How to look for records of... Armed forces records held by other archives
1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide if you are researching the British Army, the Royal Navy and/or the Royal Air Force and are interested in collections which are held by archives other than The National Archives. For research guides specifically on The National Archives records please see the other guides in our Military and Maritime category.
This research guide briefly describes:
- how to start searching for records
- the principal relevant repositories with strong collections relating to the history of the armed forces
- useful addresses and links and general works of reference
2. How to search for records
Search Discovery, our catalogue, to find records from over 2,500 archives across the UK, as well as from The National Archives itself. Your search results will include details of which archives currently hold the records.
Click on the title of a result for the contact details of the archive which holds the record – you will need to contact this archive for further information about the collection or the record itself.
Where the keywords you searched for appear in the description of a record, the search results are displayed under the ‘Records’ tab.
Where the keywords you searched for appear in the name of the institution or person that originally created the record (often not the same as the institution or person that currently holds the record), the search results are displayed under the ‘Record creators’ tab. For further tips on searching, see our Discovery help pages.
3. Records recently collected by other archives
Many archives regularly take in new records to add to their collections – this process is known as accessioning. Every year, The National Archives collects information about new accessions from 250 archives across Britain and Ireland. This is known as the annual Accessions to Repositories’ survey.
This information is added to Discovery, our catalogue. It is also edited and used to produce thematic digests, including one relating to military history. The digests are made available through this website and distributed for publication in a number of learned journals and newsletters. Further information is available at Accessions to Repositories.
4. Major collections
The following provides details of repositories and institutions that hold major collections relating to military history.
4.1 General repositories
Holds papers of Sir Winston Churchill, including those relating to his military career; airforce, military and naval papers, predominantly 20th century, including the papers of Marshal of the RAF Sir William Dickson, Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst, General Sir Charles Bonham Carter, General Sir Thomas Erle, Field Marshal William Joseph Slim, Admiral Andrew Browne Cunningham, and Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher. See Select Classified Guide To The Holdings Of The Churchill Archives Centre (1992).
Personal diaries, letters and unpublished memoirs of over 5000 servicemen and women and civilians in war time. Records of senior commanders from all three services, from both world wars, including Marshal of the RAF William Sholto Douglas, Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, and Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson.
Papers of Sir Basil Liddell Hart. Private papers of higher commanders of the armed services and defence personnel in the 20th century including Field Marshal Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, Field Marshal Alan Francis Brooke, Major-General John Frederick Charles Fuller, Major-General Sir Percy Hobart and Admiral Francis William Kennedy. Upwards of 400 individual accessions. See the Consolidated List of Accessions (1986), further Supplement 1985-1990.
Peter Liddle’s 1914-18 Personal Experience Archive, the private letters, diaries, logs and non-manuscript material of some 5000 individuals who served in the armed forces, merchant navy and wartime civilian occupations during the First World War.
Papers relating to the history of Scottish servicemen. Private diaries and papers, regimental order books and papers including the Royal Scots Greys and the records of local militia and fencibles 17th-20th century. Papers of General Sir David Baird.
The main collection of the 1st Duke of Wellington’s papers including military correspondence. Papers of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, covering his period in command of Combined Operations in the Second World War, as Supreme Allied Commander in SE Asia and his post war roles as First Sea Lord and Chief of the UK Defence staff. Material on HMS Kelly. Papers relating to the Dieppe Raid. Papers of Wing Commander Marchess de Casa Maury and copies of papers (some with original material) of Vice-Admiral J Hughes-Hallett. The Library also holds papers relating to the Nuremberg Military Tribunal 1945-49. See CM Woolgar and K Robson, A Guide to the Archive and Manuscript Collections of the Hartley Library (1992).
4.2 Specialist repositories – Army
Most of the papers held by this organisation have been deposited in the National Army Museum. See next entry.
