How to look for records of... Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve service records 1903-1922

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • All

What are these records?

Available here are digital versions of First World War service records for officers and ratings, from series ADM 337, of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).

They include the service records of ratings who joined the RNVR between 1903, when the RNVR was formed, and 1919, and officers who joined between 1914 and 1922.

How do I search the records?

You can search and download the records in Discovery (£) by filling in the form below.

You don’t need to complete every field to find a record.

Details of individual:

What information do the records contain?

The ratings’ records contain the following details:

  • name
  • division and service number
  • date of birth
  • former occupation, whether formerly in the Royal Navy or Royal Marines
  • a physical description
  • dates and periods of engagements
  • ships or units served in
  • period of service
  • remarks about character and ability
  • very occasionally a record may reveal the place of birth

The officers’ records typically contain the following details:

  • name
  • rank
  • appointments
  • honours and awards
  • dates of promotion
  • name and address of next of kin
RNVR record in ADM 337/5

RNVR record in ADM 337/5

What do the records look like?

The service records of ratings and officers are different in appearance. The right-hand image is the record of William Aubrey Evans (from ADM 337/5), who was a rating in the RNVR.

It is on a pre-printed form, with the details listed in headed columns. The form shows that he gives his date of birth as 14 June 1896, and there is also a description of his appearance. Below this we find out the ships Evans served in for the duration of the First World War.

RNVR record in ADM 337/117

RNVR record in ADM 337/117

The right-hand image is the record of Frederick Awe Pitel (from ADM 337/117), who was an officer in the RNVR. This record lists his promotions, honours and awards during the First World War.

Ratings’ records are arranged by division and then by divisional service numbers. On joining the RNVR, men were assigned to divisions and allocated service numbers prefixed by a ‘distinguishing letter’ indicating the division they had entered. If a man joined after the outbreak of the First World War they may have a Z in their service number. This usually appeared after the letter indicating the Division.

You can identify the division using the table below:


Letter Division
AA Anti-Aircraft
B or BZ Bristol Division
C or CZ Clyde Division
E Birmingham Electrical Volunteers
KP, KW, KX Crystal Palace (entered from Kitchener’s Army)
L or LZ London Division
M or MZ Mersey Division
MB Motor Boat Service
MC Mine Clearance Service
PZ Crystal Palace (entered from civilian life or from the Royal Navy)
R Royal Naval Division
S or St Sussex Division
SWS Shore Wireless Service
T or TZ Tyne Division
WZ Wales Division
Y On occasion a Y number is found. These numbers seem to have been allocated when men volunteered, to be replaced by a service number when they were called up. If only a Y number is found, the implication is that the man did not actually serve.

Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?

It is important to note that not all RNVR service records have survived. If you are unable to find the service record of someone who joined the RNVR, the reason may be that he saw service with the Royal Naval Division.

For some divisions, the Fleet Air Arm Museum holds the engagement papers that men signed upon joining the RNVR. These can be useful if you need details about ratings whose records have not survived in series ADM 337, or to supplement information given in service records.