How to look for records of... British Army officers after 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 searching for records of British Army officers who served after 1913. The National Archives does not hold army service records for the Second World War – these are still with the Ministry of Defence.

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

How to get started

The most detailed record of an officer’s service during the First World War is usually the service record itself. Officers’ service records are not available online and to view them you will need either to visit us or order a copy (£) to be sent to you.

Among the records available online, the unit war diaries of the battalion, company, battery or other army unit in which the officer served hold the most promise for a picture of an officer’s time at war. If you do not know the exact unit in which he served you may be able to find out by consulting the medal rolls which, along with other medal records, usually present the briefest details among the available documents for officers.

What records can I see online?

Selected unit war diaries, 1914-1922

Use our guide to unit war diaries of the British Army to search for the diary of the unit in which an officer served (£). Not all unit war diaries are available online.

Read our guide on British Army operations in the First World War for guidance on how to search for war diaries which are not viewable online.

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.

Recommendations for military honours and awards, 1935-1990

Search the recommendations for military honours and awards (£) to personnel of the British Army and dominions’ armies (WO 373). Each recommendation provides a summary of the action or deed carried out by the person who earned the award. They include, but are not limited to, recommendations for the following honours and awards:

  • Victoria Cross (VC)
  • George Cross (GC)
  • CBE, OBE and MBE
  • Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
  • Military Cross (MC)

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.

British Army casualty lists, 1939-1945

Search the daily British Army casualty lists (WO 417) on Findmypast.co.uk. These cover British Army officers, other ranks and nurses. They state the individuals’ rank, service number, date of becoming a casualty and type of casualty. It sometimes gives the unit/battalion number – you can use this to locate a unit war diary.

The term ‘casualty’ covers anyone in the British Army who was killed, wounded, missing, or was a prisoner of war.

First World War British Army Lists

Search the Army Lists 1882-1962 by name at Ancestry.co.uk (£). 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)

What records can I find 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.

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Service records, 1922-present

Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service record from the Ministry of Defence (MOD). These are available to next of kin and members of the general public on request to the MOD, provided the subject is no longer living. An administrative fee applies.

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.

Indian Army records

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

What other resources will help me find information?

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.

Other 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)