On 9 September 2006, as part of the Civic Trust Open Days programme, the Lincolnshire Local Authority organised a tour of College Hall, RAF Cranwell. Amongst the group which enjoyed this event was one of our former 8 Group DGCs, Mike Rose, his wife and myself.
Cranwell has an interesting history in that it predates both the RAF and the RFC, having been commissioned in 1916 as a training unit for the Royal Naval Air Service and was known as HMS Daedalus, a hulk in the Medway, the nominal depot ship for all RNAS personnel. The tradition is that the site was chosen by a young Naval pilot who was briefed to fly around the area looking for a large enough area of flat land – shouldn’t have been too difficult an assignment in Lincolnshire ! The main loser was the Earl of Bristol who had some 2500 acres requisitioned. The construction of hutted accommodation and hangars followed. On April 1st 1918, with the amalgamation of the RNAS and RFC, ownership passed to the RAF under the name RAF Cranwell. It was the first military air academy in the world.
In 1922, it was decided that the RN huts should be replaced by permanent College buildings. The Secretary of State for Air in Stanley Baldwin’s Government was highly supportive. By 1929, plans had been drawn up, the final version of which produced the building which we see today, based on Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital in Chelsea. The problem was that a general election (which Baldwin was expected to lose) was imminent and so Hoare pulled off what he described as “an act of bluff”. The foundation stone was laid in front of a gathering of worthies by Lady Hoare although no expenditure had been approved for the building. However, the event was noted in the Statute Book and so, when the new Government was formed by Ramsay Macdonald, it seems that approval was assumed and building went ahead.
The photograph below shows the main building and a close up of the dome together with photographs of the foundation stone. In the dome is a light which is registered with Trinity House and in the early days could be seen at over thirty miles, the most inland registered lighthouse. The modern light is not so powerful. In the Entrance Hall are portraits of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh by Norman Hepple. Another Royal portrait in one of the corridors shows Prince Charles when he received his pilot’s training at Cranwell in 1971. At the time, the IRA was becoming active in the UK and so tighter security rules were introduced, including one that meant cars were parked well away from buildings. It was, however, decided, that this might be counter-productive to HRH’s security and so a patch was gravelled between two blocks for his Aston Martin. Careful examination of the portrait (unfortunately not very clear on the photograph below) shows a blue object in the bottom left-hand corner. It is said that when Prince Charles saw the picture, he asked for the car to be painted out but the artist (Mara McGregor) said that either the painting went up as it was or not at all. On visits to Cranwell, it is rumoured that he still says “See that you haven’t yet moved the car !”
In the Dining Room, Cranwell’s Queen’s Colour is on permanent display but there is another Queen’s Colour in the Rotunda. The display here consists mainly of the Standards of Squadrons which have been temporarily disbanded – if a Squadron is subsequently reformed, its Standard is marched out with due ceremony, reconsecrated and returned to the Squadron. However there is also the Queen’s Colour of the Royal Observer Corps, sent from Bentley Priory for safe keeping when the Corps was disbanded. It position at the end gives it very high visibility and, as our guide pointed out, it is unusual in having two crowns – The King’s Crown on the badge and the Queen’s Crown in the top left hand corner. But don’t get your hopes up – the “temporarily disbanded” is unlikely to apply to it.
At the end of the tour we were all given an illustrated booklet about RAF Cranwell, inside which it says that public visits can be arranged by writing to The College Secretariat, RAF College Cranwell, Sleaford, Lincs, NG34 8HB
Jon Layne (Secretary Ashbourne Section CROCA)