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Marshal  of the RAF The Viscount Trenchard of Wolfeton

H M Trenchard - 1912Hugh Montague Trenchard, 1st Viscount TrenchardHugh Montague                        b: 3 Feb 1873              r: 1 Jan 1930               d: 10 Feb 1956

Viscount -  1 Jan 1936 (Conferred 4 Feb 1936), Baron -  1 Jan 1930 (Conferred 28 Jan 1930), Baronet - 30 Dec 1919, GCB - 1 Jan 1924 (KCB - 1 Jan 1918, CB - 1 Jan 1914), OM - 1 Jan 1951, GCVO - 26 Jul 1935, DSO - 18 Sep 1906, MiD - 25 Aug 1905, MiD - 18 Sep 1906, MiD - 22 Jun 1915, MiD - 1 Nov 1915, MiD - 1 Jan 1916, MiD - 15 Jun 1916, MiD - 4 Jan 1917, MiD - 11 Dec 1917, MiD - 20 May 1918, MiD - 10 Apr 1919,  (H) DCL (Oxford) - xx xxx 1926, (H) LL.D (Cambridge) - xx xxx xxxx, SA3S - 25 Aug 1915,  C de G - xx xxx 191?, LoH Cdr - 14 Feb 1917, Leo Cdr - 24 Sep 1917, CdeG (B) - 11 Mar 1918, Cwn Cdr - 8 Nov 1918, SS1S - xx xxx 191?, DSM (US) - 15 Jul 1919, OST1 - 4 Jan 1921, OAR - xx xxx xxxx.

For a list of foreign decoration abbreviations, click here

(Militia): - 2 Lt: 31 Mar 1891.

(Army): - 2 Lt: 9 Sep 1893, Lt: 12 Aug 1896, Capt: 28 Feb 1900, (B) Maj: 22 Aug 1902,  (T) Lt Col: 1 Jun 1906, (T) Lt Col: 7 Aug 1914, (B) Lt Col: 18 Jan 1915, (B) Col: 23 Jun 1915, (T) Brig-Gen: 25 Aug 1915, (T) Maj-Gen: 24 Mar 1916,  Maj-Gen: 1 Jan 1917.

(RAF): - Maj-Gen : 3 Jan 1918, Maj-Gen: 1 Apr 1918 [ 3 Jan 1918], AVM: 1 Aug 1919,  AM: 11 Aug 1919, ACM: 1 Apr 1922 [ 1 Aug 1919], MRAF: 1 Jan 1927.

Photo (Left) - taken from his RAeC Certificate

Photo (Right) - Hugh Montague Trenchard, 1st Viscount Trenchard

by Walter Stoneman
bromide print, 11 October 1932
NPG x31071

© National Portrait Gallery, London

31 Mar 1891:  Officer, The Forfar and Kincardine Artillery (Southern Division)

9 Sep 1893:     Officer, 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. (India/South Africa)

28 Feb 1900:   Officer, Imperial Yeomanry. (South Africa) (Seconded for service under the Foreign Office)

xx xxx 1901    Convalescing

xx xxx 1901:   Officer, Canadian Scouts. (South Africa)

