THIS month marks the 75th anniversary of the formation of Air Cadets – and amongst the first in the country was 308 (Colchester) Squadron who proudly have displayed at their headquarters a Royal Warrant dated 5th February 1941 from King George VI.

The first meeting of the Air Training Corps (ATC) as they were called in those days was on 22nd February at the then North-East Essex Technical College and School of Art (now the Sixth Form College) with the Principal, Flight Lieutenant E.H. Enoch, as its first Commanding Officer.

One of the earliest Cadets was Bernard Johnson who 75 years later recalls that at first they met in the former Cock and Pye public house on North Hill which was part of the Technical College. He has been involved with the Squadron since then to the present day.

National celebrations for the 75th anniversary started last Sunday with a service at St Clement Dane’s in London, the official church of the Royal Air Force, with Colchester represented in the Regional Band by 18-year-old Sergeant Tom Lucey. He is a snare drummer, and a student at Colchester Institute.

The book “Essex at War”, published in 1945, written by Essex County Standard reporters under the editorship of Mr Hervey Benham, includes a chapter featuring Cadets in Colchester during the Second World War (1939-45). Air Cadets were the first to be formed, with Army Cadets and Sea Cadets the following year. In those days only teenage boys could join. Girls were first allowed to join the Air Cadets from 1980.


  • Colchester (308) Squadron Air Cadets on a visit to an airfield in 1974, before girls were allowed to join

Looking back to 1941, the Royal Warrant says the purpose of forming Air Cadets was “to provide young men with the means of preparing themselves for air service with the Royal Air Force.”

This challenge was met – with more than 600 Colchester Air Cadets passing on to the Services, most to the RAF with two of the original 308 “C” Flight being decorated for their later endeavours: the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) awarded to Flight Lieutenant P.B. Kettle and the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) to Flight Sergeant D.A. Cole.

Mr Benham wrote: “The object of the ATC was to provide the rapidly expanding RAF with trained ground-crews, and more especially air-crews. The fact that by 1944 many RAF men had to be moved over to the Army shows that the ATC more than fulfilled its mission.”

ATC Flights were also established at Brightlingsea, Clacton, Harwich, Mersea-Peldon and Kelvedon. By March 1942 numbers had grown so much that a second Squadron was formed in Colchester – numbered 1904. It was disbanded in 1947. Meetings for both were held in the main Technical College building.


Wing status was achieved with Flight Lieutenant Enoch (later Squadron Leader) as its Commanding Officer as well as being CO of 308 Squadron.

The Wing formed a band in 1942. Mr Johnson recalls attending Church Parades at St Peter’s Church “followed by marching through the Town Centre with the Band.”

Colchester (308) Squadron was held in such high esteem in national circles that, in the words of Mr Benham: “On November 20 1944, Colchester was selected for the presentation of demonstration of instruction for officers of London Command (taking in all of Essex) and Eastern Command.”

In May 1945 the band was chosen to take a leading part in the National ATC rally at Hyde Park.

I have fond memories over the years of the Colchester Air Cadets’ band playing at events and leading parades, but lack of band leaders led to it closing about 15 years ago. The Squadron still has the instruments, and would welcome it being re-formed if leaders can be found.

Over the years, Colchester Air Cadets met variously at Cavalry Barracks, then the former Courts Martial Centre (single storey huts) on the corner of Napier Road where four-storey flats have since been built, and for the past 15 years at new premises next to the Army Reserve (formerly TA) Centre in Circular Road East-Lower.

Whereas in 1941 the purpose was to recruit Cadets to be trained to join the RAF, today the leaders of Colchester (308) Squadron stress they are not a recruiting organisation.

Flight Lieutenant Jean Robinson, whose day job is a charity fundraiser for Age UK Essex, has been in charge since 2010 having previously held the position from 2000 to 2005 before moving to a post at county level. She was originally a Cadet in her native Northamptonshire.

She told me: “We are a uniformed youth organisation that offers leadership, adventurous activities and incredible opportunities for teenage boys and girls from school Year 8 to the age of 17 – to make friends and try something new.”

Mrs Robinson is one of three uniformed leaders with ten civilian instructors. Fundraising and lay support comes from “308 Association Civilian Committee”.

There are 75 Cadets, of whom 15 are girls. There are parades each Tuesday and Thursday evening, with activities on 45 weekends during the year either on one or both days. Activities include a wide range of air training subjects, flying, gliding, first aid, sport and the Duke of Edinburgh award.

Subscription is £12 a month. The cost of running the building and providing uniforms is paid by the Reserve Forces. Cadets buy their own boots and socks.

New recruits are welcome – contact or phone 01206 369685 on Training Nights (answerphone at other times).

Various national and local events are planned during the course of this year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the formation of Air Cadets.