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Royal Air Force - Service Records, Airmen - (Military)

Nature of Source

Service details for airmen of the Royal Air Force (RAF) as well as the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The service records are arranged numerically in bound volumes by the service number and not the surname of the airman. The service number can be found on any medals awarded. Failing this The National Archives holds a microfilmed name index in series AIR 78. The series of records held at The National Archives cover the first 329,000 airmen of the RAF who left the service before the end of WWI. If the airmen is within this range of service numbers and remained with the RAF after WWI then the records are retained with the RAF. Airmen with service numbers higher that 329,000 are also retained by the RAF

The Royal Flying Corps was established in 1912 coming under the control of the War Office. The RFC included the Military Wing and Naval Wing, the latter becoming the Royal Naval Air Service in July 1914 under the control of the Admiralty. The Royal Air Force was founded on 1 April 1918 following the amalgamation of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps coming under control of the newly created Air Ministry. The RFC and RNAS and the RAF are and were organised into squadrons (roughly equivalent of an army regiment), wings and groups, although confusingly for RNAS research a number of different squadrons and wings were assigned the same number.

During WWI, the RFC was deployed over the battlefields performing aerial reconnaissance trips and bombing missions whilst the RNAS was also deployed for home defence against enemy attack and overseas.

A muster of the entire RAF taken in April 1918 can be found in series AIR 1/819/204/4/1316 and also AIR 10/232 to AIR 10/237.

Service records for all ranks who served after 1920 remain with the Ministry of Defence with each military service maintaining its own record office. The Veterans UK web site provides contact details of where to apply for service records for each of the services.

Where Found

The National Archives (AIR 79, Airmen's Records; AIR 78, index to airmen and airwomen's service records held in AIR 79)

The name index covering series Air 79 is available at the TNA Discovery catalogue. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type ‘Air 79’. The index to airmen and airwomen's service records held in AIR 79 is also available free of charge at TNA Digital Microfilm which provides online access to records which were previously available on microfilm.

Royal Air Force Museum Archive & Library (The collection comprises several hundred thousand objects ranging in size from aircraft to lapel badges. The Museum's library and archives collections include items such as First World War Casualty Cards, fine art, medals and uniforms, film and sound, memoirs, historical studies, ephemera, technical manuals, magazines and periodicals, RAF Historical Society Journals Personal papers, aircrew logbooks, casualty cards and aircraft records. The website has a number of online exhibitions and information leaflets to help researching RAF personnel and RAF units and stations)

Period Covered

1918 - 1928

Genealogical Value

  • Full name, rank and occupation.
  • Units served with dates and career.
  • Next-of-kin.
  • Date of enlistment and discharge.

Further References

Bevan, Amanda. Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives: The National Archives, 2006

Chorley, W.R. Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War Vols. 1-9: various publishers and dates

Fowler, Simon. A Guide to Military History on the Internet: Pen & Sword, 2007

Fowler, Simon. Tracing Your First World War Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword, 2013

Franks, Norman L. R. RAF Fighter Command Losses of the Second World War vol 1. Operational Losses Aircraft and Crews 1939-1941: Ian Allan Publishing, 2008

Franks, Norman L. R. Royal Air Force Fighter Command Losses of the Second World War: vol. 2. Operational Losses: Aircraft and Crews 1942-1943: Midland Publishing, 1998

Hadaway, Stuart. Tracing Your Great War Ancestors: The Egypt and Palestine Campaigns: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2017

Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1918-1988: Air Britain Historians, 1989

Hobart, Malcolm. Badges And Uniforms of The RAF: Pen and Sword Books, 2013

Hobson, Chris. Airmen Died in the Great War, 1914-18: The Roll of Honour of the British and Commonwealth Air Services of the First World War: Hayward, 1995

Ingham, Mary. Tracing Your Service Women Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books 2012

McInnes, I & Webb, J. V. A Contemptible Little Flying Corps: Naval and Military Press, 2001 (Includes brief biographies of all non-commissioned airmen who joined the RFC between 1922 and 1914)

Philpott, Ian, The Birth of the Royal Air Force: Pen and Sword Books 2014

Spencer, William. Air Force Records: A Guide for Family Historians: The National Archives, 2008

