Written accounts and surviving photographs provide testimony that Royal Air Force pilots and ground crew enjoyed their tea during the Second World War. Many photographs feature images of pilots and aircrew enjoying a cup of tea in the oversized white ironstone mugs that were supplied to RAF personnel. Because they were so well used and fragile, these original mugs bearing the circular King’s Crown RAF blue stamp are very scarce.
The example pictured here was made by A.J. Wilkinson Ltd of the Royal Staffordshire Pottery. It is an original wartime example and was purchased in England in 2015. The ½ pint mug measures 4” in height and 3 ¾” in diameter and has a slip applied handle.
During the war, the china mugs must have been a constant need. A letter in the archives of King’s College at Cambridge refers to the need for china mugs to be provided by the University to the RAF personnel that were housed there in the early part of the war. The presence of the RAF in such close proximity to students, faculty and administrators seems to have been the root of a great deal of conflict, with the procurement of china mugs perhaps the least controversial aspect of the RAF’s stay.
In addition to A.J. Wilkinson, ironstone mugs of the same pattern were produced by other firms, including George Jones & Sons (Crescent) Pottery, Royal Doulton, and Minton. The iconic ironstone mugs are not generally dated, although examples of a smaller pattern often bear dates on the base.
A famous photograph of No 617 Squadron (Dambuster) commander Guy Gibson and his pilots depicts the RAF aircrew posed around a table with china mugs that appear to bear no RAF markings. An original unpublished photo of Bomber Command aircrew taken after a mission and included here shows the large unmarked mugs with a recessed base.