Exceptional new records from Findmypast uncover the diversity that formed the Royal Air Force in the First World War | The Nosey Genealogist's: Help Me With My Family Tree
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Exceptional new records from Findmypast uncover the diversity that formed the Royal Air Force in the First World War

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on July 1st, 2014

Press Release from Findmypast that those of us with RFC/RAF servicemen in the family may be interested in.

 

Findmypast.co.uk, in partnership with The National Archives has released close to 450,000 service records of men of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force including 342,000 Airmen’s records never seen online before. Tales of derring-do brought to life so vividly by W.E. Johns in his Biggles series are well-known, but today’s release tells, for the first time, the stories of the unsung heroes from across the world and from the lower ranks that made up the RAF on its inception.

The majority of records in this collection date from 1912 with the formation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and include men who continued to serve in the RAF up until 1939. The earliest records date from 1899 with the Royal Engineers Balloon Service in the Boer War. With these fascinating records now available online, Findmypast offers the most comprehensive collection of British military service records in the early twentieth century.

Drawn from across the world…
The records reveal for the first time how World War One brought together men from across the world to serve alongside each other. Over 58 nationalities served in the RAF during World War One, with men signing up from as far afield as India, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Poland, Mexico, Romania and Germany. Included in the records is the first Indian to fly into combat, Hardutt Singh Malik, who became the only Indian aviator to survive the war, despite coming under significant attack and ending up with bullet wounds to his legs that required several months’ treatment in hospital. After the war, Malik joined the Indian Civil Service, serving as the Indian ambassador to France, and following his retirement became India’s finest golf player, even with two German bullets still embedded in his leg.

… and from across society
Despite the RAF’s reputation as the perfect playground for the upper classes, today’s records reveal how those from the working-class flew wing tip to wing tip with the officers, and became highly celebrated for their superior flying ability. One well-regarded flying ace, Arthur Ernest Newland, had humble origins as one of at least nine children from Enfield, north London, but the records show how he went on to twice receive the Distinguished Flying Medal for his prowess in the air, ending the war having destroyed 19 enemy aircraft, 17 of those single-handedly. One of ten children from a poor family in Limerick, John Cowell also became a celebrated airman during the war. Beginning on 5 May 1917, and extending through 28 July, Cowell scored fifteen victories as a gunner, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on 11 June 1918, as well as the Military Medal with Bar. Returning as a pilot in 20 Squadron he scored his final victory a year and a day after his fifteenth but sadly was shot down and killed the next day by balloon buster Friedrich Ritter von Röth of Jasta 16.

The air’s a stage
With the records containing information about an individual’s peacetime occupation, as well as their military prowess, it’s perhaps no surprise that the RAF appealed to the more dramatic members of society with records showing 104 actors, nine comedians and even one music hall artiste made up the RAF ranks.

“It’s a real treat to have such an extensive set of records about the everyday airmen of World War One” said Paul Nixon, military expert at Findmypast.co.uk. “These people, drawn from all walks of life, and from all over the world, played an incredibly important part in shaping our history, particularly in the development of aerial warfare. To have many of these hitherto unseen records easily accessible online for the first time mean that now many people can discover the Biggles in their own family.”

William Spencer, author and principal military records specialist at The National Archives continued: “These records reveal the many nationalities of airmen that joined forces to fight in the First World War. Now these records are online, people can discover the history of their ancestors, with everything from their physical appearance right through to their conduct and the brave acts they carried out which helped to win the war.”

The records, comprising National Archives series AIR 76 (Officers’ service records) and AIR 79 (Airmen’s records) contain information about an individual’s peacetime and military career, as well as his physical description, religious denomination and family status. Next of kin are often mentioned and this too has been fully indexed and is easily searchable. These records form part of Findmypast’s 100in100 promise to deliver 100 record sets in 100 days. To learn more about the records, visit www.Findmypast.co.uk.

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