Reprinted by permission of the Alex Bateman


During World War One, most of the major Commonwealth countries outside Britain had used nationality titles to distinguish their forces when fighting overseas, or when they were based outside their own borders.  However, with the advent of the Second World War a huge influx of foreign Dominion personnel joined the British forces (usually where their own country had no force of its own), and so a new look was taken on the wearing of nationality titles.

The first country within the Empire to have its own officially recognised title was Rhodesia, when the wearing of its title was approved in October 1940 by the Air Ministry.  The Southern Rhodesian Air Force (SRAF) had been raised in November 1935 as the ‘Rhodesian Regiment Air Unit’, changing its name several times before assuming the SRAF title on 19th September 1939.  However it was absorbed into the RAF in April 1940 leaving a large number of Rhodesian personnel with specific identity.  In March 1941 the next largest Empire countries of Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand were granted authority to wear their own identifying titles.

However, these titles were not the first to be authorised to be worn in the RAF.  With the fall of France and the retreat from Dunkirk, Britain found itself almost swamped with airmen who had managed to escape from those European countries now overrun by the German forces.  In early 1940 therefore, authority was given for Czech and Belgian airmen to wear titles, at the same time also being equipped with British uniform, much of it obsolete.

Over the course of the war, dozens of other nationality titles were introduced, some officially and some not.  Most of those official titles were approved for wear by servicemen and women from other Commonwealth countries such as India, Jamaica, Nigeria etc, but others appeared for countries such as Luxembourg (March 1944) who had apparently three serving airmen!

Nationality titles generally fall into several categories.  Firstly their use.  Titles were worn to denote either a serviceman or woman serving outside that country’s border (for example a Canadian in the RCAF serving in Britain) or a national serving in a service other than his own country’s (a Canadian in the RAF for example).

There were also titles that were ‘general’ and ‘specific’, for example the Channel Islands being general, while Jersey, Sark or Guernsey being more specific.  It would appear that in some cases airmen took it upon themselves to have titles made, possibly as they were serving in such a small number that it was the only practical way.  Examples of titles are known to exist showing Switzerland,  U.S.S.R. and Gibraltar for example.

Although there are always exceptions to the rule, titles were usually in white or pale blue lettering.  Officers generally wore titles on a blue/grey backing that were curved, while other ranks wore titles on a dark blue or black backing that could be curved, or straight (to be worn directly over or under the shoulder eagle).  The exception to this was the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), who wore a dark blue uniform, and therefore titles on a dark blue backing for all ranks. 

On the tropical service dress or summer dress, titles were usually red lettering on a tan background (the RAAF wore brown lettering on a tan background).  Other ranks versions of both the summer and winter variety can be found which incorporate the eagle and title together.