Papers relating to the British Army and earlier formations from the 15th-20th centuries, with a strong emphasis on the 18th and 19th centuries. Private papers of army officers including General Sir William John Codrington, Field Marshal Sir George Nugent, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, Lt-General Sir James Outram and General Henry Seymour Rawlinson. A large collection of personal papers and memoirs of service by individual soldiers. Regimental records including the 9th/12th Royal Lancers, Westminster Dragoons, the Surrey Yeomanry and Middlesex Regiment. Records of the Women’s Royal Army Corps and the Royal Army Educational Corps. Records of organizations, including the United Service Club.
A small MS collection, including the papers of Dame Maud McCarthy, Army Matron in Chief.
Artillery topics 1716-20th century. Papers of serving officers, including papers of General Sir Robert Biddulph, General Sir Robert William Gardiner, Lt-General John Henry Lefroy, the collections of Lt-General Samuel Cleveland and Major-General Sir Alexander Dickson. Regimental archives, including Royal Artillery unit war diaries for the First and Second World Wars.
Private papers of serving and former RE serving officers, including General Sir John Burgoyne, General Sir John Hawkins and General Sir Edward Stanton. Letters from Major-General Gordon 1874-1879, miscellaneous letters, papers and notebooks of Gordon. Papers of Major General Sir Elliot Wood. Diaries, journals and papers of officers and other ranks 18th-20th centuries. A large collection of plans, maps and surveys relating to the work of the Royal Engineer Corps and predecessor bodies.
RE Garrison letter books 18th-19th centuries, unit war diaries, mainly the First World War, personnel registers, records of related bodies and organisations including sports clubs. Private papers, including typescript memoirs of Major FJ Mulgheen relating to tunnelling 1914-18. ER James’ narrative account of Crimean War experiences (3 volumes). Sir John Glubb’s diaries 1914-18. Typescript history of General Sir Charles W Pasley (founder of Royal School of Military Engineering) by Colonel JC Tyler. An extensive collection of MS and typescript technical reports, a photograph collection and a collection of maps and plans.
Records of the Academy and predecessor bodies, the Royal Military Academy (Woolwich) and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Papers of General JG Le Marchant.
Papers relating to the history of military communications from the Crimean War to the present day. Records of the Royal Corps of Signals and predecessor bodies, the Telegraph Battalions Royal Engineers and subsequently the Royal Engineers Signal Service. Diaries and papers of officers and soldiers who served in the various units 19th-20th century.
Manuscripts and other material relating to the history of mechanical armoured warfare on land. War diaries and histories of British armoured regiments and papers of serving individuals.
MS collection of the Royal Army Medical Corps, comprising private journals and papers of army surgeons including Sir John Hall and Sir Thomas Longmore. MS collections relating to army medical services including the Mytchet Collection. Administrative records of the Corps, its component units and predecessor bodies are kept in The National Archives (series WO), including war diaries of individual units, WO 95 (First World War) and WO 177 (Second World War).
4.3 Specialist repositories – Royal Navy
Official records including papers of Board of Admiralty, Navy Board, Royal Dockyards and related bodies 17th-19th centuries. Personal papers of serving officers including Admirals Beatty, Hawke, Hood and Nelson. Several large collections of naval MSS comprising letters, papers, journals, logs and order books. Some papers of the Royal Naval Air Service and business records of shipbuilding firms including Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd. See RJB Knight Guide to the Manuscripts in the National Maritime Museum, vol i; The Personal Collections (1977), vol ii: Public Records, Business Records and Artificial Collections (1980).
Archives of the Corps, including material transferred from the Ministry of Defence, comprising divisional order books from 1664. Personal correspondence, papers, diaries and log books of serving officers.
Papers and photographs relating to the general and in particular the social history of the Royal Navy from the 17th century to the present day. 200 hundred logs and journals, several hundred personal records of service and the official WRNS collection. Correspondence and papers of Admiral Sir Arthur Auckland Cochrane, Admiral Sir Robert Stopford and Admiral Sir Reginald Godfrey Otaw Tupper. Some official clerk’s office papers of Portsmouth Dockyard. The museum now holds the manuscript collections formerly at the Admiralty Library.
