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24 Squadron RFC and RAF 1916. Catalogue reference AIR1/169/15/160/5

11 November

The National Archives has made 99,000 RAF officers' service records available online for the first time. These records are easily searchable by first name, last name and date of birth, and were previously only accessible to visitors at the Kew site. You can view and download records via the DocumentsOnline service.

Pioneer of the skies

The courageous aviators of the early Royal Air Force (RAF) played a crucial role in Britain's victory in the First World War. Among the service records available are some of the country's most celebrated and famous pilots - known as 'Aces' for having shot down five or more enemy aircraft.

Cecil Lewis' personal account of flying in the war, Sagittarius Rising, inspired the 1976 film Aces High. A pioneer of the skies, he was also one of the original management team that set up the BBC. According to his service record, Lewis joined the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) on 7 October 1915, after allegedly lying about his age and was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery during the Battle of the Somme (1-13 November 1916).

Sidney Reilly volunteered for the RFC in 1917 before transferring to MI1(c) (British Secret Service) in March 1918. Famously known as the 'Ace of Spies', his exploits have been dramatised in a television series, as well as providing inspiration for Ian Fleming's character, James Bond. The final entry in his service records notes that he was 'killed on 28 September 1925 near the village of Allekul, Russia by OGPU troops' - the Russian secret police.

Knights of the air

William Spencer, Principal Military Records Specialist at The National Archives, said, 'The digitisation of AIR 76 finally makes the officers' records of service in the fledgling Royal Air Forces available worldwide. Not only is it possible to view records of the early "knights of the air" ... but also find those of officers from all over the empire who served in the flying service in its infancy. This collection contains the biographical records of some of the earliest architects and practitioners of the new art of aerial warfare, many of whom died perfecting their art.'

The service records were created with the inception of the RAF in April 1918, however many records include the retrospective details of earlier service in either the Royal Flying Corp or Royal Naval Air Service.

These records and many others can be viewed on The National Archives' website on a pay-per-download basis for the fee of £3.50.

The National Archives also has a series of podcasts entitled Voices of the Armistice which bring alive the individual experiences of those who served in the First World War. The podcasts are available to listen and download for free.