How to look for records of... First World War

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

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This is a brief guide to researching British government and military records of the First World War. First World War records are wide-ranging and are kept in a variety of archives. This guide will help you gain a general overview of the main sources of the information that exists, and where to find it.

What records can I see online?

Military service records (c1914-c1920)

Search service records of┬áBritish Army soldiers on Ancestry┬á(┬ú). Search and download (┬ú) a selection of service records for the Royal Navy,┬áRoyal Air Force officers┬áand the Women’s Royal Air Force from Discovery, our catalogue. For further information on records of individuals browse our research guides.

Cabinet Papers (1915-1981)

Search our Cabinet Papers website for documents concerning decisions and discussions before, during, and after the First World War.

Explore additional records of the Cabinet and its wartime sub-committees, through our catalogue, in CAB 38 and CAB 42.

British Army unit war diaries (1914-1922)

Download a selection of British Army unit war diaries (WO 95) for the First World War. The rest of the series, not yet digitised, can be accessed at The National Archives at Kew (see below).

Unit war diaries do not generally contain biographical information.

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

British Army unit war diaries (1914-1922)

Search WO 95 in our catalogue for war diaries from the First World War. These diaries were daily accounts of operations. To search, enter the battalion number and the regiment with the word AND (in capitals) between them.

Diaries and papers of top rank officers in the British Army

Browse the diaries of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig in WO 256, the papers of Field Marshall Lord Kitchener in WO 159 and PRO 30/57, the papers of General Earl Cavan in WO 79 and the papers of General Sir A J Murray, also in WO 79.

War Cabinet records (1916-1919)

Search or browse the following record series to find papers created by the War Cabinet, which took over the wartime role of the permanent Cabinet between December 1916 and October 1919:

War Office intelligence

Use our catalogue to search for papers of the Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence in WO 106 and WO 208, and related papers in WO 160, searching by keyword and restricting the date range. Browse the intelligence reports in WO 157 and the maps and plans in WO 78 by place.

General records

Search, browse and consult the following departments to gain an overview of the First World War from various government and military records:

  • War Office (WO), Admiralty (ADM) and Air Force (AIR) – this is where most armed forces and general war records will be found
  • Foreign Office (FO) – correspondence, policy and negotiation with other states
  • Prime Minister’s Office (PREM) – mainly correspondence to and from the Prime Minister’s office
  • Home Office (HO) – this series focuses on domestic and internal affairs

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?

Wartime diaries and personal papers (1914-1918)

Visit the Imperial War Museum website for information on how to access records in their document archive and on the various collections held by the museum relevant to the First World War.

What other resources will help me find information?

Websites

Explore our Education pages on The Great War 1914 to 1918 for an interactive history of the conflict.

Find out about the British Army in the First World War on The Long, Long Trail website.

Search The Times Archive and the Guardian and Observer Digital Archive to view articles (£) about the First World War.

Books

Consult the History of the Great War: Order of Battle (8 volumes), compiled by Major A. F. Becke (HMSO, 1945), to discover where and when an army unit was located and which battles it engaged in.

Read The First World War: The Essential Guide to Sources in the UK National Archives by Ian Beckett (Public Record Office, 2002).

Did you know?

There are many records covering conflicts and wars at The National Archives. Try searching our catalogue with a specific term, name or subject to help focus your search.

The most popular records on the subject of the First World War at The National Archives are within departments WO, HO, PREM and FO.

There is likely to be some overlap between separate departments on any given subject. For example, a decision made during the First World War may have been informed by the Foreign Office (FO), discussed by the Cabinet (CAB) and Prime Minister (PREM) and then carried out by the Army (WO) and Navy (ADM).