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WW1 Airmen Project – The Men of the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service & Royal Air Force

In the decade before World War One the race was on for man to take flight! The Wright Brothers conquered this in 1903 when their aircraft reached a height of 10 feet & travelled a distance of 200 feet.


Many other inventors tried to make better & faster machines, including Robert ‘Rab’ Black a cousin of my Great Grandmother! As a young boy my Grandfather & his brothers would stand in a field & watch Rab with his own flying machine reach the height of the telegraph poles. How exciting it must have been!


In 1911 the Army set up an Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers which would change to the Royal Flying Corps the following year.


The first flight over the English channel would take place in 1912 by Louis Bleriot….Aviation was increasing rapidly!


Aviation saw a spike in greeting cards being produced showing early aircraft -

Images from TuckDB Postcards (Public Domain)


As World War One broke out the Royal Navy would create their own air arm in the Royal Naval Air Service which along with the Royal Flying Corps would carry out reconnaissance missions in the early stages of the war with great effect.


As the war progressed these Aircraft went on to become fighters & bombers with both services merging to become the Royal Air Force on the 1st April 1918.


My Grandfathers older brothers were all keen to enlist during World War One & would join the Highland Army Regiments who at that time were marching through towns & villages in Scotland encouraging men to sign up. On learning this my Great Grandfather, who as a well read Gentlemen who most probably knew the horrors these regiments were facing in Europe, managed to withdraw their applications & promptly helped them sign them up for the Royal Flying Corps!


Knowing what I know now I wonder what made him think this was a better prospect than the front line soldier? After all the life expectancy of an Airman during WW1 was just 2 Weeks! Many young Airmen would sadly not even make it out of training, some would lose their lives due to aircraft defects & others over the front lines in combat.


One has to wonder what the Front Line Soldiers at the Somme thought of these Aircraft flying overhead. It must have been a distraction as most would probably never have seen an aircraft never mind see it used in such a way.


Airmen of the Royal Flying Corps - Authors own Collection

My own interest in WW1 Aviation came quite a few years after starting my family tree in 2009 when I came across a newspaper article telling the story of my Grandfathers Brother ‘Mac’, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal & was one of the Flying Aces of World War One. He had been credited with 8 aerial victories whilst flying as an Observer/Gunner with 20 Squadron in France.


Later whilst going through some of my Grandfathers belongings I came across an original ‘order’ for 20 squadron dated 19th March 1918 which details the squadron duties for the day & Mac’s DCM being announced…possibly kept as a souvenir.


World War One Airmen were very competitive, tallying & recording their victories. German Ace Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron) would even land next to downed aircraft to remove the aircraft number from the fuselage as a trophy.


Lucky for Mac & the family he would survive the war but sadly many young men would not & so my inspiration to tell the stories of some of these mens lives came about.



A Pencil drawing by A. Hirsch (French Artist) of a Voisin Machine Gunner Biplane

September 22, 1915 at La Rouillardiere, France.

Courtesy of Joel Parkinson of the World War History & Art Museum



The WW1 Airmen Project will tell of the lives of men who lost their lives as well as those who survived their experiences.


I started this project on 11th November 2020 when I made the decision not to work on client research but to look into the lives of two men who would launch this project…what better way to spend Remembrance Day.


You can view more about this new project & read some of the stories of these men at the

WW1 Airman Project Webpage here


Be sure to check back regularly as further men will be added in due course.


Many Thanks to Joel Parkinson of the World War History & Art Museum for allowing me to use the 'Hirsch' drawing for this post.


You can find out more about the collections held at the World War History & Art Museum here


A book called ‘Brushes with War: Paintings and Drawings by the Troops of World War I: The WWHAM Collection of Original Art’ has been released detailing many images from the Museums Holdings & is available via Amazon.

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