19 January 1917 – Second class

Today, five observers were granted full time commissions in the RFC as observers, backdated to the time of joining their squadrons. These are 2nd Lieutenants:


  • R Stephen Barry Beckett (Gurkha Rifles)
  • Norman Stewart Dougall (Lincolnshire Regiment)
  • Douglas Kingsley (Seaforth Highlanders)
  • Norman MacGregor (Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders Territorials)
  • Robert Ritchie (General List)


The position of observer, despite the increased formalised training, remains one of inferiority to the pilots.


In most cases observer officers are “attached” to their squadron on a temporary basis until vacancies arise. They can then be given a commission and formally join the RFC. This is in stark contract o pilots who are automatically transferred to the RFC from their parent regiment.


These officers come generally from two sources, the General list which is a wartime list of those willing to serve with the RFC. The remainder come from the Special Reserve which is a permanent body of reserves for the RFC. At this point in the war the majority of candidates are form the General List.


One problem for “attached” observers in that they were not part of their parent regiment or part of the RFC establishment, and so would have been totally overlooked for promotions.


This was a big problem for career soldiers who had volunteered as observers as they could reasonably expect rapid advancement in wartime. As a result many experienced observers started requesting to return to their original units.


To try and solve this problem the RFC decreed in November 1915 that all observers serving in squadrons should be gazetted in to e RFC. However this was on condition that they retrained as pilots as soon as possible and anyone promoted to flight commander (Captain) would have to train as a pilot before taking up the appointment. This effectively but Lieutenant as the highest rank an observer could obtain.


The Bailhache report published back in recognised the importance of observers and recommended “that observers should receive promotion without having to become pilots and that a corps of observers be formed with a regular establishment graded for promotions among themselves.” This recommendation was not implemented, however.


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