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).
Index to service records (1914-1922)
Download the appropriate section of the index to officers' service records in WO 338, arranged in alphabetical ranges of officers' surnames. This is an index to the service records in WO 339 and WO 374 (see below) and is most useful if the officer has a common surname. Each entry in the index gives surname, initials, regiment, the officer's unique long numbera unique number given to some military personnel to help identify them, rank and remarks. Once you have found the officer's long number, search for a WO 339 service record using the advanced search in our catalogue as follows:
- place an asterisk (*) in the 'Keyword options' field
- enter the long number in the 'Former reference' field
Most service records will be in WO 339, but index references with a consonant and a vowel (such as So, Be) refer to records in WO 374 and references with a P and a number refer to records continuing after 31 March 1922 which are still with the Ministry of Defence.
Please be aware that these are very large files and only suitable for download on a fast and unlimited broadband connection.
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)
Search officers' service records in record series WO 339 and WO 374 by surname in Discovery, our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, and other national bodies. 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.
WO 339 contains records of officers who finished serving before 1922. It 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 contains records for officers given a Territorial Army commission or a temporary commission.
The search below is only suitable for unusual surnames. Common surnames are likely to provide too many results in which case it is necessary to check the indexes in WO 338 (see above) for the officer's long number. Then look up the long number in WO 339 using the Advanced search in our catalogue.
Search below by surname only (WO 339, WO 374).
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 Veterans 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 for information about British Army officers' commissions and gallantry awards.
Read First World War Army Service Records by William Spencer (The National Archives, 2008).