Up, up and away

Up, up and away

You’ll be aware of the centenary of the Royal Air Force (RAF) if you read a newspaper or watch the TV. Continue reading this blog which will enable you to discover more about the RAF and the records that you might discover for your ancestors.

The RAF was formed from the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) on the 1 April 1918. This makes the RAF the oldest independent air force in the world. Having started during the Great War the RAF combined the RFC and RNAS to better serve and protect the United Kingdom in times of threat. By the end of the Great War (WWI) it had become an organisation of over 291,000 personnel and over 22,600 aircraft. The man who headed up the RAF in its early days was Major-General Sir Hugh Trenchard. He served as the first Marshall of the RAF in 1927.

The RAF went on to serve its King and Country in the Second World War (WW2) arguably saving the United Kingdom from invasion during the battle of Britain. It has continued to serve during peacetime and through overseas wars.



World War I records

Many of the RFC, RNAS and RAF records are held at The National Archives, in Kew, London.

  • RFC, RNAS and RAF at TNA AIR1
  • Should contain short histories of the units prepared after armistice
  • Service records for WWI on findmypast.co.uk
  • London Gazette covers promotion and postings of officers and award of gallantry medals
  • CWGC records death of RAF personnel
  • Over 1,000 airmen are recorded on the Arras Flying Services memorial in Northern France; killed on Western Front with no known grave
  • Check army sources before April 1918 for RFC and Navy RNAS
  • Medal index cards for 27,000 officers and airmen and 19 women; transferred from RFC to RAF

Medals and Awards

  • Gallantry awards to RFC, RNAS and RAF: London Gazette
  • TNA: AIR2 un-indexed files of citations
  • RNAS equivalent in TNA: ADM171, plus online with Ancestry


  • TNA for officers and airmen discharged before early 1920’s (there is no clear cut off date). Later service records with MoD
  • Next of kin
  • Civilian occupation
  • Units served
  • Appointments and promotions
  • Honours and medals awarded
  • Comments about flying skills (or lack of)

More for pilots, navigators and observers than for engineering or clerical staff.

Where to find:

  • Available through TNA Online Records Service.
  • RAFM (Royal Air Force Museum) holds medical board record cards for officers 1917-1920
  • Attendance at medical boards and their findings (RFC and RAF)
  • Pilots: Royal Aero Club Aviators’ certificates on Ancestry
  • 28,000 index cards
  • photographs of aviators issued their flying licences between 1910 – 1915
  • Cards include name
  • DOB and place
  • Nationality
  • Rank or profession
  • Date and place of certificate
  • Certificate number
  • Squadron records in TNA, AIR1
  • Air Force List published on formation of RAF; TNA has one April 1918, RAFM and IWM may have other issues. April 1918 on TheGenealogist

Other ranks

  • TNA, AIR79, include:
  • Personal details
  • Dates of enlistment/discharge
  • Promotions
  • Units served
  • Medical/disciplinary history
  • Dates of service overseas
  • Same information as medal index cards


  • Muster roll of all other ranks (RFC) compiled in April 1918; TNA and Findmypast; details:
  • trade on joining
  • pay
  • doesn’t indicate the unit


  • Other ranks who didn’t transfer out to RAF (died or invalided out) in TNA: ADM188
  • Officers TNA: ADM273
  • Units served with
  • Next of kin
  • Superior officers comments
  • Whether transferred to RAF
  • Officers and ratings who died during the war in TNA: ADM242; also Findmypast.co.uk
  • SD and DB Jarvis, The Cross of Sacrifice: Officers who died in the service of the RN, RNVR, RM, RNAS and RAF 1914-1919
  • Reports and operational records in ADM137
  • Diaries (line books) with the FAAM (Fleet Air Arm Museum)

Operational Records

  • Daily and fortnightly communiqués issued for the press; RAFM and TNA have incomplete sets
  • Operational record books (squadrons and units); detail day to day life
  • Combat reports; be careful as pilots claimed planes they didn’t shoot down
  • June 1916 – Armistice British claims 7,000
  • German claims 3,000
  • Arranged by squadron in TNA: AIR1
  • Pilot logbooks in TNA: AIR4 for aircraft and AIR3 for airships. RAFM has a larger collection

Casualty and Prisoners

  • Roll of Honour of those who died at IWM
  • GC Campbell’s Royal Flying Corps: Casualties and Honours during the war 1914-1917 (lists pilots and navigators – officers only) who died 1914-1917
  • Soldiers died in the Great War
  • Brief details of NCO in:
  • SD and DB Jarvis, The Cross of Sacrifice: Officers who died in the service of the RN, RNVR, RM, RNAS and RAF 1914-1919
  • Naval & Military Press, 2000 and SD and DB Jarvis, The Cross of Sacrifice: Non-commissioned Officers, Men and Women of the UK, Commonwealth and Empire Who Died in the Service of the Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force 1914-1921, Naval & Military Press, 1996
  • Aircraft and pilot casualties (Western Front): TNA: AIR1
  • RFC and RAF personnel death, injury and illness; RAFM 1915-1928


World War II records

Ancestry is the top subscription website in the UK. Subscribe, look out for free offers (subscribe to their newsletter for free) or use in your local library.

forces-war-records holds records of campaign medals awarded in World War 2.

nationalarchives (TNA) has many records up to 1939, including combat records. After 1939 records are held at the Ministry of Defence. If you know the service number of your ancestor you maybe able to claim a copy; access: gov.uk for details of how to claim: https://www.gov.uk/requests-for-personal-data-and-service-records.

bbc has a useful starter guide; how to search archives for family and military records.

cyndislist is a website of last resort. Have a look at this fabulous collection of family history links to other websites. You never know what might turn up!

iwm has the main sources of records and identifies many others.

Really stuck? Try posting a question on the following rootschat

Finally rafa.org.uk is the charity that supports the RAF family.


Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Cambridgeshire. He delivers courses, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See www.myfamilygenealogy.co.uk for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation. What stories might your ancestors tell?

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