This is a famous ‘Battle of Britian” photograph of Squadron Leader Adolph “Sailor” Malan from South Africa sitting in a Royal Air Force Spitfire, have a close look at his shoulder tab.
It’s a shoulder title issued to Royal Air Force (RAF) officers from South Africa, being ‘SOUTH AFRICA’ embroidered in light blue onto a RAF blue/grey arc of fabric.
During the Second World War many from Empire and Dominion countries joined the Royal Air Force, as did men from occupied countries such as Poland
Shoulder titles were worn to signify the wearer’s country of origin. The titles were usually embroidered in pale blue capitals on a black background, or red on khaki drill for tropical kit.
Titles for officers were usually curved, and rectangular for other ranks. Excluding those worn by personnel from occupied countries, there were 42 titles issued officially, plus a number of unofficial ones.
The wearing of such titles was abolished in the RAF April 1948. A title for South Africa was authorised in March 1941.
Researched by Peter Dickens. Images – Imperial War Museum copyright, collection of titles as shown in the collection shown courtesy Alex Bateman