Stories & Photos

The Vital Importance of Insignia

Aircrew had to be “seen” to be military or risk getting killed if captured

by Ted Beaudoin

An urgent need existed for all air crews to be seen as belonging to a military unit in the event of capture by the enemy. If captured, to avoid being killed on the spot, they had to be seen by the enemy to be in military uniform with rank and responsibility and duty insignia on their shoulders, arm sleeves and / or breast markings without which they ran the real risk of being shot as spies. This perception-often-becomes-reality fact alone saved the lives of the relatively small number of air crews who were brought down on ferry flights for any number of reasons.

Little information is available as to the design and manufacturer of Ferry/Transport Command uniforms, other than some notes that the Dorval base commander’s wife designed the uniforms. Also, no information seems to be available as to who, when or where the badges and other militaria or insignia were designed and produced to be attached to air crew uniforms.

Creating and sustaining the entire operation rapidly spawned an ingenious, on-the-spot proliferation of uniforms and badges, all looking official and military-like, right from its earliest beginnings as a subsidiary of the Canadian Pacific Railway company, and its first ferry flights as the Atlantic Ferry Organization (ATFERO), from Gander, Newfoundland, the night of Sunday, November 10th, 1940.

Receiving awards In the summer of 1942, Ferry Command aircrew L-R: Capt. W.J. VanDerKloot, CBE, OBE, Capt. J.H. Ruggles, MBE, Capt. D.M. Teel, Capt. R. Carlet, Capt. P.E. Zimmerman, R/O N. Jubb, R/O D.B. Jarvis

Receiving awards In the summer of 1942, Ferry Command aircrew L-R: Capt. W.J. VanDerKloot, CBE, OBE, Capt. J.H. Ruggles, MBE, Capt. D.M. Teel, Capt. R. Carlet, Capt. P.E. Zimmerman, R/O N. Jubb, R/O D.B. Jarvis

An unknown, but growing number of men or women have dedicated themselves to learning about collections and the importance of military uniforms and aircrew badges worn on those uniforms and caps, as identifiers concerning rank, occupation, position and responsibilities.

...and yet, at the same awards ceremony in Dorval, Quebec, Captain-Navigator Don McVicar, a civilian pilot, had to wear his Air Observer School cap with a Ferry Command badge that read only "FC" and khaki clothing that was the only "uniform" he was issued! Here he is receiving his King's Commendation from Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill for his "valuable services in the air."

…and yet, at the same awards ceremony in Dorval, Quebec, Captain-Navigator Don McVicar, a civilian pilot, had to wear his Air Observer School cap with a Ferry Command badge that read only “FC” and khaki clothing that was the only “uniform” he was issued! Here he is receiving his King’s Commendation from Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill for his “valuable services in the air.”

One of these is Chris Langley, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Either of the two web sites below contains information about a few uniforms and badges:
www.worldofmilitarywings.com is the main page, and this link takes you to his page specifically about Ferry Command: http://www.worldofmilitarywings.com/wingpage/uk/ferrypilot.html

What Chris noted about RAF Ferry Command / Transport Command uniforms and other insignia:

They were uniformed in dark blue, and there were only two flight badges officially issued, both silver metal with enamel, one for the pilot and the other for what has been described as being for both the flight engineer and for the radio operator..a half-wing version of the pilot’s badge, both using the so-called Astral crown. There is no apparent clarity as to whether this latter badge was for flight engineer and/or the radio operator or one or the other singly.
Bullion versions of the badges exist using gold bullion, though these are said to be unofficial, never issued, made in India to replace lost badges. Two similar bullion versions of both wings existed, the first having a pale field at centre with a yellow silk banner below containing no writing, the second having a blue field in the crest and Ferry Command written inside a blue banner below.

In March of 1943 a new organization was born which incorporated aspects of the ATA and Ferry Command under military jurisdiction and was renamed RAF Transport Command.
The uniform was gradually switched and resembled far more the RAF “blue” uniform of the regular forces. However a new standard pilot and flight engineer / radio operator badge were developed out of the old Ferry Command design, still using the Astral crown and with Ferry Command inscribed below. Notably, the unofficial bullion versions of these new wings were fabricated in silver bullion.
It should be noted that various Air Transport Groups No’s 24, 44, 45, 46, 47, 112, 113, 179, 216, 229, 271, 510 and 511 existed within Transport Command and some pilots and engineer/radio operators wore bullion wings specific to their operational group. It is assumed that these groups undertook regional operations.
These bullion wings, instead of bearing the wording Transport Command in their banner, bore the number of their Group.

