Those of us researching airmen of the First World War gained access to a new online resource when the Royal Air Force Museum launched the RAF Museum STORYVAULT archive earlier this month. The archive provides free access to recently digitized records, including a Muster Roll of NCO’s and men, an Air Force List of Officers, and a selection of Casualty Cards and other records for those who were wounded or killed in the air service.
The new website provides a basic search engine that allows researchers to query on surname and initials while optionally filtering the results by record type. Each record page displays a summary of information as well as a zooming tool you can use to have a closer look at the digitized image. If you prefer you can view the image in a separate browser window and download it for future reference. Although the muster rolls and the Air Force list offer little in the way of detail the records related to those killed or wounded are a very different story.
I’m researching three Canadian flyers, including my cousin, Lt. Gerald Gordon Bell of Ottawa, Ontario. Gerald survived the war and so the only record available for him was an entry in the Air Force List. The list, compiled on April 1 1918, listed him as an Observer Officer although on the 13th of that month he completed his training and became a pilot.
The two other officers did not survive the war and died within 9 days of each other in August 1918:
Lt. Robert Edward Andrew MacBeth of Toronto, Ontario died on August 19th while test piloting Handley-Page 0/400 D4593 at Castle Bromwich near Birmingham. There are no fewer than six records relating to Lt. REA MacBeth in the RAF Museum Storyvault including a Casualty Card (Incident), a Casualty Card (Person), a Next-of-Kin record and a Roll of Honour record. The Incident card provides details on the aircraft involved as well as the names of six others killed in the accident including Lt. Frederick James Bravery. Written on the back of the card is an opinion on the cause of the crash (lower right corner), which at the time was the worst aircraft disaster in RAF history.
2nd Lt. Charles Frederick Grant was from Bella Colla, British Columbia and went missing on August 10th while flying an R.E.8 two-seat biplane (Serial #5069) with 5 Squadron in France. He and 2nd Lt. W.H. Webber were later presumed killed in action. The archive includes a Casualty Card (Incident), a Casualty Card (Person), a Next-of-Kin record and a Roll of Honour record.
The RAF Museum STORYVAULT archive is an excellent resource for First World War researchers. The website also includes a Histories page with links to interesting stories on a variety of pilots from across the Commonwealth.
It would appear G G Bell does have a record available for download in AIR 76 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=D8191164
Thanks David … I will be checking out his record this evening!
Well I did and I was pleasantly surprised to find it included more information than I expected. In addition to listing his movements it also included a list of aircraft flown and courses completed. Thanks again David.
I’ve looked at it properly now, definitely refers to previous service in Canadian forces, and has home address and next-of-kin addresses in Canada.
I’d imagine the other two will have records in the same series. The RAF personnel records are a bit skimpy compared with army ones, and there’s nothing in the man’s own hand.
I do have his Canadian Service file but of course it ends when his RFC service begins. A couple of years ago I corresponded with someone who was a family friend of G.G. Bell and he has a small silver box presented to Gerald by 150 Squadron in 1918. I was promised photos but alas, nothing to date.
Last night I purchased a PDF download of an article from Cross and Cockade International that investigates the crash that REA MacBeth was involved in. Fascinating stuff and illustrated with original photos of the crash site. I have dozens of letters he wrote to his family as well as correspondence by his two brothers, both of whom served. I plan to publish these on my blog in the future.