguing that the present unit has thrived at Le Marchant Barracks which is just opposite the old Hopton Barracks site – but, of course, we all have cars now]

At least one cadet from Devizes chose to join Melksham Squadron where the Commanding Officer was Flt Lt Alan Baylis. Amongst new officers joining the Melksham Squadron were Mike Davey who went on to command that unit and Brian Swallow who became the first Commanding Officer of the re-formed 2397 (Devizes) Squadron subsequently becoming Wing Commander for the Dorset/Wilts Wing.

 

A New Start for 2397 (Devizes) Squadron (1973 to date)

In November 1973 the reborn squadron paraded for the first time with 80+ cadets under the command of Flt Lt Brian Swallow at the Church Walk TA Centre. The unit had been able to regain the identity number used prior to 1969.

In 1992 the squadron was relocated to Le Marchant Barracks following a review of MoD properties which had marked the Church Walk site for disposal. The downside was that the new premises were at the top of 42 stairs in the imposing main building. The great benefit was that a close co-operation was established with the resident permanent TA staff of the First Battalion, Wessex Regiment. This enabled the squadron to develop its military style adventure training. Sadly, 1 Wessex was later disbanded and replaced at Le Marchant by a TA Company of the Second Battalion, Royal Gloucester, Berkshire & Wiltshire Regiment with very much depleted resources of personnel and materials to assist the ATC. The TA Company in turn was disbanded in 1999 and the barracks marked for disposal as part of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. This left the squadron as the only occupants of the main building.

In 2001, the increasingly unsafe condition of the building enforced the move to co-exist with the Devizes Platoon of the Army Cadet Force in the former Quartermaster & Sergeants Mess building as a temporary measure pending the construction of a purpose built joint Cadet Centre. This was formally opened in November 2003 by the Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Michael Jackson.

In 1998 we took responsibility for the Detached Flight at the Upavon airfield from 1010 (Salisbury) Squadron. The Detached Flight had been formed to meet the needs of service dependants when Upavon was still a Royal Air Force station. The RAF had subsequently vacated the site which was then occupied by the Army as “Trenchard Lines”. There were few youngsters of cadet age in married quarters or in the nearest village so the flight personnel were transferred to the main squadron at Devizes. The Detached Flight was formally disbanded in March 2000.

Commanding Officers

November 1973 Flt Lt B Swallow
May 1980 Flt Lt T Still
May 1983 Flt Lt A Baylis
October 1983 Sqn Ldr C Bacon
February 1989 Flt Lt V Arnold
November 1991 Flt Lt G Rees
August 2000 Flt Lt G Ellen
November 2002 Flt Lt G Lewry
January 2008 Flt Lt B Wiles