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Dolphin

RFC Wings worn in WWII?

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Dolphin
Posted (edited)

I recently found the WWII movie The One That Got Away on the internet; it's the story of Oblt Franz von Werra, the only German PoW to escape from British custody during the conflict.  In an early scene, the newly captured Luftwaffe pilot is interrogated by an RAF officer wearing the uniform of a Squadron Leader, complete with pilot's wings and the ribbons of the DSO and DFC as well as other decorations.  In conversation, the RAF man says he was an ace in the previous war.

 

Something I noticed was the the British man's wings were RFC, rather than RAF.  I'm now mildly curious - were the film makers right or wrong, ie could a pilot who qualified while in the RFC continiue to wear those wings while serving in the RAF, over twenty years after the creation of the new service?

 

It's not something I'll worry about, but I'll be grateful for advice from someone who knows.

 

Gareth

 

 

Edited by Dolphin

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pierssc
Posted (edited)

Hi Gareth

 

I think we may be skating into Skindles territory.... I looked this up a while back because my grandfather, who had been in the RFC and RAF in WW1, and Ministry of Aircraft Production in WW2, was sent postwar on some scientific missions to Germany - basicially the allies were trying to get their hands on German Patents and machinery which might be useful - I can't remember the correct term and I can't find my notes on it.  This involved him wearing some kind of uniform but I haven't been able to discover his exact rank or status or even which service for certain.  He may have had some sort of honourary rank - enough to browbeat people at checkpoints and get accommodation in officers' messes etc.  Anyway the relevance is that according to family lore he wore his RFC wings (though he could perfectly well have worn his 1918 RAF ones) and medal ribbons and apparently this got a certain amount of positive interest from the Germans he encountered.  So I checked it out - and the official line seems to be that post 1918 only RAF wings were supposed to be worn with RAF uniform.  For that period post April 1918 where Army or Navy uniform continued to be worn of course the correct insignia for that was used.  I can't recall exactly where I found this, sorry, but it would have been online.  I imagine that if the legend is true, he got away with it because either (a) his connection with the forces was pretty nebulous, and there was no one likely to pull him up on it and/or (b) as my grandmother addressed her letters to him using Army ranks he may have been wearing Army uniform, in which case possibly wearing RFC wings might have been permissible (or it hadn't occurred to anyone to make a regulation about it).

 

Given that a very large proportion of the RAF senior command in WW2 served in the RFC in WW1 I'm not aware of any WW2 era photos of any of them wearing RFC wings so it would be surprising if someone in the service but less exalted did so.  Of course the wearing of WW1 ribbons would indicate that the character had been in the previous show and his age would suggest that the DSO and DFC had been gained in that.  I suspect this is a wardrobe department malfunction (they have been known, I believe(!), but I'm sure that someone more familiar with the regs will be along to put me right if I'm not.

 

One final point - the RFC wings I've seen (mostly grandfather's) were backed on a green/brown fabric which would blend acceptably with Army uniform but look distinctly odd on RAF blue.         

 

EDIT: Doh!  Didn't check my facts before posting.  They're on black.  False memory syndrome!  See Post #10

 

Cheers

Piers

Edited by pierssc
Wrote before checking colours

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OLD ROBIN HOOD

Greetings from Sherwood Forest where it is wet again  ( don't you just love the British summer )

I don't think that this really answers Gareth's question but I have seen several WW2 photos of Home Guard men who were qualified flyers in WW1 wearing their

R.F.C . wings on H.G. uniform. They were obviously no longer operational flyers but still wore the wings which they had earned during the "first lot "

 

                                                                  Old Robin Hood

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Dolphin
Posted (edited)

Thanks for the replies and the information therein.  It seems very likely that it was simply a wardrobe mistake. What a surprise!  "Oh, if he;'s playing an ex-pilot he'll need wings on his tunic; just grab a set from costume  - any of them will do - and sew them on."   On the other hand, maybe someone in the film company thought that if the character was a WWI pilot he should wear RFC wings.  In a black and white film the colour clash wouldn't be apparent.  I suspect we'll never know. Anyway, it's not something that will keep me up at nights worrying.

