Social Identity in the Royal Flying Corps: An Introduction

Before 1918, there were two aviation branches in the British military: The Royal Flying Corps, formed in 1912 as the air arm of the British Army before and during the First World War, and the Royal Naval Air Service, formed in 1914 as the air arm of the Royal Navy. As social class divisions were still very prominent, social class played a major role in the British military during the First World War. In the case of the Royal Flying Corps, after the cavalry was rendered relatively useless with modern weaponry such as the machine gun, many cavalry officers transferred to the Royal Flying Corps to escape the trenches. As the Royal Flying Corps did most of its recruitment from universities and public schools (equivalent of U.S. private schools) and an early requirement was a pilot’s license, most flying officers were of an upper class. My focus is to see how and why these social class distinctions developed, how it influenced squadron operations (especially between pilots and NCOs/ground crew), and if this changed after the creation of the Royal Air Force in 1918. Also, I will look at popular culture’s stereotypes about First World War aviation, such as the difference in portrayals between flying officers and ground crew. How were these stereotypes grounded? To what extent did they hold any truth? Has the stereotype evolved over time?


  1. awgibson says:

    Great topic! I study nineteenth century America, so I really don’t know much about Great Britain in the 1910s. However, stereotypes and identity are relevant to my own work. What are your sources? By popular culture I assume you mean things like novels, ads, movies (are there movies yet?). I’m wondering if there is a difference between how the social classes viewed themselves and each other. Can’t wait to hear more. Good luck with your work.