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Hugh Trenchard, 1st Viscount Trenchard

(1873—1956) air force officer


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(1873–1956)

British air marshal who, as chief of staff between the wars, built up the Royal Air Force into the third major element in Britain's armed services. He was created a baronet in 1919, a baron in 1929, and a viscount in 1936. He was appointed to the OM in 1951.

A lawyer's son from the west of England, Trenchard passed his militia entrance examination at the third attempt in 1893, having failed to enter the navy and the Royal Military Academy. He was posted to India as a second lieutenant in the Royal Scots Fusiliers and later served as a captain in the Boer War, during which he was badly wounded. After a seven-year spell in the Southern Nigeria Regiment, he returned home in 1910 due to illness, later rejoining his old regiment in Ireland.

In 1912, on the prompting of an aviator friend, Trenchard took private flying lessons and quickly obtained his pilot's certificate. He was transferred to the newly formed Royal Flying Corps in the rank of assistant commandant and on the outbreak of World War I found himself in command of 1 Wing attached to the 1st Army Corps on the western front. Soon he was head of all RFC units in France. Trenchard built up the size of his units in a constant battle for air supremacy with the Germans. His pilots also gave support to ground operations and by the end of 1917 were flying bombing raids into Germany. With the creation of the Air Ministry, Trenchard was appointed its first chief of staff in January 1918 but resigned in April over differences with the minister, Lord Rothermere (1868–1940). He returned to France to command the Inter Allied Independent Air Force under the auspices of the Allied generalissimo, Foch, and directed strategic bombing of Germany.

After the war, Trenchard was appointed air chief of staff of the Royal Air Force, formed in April 1918. He more or less built the service from scratch, fiercely defending its independence against the predatory designs of its larger sister services. With his large build and powerful voice, Trenchard proved a formidable champion of the RAF, doubtless justifying his nickname, ‘Boom’ Trenchard, in many a committee. He was appointed first marshal of the RAF in 1927. After a brief ‘retirement’, Trenchard became Metropolitan Police commissioner in 1931, presiding over the establishment of Hendon Police College and forensic laboratories.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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