Trip back in time for mechanic

Joan Herbert visits the Trenchard Museum at RAF Halton
Joan Herbert visits the Trenchard Museum at RAF Halton

A wartime flight mechanic has returned to visit RAF Halton 74 years after being trained there.

Joan Herbert, aged 95, was one of the first women aircraft fitters trained during the Second World War.

Her father, Archibald Osbourne, also joined the Royal Flying Corps and worked as the technical equipment officer in the old workshops at Halton during the First World War.

Joan joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) just after the Battle of Britain in 1941 and did her initial flight mechanic training at No. 6 School of Technical Training at RAF Hednesford near Cannock.

She was posted to No. 20 Maintenance Unit at RAF Aston Down in Gloucester, where she joined a fitters team in the maintenance hangar,

Her first job, she recalls, wasremoving wing inspection plates on a Fairey Battle aircraft.

After six months, her superiors felt she was ready for more technical training and she arrived at RAF Halton for fitters’ course No. 2A, alongside the apprentice airmen of the RAF, before returning to RAF Aston Down as an ACW 1 (Aircraftwoman 1st class) airframe fitter.

Joan, who now lives in Beaconsfield, recalls that being small could be an advantage when working on aircraft.

“I had an advantage over the bigger chaps as I could squeeze into the tail of the fuselage to unbolt the entire tail section,” she said.

Her unit was soon on the move to the Operational Training Unit at RAF Milfield in Northumberland, carrying out major inspections on Spitfires and Hurricanes.

Her war service ended at the Central Fighter Establishment at RAF Tangmere in December 1945 where Joan was demobilised, became a secretary, married her boss and settled down to raise a family.

RAF Halton was established in the first days of the fledgling RAF in 1918.

Priorto this, the land was used by the Army for flying and training troops with permission of Alfred de Rothschild until the War Office bought the estate in 1919.

Today RAF Halton is home to service personnel of all three services, civil service and Defence contractors. Its main role is to train personnel to the highest standard for duties in support of the UK’s Defence Strategy at home and abroad.