 

Wearing RFC wings in the Home Guard seems reasonable, ie Army wings on Army tunics.

 

I don't know about the English summer, as it's now winter here and definitely quite cool.  We've even had some rain, something that's very welcome as the massive drought continues.

 

Thanks again

 

Gareth

 

 

Edited by Dolphin

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MikeMeech
7 hours ago, Dolphin said:

Thanks for the replies and the information therein.  It seems very likely that it was simply a wardrobe mistake. What a surprise!  "Oh, if he;'s playing an ex-pilot he'll need wings on his tunic; just grab a set from costume  - any of them will do - and sew them on."   On the other hand, maybe someone in the film company thought that if the character was a WWI pilot he should wear RFC wings.  In a black and white film the colour clash wouldn't be apparent.  I suspect we'll never know. Anyway, it's not something that will keep me up at nights worrying.

 

Wearing RFC wings in the Home Guard seems reasonable, ie Army wings on Army tunics.

 

I don't know about the English summer, as it's now winter here and definitely quite cool.  We've even had some rain, something that's very welcome as the massive drought continues.

 

Thanks again

 

Gareth

 

 

Hi

 

According to 'Badges and Uniforms of the Royal Air Force' by Hobart, page 10, and 'British Air Forces 1914-18 (1)' (MAA 341) page 15. the 'wings' were on a black background.  The contrast can be seen in black and white images of the period, some may have had khaki backgrounds but it may have been limited.

1940watchofficepilot005.jpg.52567093a997c45ed487d58d36cad256.jpg

As for being worn on RAF uniforms, it may well have been although not that often.  Before the RAF Museum, Hendon, re-vamp for the 100 Anniversary of the RAF, the Battle of Britain display had a 'mock-up' of the RAF Northolt Watch Office that included an RAF officer manikin wearing RFC wings.  The image below was taken in 1990, however, it is not clear enough to see the wings in detail, however, you will have to take my word for it as I used to take guided tours of the exhibition and point out to the visitors that the officer was wearing RFC wings.

1940watchofficepilot001.jpg.84c0c745426ef494b3f30fcc4ef1cebd.jpg

 

This does not mean it was common but you can not rule it out either.  

 

Jefford in 'Observers and Navigators' (2nd edition) has some discussion on the wearing of RFC Observers's badges by army and RAF Regiment personnel during WW2, despite allegedly being not permitted, see pages 272-275.

 

Mike

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Dolphin

Thank you Mike

 

It remains a very minor mystery - were the RFC wings a mistake by the costume people or an effort to be super-accurate?  Perhaps someone connected to the film knew a man who was an RAF interrogator who wore RFC wings.  In all probability we shall never know.  The film was accurate enough to show the Army interrogator changing into a Captain's tunic so as to be one rank higher than Oblt von Werra.  The RAF went one better by using a Squadron Leader's uniform.

 

Gareth

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scottmarchand

It would be a mistake, liley an honest one by the costumers, hardly the first and won't be the last. - if he were an active RAF officer he'd have had RAF wings regardless of prior RFC wing entitlement. Home Guard did certainly wear them as they were not active service pilots.

 

And for Mike - the Khaki backed wings are a relatively modern fantasy and were never worn by RFC personnel. Regulations an sealed patterns make it clear that a black wool backing is the correct format, there is variation in the colour and styles of the wreaths and the crownsas for the most part RFC wings were hand embroidered in silk. They pop up around 50th Anniversary celebrations and proliferate out of the repro shops in the late 80's and seem to have been a misinterpretation of the Army Flying wings in the 50's and 60's that were at time khaki backed.  In 40 years of collecting and in and out of museum collections  and reading I have never encountered any legitimate  use of a kahki RFC pilots of Observers wings and consider them to be fantasy pieces more than 'fakes' etc.

RFC sealed pattern.jpg

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MikeMeech
13 minutes ago, scottmarchand said:

It would be a mistake, liley an honest one by the costumers, hardly the first and won't be the last. - if he were an active RAF officer he'd have had RAF wings regardless of prior RFC wing entitlement. Home Guard did certainly wear them as they were not active service pilots.

