Lord Trenchard was one of the founding fathers of the Royal Air Force and was instrumental in securing the Service’s independence and steering it through the difficult post-1918 period when economies and inter-service rivalries posed a great threat to the continued existence of the RAF.
Hugh Montague Trenchard was born in Taunton on 3 February 1873, the son of a solicitor. He was an indifferent student and failed the entrance examinations to Woolwich and the Militia on several occasions before finally scraping through to join the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1893. He spent the next 7 years in India and the North West Frontier until being posted to South Africa where he commanded a company of Imperial Yeomanry against the Boers. He was badly wounded in an action near Krugersdorp on 9 October 1900 necessitating the removal of a lung and evacuation to the UK. Despite this setback he eventually returned to duty in South Africa and saw further action against the Boers, following which he was appointed Deputy Commandant of the Southern Nigerian Regiment.
In 1912, at the age of 39 and with little prospect of further advancement in the Army, Trenchard attended the Royal Flying Corps’ Central Flying School at Upavon and learned to fly and then was appointed Deputy Commandant of the School. When war broke out in August 1914 the RFC mobilised for France but Trenchard remained at home to organise and command the remnants of the RFC. He remained at his HQ at Farnborough until being appointed General Officer Commanding the RFC in France in August 1915. Trenchard remained in France for the next 2 years where he encouraged the cult of the offensive, often in the face of formidable enemy opposition which resulted in severe casualties. The move to create an independent Service gathered momentum during 1917 and he was appointed the first Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Air Force which was formed officially on 1 April 1918. However, Trenchard resigned his post within days due to differences with the Air Minister, Lord Rothermere. He was then appointed to command the Independent Force, a long-range strategic bombing force which was based in the Nancy area and which, despite Trenchard’s initial misgivings, became the forerunner of RAF Bomber Command.
After the War Trenchard was again offered the post of Chief of the Air Staff in which he served from 31 March 1919 until his retirement on 1 January 1930. During this long period Trenchard oversaw the difficult process of demobilisation and reduction of forces to a peace-time level of just 28 squadrons. He then set about laying the foundations of the modern Royal Air Force, creating institutions such as the Cadet, Technical Training and Staff colleges as well as the Auxiliary Air Force and the University Air Squadrons. Throughout the 1920s Trenchard also had to fight numerous attempts by the Army and the Royal Navy to reduce the RAF to a mere supporting arm and it was the employment of aircraft in the air policing role in the Middle East and the North West Frontier that helped Trenchard to prove the value of an independent air force.
After retirement Trenchard served as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and carried through many reforms as well as founding a training college at Hendon. During the Second World War Trenchard energetically visited many RAF units, offering advice and encouragement, and also visited the United States as an ambassador for air power, the RAF and for Britain as a whole. Lord Trenchard died on 10 February 1956 and was buried in the Battle of Britain Chapel of Westminster Abbey.