How to look for records of... Wars: an overview

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 a war involving Britain. Guidance is available for some major conflicts elsewhere on this site, but this guide will help you find general records not covered in other research signposts.

War records are wide-ranging, sometimes incomplete and are kept in a variety of places. This guide will help you gain a general overview of the main sources of the information that exists, and where to find it. This guide is for people interested in the subject of a war as opposed to those interested in finding a specific person who fought in a conflict.

What records can I see online?

Cabinet papers (1915-1978)

Search records of the Cabinet Office (£) for the period 1915 to 1978 for documents concerning decisions and discussions before, during, and after a conflict or a war.

Our online records

Browse Discovery, our catalogue to find out what records are available digitally from The National Archives concerning conflicts and wars.

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

General records

Search and browse the following departments to gain an overview of a conflict 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
  • Ministry of Defence (DEFE) – this mainly covers military and defence records after the Second World War
  • 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?

British Library records

Visit the British Library’s website to find out what information they hold on wars and conflicts involving Britain, especially those concerning Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

Imperial War Museum

Visit the Imperial War Museum’s website to find out what information they hold on wars and conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Records held locally

The National Archives’ catalogue has details of collections held by over 2500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue using keywords to find records in local archives. You may need to refine your results using the filters.

What other resources will help me find information?

Websites

Explore the British Battles online exhibition on The National Archives website for an interactive history of several British conflicts.

Search The Times Archive and the Guardian and Observer Digital Archive to view articles (£) about conflicts involving Britain between 1785 and 2000.

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.

There is likely to be some overlap between separate departments on any given subject. For example, a decision made during the Second 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), Royal Navy (ADM) and RAF (AIR).