 

And for Mike - the Khaki backed wings are a relatively modern fantasy and were never worn by RFC personnel. Regulations an sealed patterns make it clear that a black wool backing is the correct format, there is variation in the colour and styles of the wreaths and the crownsas for the most part RFC wings were hand embroidered in silk. They pop up around 50th Anniversary celebrations and proliferate out of the repro shops in the late 80's and seem to have been a misinterpretation of the Army Flying wings in the 50's and 60's that were at time khaki backed.  In 40 years of collecting and in and out of museum collections  and reading I have never encountered any legitimate  use of a kahki RFC pilots of Observers wings and consider them to be fantasy pieces more than 'fakes' etc.

RFC sealed pattern.jpg

Hi

I have not seen khaki backed wings used either, but Piers in post 2 stated that his grandfather's wings were, so I did not rule it out that it couldn't happen.  There are a lot of anomalies that turn up in uniform (those airmen that served in Singapore or Hong Kong in the post WW2 era wore a variety of types of uniform made by local tailors and still did when they returned home) and badges.  We had a corporal in the station workshops at Halton during 1972 who had pilots wings on his uniform, he had been a National Service SNCO pilot but stayed in the RAF as a regular and had to remuster when the scheme ended evidently, but was allowed to wear his wings.  At Brize Norton in the mid 1970s we had one of the SWO's bods who had been in the Glosters during the Korean War and had the US unit citation 'badge', that had been awarded to them, on the arm of his RAF uniform.

 

Mike

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David Filsell

I can add little, but unofficial uniform modifications are, and probably always have been, far from unusual. Probably a mistake in the film, but ... 

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pierssc

I'm afraid that Piers, in his enthusiasm to respond, didn't check his facts in Post #2 by looking at the original wings.

 

All his wings are unquestionably on a black background, so I'm afraid I was talking **** about them being on green.  

 

Apologies to all and I shall stand in the corner of shame.

 

Still, whatever the uniform is, I think it's the RFC wings he's wearing.

 

Piers

 

 

 

6EAF88D9-6A73-47C7-8446-7B1B5066FD2C.jpeg

258B72CD-44BE-4443-9590-31ED6C392315.jpeg

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nils d

I have heard of WW2 Army  officers wearing RFC wings .

If you earned ,wear it.

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Dolphin

I don't want to appear a film uniform fanatic, but the central male character in the TV series Mrs Wilson (the man who played the dead chef in Delicious and whose name now escapes me) wore WWII Army uniform with black-backed RFC wings.  While this was understandable and no doubt accurate, I had trouble accepting the character's beard.

 

To answer an unasked question, AFC wings were embroidered on a black background.

 

Gareth

Edited by Dolphin

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scottmarchand

An earned qualification was just that and did not disappear even if rank, service branch etc. changed - there are plenty of instances of guys remustering postwar at lower ranks than the wartime temporary commissions with some strange insignia combinations. A friend of our family was an F/O Air Gunner on Lancs in 44-45. After the war he knocked around a hit and ended up joining the Canadian Army in 1949, ended up in Airbourne and ultimately a senior NCO and instructor - he always got strange looks with his AG wing in combination with the jump wings etc. 

 

Back in the early 80's when I was in air cadets in Calgary there was guy in the KOCR Militia unit at Mewata Armouries that had been in the Wehrmacht at the end of WW II as a teenager, immigrated to Canada and joined up was in the regular army and then an aged member of the reserves. He wore his EK I & II ribbons on parade a few times. Not sure if it was sanctioned officially or not - but it turned heads....

 

Mike - Agreed - anomalies do exist, but by and large regulations were conformed to - even if construction variations exist, and memory can be fallible. I would be truly shocked to find any evidence that khaki backed wings were ever worn in the pre 1950 period.  Even Army Flying wings in the era were also black backed. Anyway - great discussion and I love Piers Medal group and wings shown above! Any more pics of those?

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David Filsell

Beards were allowed if there was a medical reason - skin condition - for them I recall reading.

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