What prompted you to become a volunteer for the RAF Museum?
I became involved in volunteering after a visit to the Museum with my wife and my daughter. We had wanted to come to the Museum for many years because of my background working with the RAF. During our visit my daughter pointed out a notice on the information board which was asking for volunteers to work on data inputting for the RAF Storyvault project. I had worked with my daughter to produce databases to support her PhD before, so this felt like something that I would be able to do at home at my own pace.
You’ve completed the indexing of over 10,500 cards so far, can you please tell us a little about the process of indexing? How long does each card take?
I am given images of original First World War documents and I then take the information off the cards and input them into a database so that they are searchable through the Museum’s RAF casualty cards website. I transfer the information from the casually cards themselves into the digital database. Some are written so beautifully, they are a joy to see, others you need a magnifying glass and a lot of imagination to work out what it’s about. Some can take a lot longer than others depending on how much research I need to do. Sometimes I refer to a book of aircraft serial numbers in order to try to resolve which aircraft the casualty cards belong to, if the information is too difficult to read.
I believe you are a RAF veteran, could you tell us more about your role in the RAF?
I joined in 1946 at the age of 18. I wanted to be a Pilot, but the Royal Air Force wanted me to be a Navigator. After training I was posted to 70 Squadron at the Egyptian canal zone and there I flew in a number of aircraft. We were trained in Hansons and we flew Valettas in the Squadron. I also flew in many other aircraft during my time, including Tiger Moths, Hansons, Oxfords, Wellingtons, Dakotas, Venturas and Yorks. I completed 18,000+ fl ying hours and 600 hours as a Flight Test Observer.
Have you learnt any new skills during your time working on the project? I’ve learnt a lot I would say. I already had a good knowledge of the RAF and Royal Flying Corps but I knew very little about the different aircraft. I learnt a lot about various aircraft through the information documented in the casualty cards and I’ve also been to have a look at them at the ‘First World War in the Air’ exhibition during my last visit to the Museum. I find it hard to believe what little flying experience First World War Pilots went in to battle with. When you think they went in to battle with five to ten hours flying experience under their belt, whereas now they would have over 200 hours before they go on to the advanced flying school. There’s been such a colossal change from the lack of equipment in the aircraft, they didn’t even have seat belts, to the amount of people who would lose control of the aircraft because they couldn’t move their feet which could get caught in the controls. It was awful really. I suppose that how things started, out of necessity they had to progress aircraft designs.
What do you enjoy the most about your volunteering role? It’s learning about the aircraft and the difficulties that were experienced. I’ve enjoyed reading about some of the more unusual stories that I have found. I found a beauty recently that really stood out. Some of the casualty cards are unintentionally amusing: for example a Wing Commander falling down the stairs in the Officers’ Mess. It doesn’t say how many pints he had but just that he fell down the stairs. To see Richard’s work, please visit www.rafmuseumstoryvault.org.uk.