Royal Navy Research

These searches cover the period from the late 18th century, however earlier records can be available. If you are interested in an earlier period please give us details of the individual or information you are seeking on the enquiry form. This page also covers service of members of the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. The fee will also include details of any campaign medals awarded in respect of an individual’s service.

Commissioned and Warrant Officers

Royal Navy - In most cases a record of service will be available for commissioned officers from the late 18th century. As well as dates of commission, promotions, ships, postings and retirement personal information is recorded. In most cases they give date of birth, name and profession of father, date of marriage and wife’s name. Any awards granted are listed and examinations taken. Most records are available for those commissioned up to circa 1920. However depending on the branch this can vary. Records for Civil and Medical branch officers are also available. The records generally show all service some as late as the 1960’s.

Confidential reports are also available for most Executive officers from circa 1890. Others are available including some for Warrant Officers. These vary by date and branch of the service. Again these records show details of ships and postings to retirement. They are annoted with details of reports from their senior officers and are often very detailed.

In addition most Executive officers on their promotion to Lieutenant will have a Passing Certificate up to 1902. These give personal details of ships, examination results and other comments. There are also passing certificates for Midshipmen 1857 – 1899, Clerks 1852 – 1899, Carpenters 1856 – 1887, Masters 1800 – 1863, Paymasters 1851 - 1889, Boatswain’s 1851 – 1887, Gunners 1856 – 1887, Engineering officers 1863 – 1895. Further certificates survive for other periods and branches of the service.

Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve – Most records of service are available for RNVR commissioned officers from 1914 – 1918, although those for medical officers are not. These records are brief but do show details of commission, promotions, ships served and postings along with comments. Most also note home address. If born prior to 1900 and served in the Second World War there is often a record for this period. These include reports on the officer and sometimes include a small photograph.

Royal Naval Reserve - These records are in several groupings and vary depending on period of service. They run from the 1860’s to 1960’s the latest commission date circa 1923. Some are similar to those of RNVR officers for the First World War period others being very detailed. All will show details of commission, promotions, ships and postings with notes. Some have a great deal of information within them.

Royal Naval Air Service – First World War RNAS officer’s records are available. These show personal details, commission, promotions, squadrons etc. Also shown are flying hours, type of aircraft flown and reports on the officer. They are often noted with details of Air Combats and instances of good conduct. If still serving on formation of the RAF a search will also be conducted for this record.


Royal Navy – Prior to 1853 there were no formal service records kept. However if a man was entitled to a Greenwich pension there is often a statement giving details of all ships served on along with dates. Personal information can usually be obtained from Ships Muster’s once a ship on which served at a particular time is identified. If a man was not entitled to a pension but a ships he served is known at a particular time further details can often be traced from the Muster or Description books. Depending on whether or not these books are noted at to where a man is posted to or from, it is often possible to build up details of his service. There are many more records by which to trace an individual, too numerous to list here. Please give the details you have on the Enquiry Form and we can advise if a search is viable.

From 1853 the continuous service system was introduced. Each man was given a number and signed on for a set period. Records from this date to enlistments to 1923 are all available all bar a few. On occasions some earlier records do on occasions not list all ships. Up till 1872, if enlistment was as a Boy a form signed by a parent is included giving permission. All records show Date and place of birth, trade on enlistment, ships with dates of service, promotions etc. Records will show details of service up until 1928 when a new system of records was introduced. These are still held by the MoD. Those who were in the RNAS and were still serving at the formation of the RAF will often have a second record covering RAF service.

In addition, for men who entered into service circa 1905 – 1920 we can usually obtain a copy of the original Attestation/Enlistment papers. These again give personal information similar to the service sheet and are signed by the entrant. If joined as a Boy a consent form is usually included. If father or both parents deceased the date and place of death is recorded. There can on occasions include other documents such as Courts Martial papers. Please note that these records may take a while to obtain as they are not held at the central archive. You will be sent the service record and this will follow if available.

Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve – Rating records for the RNVR are available for the First World War period, including those who served in the Royal Naval Division during the war. The records have full personal details, postings, promotions, wounds etc. Those for the RND are very detailed.

Royal Naval Reserve – These are more or less fully available for the period 1908 – 1955. If the date of joining is post circa 1922 the service number is generally required to obtain the record. They give full personal details including next of kin and usually address. The records give details of all postings, promotions. They are heavily annoted with a variety of information.

Later service - all ranks

For those whose service is not covered above the service records 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

Whether or not you have an individual’s service record the following research can be undertaken -

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 any operational records covering their ship at the time of capture.

Other research can be conducted such as operational service, Log books etc. If you are interested in a certain item please give details on the enquiry form.

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