This is a guide to finding records of soldiers who served with the British Army after the end of the First World War, including service in the Second World War and up to the 1960s. Though we hold some records relating to soldiers’ service after 1920, many for the Second World War period are still held by the Ministry of Defence. However, over 9 million of these records, covering service in the British Army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force, as well as some overseas forces under British command, up until the end of National Service in 1963, will be transferred in instalments from the Ministry of Defence to The National Archives by the end of 2026. This research guide will be updated as new sets of records are transferred.
The ranks covered by the records detailed in this guide include Private, Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, and Warrant Officer – but not commissioned officer ranks.
How to get started
To uncover details of a soldier’s service you should begin by searching for the following three types of records:
- Service records: Usually the most detailed record of a soldier’s time in the army. These records are still held by the Ministry of Defence (see below).
- Medal and honours records: Most soldiers were issued with campaign medals awarded for service during conflict, details of campaign medals are with the Medal Office. Some soldiers were also awarded medals for acts of gallantry and meritorious service (see below).
- Unit war diaries: You will need to know which unit, often a battalion, a soldier served with to effectively search these records; in most diaries only officers are mentioned by name.
Whether other records survive or ever existed for a soldier depend upon a number of variable factors. If, for example, a soldier was wounded or received an army pension, records may survive recording these facts.
Currently, service records from this period are only available in their original paper form and only a few types of records revealing anything about an individual’s service are available online.
Recommendations for military honours and awards, 1935–1990
Search the recommendations for military honours and awards (£) (WO 373) for personnel of the British Army and dominions’ armies.
Announcements of the award of gallantry medals and honours
Search the London Gazette on The Gazette website for the official announcements of British Army soldiers’ gallantry awards.
British Army casualty lists, 1939–1945
Search the daily British Army casualty lists (WO 417) on Findmypast.co.uk (£). 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.
Records recently transferred to The National Archives
The following records have been transferred to The National Archives from the Ministry of Defence. As they have only very recently been transferred, many are currently unavailable to view in our reading rooms. If you believe that a service record you are looking for is contained within one of the following collections then it is possible to make a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for access to this information using one of the below forms (charges may apply).
Request your own Ministry of Defence personnel record or on behalf of a living data subject
Request a FOI paid search of Ministry of Defence personnel records where the individual is presumed deceased
Request closed Ministry of Defence personnel records where the individual is presumed living
MoD service record transfer: Frequently asked questions
Other ranks service records, 1921-1939
These are service records of other ranks discharged from the infantry of the British Army between 1921 and 1939. The majority are for individuals who served during the First World War and who opted to continue their service beyond 1921, but also include those who joined after the war and were discharged before the outbreak of the Second World War. They do not yet include records from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Cavalry, or Guards Regiments.
These records are not currently available to search on the catalogue, but can be requested by filling in one of the forms available above (charges may apply).
Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Other Ranks
These are service records of other ranks who served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) during the Second World War, and who were discharged from service because they had reached the upper age limit before the end of their enlistment period.
The REME was established in October 1942, and was responsible for the maintenance and repair of military equipment. It consisted of skilled tradesmen, many of whom had initially transferred from other units. These records are available in the WO 420 series and can be searched by surname, service number, and date of birth.
Selected Smaller Corps Other Ranks
These are service records of personnel from 12 different smaller units/corps who were discharged from service because they had reached the upper age limit before the end of their enlistment period. The records were originally held at the Bournemouth Combined Manning Record Office.
More details about the specific units/corps can be found in the WO 421 series, and the records can be searched by surname, service number, and date of birth.
Women’s Services in East Africa; Nurses and Other Ranks
This collection consists of a selection of service records for those who served in women’s units in East Africa during the Second World War. They include those who served in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS); East African Military Nursing Service (EAMNS); Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS); Women’s Territorial Service (WTS); and First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY).
The records are available in the WO 427 series and can be searched by surname, service number, and date of birth.
Other Records available at The National Archives
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
Second World War unit war diaries
Read the advice in our guide to records of British Army operations in the Second World War on unit war diaries. All units, from battalions and brigades to divisions and whole armies, maintained a daily record of events during the war.
Records in other archives and organisations
Service records, 1920–present
Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service record not already transferred to The National Archives from the Ministry of Defence (MOD). These are available to next of kin and members of the general public on request to the MOD, provided the subject is no longer living. An administrative fee applies.
Service records of Guards regiments
The Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards regiments retain their own records. To access them write to or call the appropriate regimental headquarters.
For Grenadier, Irish and Welsh Guards service records visit the GOV.UK website.
Some of these records were destroyed by enemy bombing of the Guards chapel during the Second World War.
Campaign medal records for Second World War and campaigns since 1945
Contact the Ministry of Defence Medal Office for records of Second World War and post-Second World War campaign medals. There are also details of how to apply for a medal if you meet the criteria.
Soldiers’ effects ledgers, 1901–1960
Search the soldiers’ effects ledgers (£) covering April 1901 to March 1960 (from The National Army Museum) by name or regiment on Ancestry.co.uk. These list monies owed to a soldier who died in service.
You may be able to purchase a transcript from the ledgers which usually show
- full name
- regimental number
- date, and sometimes place, of death
- next of kin and monies paid to them
Ledgers from 1901 to 1914 also show the soldier’s trade and date of enlistment.
Absent Voters Lists, 1918–1925 and 1939
Search for a soldier by name in the Absent Voters Lists, taken from electoral registers held at the British Library, on Ancestry.co.uk (£) and Findmypast.co.uk (£).
The Absent Voter Lists enabled servicemen and women away from home to vote by proxy or by postal application. They record the address, service number and regimental details of each person.
The following book, available in The National Archives’ reference library, is one of the most detailed reference books for Second World War records held at the The National Archives, formerly known as the Public Record Office. You can also search our shop for a wide range of history titles.
John Dennis Cantwell, The Second World War: A Guide to Documents in the Public Record Office (Public Record Office, 1998)