358 Welling Squadron ATC

At the end of World War 1, the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service were amalgamated into the Royal Air Force with subsequent scaling down of its activities. As airman returned to civilian life many of the aeronautical skills were lost.

Air Commodore Chamier [“The Father of the ATC”] and the Air League had the foresight to found the Air Defence Cadet Corps in 1938. They knew that in World War 1, young men with only a few hours of training were sent to do combat in the air against well trained enemy aviators. They correctly predicted that another War in Europe was on the horizon, and also that young men would be needed who had the basic aeronautical skills needed to fight in a modern air force. Had it not been for this foresight, we as a nation may not have had the necessary ready skills to defend ourselves during our darkest hours.

Therefore, in 1938, 74 Crayford Squadron ADCC was formed for the children of  the employees, of the Vickers armament factory in Crayford. In 1941 the ADCC became the Air Training Corps [ATC] with ~400 squadrons and ~100,000 cadets. 74 Crayford squadron was so large it formed detached flights based in the local schools, and these very quickly became squadrons in their own right.

The squadrons of the London Borough of Bexley;

74 Crayford [presently closed]
358 Welling - formed within Elsa Boys School. Now Welling School
359 Bexleyheath - presently within Bexleyheath TA centre.
1227 Sidcup - formed within Chislehust & Sidcup Grammar School and now without.
1579 Erith - presently within Erith School.

1217 Erith - There is a trophy in 1579's trophy cabinet from 1217 Erith squadron, and we suspect that 1217 was formed in the Erith Technical School [?], now Trinity School [?] and 1579 Erith was formed within Erith Grammar School, and these two squadrons at some point merged.

74 Crayford Squadron was offered to become a 'founder' squadron of the ATC, but they opted to retain their original squadron identification number of 74, and refute the claim made by 40F Maidstone squadron that they are 'the first in Kent'.

One of those detached flights was 358 Welling Squadron, formed within Elsa Boys School in Welling [which amalgamated with the adjoining girls school to become Welling School]. It was formed with an initial cadet strength of 200 cadets with the headmaster of the school becoming the officer commanding.

The aims of the ATC as stipulated by Royal Warrant are; 

  • To promote and encourage among young men and women a practical interest in aviation and the Royal Air Force.

  • To provide training which will be useful both in the Services and civilian life.

  • To foster the spirit of adventure and develop qualities of leadership and good citizenship. 

Cadets were trained in the basic skills needed by the armed forces, both service and aviation skills, as well as instruction in drill, discipline, uniform and conduct on RAF stations. The development of individual physical fitness including PT, games, athletics, cross country running and long route marches. Also shooting, camping and flying.

They are recorded as helping with the war effort in many ways, e.g. providing additional manual labour, filling sandbags, loading ammunition belts, rearming aircraft, helping in observation posts and acting as couriers between military instillations. When they were called up for active service many had skills in excess of those held by their instructors!  They passed quickly through basic training into active service.

In keeping with the original aims of the organisation, the ATC has repeatedly provided its cadets with life skills attractive to employers and qualifications and experiences not found anywhere else.

2011 represented 70 years of service to the London Borough of Bexley by the Air Training Corps [ATC], with girls joining the ATC in the early 1980's.  The modern ATC consists of 926 squadrons with in excess of 40,000 volunteers. Now in combination with the Combined Cadet Force, RAF section they are now often referred to simply as Air Cadets or the Air Cadet Organisation.

The Air Cadets, has a proven track record of providing young people with life skills not found elsewhere. Even a short membership will give a young person friendships that will last a lifetime, a worthwhile hobby to keep them off the streets, and a constructive diversion form their school, homework and family issues. Employers find that cadets have leadership skills, self discipline, diligence and dedication; they are able to work by themselves and in groups, on projects that take months and years to complete. Even today nearly half of all officers and other ranks who join the RAF and other military services are former ATC cadets.