The 1st of April 2018 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force (RAF), when the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps merged to become the first independent airforce in the world, following the passing of the Air Force (Constitution Act) 1917. In this week’s blog post, I thought I’d take a look at some of the varied sources we hold here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, relating to the RAF.
To start with, some of the earliest material I found comes from a collection called ‘Circulars relating to recruitment, fund raising and coal rationing from the First World War, 1917-1919’ (MS2966). These circulars were sent from various sources to the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham for the purpose of supporting the war effort. It is likely that they were displayed in a number of Birmingham’s Catholic churches. You can see some examples of these in the image at the top of this blog post and below.
In the West Midlands County Council archives, reference to the RAF appears in the context of Birmingham Airport. In 1935, Birmingham City Council formed an Airport Committee, opening Birmingham Airport at Elmdon on the 8th July 1939, at a cost of £360,000. The airport was owned and operated by Birmingham City Council as a municipal airport, designed to meet the needs of the residents and the industry of the city, as well as its immediate surroundings. Within a few months, however, civil aviation was ceased because of the outbreak of the Second World War, and the airport was requisitioned by the Air Ministry. The Ministry built two new hard runways and two hangars on the eastern side for the construction of Stirling and Lancaster airplanes. The airport became the home of the RAF 51st Elementary Flight Training School (EFTS) for the duration of the war.The airport re-opened again for civil aviation in July, 1946, when services were operated to cities in Britain and Ireland. However, control of the airport was not returned to Birmingham City Council from the government until 1960. Minutes of the West Midlands County Council Airport Committee Airport Committee (1934 – 1986) and its related sub-committees can be found under the catalogue reference WMCC/AB.
We also hold ‘916 Squadron RAF Association Records, 1940 – 1995′ (MS 2042). The Squadron was one of four Balloon Barrage Squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force based at RAF Wythall. Their purpose was the defence of Birmingham and Coventry against air attack. The advent of the W.A.A.F. into Balloon Command resulted in the redeployment of men overseas or into new occupations. After the War, reunions commenced in 1946 on or near the anniversary of the first ‘blitz’ of Coventry on 15th November 1940 and continued until 1995 which was the 50th and last reunion dinner. The collection includes papers relating to the organisation of reunions and Squadron membership registers.
As well as archival material, we have a selection of printed and published material relating to the RAF, and these include: ‘the RAF roll of honour 1914-1918’, ‘Airmen who died in the Great War’, ‘Red Cross list of wounded and missing 1917’, ‘the RAF list 1918 – 1920 (Officer Class only)’, and much more!
For information about Archives & Collections here at the library of Birmingham, please visit: https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/archives.
Corinna Rayner, Archives Manager