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Thread: RCAF Service Numbers

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Orleans, Ontario, Canada
    Thanked 4 Times in 3 Posts

    Default RCAF Service Numbers

    The subject of RCAF personnel service numbers seems to weigh on many minds, and so I propose to submit what might be entitled "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About RCAF Service Numbers and Were Afraid to Ask." Credit, however, belongs to C.S. Neill, Military Collectors Club of Canada (member 1219) who compiled the following about 1985.

    IN THE BEGINNING there was the RCAF, created as a permanent force on 1 April 1924. At that time there were two main types of numbers, viz:

    OFFICERS - whose numbers began with a C (i.e. C.1 was J..S. Scott, a founding member of the RCAF, C.111 was A.D. Ross, who joined about 1928. The "C" numbers were allocated to both Regular and Non-Permanent (later Auxiliary) officers.

    OTHER RANKS - who were allocated a simple number (C.M. Gale, for example, as a mechanic, had number 448).

    Originally the Other Ranks numbers denoted where they had been enrolled - Nos 1 to 199 were for personnel enlisted via Air Force Headquarters and the RCAF Photo Section, both in Ottawa, 201 upwards were from Station Vancouver, 401 and up were originally from Station High River, 601 upwards, Winnipeg, 801 upwards, the RCAF Technical Depot, Ottawa, 1001 upwards, Dartmouth, and 1201 upwards, Camp Borden. Additional blocks were added as the RCAF grew. Airmen in the Auxiliary had an "A" added to their number (4023A).

    Other Ranks proceeding overseas during the Second World War had a "Can" added to their number, thus distinguishing them from similarly numbered RAF personnel. Thus, C.M. Gale (noted above) went overseas and became Can 448 C.M. Gale.

    As of 26 September the RCAF had 298 Permanent Force Officers, 112 Auxiliary Officers, 2,750 Permanent Force other ranks and 901 Auxiliary other ranks.


    The RCAF Special Reserve was created by Order-in-Council on 14 September 1939. Soon afterwards, "other ranks" were enlisted with an "R" number, which they kept unless commissioned. Thus, J.E. Abbey enlisted 20 January 1941 with number R82627).


    Prewar officers like J.S. Scott retained their "C" numbers, and other officers continued to receive "C". Most of these were in non-flying trades (Administration, Flying Control, Link Instructor, Medical, Marine Branch, etc.). However, a number of aircrew continued to receive "C" numbers. These included men with

    (a) prewar flying experience (such as former bush pilots and Americans who already had flying experience). An example would be Squadron Leader John Hone, a very experienced prewar pilot who received number C.1294.

    (b) former Royal Air Force officers transferring to the RCAF, 1943 to 1945

    (c) flight engineers.

    Aircrew enlistments from early 1940 onwards had to wait until they had been trained to "wings" standard before being either promoted Sergeant or commissioned. If commissioned, they received a "J" number (remember, flight engineers excepted), regardless of whether the commissioning was immediate or later in their career. To go back to J.E. Abbey, enlisted January 1941 as R.82627 - upon being commissioned he received a new number - J.86037.


    To add confusion for future researchers, there were several other prefixes allocated to limited numbers of personnel. These were:

    H - Air Cadet Officers (Air Training Corps to many readers)

    K - Airmen (other ranks) with previous Air Cadet training.

    L - Airmen (other ranks) with previous University Cadet training.

    O - Prisoners of War (added to a previous number so that R.58959 became O. R.58959; frankly, I cannot recall this being used, but C.S. Neill includes it. It may have been most often used by next-of-kin writing to family members who were POWs).

    U - University Cadets

    V - Commissioned Officers in the RCAF Women's Division

    W - Non- Commissioned personnel in the RCAF Women's Division.

    Z - Wartime Auxiliary Services supervisors (YMCA, Salvation Army, etc)


    After a peacetime interim the RCAF was reorganized and as of 1 October 1946 almost everybody got a new number. Exceptions were pre-war officers and other ranks. Otherwise, everybody with a former "R" or "J" number received a new number. All the women had been released by 1947, and when recruiting of females resumed (about 1951) they received ordinary numbers with no prefixes.

    Subsequently (February 1968), upon unification of the Canadian Forces, all personnel were identified by their nine-digit Social Insurance Number (SIN).

    It would have been possible, in the post-unification period, to find a person who had used four service numbers in his or her career - a wartime "other ranks" number, a wartime commissioned number, a post-October 1946 number and a post-February 1968 SIN number.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Prague, Czech Republic
    Thanked 19 Times in 18 Posts


    Hi Hugh,

    thank you for this very interesting post!
    To your last sentence I can add I know at least one RCAF member of Czech origin who had the first three numbers you mentioned.

    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2008
    Thanked 0 Times in 0 Posts


    Hello Hugh,

    What can I say but thank you. I am presently immersed in researching aircrew who served on 76 Sqn,many were Canadian and up to now I have been completely baffled over the service numbers. One former warrior recently involved with, Archibald Johnstone/air gunner, had three service numbers which truly puzzled me but now all is clear. Thank you once again.


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