From the moment a person is accepted into the Royal Air Force, a service record commences which charts and tracks his official movements and postings until the time of his death or leaving the service, which ever is sooner.
For a researcher these documents are key, they provide the bare bones from which many other aspects of the individual's life can be discovered, but they are not always easy to acquire, areas deemed to be sensitive are sometimes re-dacted, and they are relatively expensive.
Applications for service records can be made via this link: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/request-records-of-deceased-service-personnel and will cost £30.00 unless you are the individual's spouse, in which case it's free. The guidance gives a list of documents and information that must accompany any request.
This is what a Maxwell Venton's service record looks like:
The white areas on the front sheet are re-dacted areas, none are significant for my research fortunately. The key area is on sheet 2 down the left side, these are the places that Max visited or was posted to, though the writing is rather cryptic and needs "decoding" to be understandable:
1. The recruitment centre at Weston-super-Mare
2. Accepted and put on reserve list
3. Called to Aircrew Reception Centre London
4. Sent to Southern Rhodesia
5. Initial Training Wing Hillside Camp
6. Elementary Flying Training School. This entry is wrong, should be 28 EFTS
7. Service Flying Training School.
8. Sent to S Africa (on way back to UK)
9. Sent to 7 Personnel Reception Centre Harrogate awaiting further posting
10. Sent to 16 Elementary Flying Training School Burnaston Derby
11. Sent to 7 PRC Harrogate
12. Sent to No. 24 Aircrew Holding Unit Whitley Bay
13. Sent to 7 PRC Harrogate
14. Sent to RAF Station Oakley Bicester
15. Sent to 7 PRC Harrogate
16. Sent to 22 EFTS Cambridge
17. Sent to 7 PRC Harrogate
18. Sent to No.4 School of Technical Training St Athan to train as flight engineer
19. Sent to 51 Base Swinderby
20. Sent to RAF Balderton (holding unit) then back to Swinderby, now re-named 75 Base
21. Sent to No.5 Lancaster Finishing School Syerston
22. Sent to 467 Squadron RAAF Waddington
Notes on the above:
There are several entries on Max's return to the UK of times spent at 7 PRC Harrogate. The training scheme had been so successful, and the loses of aircrew less than forecast that towards the latter years of the war there was a glut of aircrew awaiting posting or gainful employment. His short spells at 16 EFTS, at Oakley and at 22 EFTS were most probably "time fillers" whilst also keeping in his hand at flying; Oakley for instance had amongst other aircraft some Wellingtons so he could have logged some hours there.
The following observations are from David Duxbury on RAF Commands forum:
"Late in the European war, many (usually British Commonwealth) hundreds, if not thousands of fresh aircrew were arriving in the UK only to find that all the OTU courses they would have to attend were already fully booked up for months into the future, so the Air Ministry would be forced to place them with a holding unit, and suggest they explore the UK and try to locate any barely-known or long-lost relatives, or failing that, to tour the scenic and historic sights of the British Isles. Otherwise they would have to just sit at the holding units, and the Air Ministry would attempt to find some "interesting short courses" to attend, such as "Gas Warfare", or "escape & evasion" for instance.
Many qualified aircrew (although no operational training) were also required to fill all the vacant appointments in training units, although these were probably dependent on the applicant passing yet another training or refresher course to test their suitability for their new role.
Very late in the war, many partially trained RAF aircrew were also diverted into the British Army, which was having trouble recruiting the required numbers to keep the front-line units up to full-strength as the war in Western Europe and the Far East dragged on. Needless to say, this was not a very popular choice, but men being kept in holding units might well have considered the active Army was a better choice than sitting on your bum or acting as a tourist for several more months."
and for a personal recount:
My SOJOURN at the MAJESTIC HOTEL,Harrogate.
At His Majesty's pleasure.
My name is Charles H Matthews, during the Second World War I came to stay in Harrogate at the Majestic Hotel, on the 19th September 1943.
I was a Coastal command pilot, lately returned from Halifax Nova Scotia on the old Queen Elizabeth and raring to go to an Operational Squadron, to do my part in the anti-submarine war in the Atlantic.
In those war years the Majestic Hotel among its many roles was host to hundreds of RAF non- commissioned Pilots, who with no immediate knowledge of their future roles in the RAF, were held there at what was known as No. 7 Personnel Reception Centre.
During 1943 and later, many recently trained airmen pilots, Sergeants, Flight Sergeants newly returned from Canada came to stay at the magnificent hotel in Harrogate Yorkshire called 'The Majestic' the grandeur and magnificence of the building, were lost upon these nineteen year olds. They only wanted 'out' from this place of confinement, with little or no reason to effect a release from the boredom of waiting. You only had so much to spend and the pub wasn't the best value upon which to spend one's meagre pay. Homesickness after many months away over there in Canada was a problem to be dealt with, usually by skiving off on a Friday afternoon to try one's hand at hitching a ride south to the Midlands or wherever.
These pilots separated from the rest of their crews, navigators, gunners, wireless operators etc. were now faced with the boredom of weeks of nothing tangible for the war effort.
Highly skilled, after training in Canada or the USA, at great expense to the governments of Britain and the Dominion of Canada they were not yet needed by the advanced training units, such as Operation Training Units (OTU) or Heavy Conversion Units (HCU). Those who had progressed through OTUs overseas were to go on to their Squadrons for operational duties.
These men had all been members of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, in the Dominion of Canada, possibly over the previous twelve to eighteen months. Pilots for bombers, fighters, transport and Coastal Command planes, we were all represented here, Many without the advanced training and needed for ops. Some indeed were ex- instructors returning after their tour of duty or in some cases the staff pilots whose tireless flying in Anson and Oxford aircraft took navigators into the air to train over the featureless prairies and lakes.
Assembly was held on the car park before the main entrance at the rear of the hotel grounds, parades each Monday at 8am were the times to await the call to pack, ready for posting onward to training units.