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British Battles

British Battles
 
   

Military ancestors

Royal Navy

Introduction

Copious records exist of those who served in the Royal Navy, going back to the 17th century. In order to trace an individual it is vital to know whether he served as a commissioned officer, a warrant officer or a rating. As with all the armed services, the records of officers and other ranks were kept separately. But unlike the other services there are some points of overlap, for example:

  • Midshipmen, the first step in an officer's career, were warrant officers
  • Some ranks, such as masters, surgeons and paymasters, that were once warrant officers were later classified as commissioned officers
  • Some records of officers' service cover both warrant and commissioned officers
  • Some records of seamen's service cover warrant officers as well as seamen

The various leaflets referred to below will assist in overcoming this difficulty.

Records of service of those who joined the Royal Navy after 1923 are not yet available to the public. Enquiries from the individual concerned or, if deceased, from the next-of-kin should be directed to the Ministry of Defence.

Commissioned officers

These were the men who had command of and responsibility for the ship(s).

Warrant officers

These were the heads of specialised technical branches such as masters, gunners, carpenters, engineers - i.e. the professionals. Records of their service are to be found either with those of the commissioned officers or with the ratings, and both sets of records may need to be consulted. See the various leaflets listed under those headings.

Ratings

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Before 1853 a man signed on only until the ship returned to Britain. Then at least in theory he was free to leave. The concept of joining the navy originated only in 1853 with the introduction of continuous service engagement.

Other categories

  • Read the guide for details about the records of those who served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
  • See the chapter on the merchant navy for information about the Royal Naval Reserve
  • Read the guide for information about the records of Royal Navy nurses
  • Read the guide for details of women who were in any of the armed forces during the First World War
  • Read the guide to find out about British or Commonwealth sailors who were prisoners of war during, or prior to, the First World War
  • Read the guide for information about British sailors who were prisoners of war during the Second World War
  • Read the guide to find out about prisoners of war held by the British.

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