Style & Substance: The First Viscount Trenchard

1 When one encounters a name that barely fits on an envelope, it’s fairly safe to assume that one is dealing with an individual of considerable… substance. Take ‘Marshal of the Royal Air Force Hugh Montague Trenchard, 1st Viscount Trenchard, GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO’, for example. It’s a name that calls to mind derring-do, a devil-may-care attitude and, likely as not, large moustaches. It won’t come as a surprise that a man with such name struggled academically and barely made the grade for admission into the Army, or that he served in India and then got shot through the lung and was partially paralysed whilst fighting in the Boer War. It also seems almost inevitable that such a man as this, without titles, medals or any money at the time, was the type to recuperate from such injuries in Switzerland, and also the type to get easily bored and take up activities like the Cresta Run to while away the hours. Of course, hurtling headfirst down an icy chute at 80mph in a pair of breeks and a woolly jumper is just the kind of thing that future DSO winners do, but even this breed might be expected to apply the rakes (brakes on one’s boots) to maintain a semblance of control. Not young Trenchard: his paralysis meant he had no such luxury and crashed frequently as a result. On one occasion, after smashing into the side wall two or three times, he shot out of the course, parted company with his toboggan and landed some thirty feet away. Onlookers waited for him to get up and then, when he failed to do so, they went over to assess the damage, fearing the worst. It was then that something rather remarkable happened: ‘When he came to his head was throbbing violently. Solicitious hands raised him. He pushed them aside in a sudden fury of excitement and happiness. He could walk again unaided. Whatever other damage he might have done himself as he bounced down the hill-side like a rubber ball, he had recovered the use of his legs. Apart from a dull pain near the base of his spine he felt no aftereffects. Something must have clicked back into place; he had cured himself by violence.’ (Andrew Boyle, Trenchard, 1962)