This is a brief guide to help you research British army records for a soldier who was discharged before the start of the First World War. These records are varied and plentiful, though sometimes complicated. The vast majority are available at The National Archives.
Non officer ranks include Private, Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, and Warrant Officer. The Ministry of Defence website gives more detail.
This guide will help you to find out if the information you are looking for exists and if it does where to find it.
What do I need to know before I start?
Try to find out:
- the name of the person
- the regiment, rank, and date of discharge
What records can I see online?
Royal Hospital Chelsea pension records (1760-1913)
Search by name and download digitised Royal Hospital Chelsea pension records for soldiers discharged between 1760 and 1913 (WO 97) on findmypast.co.uk (£).
Campaign medals (1793-1949)
Search by name online in the campaign medal and award rolls (WO 100) using Ancestry.co.uk 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.
Imperial Yeomanry in the Boer War
Search and download attestation and discharge papers (£) from findmypast.co.uk for men serving in the Imperial Yeomanry during the South African War (WO 128).
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Regimental muster rolls and pay lists (1732-1898)
Refer to the British Army muster rolls and pay lists c.1730-1898 research guide to find out which series to consult for the period 1732 to 1878. For 1878 to 1898, browse WO 16 to find the relevant regiment or regimental district.
Royal Artillery records of service and papers (1755-1917)
Search by name of a non-commissioned officer or soldier in our catalogue within WO 69 for records of the Royal Artillery which include:
- description books
- records of service, including original attestation papers
- registers of marriages and baptisms
- registers of deceased soldiers
- some records of transfer of men to the Army Reserve
- pension registers
- description book of the Royal Irish Artillery (1756-1774)
- miscellaneous correspondence
Second Boer War personnel records (1899-1902)
The British forces in South Africa during this conflict consisted of units of the regular army, militia units, the Imperial Yeomanry (a volunteer mounted infantry regiment set up largely for service in South Africa) and forces recruited locally in South Africa itself.
Use the advanced search in our catalogue to search by unit for enrolment forms of local armed forces in WO 126, nominal rolls in WO 127 and for registers and casualty books of the Imperial Yeomanry by service number in WO 129.
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?
Records held elsewhere
Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.
What other resources will help me find information?
Did you know?
Although Britain has had a regular standing army since around 1660, there are few personnel records before the early 18th century.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea administered the payments of pensions to British army pensioners wherever they lived. Before 1822, some pensions were also administered by Kilmainham Hospital.
When searching for a person who was discharged before 1913, you may find:
- rank, age, place of birth, and age on enlistment
- length and location of service
- character report and details of appearance
- trade or occupation and reason for discharge