Spencer, William. Family History in the Wars: The National Archives, 2007

Spencer, William. Air Force Records: The National Archives, 2008

Storey, Neil. Military Photographs and How to Date Them: Countryside Books, 2009

Tomaselli, Phil. Tracing Your Air Force Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2014

Tomaselli, Phil. Air Force Lives: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2013

Tracing Your Family History: Royal Air Force: Imperial War Museum, 2006

Usher, George. Dictionary of British Military History: A&C Black Publishers, 2006

TNA Research Guides

Websites (Veterans UK) (TNA Research Guide Military and Maritime) (TNA guide: Looking for records of a Royal Air Force squadron) (Royal Air Force Squadrons. Active squadrons are the full and part-time units of personnel and equipment that carry out the RAF's mission) (From Wikipedia: List of Royal Air Force aircraft squadrons) (Military History Encyclopedia on the Web: RAF Squadrons, Second World War) (Imperial War Museum Research Guide: Tracing Your Family History. Guides to help you start your research into your Royal Air Force family history explaining what records you will need and where to find them. Subject areas include: Service records; Casualty information; Medal records; Unit and operational histories) (David J Barnes Military & Aviation Research 1914 -1919: R.F.C., R.N.A.S.,R.A.F. Register 1914-1919. Central source of service and biographical information of all those who served in the British and Commonwealth Aerial Forces during the First World War) (UK Military Family History Online: Links to web sites with online data and information to aid in military family history research) (Military Archive Research, by Dr Stuart C Blank) (Royal Air Force. Our History) (Royal Air Force Museum Information Leaflets including Researching First World War personnel, Researching Royal Air Force unit records and Researching Royal Air Force stations) (Royal Air Force Museum: History of Aviation Timeline) (Royal Air Force Museum Online Exhibition: Lest We Forget) (Forces War Records Research Guides: These guides will help you understand how you can find as much out about your ancestors past as possible and include: ‘Getting Started Guide: Your complete guide to researching your military ancestor’ and ‘Understanding your ancestor’s military record’) (GENUKI Guide: UK and Ireland: Military Records) (GENUKI: British Military Records by Jay Hall) (Women's Auxiliary Air Force Association) (Royal Air Force Acronyms/Abbreviations) (RAF Families Federation: Service personnel: Abbreviations & Acronyms) (RAF Abbreviations and Slang)
WWI (TNA online WWI exhibition) (The Long, Long Trail - The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918: A resource for military historians, genealogists and others with an interest in the Great War of 1914-1918 with information on the soldiers, units, regiments and battles of the British Army. The site includes a section on 'Researching a soldier') (The First World War - The National Archives: Web portal dedicated to WWI with collections featuring letters, diaries, podcasts and videos, maps and photographs. Also discover online collections, research guides and educational resources to learn about the history behind the war)
(Operation War Diary: Crowdsourcing partnership project between The National Archives, Imperial War Museums and Zooniverse which aims to unlock the details from within the WWI unit war diaries such as individual named individuals and place names) (The British Library: World War One. Supported by over 500 historical sources from across Europe, this resource examines key themes in the history of World War One. Explore a wealth of original source material and over 50 newly-commissioned articles written by historians. Highlights include trench photographs, soldiers’ personal diaries, censored mail and propaganda posters) (The Western Front Association: The Association was formed with the aim of furthering interest in The Great War of 1914-1918 and to perpetuate the memory of all those on all sides who served during The Great War. The site includes a section on Research and Family History with articles providing help and guidance for your research into The Great War) (Imperial War Museum: Lives of the First World War. Discover, Explore and Remember Millions of Personal Stories From The First World War. The project tells the stories of individuals from across Britain and the Commonwealth who served in uniform and worked on the home front. Each person remembered has Life Story page using a variety of sources. The digital project ran from 12 May 2014 to 19 March 2019) (Illustrated First World War: Online access to the First World War pages of The Illustrated London News and the wartime years of The Sphere, The Sketch, The Tatler, The Bystander, The Graphic and The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News) (British First World War Trench Maps, 1915-1918 - National Library of Scotland. Maps of the Western Front in the Great War depicting British and German trenches. Users can browse individual sheets using a zoomable map or view zoomable overlays of each map on a modern Google or Bing map) (British Red Cross: First World War Volunteers: Search over 90,000 people who volunteered for the British Red Cross at home and overseas during the war. Groups of volunteers were organised into Voluntary Aid Detachments) (Every Man Remembered: The Royal British Legion initiative allows members of the public to commemorate with a personal dedication every individual man and woman from across the Commonwealth who fell in the First World War) (Welsh Guards 1914-1918. These records contain 4,060 names of officers who served with the Welsh Guards, and nominal rolls of Warrant Officers and NCOs) (TNA podcast: Tracing battalions or regiments of the British Army during the Great War) (The Great War Archive: WWI digital photographs, audio, film, documents, and stories submitted by the general public. The initiative was run by Oxford University between the 3rd March and the 30th June 2008. Users can now share First World War objects on the The Great War Archive Flickr Group) (Europeana 1914-1918. Explore the untold stories and official histories of World War I in items from across Europe including postcards, letters, diaries, images and other memorabilia) (Guide to researching service records) (Blog covering the WWI photographs of the unknown soldiers)
(World War One Photos: Thousands of identified photos & obituaries of First World War officers, soldiers, sailors, nurses, airmen and civilian workers) (IWM Collections: Faces of the First World War) (Cymru 1914. The Welsh Experience of the First World War. Online access to digitised primary sources relating to the First World War from the Libraries, Special Collections and Archives of Wales) (In Flanders Fields Museum. The museum presents the story of the First World War in the West Flanders front region and is located in the famous Cloth Hall in the centre of Ypres) (Step Short: Folkestone Harbour Canteen Visitors' Books: Online collection of 42,000 names of soldiers, nurses and other individuals who passed through the town of Folkestone on their way to the Western Front between 1914 and 1919) (Merseyside at War 1914-1918: Memories and memorabilia of people from Merseyside who lived, worked or fought during the World War 1 period. Items include letters, photographs, birth certificates and records, posters and medals) (Ireland's Memorial Record: World War 1: 1914-1918: Online access to transcribed  volumes of Ireland's Memorial Records, created to preserve and commemorate the memory of the thousands of Irishmen who died during the war)

