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 recordsservice record - a document recording the career of an individual in the armed forces 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.
What do I need to know before I start?
Try to find out:
- the name and regimenta unit of infantry or cavalry forces in the British army of the person
- medals received (if applicable)
- a date range and geographical location to help focus the search
What records can I see online?
Soldiers' records (1914-1920)
Search military records of non-commissioned officersNon-commissioned officer - a senior member of the 'other ranks'. These are junior to commissioned officers. and other ranksOther rank - a person ranking below an officer on Ancestry (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) including service records (WO 363), pension records (WO 364) and campaign medala medal awarded to a person who took part in a particular military campaign 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
Household Cavalry service records (1799-1920)
Search and download (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) service records (WO 400) of non-commissioned officersNon-commissioned officer - a senior member of the 'other ranks'. These are junior to commissioned officers. and other ranksOther rank - a person ranking below an officer 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 (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) for a soldier who received a campaign medala medal awarded to a person who took part in a particular military campaign or gallantry awardmedals awarded for heroic or exceptional service.
Silver War Badge rolls (1914-1920)
Search the Silver War Badge rolls (WO 329) on Ancestry (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) by recipients' name or by badge number.
Recommendations for military honours and awards (1935-1990)
Search the recommendations for military honours and awards (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) (WO 373) for personnel of the British Army and dominions' armies.
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Campaign medal rolls (for 1914-1918 service)
Locate the campaign medala medal awarded to a person who took part in a particular military campaign roll in record series WO 329 for a soldier who served in the First World War.
If you find a soldier's medal index card in record series WO 372 (see above), make a note of the reference in the 'Roll' column for a particular campaign medal. Use the box below to search Discovery, our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, and other national bodies, using this reference in inverted commas. If you get no results, try removing the last part of the reference and searching again.
Reference examples: "H/2/102B39", "List CC 401", "RFA/338B"
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.
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 recorda document recording the career of an individual in the armed forces from the Ministry of Defence. These are not available to members of the general public, but next of kin may request access to them.
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)
Contact the National Army Museum about soldiers' effects ledgers covering April 1901 to March 1960. 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.
What other resources will help me find information?
Search the London Gazette on The Gazette website for information about British Army soldiers' gallantry awards.
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.