How to look for records of... British and Commonwealth prisoners of the First World War and previous wars
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This is a guide to searching for records primarily of First World War British and Commonwealth prisoners of war (PoWs). There is also some advice on searching for the surviving records of British PoWs captured in previous wars going back as far as the 1790s. The guide does not cover PoWs in British hands.
There are no official or published lists of all PoWs so establishing whether a serviceman was a PoW is not always possible.
The limits of First World War records
An estimated 192,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen were taken captive during the First World War. There is no comprehensive list covering all of these PoWs, and the surviving documents cover only a fraction of those who were captured.
There is a published List of British Officers taken prisoner in the various theatres of war between August 1914 and November 1918. The list covers officers of the British Army, Royal Air Force, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Naval Division. As well as names and rank, the book provides the date the officer went missing, where and when he was imprisoned and the date of his repatriation or death if the officer died while prisoner.
There is very little information anywhere on PoWs who were liberated after the Armistice on 11 November 1918.
Prisoners of war: selected records, 1715-1945
Search and download a wide variety of selected PoW records 1715–1945 on Findmypast.co.uk (£). They include records from the:
- Napoleonic Wars, 1799–1815 (including lists and accounts of naval and civilian prisoners)
- Crimean War, 1853–1856
- Second Anglo-Boer War, also known as the South African War, 1899–1902
- First World War, 1914–1918
The records are drawn mostly from the Foreign Office, Colonial Office, War Office, Admiralty and Air Ministry. For more details see findmypast.co.uk.
British prisoners of war: interviews and reports, 1914-1920
Search and download (£) interviews and reports concerning 3,000 British PoWs (WO 161) on our website.
These documents primarily concern servicemen who escaped internment, were repatriated before the end of the war, or were incarcerated in a neutral country. Approximately 750 pages of interviews and reports on First World War PoWs of ranks below those of commissioned officers are known not to have survived.
Selected records of prisoner of war deaths, 1914-1918
Search selected PoW death records (RG 35/45-RG 35/69) on bmd.co.uk (£).
They include deaths in:
- military and non-military hospitals
- enemy and occupied territory were notified to British authorities by foreign embassies
- registration authorities
- American authorities in charge of British internees
The majority of this information is in French.
Prisoners of war cards and lists, 1914-1918
Search by name the First World War prisoner of war cards on the International Committee of the Red Cross archive. These cards were created from lists sent to the ICRC by countries at war. The online material can also include enquiry cards from next of kin, repatriation lists and accounts of PoW camps. Please see their website for more information about this collection.
First World War service records and medal index cards
Upon repatriation, officers were required to detail the circumstances of their capture. If you know an officer was a PoW, their service record may have their capture report with it. In general, service records, especially those of other ranks, contain only minimal details of imprisonment, sometimes limited to dates of capture and/or release – you are unlikely to find any more than this on a medal index card.
For more details see the guides to:
Details of prisoners of war in the London Gazette
Consult the London Gazette on The Gazette website for sporadic mentions and details of British PoWs, especially officers. Includes PoWs from the:
- Crimean War
- South African War
- First World War
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
To access these records you will either need to visit us to see the documents for free at our building in Kew or, where you can identify a specific document reference, order a copy (£) to be sent to you.
Foreign Office reports, 1915-1919
Use the box below to search Discovery, our catalogue, for correspondence and reports on people who became PoWs during the First World War in FO 383.
Narrow your search by using double quotation marks to find a person’s full name, such as “John Williams”.
Please note, some of these are available on Findmypast (£).
Records of air force prisoners, 1914-1918
Browse AIR 1 for prisoners of war of Royal Air Force, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.
Records of naval prisoners of war, 1914-1920
Consult ADM 12 for PoWs of Royal Navy, Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Navy Reserve and Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve personnel. Read Naval correspondence using the ADM 12 indexes and digests for more information.
Records of merchant navy prisoners of war, 1914-1918
Browse MT 9 (code 106) for prisoner of war files of merchant navy personnel. Some files are indexed by individual name and/or ship.
Records in other archives and organisations
Lists of prisoners of war held by regimental museums
It is possible that the soldier’s regiment kept or has since compiled its own list of PoWs. Search Find an archive for the location and details of regimental museums.
Guide to prisoners of the American Revolutionary War
Read the Guide to the Materials for American History to 1783 by C M Andrews (New York, 1965) for details of British troops captured during the American Revolutionary War and during earlier military and naval actions in North America.
British Army in First World War website
Browse the Long, Long Trail website for information on tracing a person during the First World War.
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