College History 

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Cranwell's association with aviation began during the first World War. The Admiralty needed to establish a series of air stations around the south and east coasts to supplement the coastguard system and to alert our shore defences against sea and air invasion. In 1915 the Royal Naval Air Service sought to establish a single unit at which officers and ratings could be trained to fly aeroplanes, observer kite balloons and airships. Tradition has it that a young Naval pilot was briefed to fly around until he found a piece of land that was both large enough and flat enough for the purpose. It is said that he flew over Cranwell and thought it quite admirable.

True or not, by November 1915 the Admiralty had requisitioned some 2,500 acres of farmland, mainly from the Earl of Bristol's estate. In the following month, construction of a hutted camp and aircraft hangars began. The Royal Naval Air Service Central Training Establishment Cranwell was commissioned on 1 April 1916, under the command of Commodore Godfrey M. Paine.
Cranwell later became known as HMS Daedalus. This was not strictly correct but arose because the officers and ratings of the Central Training Establishment at Cranwell were borne on the books of HMS Daedalus which was a hulk in the Medway and the nominal depot ship for all RNAS personnel serving on other stations. In addition to flying training and airship operations, a Boys' Training Wing was also established at Cranwell. Its task was to train Naval ratings as air mechanics and riggers.
In February 1918 Prince Albert, later Duke of York and King George VI, was appointed Officer in Charge of Boys and later Officer Commanding No.4 Squadron of the Boys' Wing. He left Cranwell in August 1918.
With the amalgamation of the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corps on 1 April 1918, ownership of Cranwell was placed in the hands of the Royal Air Force. The former Naval base title was replaced by the designation Royal Air Force Station Cranwell.
After the First World War, the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Hugh Trenchard (below), was determined to consolidate the Royal Air Force's position as a single, independent Service. One of his priorities for the future was the establishment of a cadet college to provide basic and flying training for the future leaders of the Royal Air Force. He chose Cranwell as the location because, as he told his biographer,

    "Marooned in the wilderness, cut off from pastimes they could not organise for themselves, the cadets would find life cheaper, healthier and more wholesome."

The Royal Air Force College, which was the first Military Air Academy in the world, was opened on 5 February 1920 under the command of Air Commodore C. A. H. Longcroft. The Chief of the Air Staff's message to the first entry of cadets left them in no doubt of his expectations for the College:

    "We have to learn by experience how to organise and administer a great Service, both in peace and war, and you, who are present at the College in its first year, will, in future, be at the helm. Therefore, you will have to work your hardest, both as cadets at the College and subsequently as officers, in order to be capable of guiding this great Service through its early days and maintaining its traditions and efficiency in the years to come."

In 1922 it was decided that the wartime Naval huts should be replaced by permanent College buildings. Sir Samuel Hoare, later Lord Templewood, who was the Secretary of State for Air in Baldwin's first two governments, gave this idea his whole-hearted support, but it nevertheless proved extremely difficult to secure both the money and the backing of the government for such a project. In 1929 Hoare got approval to obtain an architect's plan for the new College, but the General Election was close and it was very doubtful if any succeeding government would support the plan. To save time Hoare gave the task of designing the new College to the Ministry of Works. When the plans were received, Hoare was dismayed; Hoare took the architect, James West, to visit Wren's Royal Hospital in his own constituency of Chelsea and the new design reflected this influence. The result is the Cranwell of today which so gracefully reflects the best of Wren's ideas.
The building was completed in September 1933 at a cost of 321,000. It is built of rustic and moulded brick with the more important features faced in Portland Stone. It has a roughly rectangular central block linked by narrow corridors to the quadrangular accommodation wings on each side, giving a frontage of over 800 feet.
The facade of the central block is designed on classic lines with a central portico of six Corinthian columns surmounted by a pediment tower and dome. The tower has a pilastered drum with the columns breaking forward and paired at the angles. On top of the dome at a height of 130 feet is a rotating beacon giving a white light which flashes twenty times a minute. On either side of the portico the elevation has columns carried from he ground to the roof flanking each pair of windows. Each wing is surmounted by a smaller tower.
In front of the College is its parade ground and a large circle of grass known as the Orange, which is flanked on either side by an avenue of lime trees presented by Sir Samuel and Lady Hoare.
The imposing entrance gates are of wrought iron with matching lanterns surmounting the stone pillars on with either side. Gates and lanterns were made in the 1930s by Flight Sergeant Benton, a coppersmith and blacksmith serving at the RAF College.
The building was officially opened by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, in October 1934.

The central block is floodlit at night, enhancing the natural beauty of the building. The lights create a sense a depth, with the pillars in front of the main entrance being lit in silhouette to give added character. The clock tower is illuminated to give a three-dimensional effect with the shadows created by the natural contours of the stonework and the windows lit from inside.


Date Last Updated : Monday, December 8, 2003 10:00 AM

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