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Need to know name, service, regiment or unit, rank and number, when they served.

The closer to the fighting the greater the chance of finding material on the individuals. Usually more details on men who were killed in action.

Photos help.Can ID unit, where served, comrades, promotions and qualifications.

Most records are at TNA. Other places to look are Imperial War Museum, serivce museums (National army / RAF / Royal Navy), regimental museums.

Ancestry best for WWI records are online.

FMP best for 19th century (Anglo Boer), WWII and POWs.

Soldiers wills - over 80% are WWI and are non-commissioned officers and privates only (not officers or maritime). Royal Navy and Marines will are at TNA.

Structure of the army

Joining army was not a good thing to do as life was harsh.

Board of Ordnance eventually merged with ...... to create the War Office.

Went 'Regiments - Battalion - Company - Platoon - Section'. Regiments were the most important element of a man's life. Often just one battalion, but if there were 2 then one was overseas (eg: India or Ireland) and the other UK. Artilary, Medical, Infantry and Ordnance regiments. Beofre 1751 most regiments were formed/disbanded as they were needed and were called after the Colonel who founded them. 1751-1881 they were numbered. After 1881 are associated with countied and many merged to form new ones. 1908 saw introduction of territorial and reservist battalions.

  • 1645 Cromwell New Model Army
  • 1660 Standing Army established
  • 1716 Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers established
  • 1856 Abolition of Board of Ord.
  • 1871 Abolition of purchase of commissions by Officers
  • 1881 Cardwell reforms
  • 1904 General staff(what does this mean?)

Some key campaigns include Seven Years War / American War Independence / French Revolution / Napoleonic wars / Afghan 1839- / Crimean 1854-56 / Indian mutiny 1857 / Boer 1899-1902

Part-time soldiering or Militia - modern militia starts 1757 / cavalry are called Yeomanry / 1858 reinvigorated by volunteers / from 1880s often served in militia before joining regular army / 1908 formally linked to infantry regiments


75% service records of privates and other lower ranks were destroyed in WWII.

Look for enlistment papers and casualty forms (Ancestry and FMP) but can be hard to read and many abbreviations used - go to Long Long Trail website for details.

Pension records (try Fold 3 website). The Western Front Ass. rescued these records. Not so informative but do give next of kin.

For Officers 85% of records survive but are not online. Vary in quality and many were weeded. Go to TNA.

The London Gazette has details of officers promotions, awards and gallantry medals. Indexing can be poor. Everyone got a Victory medal others were for different campaigns. Medal roll gives who they were with at the end of the war or their death. Note - WWI medals have names inscribed on them but not WWII.

Note - the 'oak leaf' on the ribbon of the medal may be mentioned in Dispatches.

War diaries are units serving overseas only, officers only. TNA or Ancestry.

Silver War Badge rolls are on Ancestry.

Commonwealth War Graves Commision gives details of casualties and next of kin.

Casualty lists were in newspapers.

National Roll - you paid to be on this roll, includes ordinary people (Ancestry and FMP), incomplete.

Royal Navy - operational reports are at TNA, medal rolls on Ancestry but not much use as all got the same medals, FMP has some records.

RAF - service and operationsl records at TNA and FMP, crash records ar RAF Museum, Ancestry has other records.

Women - from 1917, indexes for nurses on FMP.

Peace Pledge Union, WWI & WWII for conscientious objectors.


Conscription from 1939, aged 20+.

Army service records are the MoD, free to veterans or next of kin, £30 to others (if dead more than 25 years and after 1920).

Mostly similar to WWI:

  • Graves Commission
  • London Gazete
  • Newspapers
  • Photos
  • Memoirs

Campaign medals at MoD. Note everyone now gets te Home Defence Medal and maybe the 1939-45 Star but you had to apply for it. Other medals inc. Africa Star, Air Crews Europe Star, Atlantic Star, Burma Star, France and Germany Star, Pacific Star.

