What our brand new WW2 casualties collection means to genealogists

Half a million WW2 Daily Reports records now released

Forces War Records has just put up a new collection of ‘WWII Daily Reports (missing, dead, wounded & POWs)’, and half a million out of around 490,000 records have already been transcribed and are now available to search by name. The National Archives does hold this collection, classed ‘WO 417: Army Casualty Lists (1939-1945)’, but their records are classified by date of injury/death/capture rather than name, so unless you know exactly when your ancestor was reported as a casualty you will really struggle to find them.

It can be especially difficult to find those who survived the war; there are very, very few of these records available for the Second World War, since most are still retained by the MOD for reasons of data protection. The only records you will be able to find for those who survived (without paying the MOD for a search, for which they are likely to need a service number to find anything on those with common names) are POW records, Gallantry awards… and now casualty reports. Those who were wounded, or those reported missing (but yet to be confirmed as POWs) are generally only to be found here; each record gives the rank, service number, date of becoming a casualty/being reported missing, and type of casualty if applicable.

An example you can look up, to see what you might find in this collection, is A Smith of the Welsh Guards. Instantly, you have a service number if you didn’t have one before – 2737804 – and a rank, in this case Guardsman. The record tells you that he was wounded on 11/09/1940, which if you consult the battalion diary, should give you a clue as to which action he was injured during.

A service number in particular opens the door to finding further records in other collections, and since the service numbers of officers are rarely found elsewhere, you might be in luck if your relative is an officer who was wounded, but survived the war! Take J A Smith, Nottinghamshire Yeomanry. A War Substantive Lieutenant, you now have his service number, 76900. Additionally, the record shows that he was confirmed as a POW on 10/07/1941 in Crete, having previously been reported as ‘missing’ on 01/06/1941 (so there are two records for the same officer in this collection). An anxious wait for his family between the two reports, then! The first report had him as Lieutenant, without the War Substantive part, but the service number confirms that it’s the right man. The initial record also gave his unit as Royal Armoured Corps.

Another little excitement generated by the collection is the discovery of the name John Steel Lewes, the founder of the Lewes bomb and the founding principle training officer of the Special Air Service (S.A.S.). Killed in action in December 1941, he was already included on Forces War Records’ database as part of our ‘UK, Army Role of Honour, 1939-1945’ and ‘IWGC/CWGC Registers’ collections. We knew his first name, initials, surname, date of birth, age, nationality, home county, date of death, parents’ names, rank, service numbers, regiment, battalion, place of death and where he was commemorated. What more could possibly be learned, you might ask? Well, not a lot, to be honest, but this collection does tell us that he was reported as a casualty during the 48 hours ending 9am on 26th January 1942; quite a long time after the date of death! Is this the time it took for the report to get through the chain of command, perhaps being especially long due to his ‘classified’ status? Or was his place of death so remote that it took this long for news to get back to base? This might merit further investigation.

With so many records still to be transcribed, who knows what records might be turned up in time?

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