How to look for records of... British Army officers of the First World War

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 guide to searching for records of British Army officers who served in the First World War. Some First World War veterans continued to serve with the army after the war and for the records of these officers you may need to read the advice in our guide to British Army officers in service after 1918. However, many of the records in the First World War collections cover service up to 1920.

Officer ranks covered by this guide include Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel, Brigadier and General.

How to get started

To uncover details of an officer’s service in the First World War you should begin by searching for the following three types of records:

  • Service record If it survives it is likely to be the most detailed record for an officer that you will find but they are not available online. To see them you will need either to visit us or order a copy (£) to be sent to you.
  • Medal records Low on detail but, unlike service records, available online. All soldiers of all ranks who served in a theatre of war were issued with at least one campaign medal; some were also awarded medals for gallantry and meritorious service though there are few surviving records of this type.
  • Unit war diaries Among the records available online, unit war diaries hold the most promise for a picture of an officer’s time at war. You will need to know which unit, often a battalion, an officer served with to effectively search these records. If you do not know the exact unit in which he served you may be able to find out by consulting the medal records.

Whether other records survive or ever existed for an officer depend upon a number of variable factors. If, for example, an officer was wounded or taken prisoner, records may survive recording these events.

Online records

Unit war diaries from the Western Front, Mesopotamia and Gallipoli, 1914-1922

Search by unit name and number for the war diaries of British Army units that served on the Western Front and in Mesopotamia on our website (£) and for units that served in the Gallipoli Campaign at the Dardanelles on Ancestry.co.uk (£).

See below for advice on searching for the war diaries of units that served elsewhere in the world during the war.

Campaign medal index cards, 1914-1920

For details of First World War campaign medals awarded to both officers and other ranks, search and download (£British Army medal index cards (WO 372) from our catalogue. These cards provided an index to the medal rolls (see below).

Not all officers applied for their campaign medals. If an officer did not apply, there will be no medal index card.

Campaign medal rolls, 1914-1920

Search by name, regimental number and regiment the campaign medal rolls (WO 329) on Ancestry (£). You may find abbreviations on a roll entry – some of these abbreviations are explained in our guide to British Army medal index cards.

The campaign medal roll usually contains the same information as the medal index card, but it may also provide the battalion or equivalent unit number.

Silver War Badge rolls, 1914-1920

Search the Silver War Badge rolls (WO 329) on Ancestry (£) by recipients’ name or by badge number.

The badge was awarded to all of those military personnel who were discharged as a result of sickness or wounds contracted or received during the war, either at home or overseas.

Official announcements of commissions and gallantry awards in the London Gazette

Search the London Gazette, the official journal of the British government, on The Gazette website for announcements of British Army officers’ commissions and gallantry awards.

First World War British Army Lists

Search the British Army Lists 1882-1962 by name on the Fold3 website (£) – you can search the lists at Ancestry.co.uk but for images of the lists you will need to go to Fold3.com. These online versions include all the First World War lists, originally published at monthly or quarterly intervals.

Monthly Army Lists contain lists of officers by regiment and include details of:

  • promotions and appointments
  • deaths of officers, with date and cause
  • regiment’s location

Quarterly Army Lists feature lists of regular army officers by rank in seniority order and include details of:

  • promotions, with dates
  • gallantry medals
  • war service since April 1881 (in January issue only, 1909-1922)

Prisoner of war records, 1914-1918

See our guide to records of British prisoners of the First World War for details of the prisoner of war records available online.

Records available only at The National Archives at Kew

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 (£).

Officers’ service records, 1914-1922

There are over 217,000 British Army officers‘ service records for the First World War held by The National Archives. An officer’s file originally had three parts but two of these were destroyed by enemy action in September 1940. What remains was heavily weeded prior to 1940 and in many cases this means that nothing remains for many officers.

Search our catalogue for references to officers’ service records by name in record series WO 339 and WO 374:

The content of the files varies – some have simply a note of the date of death whilst others contain attestation papers for those commissioned from the ranks, a record of service, personal correspondence and other items.

