My thanks go to my father, Alan Hallett, for permission to bring you tonight’s object, a little Royal Naval Air Service sweetheart badge from the First World War:The badge is made of white metal, possibly silver or silver plate, and is in the form of an eagle with outstretched wings with a naval crown above and the initials ‘RNAS’ beneath. This badge was adopted by the RNAS on its foundation in 1914 and was used throughout the Great War until the service was merged with the Royal Flying Corps to become the RAF. The same design of eagle with outstretched wings was adopted as a cloth patch worn on the shoulders of airman’s tunics. This bird has often been described as an albatross, but original dress regulations for the RAF indicate that it is indeed an eagle and as the albatross is a bird of misfortune to sailors it is unlikely one would have been chosen as the badge of the RNAS.
The rear of the badge has a simple pin attachment to allow it to be worn pinned to a piece of clothing:The quality of this badge is superb and was probably bought as a gift for a mother, wife or sweetheart by someone serving in the RNAS.
By the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the RNAS had 93 aircraft, six airships, two balloons and 727 personnel and a fierce rivallry with the Royal Flying Corps. The Navy maintained twelve airship stations around the coast of Britain from Longside, Aberdeenshire in the northeast to Anglesey in the west. On 1 August 1915 the Royal Naval Air Service officially came under the control of the Royal Navy. In addition to seaplanes, carrier-borne aircraft, and other aircraft with a legitimate “naval” application the RNAS also maintained several crack fighter squadrons on the Western Front, as well as allocating scarce resources to an independent strategic bombing force at a time when such operations were highly speculative. Inter-service rivalry even affected aircraft procurement. Urgently required Sopwith 1½ Strutter two-seaters had to be transferred from the planned RNAS strategic bombing force to RFC squadrons on the Western Front because the Sopwith firm were contracted to supply the RNAS exclusively. This situation continued, although most of Sopwith’s post-1915 products were not designed specifically as naval aircraft. Thus RNAS fighter squadrons obtained Sopwith Pup fighters months before the RFC, and then replaced these first with Sopwith Triplanes and then Camels while the hard-pressed RFC squadrons soldiered on with their obsolescent Pups. On 1 April 1918, the RNAS was merged with the RFC to form the Royal Air Force. At the time of the merger, the Navy’s air service had 55,066 officers and men, 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships and 126 coastal stations.