12 Sep 1903:    From Supernumerary Captain to Captain, Royal Scots Fusiliers

24 Oct 1903:   Deputy Commandant, Southern Nigeria Regiment. (Nigeria) (Seconded for service under the Colonial Office)

 1 Jun 1906:    Commandant, Southern Nigeria Regiment. (Nigeria) (Seconded for service under the Colonial Office)

 4 Nov 1910:   Officer, 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. (Northern Ireland)

17 Aug 1912:   'Wings' Course, Central Flying School.

 1 Oct 1912:     Instructor, Central Flying School,.

23 Sep 1913:    Assistant Commandant, Central Flying School.

 7 Aug 1914:    Officer Commanding and Officer i/c Records, Military Wing, RFC - Farnborough.

19 Nov 1914:   Officer Commanding, 1st Wing, RFC.

 3 Jun 1915:     Extra ADC to the King.

25 Aug 1915:   Officer Commanding, RFC in France

24 Mar 1916:   GOC, RFC in France  

 3 Jan 1918:      Chief of Staff, Air Council.

15 May 1918:   Special Duty, HQ RAF in the Field.

15 Jun 1918:    GOC Independent Force, RAF

26 Oct 1918:    C in C, Inter-Allied Independent Air Force.

20 Nov 1918 - 11 Jan 1919:    Inactive List.

22 Jan 1919:    Chief of the Air Staff  

 1 Aug 1919:    Awarded Permanent Commission as a Major-General

 1 Jan 1930:      Placed on Half Pay on ceasing to be employed

Hugh could never be considered to be a scholar and his parents' desire to see him enter a military career seemed destined to failure.  In 1884 he tried for entry into the Royal Navy via Dartmouth, failing this and the fact that his academic abilities entry to either Sandhurst or Woolwich, he attempted to join the Militia.  After failing the entrance exams in both 1891 and 1892 he finally passed  with just 28 marks above the minimum required, in March 1893. During the Boar War  he was severely wounded, eventually losing a lung and damaging his spine.    In order to convalesce, he traveled to St Moritz, where he hoped the fresh cool air would help with his lungs, but becoming restless he took up tobogganing and it was not long before he was flashing down the Cresta Run.  With only one lung and needing sticks to walk most would have thought Trenchard's military career to be at an end, but then one day a 'miracle' occurred when he lost control of his toboggan which shot into the air with him landing thirty feet below in a snow drift.  Shrugging away offers of help, he picked himself up and walked away unaided, totally cured.  He even won the Freshman and  Novice's Cup in 1901, only a week after his accident.  Somehow managing to convince the authorities that he was fit (they were totally unaware of his missing lung), he returned to South Africa and by the end of the war, had achieved a reputation as "the best mounted infantry officer of his rank",*  being rewarded by promotion to Brevet Major

Extract from London Gazette - 25 August 1905: -

War Office, 25th August, 1905.

The following Despatches, relating to operations in Northern and Southern Nigeria, have been received by the Secretary of State for the Colonies

Government House, Calabar, 7th July, 1904.

Despatch relating to Field Operations.


I have the honour to submit the following report upon the Military operations which took place in this Protectorate between September, 1903, and May, 1904.

10.  Operation No. 8.—Captain and Brevet Major H. M. Trenchard, Royal Scots Fusiliers, assumed command of a force of 4 Officers, 2 British N on-Commissioned Officers, 211 rank and file, 2 Maxims; R. E. Little, Medical Officer; A. A. Whitehouse, Political Officer, assisted by H. M. Douglas, on the 6th March, 1904, its object being the pacification of a portion of the Owerri District on the light bank of the Imo River.  Several engagements took place, in all of which the enemy were routed. Major Trenchard reports :—" I found night surprises in the bush were most successful, and had an excellent effect on the enemy. Also, I tried rushing the enemy directly they opened fire, with very good results."

Extract from London Gazette - 23 February 1906: -

"War Office. 23rd February 1906.

The following Despatches have been received by the Secretary of State for the Colonies :—

From the High Commissioner, Southern Nigeria, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

22nd July, 1905.

Despatch relating to Field Operations, October 1904 to June 1905.


I have the honour to report on the pacification and settlement work carried out during the dry season 1904-5.

(III.) A column under Brevet Major H. M. Trenchard, Rojal Scots Fusiliers, patrolled through the unsettled portion of the Ibibio and Kwa country, between the loth of November and 27th of February."

Extracts from London Gazette - 18 September 1906: -

"Southern Nigeria.

Government House, Lagos, 9th June, 1906.

Despatch relating to Field Operations.

My Lord,

I have the honour to forward herewith the report of the Officer Commanding the Southern Nigeria Regiment on the military operations carried out in the Protectorate during the dry season of 1905-06.

