We list here the research that can be conducted to trace an individual’s service. The examples of records that can be searched prior to the First World War are by no means all the sources by which to trace details. As well as searching for an individual’s service we will also search for Campaign and Long Service medals awarded.
There are also many unit records and War Diaries up to circa 1970. These include many post-war operations including Korea as well as units at home and overseas. If you are interested in these please give details on the enquiry form and we can advise if anything is available.
Commissioned Officers to 1921
Service records for commissioned officers detailing service as far back as the late 18th century are available in some cases. The availability varies by date and regiment. Generally speaking the later the service the more likely a record will be available. There are many records that may need to be searched depending on the date/s involved. Some of the main groups are -
The main batch of records covers some service back as far as 1764 including some to the First World War.
Serving Field officers 1809 – 1810.
Service returns for retired officers 1828 and 1847.
Service returns for serving officers 1829.
Royal Engineers from 1796
(All the above records generally show date and place of birth, marriage and children along with service)
General Officer’s statements of service 1807 – 1876.
Medical officers 1799 – 1847.
Army Chaplains 1817 – 1843.
Hart’s army list correspondence 1838 – 1873. This is original correspondence from officers giving details of their service.
First World War correspondence files. This series includes most officers serving in the Great War. However if service continued after 1921 the file will still be retained by the Ministry of Defence. These vary a great deal in content but generally include application for commission, service record for any service in the ranks, Birth/Baptism certificate, details of education, details of wounds received in action or sickness, posting to units together with dates of service with them. If made a Prisoner of War there is usually a statement written by the officer giving the circumstances of his capture. If killed or died details of how his estate was settled. Claims for pension due to wounds or sickness. These are some of the more usual documents. They vary a great variety from file to file.
In the case of officers commissioned between 1793 and 1870 there are in most cases “Commander-in Chief” papers relating to the purchase and sale of commissions, promotions and retirement between these dates. These can be very interesting. They usually include details on how much the commission was purchased for, letters of recommendation, and agents. They can shed light on the circumstances of an individual. Some may also include a statement of service or baptism details. A search will always be made for an officers commission papers. Promotions papers may be obtained. This will depend on the details of service already obtained.
With the end of purchased commissions officers were entitled to a payment upon retirement as they could not be sold. Records survive giving details of sums awarded. These usually contain a statement of service. The period covers is 1871 – 1891.
There are also some service records for Militia officers. These mostly cover the period from circa 1860 – 1910. As well as service they also often give some personal details.
If commission and promotion dates cannot be traced from original documentation details will be extracted from the official publication listing all commissioned officers, the “Army List”
Other ranks to 1920
There are many series of documents that can be searched to track a mans service depending on length of service, when they served and sometimes their regiment. Given here are details of some of the main records available and what can be achieved in a search.
Regular Army service records pre 1914 – The main series of documents were compiled for pension purposes. Most are for those who were entitled to a pension due to length of service or sickness and wounds. The earliest records date from the late 18th century and run to those discharged to 1913. Most records give age on enlistment, place of birth, trade or calling, promotions, demotions, unit/s, details of wounds, service overseas, reason for discharge and medals awarded. The later the records the more details are included. From around the 1870’s -80’s family information is included such as next of kin, marriage, and details of children. If a mans regiment is known but his actual records is not available but enlisted prior to circa 1888 his record can still be compiled from –
Regimental Musters – These are more or less complete from the late 18th century to around 1888. They were completed quarterly, by year for each battalion etc (including Depot) for the British Army. They list where they are based, each member of the unit by name, rank and number. If an individual is detached for any reason this is also shown. In most cases a mans service can be tracked from enlistment to discharge or death. Most list place of enlistment and many show age, trade and place of birth. Please note that if service was with the Royal Artillery or Royal Engineers a unit will need to be known at a particular time to conduct a search. Commissions where musters are compiled may take longer than the usual 30 days to complete due to the volume of documents involved in their compilation.
