How to look for records of... British Army soldiers 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

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

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



This is a brief guide to researching British army records for a soldier who was discharged after the beginning of the First World War. These records are informative and varied, though not all for this period survive. While many records are available at The National Archives, some service records are currently held by the Ministry of Defence. The majority of the personnel records for the First World War have been destroyed or damaged. Soldier ranks include Private, Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, and Warrant Officer. The Ministry of Defence website gives more detail.

1. What do I need to know before I start?

Try to find out:

  • the name and regiment of the person
  • medals received (if applicable)
  • a date range and geographical location to help focus the search

2. What records can I see online?

Soldiers’ records (1914-1920)

Search military records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks on Ancestry (£) including service records (WO 363), pension records (WO 364) and campaign medal cards.

These cover regular soldiers who may have enlisted as early as 1892 for 22 years’ service as well as a small number of stray service records of pre-war soldiers who did not serve from 1914-1920.

You should find

  • soldiers discharged between 1914 and 1920
  • soldiers killed in action between 1914 and 1920
  • soldiers who served in the war and died of wounds or disease without being discharged to pension
  • soldiers who were demobilised at the end of the war

You are unlikely to find

  • regular soldiers who continued in the army after 1920
  • soldiers who transferred to another service, taking their service record with them

The British Army contained regiments from parts of the former colonies. The service records in WO 363 and WO 364 include regiments such as:

  • the West African Field Force (such as Nigerian, Gold Coast, Sierra Leonean and Gambian Regiments. Covers only British Army non-commissioned officers of European descent)
  • British West Indies Regiment
  • the West India Regiment

They do not include the service records for soldiers serving in the armies of Commonwealth countries (such as Canada, New Zealand or South Africa). You will need to contact their respective archives for advice on how to locate these records.

Household Cavalry service records (1799-1920)

Search and download (£service records (WO 400) of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who served in one of the Household Cavalry regiments during the First World War.

Medal cards (1914-1920)

Search the First World War army medal cards (WO 372) on our website (£) for a soldier who received a campaign medal or gallantry award.

Campaign medal rolls (1914-1920)

Search the campaign medal rolls (WO 329) on Ancestry (£) by name, regimental number and regiment. You may find abbreviations on a roll entry – some of these abbreviations are explained on our army medal index card guide (see section above).

The British War and Victory medal entries may give you a battalion/unit number which will help you to find a unit war diary.

Silver War Badge rolls (1914-1920)

Search the Silver War Badge rolls (WO 329) on Ancestry (£) by recipients’ name, regimental number or by badge number. Alternatively you can search by regiment.

Recommendations for military honours and awards (1935-1990)

Search the recommendations for military honours and awards (£) (WO 373) for personnel of the British Army and dominions’ armies.

Selected unit war diaries (1914-1922)

You can search some unit war diaries in WO 95 (£) which are avaliable to view online. Only a select number of unit war diaries are viewable 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.

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

Pension case files (1914-1920)

Search our catalogue (below) for pension case files in record series PIN 26. Only a 2% sample of these records survive.

Army casualty lists (1939-1945)

Browse by date the daily army casualty lists in WO 417 – 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.

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 (£).

4. What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Service records (1920-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.

Records of Guards regiments

Guards regiments retain their own records which can be accessed by writing to the appropriate regimental headquarters.

Soldiers’ effects ledgers (1901-1960)

Search the soldiers’ effects ledgers (£) covering April 1901 to March 1960 (from The National Army Museum) by name or regiment on Ancestry.co.uk. These list monies owed to a soldier who died in service.

You may be able to purchase a transcript from the ledgers which usually show

  • full name
  • regimental number
  • date, and sometimes place, of death
  • next of kin and monies paid to them

Ledgers from 1901 to 1914 also show the soldier’s trade and date of enlistment.

Selected soldier pension record cards

Contact the The Western Front Association (WFA) to request a paid search into the selected soldier pension records cards. Read their guidance pages for more information about the records.

5. What other resources will help me find information?

Websites

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

Books

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

Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list. The books are all available in The National Archives’ reference library, or you may be able to find them in a local library.

You can also search our bookshop for a wide range of history titles.

6. Did you know?

The National Archives does not hold army service records for the Second World War.  They are still with the Ministry of Defence.

Many army service records between 1914 and 1920 do not exist as they were destroyed by enemy bombing in 1940 – only about 40% survive.

The condition of the surviving service records can vary greatly – some are badly damaged.

When searching for a person you may find information on:

  • regiment and rank
  • remarks concerning the individual
  • next of kin
  • medical reports and pension details

The records of soldiers who served in the guards regiments (Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh) are accessible by writing to the appropriate Regimental Headquarters. Some of these records were destroyed by enemy bombing whilst stored in the Guards chapel during the Second World war.