How to look for Royal Air Force personnel

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1. Why use this guide?

This guide will help you find records of airmen and officers of the Royal Air Force (RAF). RAF records are kept in different places depending on when the RAF airman served.

2. Essential information

The Royal Air Force was formed on 1 April 1918 when the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) were amalgamated.

Officers and men of both services who continued service after this date transferred into the newly formed RAF and were joined by new entrants. From this date onwards the RFC and RNAS ceased to exist.

Someone who served in the RFC or RNAS as well as the RAF may have service records in more than one place. See our guides to RFC officers, RFC airmenRNAS officers and RNAS ratings for more details.

The rank of the individual and dates of service determine where you need to look to find the relevant information.

Women served in the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF).

3. Service records

3.1 Airmen (not officers) 1918-1939

Search for a Royal Air Force airmans’ service records (AIR 79) on findmypast (£). These are records of airmen with service numbers from 1 to 562875. Some files may contain information from the Second World War but service records for the Second World War are still with the RAF (see section 3.2).

The records in AIR 79 usually contain the following information:

  • date and place of birth
  • physical description
  • religious denomination
  • next of kin
  • spouse and children
  • date of joining
  • promotions
  • units served in
  • award of medals
  • date of discharge

RAF service numbers between 313001 and 316000 indicate that the airmen previously served with the Royal Navy and then subsequently the Royal Naval Air Service, before transferring to the RAF. If the airman’s service number falls within this range there may be further records of his military service in Royal Naval Air Service records or Royal Navy records.

3.2 Airmen (not officers) after 1939

Records of RAF airmen who served after 1939, and of men whose service numbers were above 562875 are still with the RAF. Look on the GOV.UK website to find out how to obtain service records.

It can be useful to know his service number. If you do not know his number, browse through the name indexes in AIR 78 to find it.

3.3 Officers 1918-1922

Search the Royal Air Force officers’ service records 1918-1919 (£) online for officers who served in the Royal Air Force during the First World War (AIR 76). By the end of 1919, 26,000 of the 27,000 serving RAF officers had been discharged, and it is largely their service details which are held in this series.

3.4 Officers after 1922

Records of RAF officers who served after 1922 are still with the RAF. Look on the GOV.UK website to find out how to obtain service records.

4. Officers’ commissions, promotions and locations

4.1 The Air Force List

You can trace the commissions and promotions of an RAF officer’s career from March 1919 in the Air Force List, available at The National Archives at Kew and other specialist libraries and archives (see section 11). Up until 1938 the lists also provide details of where in the world an officer was posted.

From 1939 there is also the Confidential Air Force List, similar to the standard Air Force List but often with slightly more detail on the specifics of an officer’s duties. Search it in the following sets of documents:

4.2 Air Historical Branch papers

For additional material on awards and promotions, as well as officers’ correspondence, browse or search the Air Historical Branch (AHB) papers in AIR 1. Indexes and keys to AIR 1 are available with the printed version of our catalogue at The National Archives at Kew.

5. Officers’ pension records 1916-1920

Look in PMG 42/13-16 to find payments made to invalided RAF officers from 1917 to 1920.

Browse by reference through PMG 44 to find records of pensions paid to relatives of deceased RAF officers from 1916 to 1920.

Look in PMG 43 for supplementary payments to RAF officers and their dependents from 1916 to 1920.

6. Medals 1914-1922

6.1 Campaign medals

If an individual in the RAF qualified for medal(s) after 1 April 1918, the only place you will find details about his medal entitlement will be on his service record.

6.2 Gallantry medals

For information on gallantry medals awarded to RAF personnel, read our British military gallantry medals guide.

7. Courts martial 1918-1986

Browse AIR 21 for courts martial records from 1918 to 1965. These give:

  • name of prisoner
  • rank of prisoner
  • place of trial
  • nature of charge and sentence

Search by surname using the advanced search in our catalogue to find the proceedings of district, general and field courts martial of officers and men from 1941 to 1986 in series AIR 18.

Look in series AIR 2 and AIR 20 for records of courts martial policy.

8. Lists of RAF servicemen

8.1 Muster list from 1918

Consult the only complete muster roll of the RAF, compiled on its formation on 1 April 1918, on The original documents are in AIR 1/819/204/4/1316 and also AIR 10/232-237.

8.2 Rolls of Honour: First World War

Browse the first series of Air Historical Branch (AHB) records in series AIR 1 for nominal rolls of individual units for the First World War.

Indexes and keys to AIR 1 are available with the printed version of our catalogue at The National Archives at Kew. The second series of AHB records, in AIR 5, contains little on individuals.

Look at AIR 2/219, the Roll of Honour for men from the USA and Dominions who served with the British Air Forces in the First World War.

8.3 Rolls of Honour: Second World War

Look at AIR 14/2091, the Roll of Honour for No. 5 Group in Bomber Command. This is the only known Second World War nominal roll for the RAF in The National Archives.

9. Prisoner of war records

The AIR records do not contain detailed information on prisoners of war.

For a list of all aircrew known to have been held prisoner by Germany look in AIR 20/2336.

Browse other related files in series AIR 40 such as escape reports, and prisoner of war and internees’ files in series FO 916. See also our guides to British prisoners of war c1790-1919 and British prisoners of the Second World War and the Korean War.

10. Combat reports 1939-1945 and operational records 1918-1982

Though combat reports and operational records are not, strictly speaking, records of personnel, they can provide insights into what an airman or officer did during their time at war. Sometimes they will be mentioned by name, often they won’t, but if you know which squadron they served with these records could help to tell a serviceman’s story.

Consult our Royal Air Force squadrons guide and our Royal Air Force operations guide for advice on how to search for these records.

11. RAF personnel missing in combat

Search for missing RAF personnel in AIR 81. Use the advanced search in our catalogue to search these records by:

  • surname of missing airman
  • place/location of the incident in which air crew went missing
  • date of the incident
  • type of aircraft from which air crew went missing (for example, Blenheim)

These files may contain missing person and casualty action sheets, death certificates, personal letters and correspondence, exhumation reports, investigation reports, questionnaires by repatriated personnel and personal effects of POWs.

Please note that this series is still accruing and currently only goes up to August 1940.

12. Records in other archives

For more information about the RAF, you may wish to visit the RAF Museum website.

Visit the RAF website to read about the histories of RAF squadrons.

The Air Force List (see section 4) is available at the British Library, the Society of Genealogists and some local archives.

13. Further reading

Some or all of the publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

William Spencer, Air Force records for family historians (The National Archives, 2008)

Ian Tavendar, The Distinguished Flying Medal register for the Second World War: With Official Recommendation details (Savannah Publications, 2000)

Michael Maton, Honour the Air Forces: Honours and awards to the RAF and Dominion Air Forces during the Second World War (Token Publishing Limited, 2004)

Find details of men who joined the RFC between its formation in 1912 and August 1914 (numbers 1-1400) by reading Jack V Webb and Ian McInnes, A Contemptible Little Flying Corps (London Stamp Exchange, 1991)

Nick Carter and Carol Carter, The Distinguished Flying Cross and how it was won 1918-1995 (Savannah Publications, 1998)

Guide reference: Military Records Information 49