How to look for records of... British Army officers in service after 1918

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 after the First World War, including service in the Second World War. However, 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

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 at The National Archives or anywhere online. See below for more details.
  • Medal records: Low on detail but 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.
  • 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

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.

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 from the Second World War

See our guide to records of British prisoners of the Second World War for details of the POW records available online.

Records available only at The National Archives in 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 (£).

Second World War unit war diaries

Read the advice in our guide to records of British Army operations in the Second World War on unit war diaries. All units, from battalions and brigades to divisions and whole armies, maintained a daily record of events during the war.

Famous and notable 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.

Records 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.

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.

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)

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