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CAN I FIND THIS AIRMAN’S MEDICAL RECORDS?

Q

I am hoping that you will be able to help me. My grandmother Dorothy REDHEAD (nee STORM) was the youngest of nine children born to Walter John STORM and Hannah (nee HILES). Her oldest sibling was Ernest Walter STORM (born 1906). On researching my grandmother’s family tree I found Ernest on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website (www.cwgc.org).

Sadly Ernest died on 18th February 1943. On the CWGC it says that Ernest was an ‘Aircraftman 1st Class’ in the ‘Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve’. What I would like to know is if you could tell me what was the role of an ‘Aircraftman 1st Class’ in the RAF Volunteer Reserve in WWII? Also, is it possible to find any records on Ernest for the time he serviced in WWII? If so, how do I go about finding them?

I have got a copy of Ernest’s death certificate, which sadly says that the cause of death was: ‘Multiple injuries sustained when he was run over by a train on the railway line, suicide while the balance of his mind was disturbed’ on the Southern Railway Line, Sutton and Cheam. I also have copies of two newspaper articles from February 1943 which give a bit more information about Ernest’s death. But I would like to know if it’s possible to get any medical records from his time in the hospital. Also his death certificate says an inquest was held at the time, and I wonder, would the inquest records give me anymore information?

Miss Elizabeth Redhead


A

Aircraftsman 1st Class (AC1) came between Aircraftsman 2nd Class (AC2), the lowest rank, and Leading Aircraftsman (LAC). Service records are still with the Ministry of Defence and ex-servicemen and next-of-kin can obtain brief details by writing to: RAF Disclosures, Room 221b, Trenchard Hall, RAF Cranwell, Sleaford, Lincs, NG34 8HB – a fee is charged. Additionally, officers’ careers can be traced in the Air Force List and there are copies at The National Archives, including the confidential lists for September 1939 to December 1954.

The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve was created as part of the RAF’s expansion in the 1930s. The original purpose was to teach young men, with no previous experience, to fly in their spare time. With the coming of the Second Word War, all ‘hostilities only’ enlistments became members of the RAFVR and during the war itself it was the largest element of the RAF. From 1945 it continued in a much reduced capacity. In 1997 the RAFVR was absorbed into the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

William Spencer’s Air Force Records for Family Historians (Public Record Office Readers’ Guide XXI, 2000) is the essential guide to Air Force Records, covering not only the RAF but also the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).

Ernest STORM’s tragic death was, as you say, reported in the local papers following an inquest held at Sutton by the Coroner for Surrey on 23rd February 1943. He had been a patient in ‘a Surrey military hospital’ from 18th December 1942. Discovering further information, either from hospital records or from the inquest, may prove to be difficult. The military hospital is unnamed. This may have been the Sutton Emergency Hospital; Banstead Wood in 1939. There are perhaps other possibilities and perhaps a FHM reader can help with suggestions.

The Hospital Records Database (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/hospitalrecords) provides information on the existence and location of the records of UK hospitals. There are currently over 2,800 entries, which have been compiled by the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine. This database shows that patient and clinical records, 1940–1949 are held at the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine: Archives and Manuscripts (183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK;  tel: 020 7611 8722; email: library@wellcome.ac.uk; http://library.wellcome.ac.uk). These include William Walters Sargant’s writings on war neuroses and case records 1940–49.

The survival of coroner’s records is on the whole pretty poor. Although they are open to the public after 75 years (so 1943 would still be closed) many will not have survived that long. Once 15 years old, the coroner concerned can destroy the records. Any surviving ones will probably be held at the Surrey History Centre (130 Goldsworth Road, Woking, Surrey GU21 6ND; www.surreycc.gov.uk/surreyhistoryservice).

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