This is a brief guide to researching records of British prisoners of war during the First World War and before. Records of British prisoners of war for this period are varied and can be complicated. They are also incomplete. Those records which do exist are available either online or at The National Archives. This guide does not cover prisoners of war in British hands.
What do I need to know before I start?
Try to find out:
- the name of the person
- the rank and regiment (where applicable)
- a date range and location to help focus your search
What records can I see online?
British prisoners of war: interviews and reports (1914-1920)
Search and download (£) interviews and reports concerning 3,000 British prisoners of war (WO 161) on our website.
These documents primarily concern servicemen who escaped internment, were repatriated before the end of the war, or were incarcerated in a neutral country.
Prisoners of war: selected records (1715-1945)
Search and download selected prisoners of war records 1715-1945 on Findmypast (£).
They include lists and accounts of naval and civilian prisoners in the French Wars 1793-1815 (ADM 103). The agent recorded the names, origins and eventual disposal of all the prisoners under his charge.
Other records included are a variety of records from the Foreign Office, Colonial Office, Admiralty and Air Force collections. For more details see findmypast.co.uk.
Selected records of prisoner of war deaths (1914-1918)
Search selected prisoner of war death records (RG 35/45-RG 35/69) on bmd.co.uk (£).
They include deaths in:
- military and non-military hospitals
- enemy and occupied territory were notified to British authorities by foreign embassies
- registration authorities
- American authorities in charge of British internees
The majority of this information is in French.
Prisoners of war cards and lists (1914-1918)
Search by name the First World War prisoner of war cards on the International Committee of the Red Cross archive. These cards were created from lists sent to the ICRC by countries at war. The online material can also include enquiry cards from next of kin, repatriation lists and accounts of prisoner of war camps. Please see their website for more information about this collection.
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Foreign Office reports (1915-1919)
Use the box below to search Discovery, our catalogue, for correspondence and reports on people who became prisoners of war during the First World War in FO 383.
Narrow your search by using double quotation marks to find a person’s full name, such as “John Williams”.
Please note, some of these are available on Findmypast (£).
Records of air force prisoners (1914-1918)
Browse AIR 1 for prisoners of war of Royal Air Force, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.
Records of naval prisoners of war (1914-1920)
Consult ADM 12 for prisoners of war of Royal Navy, Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Navy Reserve and Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve personnel. Read Naval correspondence using the ADM 12 indexes and digests for more information.
Records of merchant navy prisoners of war (1914-1918)
Browse MT 9 (code 106) for prisoner of war files of merchant navy personnel. Some files are indexed by individual name and/ or ship.
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?
List of prisoners of war held in regimental museums
It is possible that the soldier’s regiment kept or has since compiled its own list of prisoners of war. Search Find an archive for the location and details of regimental museums.
Records held elsewhere
Discovery, our catalogue has details of collections held by The National Archives and over 2500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.
What other resources will help me find information?
Read the List of British Officers taken prisoner in the various theatres of war by the military agents Cox and Co. to establish whether an officer was a prisoner of war.
The list covers the British Army, Royal Air Force, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Naval Division. The book gives:
- the name
- the rank of the officer
- the date when he went missing
- where and when he was interned (but not the specific camp/s)
- the date of his repatriation
- the date and place of death if the officer died while prisoner
Read the Guide to the Materials for American History to 1783 by CM Andrews (New York, 1965) for details of British troops captured during the American Revolutionary War and during earlier military and naval actions in North America.
Browse the Long, Long Trail website for information on tracing a person during the First World War.
Consult the London Gazette on The Gazette website for British PoWs captured during the Crimean War and by the Boers during the South African War. These are incomplete and generally name officers only and are arranged under regiment.
Did you know?
An estimated 192,000 British and Commonwealth captives were taken during the First World War. There is no comprehensive list covering all of these prisoners of war, and any documents which are known to survive only cover a fraction of those who were captured.
There is very little information on prisoners of war who were liberated after the Armistice on 11 November 1918.
When searching reports for a prisoner of war, you may find information on a person’s:
- home address
- details of capture
- activities before and after capture
Approximately 750 pages of interviews and reports on other ranks who were prisoners of war during the First World War are known not to have survived.
Upon repatriation, officers were required to detail the circumstances of their capture. If you know an officer was a prisoner of war, their service record may have their capture report with it.
There are no known official or published sources to help determine whether an ordinary serviceman or Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) was a PoW.
Minimal details may be recorded:
- on the service record which may supply dates of capture and/or release
- on the medal index cards in WO 372