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Celebrating the centenary of the RAF 1918-2018

From the fictional exploits of Biggles, to the all-too-real role of the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, in its century of service the RAF has gained a place in both the hearts and the history of the nation. Over the decades hundreds of thousands of our ancestors will have had connections to this indomitable organisation. Here Helen Toveyruns through some of the records to help you ace your research


Pull-out guide


The RAF Muster Roll 1918 lists all the service personnel in the RAF in Apr il that first year and can be viewed at Findmypast

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the oldest independent air force in the world (of army or naval forces) and at the time of its formation on 1 April 1918 it was also the largest. From its fledgling role in the Great War the air force saved the day and went on to alter the fortunes of British history on numerous occasions in the Second World War. The innovative inter-war period and international post-war role were no less important to the development of the RAF. Here we look at the records to help you research your ancestors in the British air services, plus some background information to give a little context. From the key players, their iconic planes, the sheer technological brilliance of the inventors and ground crews, and the daring of those in the skies, our RAF ancestors were quite something.

How the RAF came to be

The Royal Air Force was established in 1918, by an amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).

The RFC, founded by the Army in 1912, had an Army and Navy wing, but just a month before the outbreak of WWI in 1914 the Naval branch separated, becoming the RNAS. Initially, the RFC tended to serve at the Front – its one observational balloon squadron and four aeroplane ones providing observational, strategic and artillery help for the troops below. The RNAS meanwhile tended to serve as home defence, notably protecting the dockyards and ports. Only months into the war (January 1915) Great Yarmouth, Sheringham and King’s Lynn were bombed in a Zeppelin raid and, while German air attacks continued to occur through 1916, the powers-thatbe realised that Britain’s air forces needed to be combined for better protection of the nation. This involved a lot of politicking but in January 1918 the Air Ministry was set up. The ‘Father of the Royal Air Force’ is recognised as Major-General Sir Hugh Trenchard, who became its first Chief of the Air Staff, before resigning nine days later. Nevertheless Winston Churchill persuaded him to return to the top post in 1919 where he remained for many years, becoming the inaugural Marshall of the Royal Air Force (equal to a Field Marshal) in 1927.

Find some RFC ancestors’ service and pension records within the Army records on Ancestry and Findmypast. Note that this RFC ancestor’s civilian occupation was a carpenter. Certain trades particularly lent themselves to service in the RFC – such as furniture makers, many of the early planes being made of cloth and wood
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