Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

RFC


stuartd
 Share

Recommended Posts

This is my first posting in the 'war in the air' section of this forum and I am looking to find out more information about how the RFC actually recruited for both air and ground roles during the First World War. My questions would be:

1. As as a keen young man eager to volunteer to do his duty in 1914 or 1915 could I just turn up at an RFC recruitment centre (were there any?) and join up?

2. When conscription comes in from 1916, could I say no, I don't want to be conscripted into the army, I want to join the RFC?

3. Was there a type of chap that the RFC looked for? That is to say that whilst you must be able to offer some useful skill, did being a working class lad with none of the benefits of the right school and the right background preclude you from joining? Thus if some 'fine fellows' from the right school turned up then they got straight in?

4. I assume the RFC actively recruited the army (and navy?) in its quest to find the kind of men that it was looking for? Like the cavalry I believe? if you can handle a horse then you can handle a plane!

Any help with this would be much appreciated. I might have to ask a similar question in the 'war in the sea' section!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1. Yes, they had set up recruitment offices pre war.

2. The RFC was part of the army! On forms for unit you could state a preference for the RFC.

3. The WWI army was a hierarchical society and class came into play. But there were also working class chaps, like Major James McCudden VC, DSO, MC, MM who rose from the ranks. From my research I know that the early RAF commissioned a considerable number of rankers. Btw if you think they didn’t allow working class chaps in, who do you imagine worked on the engines, frames canvas etc?

4. The RNAS was the air arm of the navy. There were periodic call for skilled people to be assigned to the RFC and this increased throughout 1917- 31st March 1918, when the RAF was formed. The RFC were keen on men from the artillery as observers. The RFC were from early on seen as a reconnaissance unit, that was also the role of the cavalry.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

During the first couple of years of the war it seems that most of the men joining the flying services did so by transferring from other branches of the service. Flying became quite glamourous and there was a steady stream of fellows wanting to have a go. The War Office gave the RFC considerable support in this, and except for a few situations, the RFC could take their choice from those offered, even against the wishes of the applicants' current commanding officers.

Later on, a proper cadet system was started for fellows coming straight in, but I am not sure of the details for the UK.

Many of the aircrew came from the Dominions. Canadians in particular constituted a large proportion of RFC and RNAS flying strength. The exact extent is unknown, but may have surpassed 15 per cent by the war's end. There were some fanciful reports of Canadians constituting thirty or forty per cent of pilots. The services' recruiting abroad presumably was based on the pattern established at home.

In Canada at least, a fellow wishing to join the RFC or RNAS straight in at first required an FAI (Fėdėration aeronautique internationale) certificate, that is, a pilot's license. This was difficult and expensive to obtain, and this requirement was dropped in the fall of 1915. The RFC and RNAS were competitors for the best people, and there were complaints of "poaching" by both sides.

The attachment is a newspaper advert from early in 1918. It sort of explains what sort of fellow they were looking for. As a side issue, note that the recuiter in Edmonton is Rt. Rev. Allen Gray D. D. This was the (Anglican) Bishop of Edmonton. It was common in those days to appoint a senior clergyman as the recruiting officer for a particular area.

post-75-1258049515.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Canadians in particular constituted a large proportion of RFC and RNAS flying strength. The exact extent is unknown, but may have surpassed 15 per cent by the war's end.

This sounds like a staggeringly high proportion, which I would have expected to see more evidence of in the research that I have done. Even for officers I doubt it to be the case and for other ranks I would regard it as wide of the mark. 15 per cent of the other ranks alone would be over 45,000 personnel!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This sounds like a staggeringly high proportion, which I would have expected to see more evidence of in the research that I have done. Even for officers I doubt it to be the case and for other ranks I would regard it as wide of the mark. 15 per cent of the other ranks alone would be over 45,000 personnel!

Of course you are correct. The proportions mentioned are for flying personnel. The share of other ranks was much less. I derived these comments from S. F. Wise Canadian Airmen and the First World War where this issue is treated at some length. Most Canadian other ranks would have been with RFC ( later (RAF) Canada, where more than 6000 were on strength at the Armistice. By March 1918 245 pilots graduated from the Canadian schools as opposed to 136 in Egypt and 892 in the British Isles. For a number of reasons the number of Canadians in the British Flying Services will never be known. For many years an "official" figure of 22,812 all ranks was used, but that was known to be inacurate even in 1918.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest markslogin

This is my first posting on this site, but I think can add a little bit to the answers.

My Grandfather was born and raised in Gosport, Hampshire but moved to the States in the early 1900's. He wanted to join the RFC after the war broke out and in 1915 went to a recruiters office in Seattle, Washington State. He was told the RFC was full up but he could join the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and could then transfer to the RFC.

He said he knew the man was lying, but signed up anyway. On his way to New York he met an RFC officer who gave him a name of another officer who could get him in. He looked the man up in New York and was signed to the RFC on the spot. He asked what to do with his papers commiting to the Royal Irish Fusiliers the officer told him to tear them up, he was now in the RFC.

He had been a Bank Teller and had no previous flying experiance, he wanted to go home and help out, but really didn't want to go into the trenches as his brother had done. He got lucky in finding the right people to get him in.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's a great story RFC Ford.

Considering the supposed 'glamour' of the RFC and the 'horror' of the trenches, why was there not more of a rush of men trying to get in? Or was there?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Welcome to the forum RFC Ford,

A fascinating insight into recruiting from the then neutral USA.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The proportions mentioned are for flying personnel. The share of other ranks was much less. I derived these comments from S. F. Wise Canadian Airmen and the First World War where this issue is treated at some length. Most Canadian other ranks would have been with RFC ( later (RAF) Canada, where more than 6000 were on strength at the Armistice. By March 1918 245 pilots graduated from the Canadian schools as opposed to 136 in Egypt and 892 in the British Isles. For a number of reasons the number of Canadians in the British Flying Services will never be known. For many years an "official" figure of 22,812 all ranks was used, but that was known to be inacurate even in 1918.

I'm finding it difficult to follow parts of your reply. You make a distinction between flying personnel and other ranks; there were plenty of ther ranks who were flying personnel. There were also numerous Canadian other ranks who served with the air services in theatres other than Canada, generally speaking they were discharged from the Canadian forces and then transferred to the RFC, RNAS or RAF. I have seen this noted on the Canadian service papers, it was also the case with Canadian officers that they had to be discharged from the Canadian forces to take a commission in the air services. So the paper trail is there for many. Do your figures graduating from flying schools relate purely to Canadians?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Although not very scientific, on my web page about 66 Sqn RFC/RAF I have identified some 190 Officers of which at least 36 were Canadians, other groups represented were from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Great Britain. Other ranks, I have identified 283 men of which none were Canadians.

john_g

www.66squadron.co.uk

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When considering the origin of RFC personnel, it's probably worth remembering that although there were many Australians in the RFC and RAF, their numbers in those services would have been reduced by the presence of the AFC in Palestine and on the Western Front in late 1917 and 1918. Unlike their Canadian counterparts, the Australians had the option of serving in their own air arm.

Gareth

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...