Boer War – The service records for the Imperial Yeomanry are more or less complete for this period and show full details of service in South Africa, unit, wounds, personal information including next of kin. Many units were locally raised in South Africa. There are for many men a short form of enlistment. If this has not survived there is usually book listing all men along with date of enlistment and some brief details.
First World War – Many actual service records for other ranks were destroyed in the London Blitz during Second World War. There is approximately a 35% chance of any one mans record being available. This is to a discharge date of 1920. The records that survive do vary but generally disclose all service, units, wounds, service dates overseas, family information and can include a vast variety of different forms and correspondence.
If a record has not survived all is not lost. If a man can be Identified from his medal issue card (as most can) this leads to the medal roll and in some cases the Silver War Badge which was granted on honourable discharge due to wounds, sickness etc. In these cases the date of enlistment and discharge is often shown along with reason for discharge. In the cases where the medals were issued by Infantry Depots the medal rolls usually show the battalion/s a man served in. On the rolls of the Royal Fusiliers, London Regiment and Royal Defence Corps the dates of service overseas are also shown. The RA, RE & RASC do not generally show any further information apart from some for the Royal Garrison Artillery which show the last unit in which serving.
Royal Artillery c1830 – c1855 – If a man served in the RA between these dates a record of service for most will be available. These records appear to have been commenced when the personal regimental numbering system was introduced and are compiled by battalion or RHA. Some show service as far back as 1793 if still serving in 1830. They comprise of two sheets and show place of birth, age, place and date of enlistment, physical description, unit, service overseas along with dates and medals awarded. They also give date if Killed in Action, wounded or died in service. Some also show reason for discharge, pension, character, and date of marriage. If service continued past circa 1858 some records do not list later service.
Household Cavalry 1791 – 1919 – These records are not complete but should include a record for all those discharged from the 1st life Guards, 2nd Life Guards, Royal Horse Guards as well as the Household battalion which was formed in 1916. If a man transferred to another regiment prior to his discharge his record will not be in this series. The records vary by date but generally give details of service, personal information, wounds, and overseas service. These also include men who died in service.
Militia - These vary in dates covered a great deal depending on the regiment. Many cover the period 1860 – 1905 for most regiments. A few are earlier and some up to the First World War period. These show age, where born, details of training and promotions. Often also listing home address. They include many who served in the Boer War.
All ranks post First World War
The records of those discharged after the First World War period are still held by the Ministry of Defence. Veterans or deceased Veterans Next of Kin can apply for a copy of a service records via the Veterans Agency website at http://www.veterans-uk.info/
Whether or not you have an individuals service record the following research can be undertaken
War Diaries WW2 – If you have an individuals service record this should list all units in which served along with overseas service dates along with the theatre of operations. Copies can be made of the unit/s War Diaries. These are a day by day account written by one of their officers. They give details of where they are based, movements, details of actions fought etc. Officers are often mentioned and other ranks on occasions. These are available for most units for operational and not operational theatres including UK based units. The fee will cover the copying of up to three years of diary entries.
Prisoners of War WW2 – Firstly for both prisoners of the Germans and Japanese there are Interrogation Questionnaires dating from 1945 -46. About 140’000 of these are available so there will not be one for every POW.
They include name, rank, number, unit, home address, date of birth, date and place of capture, camps held, and work camps. Any serious illnesses suffered during imprisonment and treatment received. Any interrogation after capture, escape attempts, sabotage etc.
In addition if a prisoner of the Japanese the original Japanese POW card is often available. This is part in English and part Japanese. These show name, unit, rank, service number, date of birth, date & place of capture (in Japanese), name and address of next of kin, camps held in (in Japanese)
If neither of these items are available for an individual there are also lists of POW’s published at various times which can be searched. These generally give camp held but no unit details and date of capture.
This search will also include (where available) copies of the unit War Diary commencing 3 months prior to capture.