This is a brief guide to researching records of nurses who served with the Royal Air Force. While some records can be found at The National Archives, most material is currently held by the Ministry of Defence and the Red Cross.
What do I need to know before I start?
The Royal Air Force Nursing Service was established in 1918 and renamed Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service in 1923. It was a women-only service until 1980.
Registers of recipients of the Royal Red Cross (1920-1994)
Search and download entries from the registers of recipients of the Royal Red Cross (WO 145/1-3) at Findmypast.co.uk (£). The Royal Red Cross was established as an award in 1883 for women who showed special devotion while nursing the sick and wounded of the British Army and Royal Navy. It was extended to the nursing services of the Royal Air Force in 1920 – but not to men until 1977.
The registers provide very few biographical details but do usually include the nurse’s service number, the job title or position and sometimes the place of work or residence. The date the award was announced in the London Gazette is also usually included.
Campaign medal index cards (1914-1920)
Search and download from our website (£) the medal index cards (WO 372) to First World War campaign medal rolls. Theses index cards are the primary source of information on medals awarded to nurses who served in the war. Use the keywords “Nurse” or “Voluntary Aid Detachment”, as well as providing a surname, to aid your search.
Campaign medal rolls (1793-1949)
Search by name online in the campaign medal and award rolls (WO 100) using Ancestry.co.uk (£). These rolls are indexed by the index cards described above and do not usually contain biographical information. You will need to know the campaign and the relevant nursing service to use these records.
Records in other archives and organisations
Royal Air Force Nursing Service service records (1918-present)
Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service record from the Ministry of Defence. These are not available to members of the general public, though next of kin may request access to them.
Voluntary Aid Detachment records (1914-1920, 1939-1945)
Contact the British Red Cross museum and archives for the service record of a person who served in a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) during the First or Second World War.
Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) were non-military organisations created in 1909 and based on the Japanese voluntary aid system. Members were trained by the St John Ambulance Brigade and served alongside all branches of the armed forces.
Contact the Royal Air Force Museum for information on personal papers of a wide range of individuals involved with the RAF.