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Your Questions Answered

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1. In WWI/WWII did men serve in their local regiment?

No. men could be in any Regiment or Corps in the British Army, some did join the same regiments but this was coincidence rather than normal practice and happened usually only at the very start of WWI and not therafter.

2. Did foreigners serve in British Regiments and vice versa?

Yes. A lot of Canadian/Australian and New Zealander immigrants for instance, came ‘home’ and joined their local regiment. Many of the men saw it as a cheap way of getting home to visit relatives!

3. What are the various types of ‘official’ military records?

The main types of records are:
a) Army lists
b) Enlisted Service records
c) Regimental records of service
d) Muster rolls
e) Pension records
f) Regimental description books
g) War diaries

This is not an exhaustive list by any means: just the main places you would normally use and find helpful in your initial and ongoing research.

Army Lists:

These are useful for researching officers (only) from 1740-1939 inclusive, although very useful if you want to know a regiments location at a particular time after 1798!

Started in1740 annually then 4 times per year from 1879 - 1922.
From September 3rd 1939 they have been classified and are not currently available to the public.
Charles Daltons' English Army Lists and Commission Registers, 1600 to -1714 and the same authors George I's Army, 1714-1727 will help tracing earlier officer listings.

Army Lists contain officers by rank, generals downwards, giving their name and the date they received their commission.
Following this is regiment & include the number and name(s) of the regiment, the names and ranks of the officers, and the dates of their commissions in the Army and their assignment to that regiment.
From 1766 these Army Lists are indexed, and from 1798 they will also include the location of the regiment at that time.

Enlisted Men's Service Records:

These are not just one record: they are a collection of various records & forms designed to show a whole serviceman’s (or woman’s) military career.

It is essential to already know the name of the regiment to start a search for a service record.
If you do not know the regiment it will be far more difficult but may be possible to find the name of the regiment if you know a particular place and time where the person served.
With such information you can sometimes pinpoint one or a handful of regiments that served in that place at that time.

Please see our helpful tutorial on ‘Researching military records’ for more information on how to obtain service records in general.

Regimental Records of Service:

WO76 in TNA has ‘The Records of Officers' Services’ -these span 1771, until 1919.


These files consist of: Arrangement by regiment, alphabetically:

There are lists of succession for the offices in the regiment, giving the name of the officer, the date of his appointment, his age in years and months(!) at the time of his appointment, his country of origin, and the date of his first commission.
Additionally interesting is the name of the officer he replaced and why, with remarks!
Then comes Statements of Service for each of the officers. This is the core of the officers' file.
Different regiments have different criteria in what goes into these records and what is excluded, and as a result some are for more comprehensive than others.

Muster Rolls:

A quarterly issued volume the earliest dating from 1708 to the mid c19th. These were compiled quarterly, and placed in volumes covering a single year. The first entry in these rolls for each soldier will be his age, and so on: birthplace, trade, and the date of his enlistment. There are a few series of these Muster Rolls, bearing War Office (W.O.) numbers 10 to 16 these are currently at TNA.

Pension Records:

Three of the main record types available at the TNA are the Chelsea Regimental Registers (WO 120), the records of Soldiers Discharged via Chelsea Hospital (WO 97).
Applications for Pensions for Widows and Children [of officers only!] 1755-1908 (WO 42).
Like the other records concerning British Army personnel in the early of the nineteenth century, pension records are organized along regimental lines.

Regimental Description Books:

These relate to 1778-1878, and do not cover all regiments sadly and even when they do - they only contain a small number of soldier’s records.
However for those lucky enough to find an ancestor through these documents they are a wealth of fantastic detail!

WO25 at TNA houses the ‘Regimental Description and Succession Books’ (W.O. 25)
Microfilm copies are held also by the Church of Latter day Saints in UTAH USA.

Some Description Books are alphabetical, other by date of enlistment.
They usually start with an index, and give a description of each soldier, his age, place of birth, his trade and successive service details.
The entry begins with the full name, the company in the regiment he was assigned to, his height (at enlistment and at age 24 strangely), age at the time of enlistment (in both years and days). The next columns describe the soldier's complexion, the colour of his eyes and hair, the form of his feature, and whether he had any physical marks. Country/town and parish of birth are given. Occupation (if any) outside of the military is noted.
Date, place, and period of enlistment are provided (including the name of the person that enlisted the man).
Notations of any previous military service and dates of promotion are also noted. Information also included desertion, transfers, discharges, date and place of death (where applicable).
The last column includes comments on the man's behaviour and character while in the Army.

The Description and Succession Books are filled with examples of men born in one part of the British Isles, enlisting with a regiment far from home, serving in a variety of regiments across Europe and the far reaches of the British Empire before being pensioned off somewhere in England or even Canada!

Other, less used & minor records

Embarkation lists

WO 25 lists all records of movements by sea of soldiers to everywhere, but not France.

Records of soldier effects

All servicemen 1862-81 only and 1901-60, created as a list of monies owed to those who died in service.

WO25/3475 holds the soldier effects ledgers 1862-81, although the National Army Museum carries a much wider set from 1901-60, these include name, regimental number, date of death, place of death (if known), next of kin and monies paid. The earlier C20th ones also include date of enlistment and trade.

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