The Territorial Air Force – the RAF’s Voluntary Squadrons 1926-1957, Dr Louise Wilkinson

The Territorial Air Force – the RAF’s Voluntary Squadrons 1926-1957, Dr Louise Wilkinson

In the aftermath of the First World War the British government decided to create two slightly different versions of a voluntary air force – the Auxiliary Air Force and the Special Reserve – each based on a slightly different model of recruitment, but both aimed at giving the RAF a reserve of trained aircrew and ground staff without the cost of having a larger professional air force. Two of the Auxiliary Air Force Squadrons, Nos.600 and 601, are very well known, mainly because a lot of their members came from the upper reaches of British society, but the pre-war nature of most of the other squadrons hasn’t been researched.

This book is based on the results of a large research project, in which the author has identified as many as possible of the officers who served in the AAF and SR squadrons between their formation and the outbreak of war in 1939, then attempted to find as many details about them as possible. This data is then used to compare the individual squadrons, and the two models of recruiting, to see if the generally accepted idea that the AAF was more exclusive than the SR was true. This is done by looking at connections to the aristocracy, attendance at public school or Oxbridge, the placing of significant announcements in the Times and other indicators of status.

I’d say a high enough percentage of officers has been identified to make the results of this work valid, and they do demonstrate some clear differences between the two forms of reserve and between the individual squadrons within each one (although not perhaps the results that might have been expected).

This is quite a specialist work. You do have to either be interested in the social make-up of the British reserve air forces and the decision making behind their formation, or the history of one of the squadrons covered to get the most value out of it.

There is one break from the analyitical nature of most of the book – the War Years chapter focuses on the wartime service of each of the squadrons covered, along with the more notable exploits of the individuals studied in the earlier chapters.

The section on the merger of the SR into the AAF is interesting. The AAF was almost entirely filled with volunteers, and only took men who could already fly as pilots (but was willing to re-train the ground crew). The SR trained its pilot volunteers, so appealed to those who couldn’t afford to learn to fly, but wanted the ground crew to work in their own area of expertise. In addition each squadron had one flight of RAF men and two from the SR. When the two models were being examined ready to decide which one to keep, the main advantage of the SR model was that it produced more useful military units, while the AAF was seen as more popular, easier to recruit for, and cheaper. Unsurprisingly it was the less effective but cheaper model that was kept!

Chapters
1 – The Creation of the Reserve Force
2 – The Recruitment Process of the Territorial Air Force 1925-1939
3 – The Social Composition of the Territorial Air Force Prior to 1939
4 – The War Years
5 – The Reconstitution of the Territorial Air Force 1946-1957
6 – The Social Composition of the Territorial Air Force after 1945

Author: Dr Louise Wilkinson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 264
Publisher: Air World
Year: 2020


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