One of the oft-asked questions on the RAFCommands Forum is “I would like to know more about this person. He may have been an officer during the war, but I really have no further details” . Answering questions like this was tough. Common research tasks would involve searching the CWGC Register if the person was a casualty, or using the notoriously difficult search engine on the London Gazette website. Both offered a very low probability of getting a hit on the officer being researched.
The right resource would be to refer to the periodic “Air Force List” published by the HMSO during the war years. The Air Force Lists were comprehensive documents – They provided details on the Commissioned Officers of the RAF, Appointments of the Air Ministry and various HQs, Honorary Commissions, Gradation Lists (including WAAF and RAF Nursing Services), Warrant Officers and Lists for Reserve and Retired Officers.
The books had a comprehensive index by last name that made location of officer’s rank and date of promotion easier. The index also carries the personnel numbers of these officers. The lists, which at the beginning of the war were around 600 pages , grew in size and by the end were routinely over 1500 pages in length!
These lists were published every months throughout the duration of the war. Rather curiously the books featured advertisements towards the end by organisations associated with the RAF. Earlier lists carried a fair number of commercial advertisements from privately owned businesses, suggesting that these lists were not ‘SECRET’ and were meant for public circulation.
It may be necessary to search over several issues to gather the basic details of a particular officer, and of-course if an officer was killed in action, or left the Air Force, their details would not be found in the list. By consulting multiple lists, it is possible to build a timeline of an officers career .
The original WW2 era Air Force Lists are extremely expensive. Original Lists are available on sale on eBay for approximately 100 GBP per copy. Digital Copies of the Air Force Lists distributed on CD/DVD are more common and can be purchased at various sites for approximately 10 GBP plus postage.
Online Free Downloads at Archive.Org
But the availability of these lists for research has been made easier by the Internet Archive Project and the National Library of Scotland (NLS). Funded by the NLS, the Internet Archive (Archive.Org) has digitised and uploaded a total 67 Air Force Lists from the years 1919 and 1938-1944. These can be accessed from the archive at https://archive.org/details/nlsairforcelists (See here for the complete list).
The Digitised copies can be accessed in various formats – downloadable in PDF, ePub or Kindle E-Reader or Text format. Perhaps the most convenient is to view it online in a very effective user friendly interface. (eg : https://archive.org/details/airforcelistmay1944grea ) . The online interface also provides search features that provides a very useful results page with bookmarks to the list.
NSL Archive of RAF Lists https://archive.org/details/nlsairforcelists