Unfortunately, due to the ever-increasing number of enquiries and our slender resources, not to mention the complications brought by COVID-19, we can no longer undertake research enquiries except for a selected few. We have to be pragmatic about this and therefore the ones we can attend to are those which promise to add interesting information to the Archive.
Further down this page you can find a section on how you can carry out the preliminary research which will establish the basic details of a person’s wartime service.
Please be aware that there is no overall computerised list of aircrew who were in the Pathfinders, or indeed in Bomber Command, so names cannot be searched for on a list except in the case of 97 Squadron where, thanks to Kevin Bending’s research several years ago, names can digitally be searched for – for this squadron only.
We cannot answer any research enquiries without at least some basic outline details. These are:
- Full Name
- Squadron or Unit
- Approximate Dates of Service
- Service Number: sometimes useful – there were usually two if someone had been promoted to officer rank.
Please note: the Pathfinder consisted of a number of different squadrons, it was not The Pathfinder Squadron as is sometimes mistakenly believed. We need the individual Pathfinder squadron if we are looking at the records. Please check our page here: Squadrons and Bases for the various squadrons or bases. For training units, look at this page: Training the Pathfinders
AREAS OF INTEREST TO THE ARCHIVE
This is not an exhaustive list but will give a general idea of what we are looking for:
- Bomber Command as a whole, both aircrew and ground crew
- The RAF – management, Public Relations, Medical Services, Intelligence, and so on
- The training units, including those overseas in Canada, the USA and South Africa
- Prisoners of War
- Aircraft losses, accidents, ditchings
- Aircrew mascots, superstitions, religion
- Aircrew morale and LMF
- General wartime context where setting the background to the experience of personnel in the RAF and their friends and families
Our main speciality remains The Pathfinders. You can check our pages here: Squadrons and Bases and Training the Pathfinders to make sure that the person you are researching was in one of the relevant squadrons or training units, or on one of the relevant bases.
UNDERTAKING YOUR OWN RESEARCH
If the person whom you are enquiring about was unfortunately killed in the war, the best place for you to start researching is the excellent Commonwealth War Graves Commission website: https://www.cwgc.org/ This often lists the squadron or unit to which the person belonged.
If they were lucky and survived the war, you will need to find out their basic details (see above), and if you do not have them the likeliest place to find them would be the service record (see below).
It is extremely difficult to find out information about ground crew as they were not documented extensively like aircrew. The only way to trace ground crew is through their service record and even then it is very difficult to find out more details.
If the person whom you are enquiring about was involved in a wartime crash in the Netherlands or came down in the North Sea off the Dutch coast, they will be on Jan Nieuwenhuis’s superb database: https://www.airwar4045.nl/
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
SERVICE RECORDS & UNITS SERVED WITH
We do not hold British service records – these must be obtained from the Ministry of Defence by permission of next of kin.
The National Archives in Australia, New Zealand and Canada are excellent and often have full copies of a service record for aircrew from their country.
You may be able to find someone’s squadron and approximate date of service if they won a decoration such as the DFM. These were listed in the London Gazette, and its Supplements, which can be searched online.
If you know someone’s squadron or unit but not their dates of service, the National Archives at Kew has ORBs of training units and operational squadrons which can be viewed and copied. Note: For as long as the Kew site is closed due to COVID-19, free downloads can be obtained: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/news/digital-downloads/
We do not hold records for everyone who won a Caterpillar badge – you could try writing to Irving who ran the wartime Caterpillar Club: https://www.irvingq.com/our-story/caterpillar-club/