4. I endorse the mentions made by Colonel Moorhouse, and would suggest that the services of Brevet Major H. M. Trenchard are worthy of special consideration.."

"10.  In accordance with your instructions two columns of a strength of 7 Officers, 3 British Non-commissioned Officers, 2 Political, 3 Medical, 1 Transport Officer, 325 rank and file, 3 Maxims, two 2.95 guns, and 6 Officers, 2 British Non commissioned Officers, 1 Medical Officer, 200 rank and file, and 2 Maxims respectively concentrated on Bende and Oka under Brevet Major Trenchard, Royal Scots Fusiliers, and Captain Mair, R.F.A.

11. The objective of these columns was to bring under Government control the country lying south of latitude 6° 30' N. bounded on the west by the Okaoguta road, on the east by a line joining Afikpo and Abakaliki, and on the south by the  Bende-Owerri road, in which slave trading and human sacrifices existed and which was unknown country closed to trade. This had to be modified later owing to the lamented murder of Dr. Stewart and the subsequent general rising of the district near the scene of the murder.

12. The columns joined up on November 30th, a base camp was formed on the Imo River, after which Major Trenchard again split up his force and worked the country with three and sometimes four small columns. The first portion of the country to be dealt with was the southern sphere, at or adjacent to the scene of the murder of Dr. Stewart. The most continued and obstinate resistance was met with, trenches and stockades being found everywhere, and it was necessary to keep troops in this  neighbourhood until the close of the operations on April 15th.

17. I wish to bring to your Excellency's notice the services rendered and good work done by the following Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and men, who are in my opinion worthy of consideration:—

Brevet Major H. M. Trenchard, Royal Scots  Fusiliers, has commanded a column of 800 men in the field for five months and  shown energy, resource and powers of organisation far above the average. I wish to bring his services specially to Your Excellency's notice"

Extract from London Gazette - 7 April 1911: -

"Lagos, Southern Nigeria, 1st June, 1910.

Your Excellency,

I have the honour to submit the following despatch on the Ogwashi-Oku Patrol.

The Ogwashi-Oku Patrol, Nov. 1909-May 1910.  This Patrol [*] was rendered necessary by the people of Ogwashi-Oku refusing to comply with Government orders, blocking the roads through their town, and destroying the Government Rest House. It was under the command of Captain Sheffield, 3rd Battalion Essex Regiment, and was composed of 3 Officers, 1 B.N.C.O., 1 Medical Officer, 131 rank and file, and 1 Maxim. Onitsha was left on the 2nd November and Ogwashi-Oku reached on the 8th November. It was found necessary soon after the patrol started to increase this force by 1 Officer and 60 men, owing to the density of the bush and the strong opposition encountered. The column was in the field from the 2nd November, 1909, to December 18th, 1909. Strong opposition was met with in the town of Ogwashi-Oku, the casualties amounting to:

7 N.C.O.'s and men killed,

5 soldiers wounded.

And amongst the carriers to:

3 killed,

7 wounded.

On December 18th the troops were withdrawn to Onitsha (20 miles), and the people informed that they would be given three weeks to come in and submit. But early in January, 1910, they again defied the Government by destroying the Roman Catholic Mission buildings in the town; the column under Captain Sheffield was, therefore, ordered to return to Ogwashi-Oku on the 6th of January. A night march was made to the former camp in order to lessen the risk of casualties, opposition being met with at the entrance to the camp, and one soldier severely wounded; further casualties were prevented by the darkness of the night. Fighting continued for several days in the vicinity of the camp until a considerable clearing of the bush had been made all round, so as to prevent the bushmen from continually sniping day and night, which they had been doing with some success. Sub-columns were sent out to try and capture the ringleaders Nzekwe and his followers, but on their approach they immediately scattered and kept up a guerilla warfare. 

The second phase lasted from the 6th January to the 24th April. The casualties during this period amounted to:

1 soldier killed,

4 soldiers wounded,

1 carrier wounded.

