The Royal Air Force was created 100 years ago on 1 April 1918.

The RAF was formed by amalgamating two units which had been formed before the outbreak of war. The Royal Flying Corps was part of the army and initially worked as observers and spotters, before developing fighter and bomber aircraft. The Royal Naval Air Service had experimented with bombing operations against German airship stations, and were tasked with the defence of Britain against German attacks.

During 1917 factors came together which led to a re-organisation of British air forces. It was increasingly important for the resources and equipment of the RFC and the RNAS to be fully co-ordinated on the Western Front. Also continued air raids by German Zeppelin airships and then aircraft on Britain, especially London, led to a call for both improved defences and retaliation raids.

The Liddle Collection, held in Special Collections, contains the personal papers of over 4,000 people who experienced the First World War, and it includes the experiences of over 300 men who fought in the air during the war.

The papers of fighter ace John Aldridge, who flew with 19 Sqn, include his logbooks with details of five aerial victories and an oil-stained map marked with the lines of trenches marked. Aldridge had joined the RFC in 1917 but only joined his squadron after the formation of the RAF.

The pace of change in the early RAF is shown in the collection of Frederick Caton. He volunteered to join the RNAS in Feb 1918, but joined the RAF in April. His training as a pilot was heavily concentrated during the summer, and he had joined 216 Sqn in France by 16 August. 216 Sqn was one of the squadrons formed to carry out strategic bombing of Germany partly in retaliation for attacks on London.

The Women’s Royal Air Force was also formed in April 1918, and the Liddle Collection includes the recollections of Dorothy Shadbolt, who was a munitions worker before joining the WRAF, and those of Magda Elliott who was a nurse before becoming a translator at the new Air Ministry.

Maurice le Blanc Smith was another pilot who had a series of victories in the summer of 1918. He also fought against Manfred von Richtofen, the ‘Red Baron’. Some of his possession, including his logbooks and mascot ‘Adolphus’ (pictured below), are on display in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery until mid May 2018.

Adolphus
Maurice le Blanc Smith’s mascot ‘Adolphus’