4.4 Specialist repositories – Royal Air Force
Archives relating to British Aerospace and its predecessor companies engaged in aircraft manufacture at Brooklands, Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd and the British Aircraft Corporation, including De Havilland Engine Co Ltd, D Napier & Son Ltd and Rolls-Royce. A large collection of technical drawings and manuals. Records of aircraft designers including Barnes Wallis (with information relating to the Dams raid).
Records relating primarily to British military aviation (although they also hold some civil aviation material). Private papers of former serving officers including senior commanders, most notably, Air Chief Marshals Hugh Caswell Tremenhere Dowding, Sir Douglas Evill, Sir Roderic Hill, Sir Leslie Hollinghurst and Marshals of the RAF Sir Arthur Tedder and Sir Hugh Trenchard. A collection of air crew log books and diaries and papers of airmen and women and also papers of pioneer aviators, such as Lord Brabazon of Tara and Sir Charles Richard Fairey. Business records of aircraft manufacturers (mainly drawings) including Handley Page Ltd, HG Hawker Engineering Co and Sopwith Aviation Co Ltd.
5. Useful addresses
In addition to the specialist repositories noted above there are several military museums which hold some manuscript material. These include Airborne Assault – The Museum of the Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces, Imperial War Museum Duxford, Cambridgeshire, CB22 4QR and the Intelligence Corps Museum, Chicksands, Bedforshire, SG17 5PR.
Those interested in military aviation may also care to contact the Fleet Air Arm Museum, RNAS Yeovilton, Ilchester, Somerset BA22 8HT; the Royal Air Force Association, Central HQ, 117½ Loughborough Road, Leicester, LE4 5ND and the Royal Aeronautical Society, 4 Hamilton Place, London W1V 0BQ.
The Royal Armouries Library, The Library, Royal Armouries, Armouries Drive, Leeds LS10 1LT, holds papers relating to the study of armoury 19th-20th centuries.
6. Other useful resources
The Archives Hub – provides descriptions of collections held at archives in UK universities and colleges. At present the descriptions are primarily of the broad themes and subject matters of the collections, although where possible they are linked to more detailed descriptions of the records that make up each collection.
AIM25 – provides online descriptions of collections held at the archives of over fifty higher education institutions and other academic and cultural organizations within the greater London area.
The Defence of Britain archive – the purpose of the Project was to record the 20th century militarised landscape of the United Kingdom, and to inform the responsible heritage agencies at both local and national level with a view to the future preservation of surviving structures. It recorded nearly 20,000 twentieth century military sites in the United Kingdom. has
The Scottish Archive Network – the project aims to revolutionise access to Scotland’s archives by providing a single electronic catalogue to the holdings of more than 50 Scottish archives.
Survey of the Papers of Senior UK Defence Personnel 1793-1975 – Southampton University Library, in conjunction with the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College, London, undertook a survey of the papers of senior commanders and defence staff, covering between 4000-5000 individuals for the period 1793-1975.
7. Further reading
A Guide to the Sources of British Military History, (ed) R Higham (1972)
CT Atkinson, ‘Material for military history in the reports and calendars of the Historical Manuscripts Commission’, Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, XXI (1942), 17-34
GM Bayliss, Bibliographic Guide to the Two World Wars: An Annotated Survey of English-language Reference Materials (1977)
C Cook, Sources for British Political History 1900-51 (1975), II, VI
H Hall, British Archives and the Sources for the History of the World War (1925)
N Holding, The Location of British Army Records 1914 to 1918 (fourth edition, 1987)
SL Mayer and WJ Koenig, The Two World Wars: A Guide to Manuscript Collections in the United Kingdom (1976)
A Swinson, A Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army: The Ancestry of the Regiments and Corps of the Regular Establishment (1972)
G Usher, Dictionary of British Military History (2003)
MJ and CT Watts, My Ancestor Was in the British Army: How Can I Find Out More About Him? (1995)
AS White, A Bibliography of Regimental Histories of the British Army (1992)
T Wise, A Guide to Military Museums and Other Places of Military Interest (ninth edition, 1992)