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Wantage Hall, Reading: Pilots Lodged in Trees

Fuselages were lodged in trees at Wantage Hall to train WW1 fighter pilots

At the outbreak of war, the University of Reading offered up Wantage Hall and other premises for military use. Initially occupied by the Royal Engineers, the growing need for pilots prompted it to be taken over in December 1915 by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) which established a School of Instruction, soon to become the No 1 School of Military Aeronautics.

Tens of thousands of men completed a pioneering four week training course for pilots, observers or equipment officers, which included everything from Morse code, engines and map- reading to wireless and photography. Towards the end of the war, instruction on the use of machine guns was also incorporated in the training.

A small number of women trained as riggers and fitters, learning how to maintain the wires and canvas on the aeroplanes.

In 1918, the RFC employed an innovative approach to training in artillery spotting; by lodging two fuselages in trees alongside the road.

The first training manuals for the industry were produced at Reading with 300 women employed to illustrate them, and the newly built jam factory at Coley Park near the River Kennet was also requisitioned as an aerodrome, remaining in use until 1919.

Officers came from around the world to train at Reading, including the RFC’s only Japanese fighter pilot.

Location: Wantage Hall, University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire RG1 5JG
Image: RAF aircraft in trees as part of training exercise, courtesy of Andrew D Bird via Royal Air Force Museum London
Interview with James V Gascoyne recorded in 1972 courtesy of IWM
Presented by BBC reporter, Janice Hunter

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