How to look for records of... British Army soldiers in service after 1945

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a guide to finding records of soldiers who served with the British Army after the end of the Second World War. The ranks covered include Private, Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, and Warrant Officer – but not commissioned officer ranks.

Though we hold some service records for soldiers who served after 1945, all service records after 1963, when National Service came to an end in the United Kingdom, are still held by the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

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. From 1963 these records are still held by the MOD (see below).
  • Medal and honours records: Most soldiers were issued with campaign medals awarded for service during conflict. Campaign medal records are with the MOD’s Medal Office. Some soldiers were also awarded medals for acts of gallantry and meritorious service (see below).
  • Unit historical records: Records of units rather than specific soldiers. You will need to know which unit, often a battalion, a soldier served with to effectively search these records; in most records only officers are mentioned by name.

Abbreviations and acronyms used in the records

Many of the records covered in this guide contain a lot of obscure military abbreviations and acronyms and can be hard to decipher as a result. There are, however, some resources available online and at our library in Kew that can help you to interpret them.

This official list of MOD Acronyms and Abbreviations published on the GOV.UK site contains thousands of terms in current use, many of them unchanged for decades. The following books are available at our library in Kew:

Service records

A service record is usually the most detailed record of a soldier’s time in the army. The types of documents that are most commonly found within service records are:

  • Attestation forms – documents signed when first recruited or upon transfer between units
  • Statement of service – outlining an individual’s postings whilst in service
  • Discharge forms – issued when a soldier left the regiment
  • Supporting correspondence of a wide variety

Service records up to 1963

The vast scale of the recent transfer of British Army service records from the MOD to The National Archives means that only a small proportion are searchable in our catalogue or viewable in our reading rooms, though this number is steadily increasing. To locate a service record dating up to 1963, follow these steps:

Step 1: Search our catalogue by surname, service number or date of birth or by a combination of any of these using the search box below. If you locate a document reference whose description matches the details you are looking for, you can request a copy of the record directly from the catalogue.

Step 2: If you are unable to find a record at Step 1, submit a a Freedom of Information (FOI) application to request a search for and access to the record using one of the following three forms (charges may apply): 

Form 1: Request your own service record (or the record of another living person on their behalf)

Form 2: Request someone else’s service record where the individual is known to be or is presumed dead

Form 3: Request someone else’s service record where the individual is presumed living

Service records from 1963 onwards

Service records for service since 1963 remain in the custody of the Ministry of Defence and are accessible only to the service personnel themselves or their next of kin. Consult GOV.UK to find out more.

Scots Guards regiment

The Scots Guards retain their own records in their own archive. To apply for a Scots Guard service record from before or after 1945, call, email or write to their Regimental Archives.

Medal and honours records

Campaign medal records

Contact the Ministry of Defence Medal Office for records of post-Second World War campaign medals. There are also details of how to apply for a medal if you meet the criteria.

Recommendations for military honours and awards, 1935–1990

A recommendation is a full statement, usually supplied by a commanding officer, of why a medal or any other honour should be awarded to an individual. Each recommendation provides a detailed summary of the action or deed carried out by the person who earned the award. Search for online images of recommendations for military honours and awards (£) (WO 373) on our website.

Announcements of the award of gallantry medals and honours

Almost all gallantry awards to British nationals are publicly announced in the official government newspaper, the London Gazette. This public announcement is often the only record that survives of an award. Search the London Gazette on The Gazette website for the official announcements of British Army soldiers’ gallantry awards.

British Army unit historical records

Search in series WO 305 for British Army unit records from peacetime, including commanders’ diaries. The dairies and other unit records are focused on the administration and operations of the unit they cover, and generally do not contain information about individual personnel. You will need to know which unit, often a battalion or brigade, a soldier served with to effectively search these records.

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 (£).

Other records

This section covers other records of British Army soldiers held at The National Archives and some of the other official records of individuals held by other archives and organisations.

Grenadier Guards registers and papers

Search in WO 437 by record type and year range for various records of Grenadier Guards, including:

  • discharge registers
  • registers of deserters
  • attestation forms
  • enlistment registers
  • muster rolls and pay lists
  • description books

The series covers records from the middle of the 18th century onwards.

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 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.

Courts martial registers

British Army courts martial registers up to 1979 are held at The National Archives and contain the name, rank, regiment, place of trial, nature of charge and sentence for each prisoner. There are several series of records containing registers for courts martial held in the United Kingdom and overseas (‘Home’ and ‘Abroad’). Click on the series references below and search by year:

  • WO 86 (1829-1979) – District Courts Martial registers (Home and Abroad)
  • WO 90 (1796-1960) – General Courts Martial registers (Abroad)
  • WO 92 (1666-1704, 1806-1960) – General Courts Martial registers (Home)
  • WO 213 (1909-1963) – Field General Courts Martial and military courts registers (Home and Abroad)

For more advice see our guide to British Army courts martial records.

Other resources


These books are available at The National Archives Library:

Christopher Bate and Martin G. Smith, For Bravery in the Field: Recipients of the Military Medal, 1919-1991 (Bayonet Publications, 1991)

Steve Dymond, Researching British Military Medals (Crowood, 1999)