Alternatively, click on the links below to search more specifically for references to:

  • records of officers who finished serving before 1922, by first and last name in WO 339. WO 339 includes officers who were given a temporary commission in the regular army, those who were commissioned into the Special Reserve of officers and those who were regular army officers before the war.
  • records of officers given a Territorial Army commission or a temporary commission, by first and last name, regiment and rank, in WO 374.
  • officer’s long numbers in the online indexes in WO 338 – this is only worthwhile if you have not found anything in WO 339 or WO 374 (please be aware that the online indexes are very large files and only suitable for download on a fast and unlimited broadband connection). Long numbers for officers in the WO 374 series start with the first letter of the surname and the first vowel of the surname. The number for Anderson, for example will start with AE (references starting with a P refer to records which are still held by the Ministry of Defence). To search WO 374 with an officers name and number, remove the initials from the number. For example if the long number is AE/279, simply search for Anderson 279.

Famous army officers

Search by name among the service records of a few notable individuals (WO 138), such as Wilfred Owen and Field Marshal Douglas Haig, in our catalogue.

Unit war diaries from Russia, British colonies and other theatres of operations, 1914-1922

Search by unit name and number for document references to unit war diaries of British Army units that served in Russia, British colonies and other theatres of operations. This series of records, WO 95, also contains diaries for units located on the Western Front, in Mesopotamia and Gallipoli, but for advice on locating those diaries see the Online records section of this guide.

For more detailed advice see our guide to British Army operations in the First World War.

Records in other archives and organisations

Sandhurst registers, 1783-1964

Visit the Sandhurst Collection website to search by name and download (£) 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.

First World War pension record cards for servicemen killed or injured

Search among the First World War pension record cards on Fold3.com (£) – you can also search on Ancestry.co.uk but for images of the records you will need to go to Fold3.com.

The cards record details of the pension entitlements of soldiers and other servicemen killed or injured in the war, both of officers and other ranks, and of the widows and dependants of deceased soldiers.

The much larger collection of originals are in the care of The Western Front Association (WFA) but had previously been held locally, around the country, and then by the Ministry of Defence. Read the WFA’s article on the records for more information.

Absent Voters Lists, 1918-1921

Search for a soldier by name in the Absent Voters Lists, taken from electoral registers held at the British Library, on Findmypast.co.uk (£) and Ancestry.co.uk (£).

The Absent Voter Lists enabled servicemen and women away from home to vote by proxy or by postal application. They record the address, service number and regimental details of each person.

Indian Army records

Records of officers in the Indian Army are held at the British Library.

Other resources

Printed British Army Lists

Consult the official published Army Lists to trace an officer’s career in the British Army. These are the original printed versions of the online lists described above. There are monthly lists (1798-1940), quarterly lists (1879-1922 and 1940-1950) and half-yearly lists (1923-1950), as well as the ongoing modern Army List (1951-), for the regular army in this period. All the monthly lists and the quarterly lists for 1940-1950 include officers of colonial, militia and territorial units. All lists contain dates of commission and promotion.

Books

Choose from a wide selection of First World War books at The National Archives bookshop. The following publications are available at The National Archives’ Library at Kew:

The Cross of Sacrifice: An Alphabetically Compiled record of British Officers who Died in Service of Their Country, Identifying Where They Died and are Commemorated by S D and D B Jarvis (Roberts Medals, 1993)

Officers Died in the Great War (Samson Books, 1979)

Commissioned Officers in the Medical Services of the British Army 1660-1960 by A Peterkin (The Wellcome Historical medical Library, 1968)

The Roll of Honour: A Biographical Record of Members of His Majesty’s Naval and Military Forces who Fell in the Great War by the Marquis de Ruvigny (London Stamp Exchange, 1987)

First World War Army Service Records by William Spencer (The National Archives, 2008)