RAF Ferry Command metal pilot badge, 1941-43

RAF Ferry Command metal pilot badge, 1941-43

The history of this site; how and why Chris began his searches

First steps
When I started to collect military wings as a teenager, many years ago, I had a wild dream to collect “a wing from every country in the world.”
I lived then in “Bomber County,” Lincolnshire, England and had joined the Air Training Corps. When I started to collect I found the military attachés at foreign embassies and visiting pilots from other countries very accommodating. As a collector, one knew the badge or wing was genuine and what its nation of origin was. In those days it was not common to collect wings, I suppose, and people were very obliging, especially to a youth.
Alas, the world has changed. Wings have been discovered as a collectible, the number of collectors has mushroomed, volume of requests and security issues have deleted these traditional sources, and dealers and internet auctions have certainly arrived.
When I decided to revive and extend my collection, after some years of dormancy, I realised that the technology of communication had opened up the world of wings tremendously. Collecting had become popular and supply seemed to be everywhere. Wings never before seen in some world locations were suddenly available and being traded.

This is the specialised pilot badge worn by Air Transport Group 45 of RAF Transport Command, which operated out of Canada. Little is known about why specialized wings were worn. Windrum Collection.

This is the specialized pilot badge worn by Air Transport Group 45 of RAF Transport Command, which operated out of Canada. Little is known about why specialized wings were worn. Windrum Collection.

Real or not?
Chris first had to face identification challenges, such as locking onto what, exactly were these badges all about, and whether they were issued by a military flying unit or by a civilian air operation, and from what country. Similarities and differences between badges only compounded the identification process, made perhaps even more difficult given the complicated make-up of the RAF FC / TC – civilians either recruited or volunteered, and air and ground support personnel who were either seconded from an allied military unit or attached by an allied civilian airline. In the case of seconded and attached personnel, they tended to wear their unit’s uniform, and not the home-designed RAF FC / TC uniform or uniform insignia of any kind.

Another problem dealt with authenticity: was the insignia real or counterfeit? And who could provide this real-McCoy kind of knowledge?

As he wrote at the end of his treatise on such identification challenges:
Quite honestly I could not!…In the late 1970s to early 1980s period, some brave men started to tackle these questions, piecing together the things they felt fairly comfortable with based on personal knowledge and research. This information was usually based on the wings of a single nation or the wings of a group of countries tied in conflict.
Others started to assemble the pieces of knowledge and aggregate information, and to discuss it. A forum developed and networks of people grew, with knowledge about a defined area of wings collecting.
The ensuing discussions and debates expanded knowledge and started to include historical information, based on extended research. Friendships were strengthened or broken in the striving for accuracy and information. The complex world of “the wings collector” had been created.
As I started to expand my own collection of global wings, I had a hunger for information and discovered that no-where could I go for a single source of overall information. Information was highly scattered or not apparently available.
How could I tell if that “Iranian navigator’s wing” was not in fact some symbolic badge of a fraternal organisation?
How could I discover that this “unknown wing” was an Ethiopian wing from the post Emperor Haile Selassie era?

It was not easy identifying a badge’s authenticity, especially when it became of interest to such insignia aficionados as Chris and also became financially intriguing when there were but few of a particular kind of badge. These tended to be hogged, stolen, or counterfeited by greedy collectors, or what he termed “fakers and rogues.”
Where could he find the real thing?

Certainly not on E-Bay alone, which, he notes:

(Was) offering wings from everywhere…Now the wings collector must also be aware that aside from the joy of finding “a wing from every country”, they must also be conscious of a whole new language and discipline of “buyer beware”. They must develop knowledge of a whole new area, “non-original” items.

Beyond the internet – seeking other reliable sources
I had no clue about many of these wings.
Along the way I had heard about various reference books some of which I started to collect, some already out of print and hard to find. I started a collection, in a notebook, of book titles, author and publisher, and bought what I could as I located one. Still too many mysteries existed.
I sought out people knowledgeable about finite areas of the subject and started to amass information in files. I had already started to collect digital images from wherever I could find them and asked for better images.
These were all catalogued in various ways and ID assigned and verified from whatever sources I could find to verify them. I started to become knowledgeable and recognized families of wings, families of nations.
I started to research heraldry and materials and national histories and to build a basis of knowledge, but still there was “something missing.”
Then one day, at a militaria fair, someone mentioned that a particular gentleman living in the same city I live in had a substantial collection of great maturity, gave me his name and suggested I look him up.
Sometime later at another fair, at which mostly guns and knives were for sale, (which interested me not one wink), just prior to leaving, I ran into an elderly gentleman with Ryker mounts full of wings on display. The name tag matched the name I had been given earlier. A “YES!” moment!
At this point I really must thank Dr. Bill Windrum.
Bill opened the world of wings so wide for me.

