Local History Society

 Memories - Army Technical School, 1939-45

Old Boys' web-site


On Friday September 1st 1939, the 'Times and Weekly News' gave a good pen-picture of the new Army Technical School, just two days before censorship prevented all but the barest of detail on military developments:

The Army in the Making

Activity At Arborfield

Wokingham’s Neighbouring Garrison

Stretches of reinforced concrete roads, rows of galvanised iron buildings and continuous building activity almost as far as the eye can see – is one’s first impression of the Army Technical School at Arborfield – the boy’s camp.

The first started and now complete, this school is the last word in comfort. Electric light, central heating, sprung beds – the boys’ first experience of Army life is probably vastly different from what they expected. Most of the lads are between 14 – 18 and at present there are 500 of them under training. It is understood that the full complement is 1,000 and it is expected this number will be there by the end of October.

Gymnasiums, billiard tables, football, rugby and cricket pitches – these boys have plenty to amuse them when their work is done. In course of erection is a huge building which is to be a dance hall and cinema and will seat 1,000.

Every facility for instruction is provided – the workshops and machine shops being the last word in modern efficiency. As yet there is no band at this camp and Band Marches are relayed to the large parade ground from gramophone records amplified through loud speakers. Education facilities are provided by the War Office and a well equipped hospital attends to any minor accident or illness.

At present the A. A. Militia, comprising 1,100 men and Reservists in 4 Batteries, have not been afforded the comfort of built quarters and they are under canvas. There is however, feverish activity on the part of the contractors in erecting and completing the wooden buildings that will very shortly "house" these men, it is to be hoped before the winter arrives.

Nearing completion too are the married quarters which closely resemble a vast housing estate [Valon Road]. Officers' quarters are rapidly being built and before very long the entire camp should be completely finished and it is understood will comprise over 20,000 people. When this time comes then we expect the effect on Wokingham will be such that there will be an influx of new traders.

The Army Technical School was in the news several times during the war; this item from the 'Times and Weekly News' was careful not to identify the location:

July 11th 1941: A.T.S. Annual Sports: On Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, a local Technical School held its Annual Sports Day. [long list of winners].

The 'Reading Mercury' of July 10th 1943 was more specific: Arborfield: Army Technical School Gymkhana. The Army Technical School, Arborfield, held their annual Gymkhana on Saturday, when the fruits of keen training were shown in the fitness, athletic skill, drill and discipline on parade of the boys, whose ages ranged from 14 to 17 [… list of winners].

This was followed later in the month with news of another sporting event, on July 31st:

Arborfield: Boxing Medals Presented: The Army Technical School (Boys) received a visit from Major General R. Evans, C.B., M.C., Commanding, Aldershot District, on Sunday morning, when he presented medals to the winners and runners-up of the Schools’ boxing competition. [… List of winners, plus ‘Best Loser’].

The 'Times and Weekly News' announced on August 25th 1943 that the Commandant of the Army Technical School was moving on:

Organised the A.T.S. At Arborfield: Brigadier F. A. Hillborn, A.M.Inst.M.E., has been appointed Commandant of the Gordon Boys’ School. Brigadier Hillborn, after serving in the Royal Engineers, Royal Tank Corps and the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, was selected in 1939 to organise the new Army Technical School for boys at Arborfield, and was appointed by the War Office its first Commandant and Chief Instructor. At the Gordon Boys’ School, boys from 13 to 17 are trained in various trades, including engineering and motor mechanics for both civil and service careers.

On October 16th, there was a long article: ‘Boys taught a trade – Apprenticed to Army’, plus a photo: 'Boys of the Army Technical School, Berkshire, being trained in watch-makers’ lathe work. They are taught to turn out precision instruments.':

'Boys of the Army Technical School, Berkshire, being trained in watch-makers’ lathe work. They are taught to turn out precision instruments'

(Photo: copyright 'Reading Mercury'; used by permission)

Peace was just around the corner on April 14th 1945, when the 'Mercury' published the following photo: 'Members of the Army Cadet Force, undertaking a week’s course on "Mechanical Transport" at a R.E.M.E. Technical Training Centre, are shown repairs to a Bren carrier'.

An Army Cadet force being shown repairs to a Bren carrier

(Photo: copyright 'Reading Mercury'; used by permission)

After VE-Day, the emphasis switched to a new era, when a Housing and Planning Exhibition was held at the Army Technical School. The 'Mercury' included photographs of the event in two successive weeks in June 1945.

June 2nd: 'Soldiers showing keen interest in the electricity section of the Housing and Planning Exhibition held at the R.E.M.E. School, Arborfield':

Electricity section of the Housing and Town Planning Exhibition at Arborfield

June 9th: 'Members of the A.T.S. examining this gas cooker at the Housing and Town Planning Exhibition held at the R.E.M.E. School, Arborfield. Chief feature is the detachable oven fitments':

Gas section of the Housing and Town Planning Exhibition at Arborfield

(Photos: copyright 'Reading Mercury'; used by permission)

On July 7th 1945, the 'Mercury' reported: Army Technical School Sports: Many hundreds of people, including the Mayors and Mayoresses of Reading and Wokingham, attended the annual sports and gymkhana of the Army Technical School at Arborfield on Saturday. A large part of the audience was comprised of the parents and relatives of the boys who took part, and they must have felt proud at the fine display given. The boys were certainly a great credit to those responsible for their training.

The band of the School was much appreciated, and it added colour to the many marching displays. There were several novelty races and displays. A very fine junior P.T. display was given by boys of only four months’ service. Highland dancing was performed by Private Robertson, of the Army Dental Corps. Other items including chair tricks, novelty cycle relay race, inter-company tug-of-war, parents’ and sons’ race, company staff relay race, a children’s race and a senior physical training display.

The trophies were presented by Lady Hill, whose husband Major-General Sir Basil Hill, a former Rugby International, was also present. [list of prize winners]

In Autumn 1945, under peace-time conditions, the boys of the School were on parade as shown in this photo from the 'Mercury' of October 20th:

'Lt.-General Sir John Crocker, General Officer Commander-in-Chief, Southern Command, inspecting boys of the Army Technical School at Arborfield':

'Lt.-General Sir John Crocker, General Officer Commander-in-Chief, Southern Command, inspecting boys of the Army Technical School at Arborfield'

(Photos: copyright 'Reading Mercury'; used by permission. It was accompanied by a long article on the event.)


With acknowledgements to Surrey & Berkshire Media and Berkshire Newspapers

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