[Cross posted at The Aerodrome]

I have written elsewhere there has been some discussion of whether there is a need for an Air Force Records Society. I have prepared a briefing paper that has been sent round to various people working in the field. However, I thought I would post part of it here to try and gain further ideas on this project. I am interested in any thoughts people may have on this.


Both the Royal Navy and Army have a Records Society. To date the Naval Records Society, founded in 1893 by leading figures including Professor Sir John Knox Laughton, has published over 150 volumes. The Army Records Society has published thirty-one volumes to date. Both organisations have been successful in promoting the history of their respective services by bringing together collections of documents to highlight the past.

The history of British air power is now more than one hundred years old. An important question exists, should there be a records society that deals with the Royal Air Force. The RAF and its predecessors, the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service, have a rich documentary heritage that should be preserved. The society would provide a valuable source for serving officers, scholars and all those interested in British air power history and the development of air power generally.

As noted below publications could include a variety of strands. However, to begin with there are several obvious sources that could be explored. These included the papers of Lieutenant General Sir David Henderson or Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount Trenchard. Possible unpublished memoirs include the fascinating work written by Air Marshal Sir Edgar Kingston-McCloughry, which is a refreshing honest and critical work that was never published, and languishes in his papers at the Imperial War Museum. There is also the possibility of publishing significant works that are now out of copyright. In addition, it may be worth looking into the possibility of publishing key volumes from the Air Historical Branch Narrative collection.

Aim of the Society

The object of an Air Force Records Society would be to edit and publish manuscripts relating to the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm, and their antecedents’, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, and to reprint works of military interest.


The society will require a council in order to run it effectively. It should consist of a:

  • President
  • Vice-President
  • Treasurer
  • Secretary
  • Editor
  • Councillors’

Members should come from leading figures in the field of air power history. Terms of service and responsibilities will be laid out in a constitution that can only be revised at an annual general meeting.


Membership should be drawn from anyone who has an interest in the history of the RAF and FAA and their antecedents’. It is hoped that membership will be drawn from members of academia, the Ministry of Defence the heritage sector, students, serving and retired members of the RAF and FAA.

Possible Volumes

As with the NRS and ARS, the society would look to publish one volume per year. The society would aim to publish volumes that deals with the following areas:

  • Personal Papers
  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Unpublished Memoirs/Autobiography
  • Themed Documents Collections
  • Miscellany


There are several challenges that will need to be surmounted in order to see an Air Force Records Society come to fruition:

  • Setting up a committee
  • Produce a constitution for the society including terms of service for council members
  • Advertising the society
  • Developing a relationship with relevant archival collections
  • Developing a relationship with a relevant publisher in order to produce volumes
  • Receiving proposals for future publications
  • Developing a website

16 thoughts on “Some more thoughts on an Air Force Records Society

  1. Ross,
    I seem to remember commenting that this was an excellent idea quite a time ago, but nothing seemed to come of it.
    Alex Revell

  2. Alex,

    Like with any of these things it takes time. For a time it got put to the back of my to do pile. I am not in the fact finding phase. Looking for peoples thoughts etc. There are, as outline above, some very real practical issues that have to be solved. Hopefully it will come about in time.

  3. Ross,

    I think this would be a very good idea that would be of interest to many people, not just those with a specific interest in the RAF. Some of the most important contributions to strategic thought in the nuclear age have come from airmen such as Slessor and Kingston-Mc. I’m sure there is a lot of unpublished material hiding in archives etc that could be brought to light.

  4. This body would fill a clear gap. There does seem to be some neglect of air power in the academic history of war. For example, TV documentaries on the navy or the army often feature eminent professors, while the contributors to ones on the RAF tend to be popular historians or even celebrities interested in aircraft.

    What would be the relationship between this body and the existing RAF Historical Society?Its website address is as follows (not sure if it will come out as a clickable link):


  5. Simon,

    I agree. There could be a themed volume on nuclear policy. Kingston-McLoughry’s papers are very interesting. Have you looked at his unpublished memoir? Very interesting.

  6. Martin, Yes, I agree that TV documentaries often use academics, but in the case of WW1 aviation, my particular interest, they often have only a shallow knowledge of the subject and are frequently incorrect .

  7. Martin,

    I can see what you mean. In academia (including the PME sector) there are maybe 10-15 academics who specialise in Air Power. This is small in comparison to naval or army experts. The same can be said for PhD students. You only have to look at the number of students that Andrew Lambert is supervising. Of course both the Army and RN have the advantage of age. They having longer histories than the air power organisation in the UK. In this respect there is a lack of depth for the subject.

    With regards to relationship with the RAFHS. I would hope there would be one but they are not one and the same in terms of what they produce. RAFHS is about articles etc about the service whereas a records society should be about the documents relating to the RAF.

  8. Ross,

    I wasn’t aware there was a memoir, where abouts are his papers? I have just read his ‘The Direction of War’ which I think is very good.

    There is definately lots there for nuclear policy, I read alot of CAS papers 1940/50s. People like Tedder and Slessor were pretty prolific writers.

    Is everything running smoothly with the book? the absracts are sounding good.

  9. Alex,

    I think the problems with WW1 documentaries on air power is that they do not use academics rather than the other way rounf. They use popular historians who I agree often get things wrong. The are academics out there but documentary makers appear unwilling to engage with them when it comes to military history based documentaries.


    They are at the IWM. They are a very interesting reads. The book is on target for delivery to the publishers early next year.

  10. Ross,
    I’ve found it to be the other way round and that academics are more often used than not. Whenever there is a documentary on WW1 aviation, the talk amongst those of us who have studied the subject for the last sixty years or so is: ‘Where did they dig him/them up from.’ Usually because of some glaring errors, not of opinion but of fact. You’ll never beat the knowledge of people who have specialised in one particular aspect of such a vast and varied subject with an academic who has only studied the overall picture. Our society, Cross and Cockade International – and other societies in the USA and Australia – has been publishing a quarterly journal of people’s research – more often than not from primary sources – over the last 40 odd years. We have recorded interviews with people who were there, in all theatres of the war and have members who have specialised and concentrated on various aspects and subjects: from the overall tactical and strategic picture: aircraft, types and development; the role played by both the fighter and corps sqdns; the RNAS; Sqdn histories; personal histories; the preservation of photographs; armament; sqdn and individual markings; casualties – the list is endless. The society has amassed a vast amount of knowledge over the years, covering all the combatants, with people also studying in depth the German, French, Austrian, Italian records. I doubt if there are any academics who have even heard of the work of the society, or the amount of invaluable material which has been collected over the years. To give one small example: recently, Leigh-Mallory has been mentioned on the site. How many academics have had the privilege, as I have, of talking privately with people who actually served with him, in both wars. They give an entirely different picture to the accepted version of L-M.

  11. Just as an update, I have been recieving some interesting feedback from the emails I sent out. There is certainly mileage in such a society. It is going to take a lot of work. In particular it will require some high-profile names to get behind it. There is also the issue of financing it. However, these are challenges I think can be overcome. Thanks to everyone for their feedback so far.

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