This is a brief guide to researching British army records for an officera senior member of staff in the armed forces after 1913.
The National Archives has a substantial collection of records covering this period, but many other documents were destroyed or badly damaged.
Some service recordsservice record - a document recording the career of an individual in the armed forces are still held by the Ministry of Defence.
Officer ranks include Lieutanant, Captain, Major, Colonel, Brigadier and General. The Ministry of Defence website has 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
- the medals received (if applicable)
- the date range to help focus search
What records can I see online?
Campaign medal records (1914-1920)
Search and download (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) the index cards to First World War campaign medalscampaign medal - a medal awarded to a person who took part in a particular military campaign awarded to army officersofficer - a senior member of staff in the armed forces (WO 372).
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.) to personnel of the British Army and dominions' armies (WO 373).
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Officers' service records (1914-1922)
- WO 339 by first and last name for records of officers who finished serving before 1922. WO 339 includes officers who were given a temporary commission in the regular army, those who were commissioned into the Special Reserve of officers and those who were regular army officers before the war
- WO 374 by last name only for records of officers given a Territorial Army commission or a temporary commission
The content of the files varies - some have simply a note of the date of death whilst others contain attestation papers for those commissioned from the ranks, a record of service, personal correspondence and other items.
Note that results for the search below will display records from WO 339 and WO 374, so if you are searching for records in WO 374 only, re-order your search results by reference so you can browse to the relevant record descriptions in WO 374.
The above search is only suitable for unusual surnames for WO 374. Common surnames are likely to return many results therefore you will need to check the online indexes in WO 338 for the officer's long number. Long numbers for officers in the WO 374 series start with the first letter of the surname and the first vowel of the surname. Anderson, for example will be AE. References starting with a P refer to records which are still held by the Ministry of Defence.
Once you have found the officer's long number, search for a WO 374 service record using advanced search as follows:
- enter the surname
- in the reference boxes enter WO 374 and your long number without the preceding letters. For example if the long number is Ae/279, simply enter '279'
- under 'held by' select The National Archives
Cataloguing work is underway so in the future you will be able to search by the officers' full names within WO 374.
Please be aware that the online indexes are very large files and only suitable for download on a fast and unlimited broadband connection.
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 WO 329 for an officer who served in the First World War.
Reference examples: "OFF/25", "OFF/100"
Famous army officers
Service records of a few notable individuals such as Wilfred Owen and Field Marshal Douglas Haig are in WO 138.
What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
Service records (1922-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.
Sandhurst registers (1783-1964)
Visit the Sandhurst Collection website to search by name and download (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.) the registers of cadets who attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst 1783-1964. These contain the cadets' dates of attendance and may also include other personal information such as date of birth, school attended, religion and their father's profession.
Indian Army records
Records of officers in the Indian Army are held at the British Library.
What other resources will help me find information?
Published British Army Lists
Consult the official published Army Lists to trace an officer's career in the British Army. There are monthly lists (1798-1940), quarterly lists (1879-1922 and 1940-1950) and half-yearly lists (1923-1950), as well as the ongoing modern Army List (1951-), for the regular army in this period. All the monthly lists and the quarterly lists for 1940-1950 include officers of colonial, militia and territorial units. All lists contain dates of birth and promotions.
- name indexed from 1867
- provide some details of a regiment's location
- list officers in order of seniority
- include details of officers' war service from April 1881 (in January issue only, 1909-1922)
- list officers in order of seniority
- January issue includes retired officers
- issued annually only, from February 1947
Search the London Gazette on The Gazette website for information about British Army officers' commissions and gallantry awards.
Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives' Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives' Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.
Read First World War Army Service Records by William Spencer (The National Archives, 2008).