Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Did Americans Volunteer with the Royal Air Force?

American's and RAF, WWII
Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)
After the 2013 airing of the Minnie Driver’s episode of the British, Who Do You Think You Are? two recurring questions popped up in our a3Genealogy email: 1) Were there Americans in the Royal Air Force (or Royal Canadian Air Force)?, and 2) Were there men of color who served with these forces?

Background of Americans in the RAF and RCAF
Even before America entered WWI in 1917, over 300 American citizens pretending to be Canadians were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force. Many of the RAF service records, 1918-1919 may be found in the UK at The National Archives.

Many researchers, European, African and American, may find that their ancestor, like that of Minnie Driver, of Season 5, Who Do You Think You Are? (TLC), served with the either the Royal Air Force (RAF) or Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during WWII.  American servicemen in the RAF and RCAF during the WWII era risked their American citizenship by joining these forces. (They were later pardoned).

Eagle Squadron American Pilots
About 250 Americans joined the Eagle Squadrons, others were enlisted through mercenary Colonel Charles Sweeney’s American squadron, or were actively recruited through the Clayton Knight Committee. It is said the Clayton Knight Committee recruited as many as seven thousand Americans for the RAF and Royal Canadian Air Force, but the exact number of Americans who served with the Royal Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force is difficult to pinpoint, since many pretended to be Canadians and even South Africans before America “entered the war in December 1941.”

7 Places to Research Your RAF and RCAF Veteran
Researchers will find that having service numbers will assist on this pursuit. Included are a few indexes below that may be useful:
  1. One of the best places to begin your research is with the Royal Air Force Museum.  
  2. Be sure to also visit the National Churchill Museum.
  3. An often overlooked site for RAF research from 1918-1939 is FindmyPast. This database contains “almost 343,000 airmen, who were born in over 30 countries.”
  4. The National Archives (UK) may assist the family historian with earlier Royal Air Force personnel research. 
  5. For an index of RCAF personnel between 1914-1945, visit the Air Force Association of Canada. An index of the 379 Americans bombers that served with the RCAF can be found at the Bomber Command Museum, Canada.  These bombers are honored on Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial.
  6. The Library and Archives, Canada, holds all military service records.  (username/ password NOT needed).
  7. Fold3 has a collection of photos of American RAF servicemen being conferred by the President of the United States of America. (Servicemen are identified). Begin your photo search by scrolling through the RAF Ceremonies and Decorations.
Johnny Smythe, RAF
Men of Color with the RAF
Clearly men of color was allowed to serve with the RAF.  Johnny Smythe, Sierra Leone, was just one who volunteered and served with the RAF.

An exhibit “RAF and the Commonwealth” shares stories of African, Asian and Carribean airmen and women’s contributions to the RAF. 

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers

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