The National Archives (TNA) has made 99,000 Royal Air Force (RAF) officers’ service records available online, which were previously accessible only to visitors to TNA at Kew in Greater London.
At TNA’s pay-per-view Documents Online website, you can view and download the records of officers who served in the RAF during the First World War. The records are taken from the collection AIR 76.
The RAF was the world’s first independent military air arm and by the end of the First World War it had become the largest, with over 27,000 officers and 250,000 other ranks. By the end of 1919, 26,000 of the 27,000 officers had been discharged and it is largely their service details which are held in this series.
Piloting a First World War aircraft was a dangerous and risky business and sadly many officers lost their lives. Twelve out of the top 20 “Aces” were killed in action.
Edward Mannock – The highest scoring British “Ace” with 74 kills to his name. Mannock joined the RFC in 1917. Conversely at first, he was viewed as overly cautious. He soon found his feet, however, after shooting down his first enemy balloon. By June 1918, he had 59 kills to his name, but on 26 July, Mannock’s aircraft was hit and crashed behind German lines. The event recorded in his service records – “Missing, believed dead, 26.7.18”. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Sidney Reilly – Volunteered for the RFC in 1917, then transferred to MI1c (British Secret Service) in March 1918, where he was allegedly tasked with assassinating Lenin. Famously known as the “Ace of Spies”, his exploits were dramatised in an eponymously titled TV programme as well as inspiring Ian Fleming’s character James Bond. The final entry in his service records notes that he was “Killed on 28 September 1925 near the village of Allekul, Russia by OGPU troops” – the equivalent of Russian secret police.
“Putting these records online makes the officers’ records of service of the fledgling Royal Air Forces available worldwide,” says William Spencer, TNA’s Principal Military Records Specialist. “Not only is it now possible to search for and download the records of some of the early “knights of the air” such as Cecil Lewis, Albert Ball and Edward Mannock, it is also possible to locate the records for many other pilots and other Royal Flying Corps/Royal Naval Air Service and RAF officers from all over the Empire who served in the flying service in its infancy.”
Although the service records were created with the inception of the RAF in April 1918, many records include the retrospective details of earlier service in either the Royal Flying Corps or Royal Naval Air Service. Each service record typically details the date the officer was initially commissioned, subsequent promotion(s), the units in which they served, the type of aircraft flown, details of any honours bestowed and the date they were announced in the London Gazette. The records also note the date the individual resigned from commission, the date they retired and sadly in several cases, the date they died.