Today, Findmypast in partnership with The National Archives has released nearly 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.
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.
The most comprehensive British military collection online
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.
This incredible collection demonstrates how World War One united all echelons of society, from those on the bread line to the mill owners themselves.
The records offer some fascinating insight into the Airmen's peacetime occupations in addition to their flying prowess. It’s perhaps no surprise that the RAF appealed to the more dramatic members of society - we've found 104 actors, nine comedians and even one music hall artiste within the RAF ranks.
The RAF in World War One
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.
An especially noteworthy character in our records is the first Indian to fly into combat, Hardutt Singh Malik. Hardutt was 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.
Despite its reputation as the playground of the upper classes, our records reveal how those from the lower ends of society flew wing tip to wing tip with the aristocracy, distinguishing themselves with their aeronautical skill.
Flying aces: The heroes of the RAF
One well-regarded flying ace, Arthur Ernest Newland, had humble origins as one of at least nine children from Enfield, north London. Our records show that he twice received the Distinguished Flying Medal for his prowess in the air, and by the end of the war had 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.
This groundbreaking collection could hold the key to discovering the flying heroes in your family. Start searching today to see what more incredible stories you can unearth.