Discover your ancestors who were officers in the Royal Air Force (RAF) between 1912 and 1920 and who served in World War 1. The record set contains records of 101,266 RAF officers. You may be able to discover your relative’s birth year, civilian occupation, military awards and decorations, and next of kin details, which will allow you to delve further back into your family tree. Included in these records are those of U.S. Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner, and W.E. Johns, creator of the fictional flying ace, Biggles.
Each record comprises a transcript and several black and white images of the original register, from The National Archives AIR 76 series.. The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include a combination of the following information about your ancestor:
• First name(s)
• Last name
• Birth year
• Birth date
The images may contain additional information about your ancestor. These further details may include:
• Next of kin details
• Discharge date
• Reasons for discharge
• Appointments and promotions
• Special qualifications
• Medical results
• Death year
• Death date
• Cause of death
• Awards and decorations
The record set comprises 101,266 records.
These records date from 1912 to 1920.
The record set includes around 291,000 images; some records contain over 50 pages.
The records began with the inception of the RAF on 1 April, 1918, but they include retrospective details of earlier service in the Royal Flying Corps or Royal Naval Air Service.
Airman is a generic term for anybody in the RAF, whether they flew or not.
Some records are touching by their lack of information. Lieutenant Krozsinoff, a pilot, was killed on 5 April 1919. The Outgoing Authority number is given, but there is no first name, date of birth, personal details or next of kin information.
Zeno Joseph Bissonnette from Canada had several special qualifications: “Knowledge of internal combust engines Drive car, motorcycle motor boats etc. Can read write and speak French and English”.
Stanley Hugh Wrinch, a tea and rubber planter from Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) also had a number of special qualifications: “Lived in East for 4 years Speaks Hindustani Tamil Cingalese [modern-day Sinhalese, the native language of the Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka] & used to natives & management of native labour”.
The Nobel-Prize winning U.S. writer William Faulkner enlisted in the reservist unit of the British Armed Forces in Toronto because he wasn’t tall enough to join the U.S. Army. Despite his claims to the contrary, Faulkner wasn’t actually a member of the British Royal Flying Corps and was never in service during World War 1. A note dated 21 January 1919 in his record states that he was discharged as he was “surplus to requirements.”
In 1913, William Earl Johns, creator of the character of Biggles, enlisted as a private in the King’s Own Royal Regiment (Norfolk Yeomanry). The regiment was mobilized in September 1915, fighting at Gallipoli and Egypt. A year later, Johns transferred to the Machine Guns Corps and was hospitalized for malaria in Greece. In 1917, following his recovery, he was commissioned into the Royal Flying Corps and posted back to England for flight training. Johns carried out six weeks of active duty as a bomber pilot with No.55 Squadron RAF, which was part of the Independent Air Force, a section of the RAF that had been formed to bomb strategic targets deep inside Germany. In September 1918, his aircraft was attacked by a large group of Fokker D.VII fighters and he was taken prisoner of war by German troops until the end of the war. After the conflict, he stayed in the RAF and was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer in 1920. He worked in central London as a recruiting officer and, famously, rejected T.E Lawrence (of Arabia) for providing a false name, but was subsequently forced to accept Lawrence. Johns was later transferred to the reserves, and in 1931, he relinquished his commission. Between 1932 and 1968, Johns wrote almost 100 books about the pilot and adventurer Biggles. The byline of the first few Biggles books states they were written by “Flying Officer W.E. Johns,” but the vast majority were written by “Capt. W.E. Johns,” even though he never attained that rank in the RAF.
The First World War introduced the systematic use of true single-seat fighter aircraft, with sufficient speed and agility to catch and maintain contact with targets in the air, combined with weaponry powerful enough to destroy the targets. Around 5 percent of combat pilots account for the majority of air-to-air victories, and these pilots came to be known as aces during World War One, after newspapers in France described Adolphe Pégoud as “l’As,” the ace, when he became the first pilot to shoot down five German aircraft. The British originally used the phrase “star-turns,” a show-business expression, while the Germans named their elite fighter pilots “Uberkanonen,” which translates loosely as “top guns.” The British high command regarded praise of fighter pilots to be detrimental to equally brave bomber and reconnaissance aircrew, so the British air services didn’t publish official statistics on the successes of individuals. Nevertheless, some pilots became famous through media coverage, which made the British system for the recognition of successful fighter pilots informal and inconsistent. A number of flying aces are included in these records.
History of the RAF
The RAF is the oldest independent air force in the world – the first air force to become independent of army or navy control. It was formed on 1 April 1918 by merging the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, as a response to the events of the First World War. The RAF was controlled by the British government Air Ministry, which had been founded three months earlier. The newly formed RAF had over 20,000 aircraft and more than 300,000 personnel. After the war, the RAF policed the British Empire from the air. During the Second World War, the RAF developed its doctrine of strategic bombing, which resulted in the construction of long-range bombers and became the fundamental philosophy of this war. During the Second World War, the RAF possibly prevented an invasion of Britain. Furthermore, it supported British armies in North Africa, Italy, Northwest Europe, and the Far East; fought continuously over the seas around Britain, over the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and over the Indian Ocean; and the RAF played a significant role (together with the U.S. Army Air Force) in the strategic bombing offensive against Germany.
A year of birth was not always recorded, so try leaving this out if you don't get any results. Where there is no date of birth, the record description will say '1918-1919.'
Some officers’ first names are recorded with an initial or a diminutive instead of a full first name, so you should be aware of possible alternatives when searching for your ancestor’s first name.
Your download might contain the records of several individuals with the same name. This is because the nature of these documents sometimes makes it hard to distinguish between the records of officers with the same name.
In the case of aircrew, the record will note any Royal Aero Club certificate numbers and the dates they were granted.