For Gallantry medal recommendations, ost post 1943 and largely army, go to TNA website.

Escape and evasion reports are not online, indexes at FMP?

War Diaries - TNA arrange them by theatre of operation, not online, sets are at regimental museums.

Operation record books are by squadron, station and unit,TNA with some online.

Navy Case Papers ADM199 at TNA.

Civilians - much more involved in this war, C'W War Graves Comm. has those who died in blitz. Few employment records survive. 1939 register for Sep 1939 for England and Wales.

Local archives - documents on civilians, Home Guard, school log books, Council records, newspapers.

Home Guard - 1940+, TNA and County Durham archives and MoD. Many were under 20, basically a medical record.

Pre 1914 Army

You need to know the man's full name and regiment. But you won't find out anything about his family, any action he saw and little about his death and/or wounds.

More records for officers and those KIA. No 2 sets of records the same so check all sources.

TNA Kew has most records inc. Highland and Irish regiments. Mostly under WO codes eg: casualty records WO25. Check the online guides.

National Army Museum in Chelsea and Regimental Museums can help.

Ancesty has mainly medal roles.

FMP a lot of pre 1914 material that survives.

Wikipedia or type the regiment into Google.

Basic Soldier was often poorest of society / Irish or Scots / usually signed up for 21 years / generations signed up / appalling living conditions / dessertion common until 1850s.

Penisons - Chelsea and Kilmainham hospitals issued pensions to c.1914. / WO116 / FMP / Ancestry (Fold3).

Muster rolls - monthly pay list with date of enlistment, prom and demot, where serving, death date and reason / c.1760-1898 / TNA WO10 - WO16 / Ancestry 1813-1817.

Also look for campaign medals /

Deserters noted in Police Gazette and muster rolls.

FMP and BMD records have Armed Forces marriages 1796-2005.


Largely from the upper class and had little interest in military theory or the men. Commissioned officers planned the battles.

'London Gazette' was the official publication of the British government. Pub'd since 1666. Is online but indexing is bad - prefers numbers not names, but generally only have numbers after 1919. Has medal citations, promotions, resignations and dispatches.

'Army List' was pub'd monthly or quarterly c.1750 to 2010. Some at National Library Scotland. Find on open shelves at TNA Kew.

'Hart's Army List' was private alternative to the Army List. c. 1838-1915. Some online and inc. bio of officers

TNA WO25 and WO76 have details of service and promotions.

Non-commissioned Officers

They really ran the army.

FMP have many documents - record of service for men who got pensions, start 1760s but few survive pre 1810. After 1920 with MoD.

Records say where served / promotions and demotions / their physical description / when and where enlisted / date and reason for discharge.

These records are not for guards (TNA hard copy) or Royal Artillery/Engineers (TNA only).

Women at War

Most service records of women who served in WWI were destroyed in 1940. Surviving records can be searched on FMP with other related collections. These include records of the Women’s army auxiliary Corps 1917-1920, Women’s royal air force Service records 1918-1920, Women’s royal naval Service 1917-1919, Women’s royal air force Service records 1918-1920, British red Cross register of overseas Volunteers 1914-1918, Military nurses 1856-1994, World War one British army Medal Index Cards, and Honourable Women of The Great War, 1914-1918.

Read published memoirs. ome can be found via online book catalogues, such as Hathi Trust, Project Gutenberg, and Google Books.

Build timelines of your female ancestors’ lives between 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. Check for any gaps.

Newspaper archives - look for announcements and obituaries that mention your ancestor or her colleagues.

For casualties, see cemetery and crematoria records as well as military memorials sites such as CWGC and Geoff’s Great War


The National Archives guides.

Army Museums UK.

Don't bother with 'Forces War Records'.

The Long Long Trail.

Fold 3.

The London Gazette.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Rolls of Honour.

Bomb Sight website for London Blitz, Oct 1949-Jun 1941.

Ship Index.

Peace Pledge Union.