This article records the history of the original Christchurch Wing of the Air Training Corps, formed during the Second World War, which consisted of:

  • No 6 Squadron (disbanded, reestablished in Auckland).
  • No 17 Squadron.
  • No 31 Squadron (disbanded, restablished in Morrinsville).
  • Rangiora Detached Flight (disbanded, reestablished in March 2016 as 88 Squadron).
  • Ellesmere Detached Flight (disbanded).

Christchurch’s First Squadron

The Air Training Corps movement began in Christchurch in August 1941. The RNZAFRNZAF Royal New Zealand Air Force. sent SQNLDR W. H. SHEPHERD, to announce its proposal for the Air Training Corps and to recruit potential Officers. SQNLDR SHEPHERD spoke to local groups and organisations deemed to have both an interest in the proposal and the necessary skills to support it. Such groups included the Returned Servicemen’s Association, Rotary Clubs and local schools. Within two months Christchurch had its first Air Training Corps Squadron.

October 1941 saw the formation of the first Christchurch Squadron, No 6 Squadron. The Squadron was formed as part of the initial wave of ATCATC Air Training Corps, a branch of the New Zealand Cadet Forces and formally the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Squadrons, which began in Wellington with No 1 Squadron. PLTOFF G. S. TROUP was appointed as the Commanding Officer of the new Christchurch Squadron. Soon after No 6 Squadron’s formation, No 17 Squadron was formed under the command of PLTOFF G. Maxwell KEYS.

Formation of No 17 Squadron

There has been some debate over the years as to whether No 17 Squadron was formed in 1941 or 1942. The answer can be found in the type-written words of the Squadron’s first Commanding Officer, PLTOFF G. Maxwell KEYS, “In January 1942, No.17 Squadron was formed with Headquarters at the Christchurch Technical College and given to me to command…”

Wartime Structure and Training

The structure of the Squadrons was quite different to that of today. Both No 6 Squadron and No 17 Squadron worked together, delivering different aspects of the overall training programme. Together they formed the Christchurch Wing. No 6 Squadron’s training was centred on the first 21 assignments of the aircrew pre-entry course, while No 17 Squadron focussed on the ground trades. Foot drill was taught by the Non-Commissioned Officers of the Wing Headquarters. The Christchurch Wing also made best use of civilian expertise. Civilian Instructors provided instruction in the more complex subjects of engineering and mathematics. There was also Government involvement, with FGOFF K. MUFF of the Physical Welfare Section of the Department of Internal Affairs, overseeing the physical training. It is reported that by Christmas of 1941 the strength of both Squadrons totalled 176 cadets, 9 officers and 4 Civilian Instructors.

During the Christmas break of 1941 Officers undertook further training courses at various RNZAF Stations. The courses saw additional officers selected and commissioned for service in the Air Training Corps, among these Officers were the first secondary school officers in the Christchurch Wing. Alongside the growing community involvement in the Corps, the RNZAF was also increasing its involvement and support.

A increase in RNZAF support saw specialist RNZAF Non-Commissioned Officers assigned to the Christchurch Wing of the Air Training Corps. These new instructors brought with them a wealth of experience, with most having served overseas as aircrew or with the Ground Training Depot at home. Among the first of these specialist Non-Commissioned Officers was SGT R. L. WOODFIELD, who would go on to become a Commanding Officer of the Squadron (1946-1969).

Young men of the Christchurch Wing in 1941.

Formation of No 31 Squadron

In 1943 the Christchurch Wing experienced an influx of new recruits. Numbers were so large that a third Squadron was formed – No 31 Squadron (of no connection to the current No 31 Squadron located in Morrinsville). The new squadron held its first parade on March 3rd 1943, at West Christchurch High School (now Hagley College). The Squadron had a clearly defined role as a recruiting Squadron for the Christchurch Wing. Its initial role was to recruit and train new cadets to a set standard, after which the cadets would transfer to either No 6 or No 17 Squadron.

No 31 Squadron was formed with a team of Officers, comprising of: FGOFF L. W. STEWART (Commanding Officer), PLTOFF C. H. PERKINS, PLTOFF H. R. LAKE (Adjutant), with Dr L. W. FRASER, and Mr T. M. PENNEY.

Wartime Social Activities

Christchurch Wing social clubs and groups included:

  • Tramping Club (1942),
  • Football Teams (1942),
  • Hockey Teams (1942),
  • Harrier Club (1942), and
  • Christchurch Wing Band (1943).
Participants of the 1942 inter-squadron cross country.

Tramping Club

In the 1942-43 Christmas break the 31 members of the Tramping Club crossed from Canterbury to Westland via Harper Pass.

Christchurch Wing Band

The band was formed in early 1943 by PLTOFF HATCH of the Christchurch Technical College (now CPIT), it was the first Air Training Corps band in the country. The band was popular among the Cadets and had a strength of 68. Art Union funds were raised and earmarked for purchasing brass instruments for the band, however the band opted instead to loan its instruments. In February 1943 the band ambitiously accompanied the Christchurch Wing for the trooping of the colour at Lancaster Park Christchurch.

Despite the bands success it was ultimately disbanded.