On the 25th of April reinforcements [strength 5 Officers, 160 rank and file, 2 Maxims] were sent to join the column, and Major Bruce proceeded from Lagos to take over command. 

On the 4th of May an attempt was made to capture the ringleader Nzekwe at Aniogu, where he was reported to be living, but owing to the darkness of the night, the trees that had been felled across the paths, and the numerous spikes as well, it was decided to give up the attempt and return to camp. The following night the column took another road, and successfully surprised the bush camp, but failed to capture Nzekwe; one soldier was severely wounded. On the 6th of May Major Wayling surprised another bush camp, and had one soldier wounded. Sub-columns were out during the next few days getting information and searching surrounding country. On the 15th the column under Major Bruce reached Abedi, after a trying march in torrents of rain on the 14th. Strong opposition was met with, the roads leading into the town being stockaded and a heavy fire opened by the bushmen. Captain H. G. Chapman, Suffolk Regiment, and 3 soldiers were killed and 2 soldiers wounded (one since dead). The bush round the town was exceptionally thick, which made advance most difficult, and but for the inaccurate shooting of the bushmen the casualties would have been far heavier than they were. Several more bush camps were located on the following days, and the enemy, continually harassed and kept on the move, decided to give up the war, and on the 27th of May Nzekwe and 200 armed bushmen gave themselves up to Major Bruce at Ogwashi-Oku.

The total casualties up to date amount to:

1 Officer and 11 rank and file killed.

23 rank and file wounded. 

I would recommend to your Excellency's notice the excellent work performed by the following Officers:—

Major Bruce, Norfolk Regiment, commanded the Ogwashi-Oku patrol during the third phase, and, owing to the excellent plans made and the very hard work carried out during the rainy season, brought the operations at last to a successful conclusion.  Captain G. N. Sheffield, 3rd Battalion, Essex Regiment, for five months commanded the Ogwashi-Oku patrol, and inflicted heavy defeats on the enemy.

I have, &c.,

H. TRENCHARD, Lieut.-Colonel,

Commanding Southern Nigeria Regt.

[*] Strength - 4 Officers, 1 B. N.C.O., 2 Political Officers, 1 Medical Officer, 131 Rank and File, 1 Maxim."

Posted back to his regiment in 1910, it was clear to his fellow officers that his stay would be short and it was not long before he began applying for service in various parts of the world.  It was whilst these were being considered he turned his attention to the newly formed Flying Corps which suited his sense of adventure, but in order to be accepted for service in the RFC he had to gain his Royal Aero Club Certificate.  Because of his age he was given ten days in which to gain his RAeC Certificate, the pre-requisite to becoming a pilot in the RFC.  He promptly arrived at Brooklands and was taught to fly in a week gaining his Certificate on 31 July 1912.  However before qualifying as a military pilot at the CFS, he was appointed to the staff as Station Staff Officer.  Looking up his duties he found he was responsible for setting and marking examination papers, so he promptly set himself an paper, sat it, marked it and awarded himself his flying 'brevet'.  

When the bulk of the RFC  went to France in August 1914, Lt Col Trenchard was appointed Officer Commanding The RFC (Military Wing) at Farnborough tasked with forming new squadrons for the front.  Following reorganisation of the RFC in France, he was appointed OC of the 1st Wing and when Henderson returned to London to resume the duties of Director of Military Aeronautics, Trenchard was gazetted GOC, the RFC in France. Throughout his tenure he exhibited an aggressive attitude towards operations and expected his pilots and crews to do likewise.  This led to large scale casualties as British airman flew over the German lines whilst the German fighter pilots preferred not to cross their own lines.  Although the British suffered seemingly large casualties, the result of this policy was an increase in the intelligence gathered and photographs taken which ultimately improved the level of support available to the ground forces to a state never reached by the Germans.

