I’ve been thankful that the crew I am researching has four Australians in it. This is good because it means that it was very easy to access copies of their service records. The National Archives of Australia provide records to anyone who requests them, for a small fee – and once the records have been requested they are digitally scanned and placed onto their website where anyone can access them free of charge.
But getting British service records has always been much, much harder. They are still under the care of the Royal Air Force and previously you needed to write to their office at RAF Cranwell. You could access an extract of your record for free if you were a veteran, but anyone else was up for a GBP30.00 fee, payable by cheque only (rather difficult to organise from Australia!). On top of that, due to ‘privacy laws’ you required the written permission of the next of kin to access any records at all. If you didn’t have that permission (perhaps you were still searching for them… sound familiar?!??), you couldn’t access anything at all.
I managed to find Freda Hamer, daughter of Jerry Parker’s widow, and got a letter from her which I used to get his service record – which was two single pages of A4, with information limited to his promotions and postings. Useful, but at GBP30.00, rather steep – and a little unreasonable considering for AUD15.00, or about a quarter of the cost, you got a colour scan of an entire service record for an Australian airman – which could run to seventy or so pages! And I needed to trace Jerry’s family before the RAF even considered giving me that much.
But have things changed? Phil Bonner alerted me to this web page a few months ago. It would appear that an otherwise unannounced change has occurred:
Under the scheme, and in recognition of the duty of care owed to the family of the deceased subject, for a period of 25 years following the date of death of the subject and without the consent of the Next of Kin, MOD will disclose only: surname; forename; rank; service number; regiment/corps; place of birth; age; date of birth; date of death where this occurred in service; the date an individual joined the service; the date of leaving; good conduct medals (i.e. Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (LS&GCM)), any orders of chivalry and gallantry medals (decorations of valour) awarded, some of which may have been announced in the London Gazette.
After this period, and if it is held, in addition MOD will disclose without the requirement for Next of Kin consent: the units in which he/she served; the dates of this service and the locations of those units; the ranks in which the service was carried out and details of WWII campaign medals.
Note no further requirement for NoK consent.
So it looks as though I’ll now be able to get parts of the service records for Ken Tabor and for Eric Hill.
Still need to organise some cheques in GBP though.