Online Databases (British Royal Air Force, Airmen's Service Records 1912-1939 Discover your ancestors who served as Warrant Officers, noncommissioned officers, or airmen in the Royal Air Force between 1912 and 1939. Each record comprises a transcript and black and white images of the original register, from The National Archives AIR 79 series) (UK, Royal Air Force Airmen Records, 1918-1940. This collection comprises records of Airmen serving in the Royal Air Force during the years 1918 up to and including, 1940. The original data is held in TNA Series AIR 79 at The National Archives) (UK, WWI Pension Ledgers and Index Cards, 1914-1923. Search military and military-related personnel who filed for a pension after World War One if injured or, if killed, details of their widow and/or other dependents or their next of kin if they were unmarried and had no children. The records include PRC Ledgers comprisng ledgers for over 1.5 million men who served in the British Army, Royal Navy, and RFC/RAF during the Great War and claimed a pension or, if they were killed in the conflict, the relatives that claimed) (Flanders Fields Museum: The Names List: Search fatalities of the Great War who died or were mortally wounded in Belgium, both civilian and military and whatever their nationality. The list includes the digitised Ireland’s Memorial Records which commemorates the memory of the thousands of Irishmen who died during the war) (RAF Museum Storyvault: Search digitised archives from the RAF Museum including: Casualty Cards starting around 1915 and running into the 1920s; Muster Roll, compiled in 1918; Air Force List corrected to 1st February 1918) (Military Genealogy Forces War Records: Military records of over two million British Armed Forces personnel cross matched with over 4000 Regiments including Rolls of Honour, Crimean and Boer War Databases, Medal Rolls and Casualties Lists. The site also has a facility to access information on specific units or bases including regiments, ships, airfields) (Royal Air Force Muster Roll 1918: Nominal roll of more than 181,000 Royal Air Force servicemen who were with the service when it was formed on 1 April 1918) (Forces Reunited: British Armed Forces community reunion site searchable by individual name or by unit. The site also has forums, military news, photo gallery and many other great sections)

CD Roms

Manchester and Lancashire FHS (Oldham Chronicle Index of Service Personnel 1914-1919: Details of service personnel mentioned in the Saturday editions of the Oldham Chronicle1914 to the end of December 1919)
Surrey History Trust (Surrey Recruitment Register, 1908-1933. details of about 85,000 men who signed up for service in Surrey between 1908 and 1933, including volunteers and conscripts in World War I)