This is the RAF Transport Command Pilot wing in bullion used from the end of March 1943. The bullion badges were unofficial, not issue badges, used as replacements. Note the change in bullion colour from gold to silver in the Transport Command bullion wings.

This is the RAF Transport Command Pilot wing in bullion used from the end of March 1943. The bullion badges were unofficial, not issue badges, used as replacements. Note the change in bullion colour from gold to silver in the Transport Command bullion wings.

He allowed me to view, handle and photo-document his entire collection.
It took months of my spare time. He opened his home and his huge collection to me. I saw and handled items I had seen in pictures, wings I had heard about but never seen.
He offered his considerable knowledge of items and histories to me, opened up his own book collection, shared his incredible files of letters, notes and documents and in different ways opened up doorways to other substantial collections and persons with incredible knowledge.
Since then, I have developed relationships with others who will receive credit elsewhere on this site, no less deserving than Bill, but Bill opened a door and now I felt like I had the beginnings of a chance to offer something back to the “World of Military Wings.”
Many great reference books have been written over the years, mostly presenting a specialized area of study. They are individually well worth collecting for the great wealth of information they contain. The advent of the information highway on the internet has seen some wonderful private websites established which also cover specialized areas of study.

His next challenge was to keep current with discoveries made from his research and new leads provided by new-found colleagues such as Dr. Windrum.

Keeping pace with constantly-change data
My first thought was to create a full colour book representing global military flight wings, pilots and all aircrew.
As my digital image collection grew and grew, it quickly became clear that such an endeavour would never be complete and would too quickly become “old,” as new data was always becoming available and the world continued to unfold.
A website became the logical solution, because it is interactive. It can receive feedback, commentary and contributions and be adjusted or amended, it can be updated and added to. The site is not intended to say “This is the Authority.” Its purpose is to say “this is the best information I have to date.” I hope to receive your input and knowledge to add to the resource.

Since this was written more than a decade ago, Chris has continued to build his international network and has collaborated with other specialized collections around the world in an ongoing effort to expand the knowledge of military aviation wings and badges and to get to the facts of their issue, use and manufacture and to help educate collectors using updatable web-based media to keep information current. He gives full credit to his cooperators, a list far too long to publish here.
He decided to build a web site on Jan. 25th, 2003, to be

…an information repository regarding global military aviation qualification badges. It is meant for old flyers to enjoy, for curious collectors to review, for the inquisitive to identify their mysteries. It is meant to collect and impart knowledge.

This is the specialised pilot badge worn by Air Transport Group 45 of RAF Transport Command, which operated out of Canada. Little is known about why specialized wings were worn. Windrum

This is the specialized pilot badge worn by Air Transport Group 45 of RAF Transport Command, which operated out of Canada. Little is known about why specialized wings were worn. Windrum Collection.

Collecting and imparting knowledge
The site is under long term construction, but we are making it available as we go. A large amount of information has been gathered. Reviewing it and preparing it to go on the site is time consuming!
The desire is to cover every military pilot and aircrew badge ever issued. This is a massive task and the task is incomplete. It probably always will be! The site is not intended to say “This is the Authority.” Its purpose is to say: “This is the best information I have to date.”
If you are looking for information about a wing or looking for contextual information, we hope you will be able to find it here. If you have more information, or know someone who does, perhaps more pictures, then please send it / them in.

Originality was and is important
Not all wings are easy to find, either as originals or as digital images. In some cases we may have pictures of non-original examples in place. If we know or suspect that they are non-original items, we will state that. The purpose is to illustrate the item. Where possible we will enclose script concerning non-original items for identification purposes. If you have any information about any of our images or text which you wish to contribute, we are pleased to review it.
You will also find research and collecting resource information: Links to other sites relating to military aviation forces, airshows, cadet forces, squadron histories, etc; books; mounts and curating materials, frames and viewing magnifiers
The dream is to be a useful resource. Enjoy!

To contact Chris
He asks if anyone has “any images from your collection which you would like to add to any category please e-mail me – oldlincolnian@hotmail.com. Contributors will be properly acknowledged, if so desired. Please help me make this a resource all those who are interested in wings can share. Please remember, I would prefer to display only period wings so please do not flood me with restrikes! However, quality images of quality reproductions of rare items, duly annotated, are acceptable.”
NOTE on © – Copyright of his collections:
All electronic scans remain Chris’ copyright or copyright of the specific contributors, subject to the notes on his Copyright page, and cannot be reproduced by either digital, electronic, electrostatic, and lithographic or by any other means without written permission of the originator of the web site or its contributors. Any images or data used must provide acknowledgment to the web site or its contributors.