However, for all his apparently oblivious attitude to the casualties suffered by his crews, he was in fact very conscientious of them.  He found himself in constant conflict with the authorities  over the supply of sufficient and suitable machines and unlike other British generals of the period, Trenchard made it his policy to tour the airfields and visit his squadrons and crews.  From these visits he was able to gauge the mood of his crews and assess the effectiveness of his subordinate commanders at first hand.  Whilst abhorring illness and weakness in individuals, he was always prepared to listen to ideas from those in the front line and to reward those showing valour and initiative.  As a result, there were few members of the RFC who did not admire him, albeit in some cases grudgingly.

In January 1918, Trenchard returned from France to take up the appointment as Chief of the Air Staff at the newly created Air Ministry, but Lloyd-George's appointment as Secretary of State for Air, Lord Rothermere, proved less than ideal.  Both he and Trenchard held strongly opinionated views and they immediately clashed with each other with the result that, before the RAF even came into being on 1st April 1918, Trenchard had resigned.  Desperate not to lose Trenchard's experience and talents, Lord Weir (Rothermere's successor) asked him to take command of the newly forming Independent Bombing Force, designed to carry out strategic attacks against Germany.  Discussions between British, French and American governments resulted in the Independent Force becoming the Inter-Allied Independent Force in October, still under Trenchard's command.

With the end of hostilities in November Trenchard asked to be put on half pay for a year in order to gain a rest and to give some experience to younger officers.   However in January 1919, he was asked to offer assistance with quelling some of the mutinies, which were breaking out throughout the country as a result of the governments, poor demobilisation policy.  As a result he found himself in Southampton trying to bring under control a large body of troops (approx. 5000), who refused to leave the docks.  By commandeering a small unit of armed soldiers and threatening to shoot any whom resisted as well as offering an amnesty to those who had merely followed the ringleaders, he was able to restore the situation resulting in the arrest of a mere 53.

Re-appointed to the Air Staff by Churchill in 1919, his first task was to establish the post war for the new service.  He made his proposals for this future structure of the RAF  in  "Trenchard's White Paper" (official title:   Cmd 467. Permanent Organisation of the Royal Air Force - Note by the Secretary of State for Air on a Scheme Outlined by the Chief of the Air Staff), which he presented before Parliament in December 1919.     

Although Trenchard had not originally been in favour of merging the RFC and RNAS, mainly to prevent disruption of day-to-day operations on the Western Front, once the formation of the RAF was a faite accomplie he set about consolidating it's position along side it's older sister services.  Limited budgets and the public's desire not to see the likes of the 'Great War' again, played a major part in post war defence planning.  Trenchard, realised that if the new service was to survive and develop air warfare to the fullest extent it had to be self supporting and fully independent of the Army and Navy.

His first priority was to establish a training foundation at all levels, setting up the RAF College, No 1 School of Technical Training and two years later, the RAF Staff College. He also introduced the Short Service Commission scheme and later still instituted the Special Reserve and Auxiliary Air Force squadrons.

As well as the problems associated with running an Air Force involved in operations across the British Empire, he was also faced with problems at home battling against the efforts of the Navy and Army to have the RAF split in two once again.  In his ten years at the helm of the RAF he successfully fought off three attempts to disband it by the process of parliamentary inquiry, all finding in favour of a separate RAF.  Retirement did not mean separation from the RAF and  for the remainder of his life, he traveled the world visiting units and acting as an ambassador for the RAF.  He continued to influence the RAF through his disciples long after his retirement and probably after his death.

In 1931, he was appointed Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.  Here he tried to restructure the Force on similar lines to those he had established in the RAF.   Although he did manage to improve the organisation of the Force to some extent, other ideas, such as Short Service Officers and a Central Police College, were something of a failure.  Eventually retiring in 1935, he joined the Board of the United Africa Company as Chairman remaining as since until his death.  He has also held the  offices of Director and Trustee of the Imperial War Museum (1937-45).  On 28 January 1936 he was a mourner at the funeral of HM King George V.

*From a report by Col T E Hickman

Further reading: - Trenchard,  Boyle, Andrew - Collins (1962)  

This page was last updated on 18/10/22

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