How to look for records of... British Army officers up to 1913

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Visit us in Kew

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

Pay for research

This is a brief guide to researching British Army records for an officer who served up to 1913. These records are varied and plentiful and the vast majority are available at The National Archives. This guide will help you to find out if the information you are looking for exists, and if it does where to find it or more information about it.

What do I need to know before I start?

Officer ranks include Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel, Brigadier and General. The Ministry of Defence website gives more detail.

Try to find out:

  • regiment of the person
  • a date range to help focus search

Although Britain has had a regular standing army since around 1660, there are few personnel records before the early 18th century.

The British Army did not keep records of individual officers which spanned their entire careers. You will have to look at a number of sources to piece together an officer’s experiences.

What records can I see online?

Officers’ service records (1764-1913)

Search officersservice records by name in WO 25 and WO 76. Please note, these record descriptions have been created from a card index which was not comprehensive and may contain some errors.

Narrow your search by using (double) quotation marks to find a person’s full name, such as “John Williams”.

Please note, this is a search across the entire catalogue description of each record, not just the name. A search for someone called Barnes, for example, may give some results for people born in Barnes.

Alternatively browse WO 76 and WO 25 by regiment in the catalogue, and select individual pieces (such as WO 76/1 or WO 25/2) to view on digital microfilm.

Printed annual army lists (1754-1879)

Browse the printed army lists (WO 65) available as digital microfilm via Discovery, our catalogue. They are arranged by regiment, of the regular army only, and give the names of officers with dates of their commissions. They are indexed from 1766, but engineer and artillery officers are only included in the index from 1803.

Campaign medals (1793-1949)

Search by name online in the campaign medal and award rolls (WO 100) using Ancestry (£), if you know a person was awarded a specific medal. The medal rolls do not usually contain biographical information. You can also search these records on microfilm at The National Archives at Kew, but you will need to know the campaign and the relevant regiment to use these records.

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Officers’ commissions (1793-1870)

Look in Commander-in-Chief’s Memoranda in record series WO 31 for personal applications to purchase and sell commissions. The records are arranged by the date the appointment or promotion was announced in the London Gazette.

Manuscript army lists (1702-1752)

Browse the manuscript army lists in WO 64 to trace an officer’s promotions before the published army lists appeared in 1740.

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Sandhurst registers (1783-1964)

Visit the Sandhurst Collection website to search by name the registers of cadets who attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst 1783-1964 (£). These contain the cadets’ dates of attendance and may also include other personal information such as date of birth, school attended, religion and their father’s profession.

Records held elsewhere

The National Archives’ catalogue has details of collections held by over 2500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

What other resources will help me find information?

Published British Army Lists

Consult the official published Army Lists to trace an officer’s career in the British Army. There are annual lists (1740-1879), quarterly lists (1879-1922) and monthly lists (1798-1940) for the regular army in this period. The monthly lists include officers of colonial, militia and territorial units. All lists contain dates of commission and promotion.

Officers on half pay can be traced in the Army Lists, which give date of commencement.

Annual lists:

  • arranged by regiment
  • name indexed from 1766 (except engineer and artillery officers)
  • name indexed for engineer and artillery officers from 1803

Quarterly lists:

  • list officers in order of seniority
  • include details of officers’ war service from April 1881

Monthly lists:

  • name indexed from 1867
  • provide some details of a regiment’s location

Other books

Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.

William Spencer, Army Records (The National Archives, 2008)

Consult Hart’s Army List by Henry George Hart (Smith, Elder & Co., 1839-1915), an unofficial alternative to the official Army List with details of officers’ war service from 1839.

Websites and blogs

Search the London Gazette on The Gazette website for information about British Army officers’ commissions and gallantry awards.

Read the blog Isaac Chetham: From ‘Scum of the Earth’ to Commissioned Officer in Wellington’s Army which explains the process of researching an Officer in this period.