Discover your ancestors who served as Warrant Officers, noncommissioned officers, or airmen in the Royal Air Force (RAF) between 1912 and 1939. The record set contains records of almost 343,000 airmen, who were born in over 30 countries. You may be able to explore the personal lives of these airmen, including details of their birthplaces, civilian occupations, religious denominations, and wives and children. In addition, the records may reveal details of their military lives, including attestation year, service number, military training, and awards or decorations.
Each record comprises a transcript and images of the original register, from The National Archives AIR 79 series.
Note: airmen are non-officers.
Some airmen used an initial or a diminutive instead of a first name, so you should be aware of possible alternatives when searching for your ancestor’s first name.
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
• Attestation year
• Attestation date
• Attestation age
• Birth year
• Birth date
• Birth parish
• Birth town
• Birth county
• Spouse’s first name
• Marriage year
• Marriage date
• Children’s name(s)
• Children’s birth year(s)
• Children’s birth date(s)
The images may provide additional details. Through the years the records differ slightly, but most will include:
• Religious denomination
• Next of kin details
• Physical description
• Trade classification
• Special qualifications
• Awards or decorations
• Details of former service
• Will particulars
• Military training
• Details of promotions, reductions, and casualties
• Details of injuries attained during service
• Results of medical examinations
The record set comprises more than 342,820 records of airmen from over 30 countries, including 18 who were born in Germany.
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.
Of the 329,000 RAF service numbers within the series, around 8,500 are not available as the individual was either commissioned as an officer, in which case his service record will probably not survive (look for him in the records of officers AIR 76), or because the record is still kept by the Ministry of Defence.
There are 157 records of airmen born in the United States.
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.
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.
The records of Frederick James Chellis, a labourer from Norfolk, contain a note about Chellis’s heroic actions during World War 2:
“On 1st February 1941 at Great Yarmouth when a H.E. bomb demolished a building No D39898 Cpl F.J. CHELLIS 8th (HD) Bn Royal Norfolk Regiment was one of the first on the scene. He found a youth of 17 named Roberts injured and imprisoned in the wreckage. In spite of grave danger from falling masonry and timber Cpl CHELLIS dug his way into the debris and extricated the injured man, placed him on an improvised stretcher and arranged for his removal to hospital in a railway lorry.”
The records of George Alexander Milne, a labourer from Aberdeen, are quite different. His are characterized by periods of absence, going A.W.O.L., and a conviction of desertion, which were punished by detentions and forfeits of various amounts of pay.
Many Irish men and women have served in the RAF over the years. There are 7,644 records of Irish airmen in these records, and perhaps the most famous was flying ace Brendan Finucane, rather unoriginally nicknamed ‘Paddy’ by his colleagues. Finucane was born in Rathmines, Dublin, in 1920, to an Irish father and an English mother. His father had fought under Eamon de Valera during the 1916 Rising, but he approved of his son’s wish to join the British Armed Forces following the family’s move to England in 1936. Finucane was posted to No.65 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch in 1940, as the Battle of Britain was starting. To show his Irish heritage, his spitfire had a shamrock marking and was known as the Flying Shamrock. Finucane rose through the ranks and in June 1942, became the youngest Wing Commander in the history of the RAF. During the Second World War, he shot down at least 23 German planes. He received the Distinguished Service Order and a triple Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar and was widely lauded in the British media. On 15th July 1942, Finucane's Spitfire engine was hit and he was forced to ditch into the sea. His body was never found. More than 2,500 attended his memorial at Westminster Cathedral, and a rose was planted in his honour at Baldonnel Aerodrome, home of the Irish Air Corps, where he first flew.
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