Group photo of army officers (Catalogue reference: AIR 1/725/100/2)

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 records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

    • Officers' service records (1914-1922)

      Search our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, other national bodies and from over 2,500 archives across the UK in:

      • 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 in one box and your long number, without the preceding letters, in the next box. 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.

    • Famous army officers

      Service records of a few notable individuals such as Wilfred Owen and Field Marshal Douglas Haig are in WO 138.

    • Army casualty lists (1939-1945)

      Browse by date the daily army casualty lists in WO 417 - these cover British Army officers, other ranks and nurses. They state the individuals' rank, service number, date of becoming a casualty and type of casualty. It sometimes gives the unit/battalion number - you can use this to locate a unit war diary.

      The term 'casualty' covers anyone in the British Army who was killed, wounded, missing, or was a prisoner of war.

  • 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.

      Monthly lists:

      • name indexed from 1867
      • provide some details of a regiment's location

      Quarterly lists:

      • list officers in order of seniority
      • include details of officers' war service from April 1881 (in January issue only, 1909-1922)

      Half-yearly lists:

      • list officers in order of seniority
      • January issue includes retired officers
      • issued annually only, from February 1947
    • Websites

      Search the London Gazette on The Gazette website for information about British Army officers' commissions and gallantry awards.

    • Other books

      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).

Did you know?

The National Archives does not hold army service recordsservice record - a document recording the career of an individual in the armed forces for the Second World War. They are still with the Ministry of Defence.

There are over 217,000 British army officersofficer - a senior member of staff in the armed forces' service records for the First World War held by The National Archives. An officer's file originally had three parts but two of these were destroyed by enemy action in September 1940. What remains was heavily weeded prior to 1940 and in many cases this means that nothing remains for many officers.

When searching for a person you may find information on:

Not all officers applied for their campaign medals, so if an officer did not apply, there will be no medal index card. The campaign medal roll usually contains the same information as the medal index card, but it may also give the battalion number.