How to look for records of... British and Commonwealth prisoners of the Second World War and the Korean War

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

1. Why use this guide?

Use this guide for advice on finding records at The National Archives of:

  • British and Commonwealth prisoners of war (POWs) held captive by German, Italian or Japanese forces in the Second World War
  • POWs from Allied countries taken prisoner in the Second World War (we hold far fewer of these)
  • life in the camps and attempts to escape, both successful and unsuccessful
  • British and Commonwealth POWs taken prisoner in the Korean War

Some of these records are available to view and download online but many are not and you may therefore need to visit us in Kew to see documents.

Most of the records are of military personnel but there are some records of civilian POWs held here too.

For records of prison guards and other camp personnel who may have been tried for crimes committed in the camps read our guide to records of war crimes.

2. An introduction to the records held at The National Archives

There is no definitive POW record for any given individual and there are no case files containing all the POW records held for each individual. Instead, for any prisoner, there is usually a variety of possible records and you may need to conduct a series of separate searches before you have exhausted the possibilities. We hold a very wide variety of records specific to POWs but you may also find details of an individual’s time in a camp in their military service records, which themselves require a separate search. Read our overview of Second World War records for links to other guides with advice on service records.

Among the many records specific to POWs at The National Archives are:

  • questionnaires completed by liberated POWs revealing personal information as well as prisoners’ experiences in the camps
  • individual reports of capture, evasion or escape attempts from prisoners of war camps in central Europe
  • escape maps and plans
  • records of Merchant Navy prisoners of war
  • accounts of conditions and treatment in prisoner of war camps
  • records of enquiries into missing personnel and POWs’ recommendations for awards to civilian helpers (Europe only)

Many POW records held at The National Archive have no online version and to see these you will need to consult them at our building in Kew or pay for copies to be emailed to you. The search for records held at Kew can, however, begin online, by searching for document references in our online catalogue.

The following abbreviations for German prisoner of war camps are found in our records:

  • Stalag (Stammlager) – in most cases, a camp for NCOs and enlisted men
  • Oflag (Offizierlager) – a camp for officers only
  • Stalag Luft (Stammlager Luftwaffe) – a camp for Air Force officers administered by the Luftwaffe
  • Dulag (Durchgangslager) – a transit camp where captured aircrew were processed and interrogated before being sent to a permanent camp
  • Milag and Malag – in most cases, a camp for men of the British Merchant Navy and Royal Navy

3. Online records

Though many records are not available to view online there are some key sets of records that are. They are all covered in this section.

Various selected lists and other records of POWs in Europe and the Far East, Second World War

Among the very wide variety of different prisoners of war records 1715-1945 digitized from National Archives collections on Findmypast (£) there are many from the Second World War. Some of the most significant are listed below – click on the record series links to learn more about the original records:

  • Lists of Prisoners of War from the War Office’s Directorate of Prisoners of War (from record series WO 392)
  • Japanese Index Cards of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees, partly in Japanese (from record series WO 345) – for help with translation see the Dutch National Archives’ guide on translating Japanese POW cards (this link will download as a PDF file)
  • Around 13,500 allied prisoners of war and civilian internees held in Singapore camps (from record series WO 367)
  • Registers and other records of POW deaths across Europe and the Far East from the War Office Casualties (L) Branch of the Department of the Permanent Under Secretary of State (from record series WO 361)
  • POW lists and rolls from Air Ministry intelligence reports and papers (from record series AIR 40)
  • Merchant Navy POW deaths (from record series BT 373)
  • Foreign Office and Colonial Office records of POWs

POW liberation questionnaires, Second World War

Search among the POW liberation questionnaires on Ancestry (charges apply), digitized versions of National Archives records from series WO 344. The questionnaires relate to POWs captured by both Germany and Japan.

The online images and indexes on Ancestry exclude individuals born less than 100 years ago. These are available as originals for consultation at The National Archives in Kew. In these instances, browse through WO 344 in our catalogue, ordered by surname ranges, to pick out the range and therefore the document applicable to the name you are searching for.

As well as giving personal details like name, rank, number, unit and home address, these records can include:

  • the date and place of capture
  • main camps and hospitals in which imprisoned and work camps
  • serious illnesses suffered while a prisoner and medical treatment received
  • interrogation after capture
  • escape attempts
  • sabotage
  • suspicion of collaboration by other Allied prisoners
  • details of bad treatment by the enemy to themselves or others.

In addition, the liberated POWs were given the opportunity to bring to official notice any other matters, such as courageous acts by fellow prisoners or details of civilians who assisted them during escape and evasion activities.

Escape and evasion reports, Second World War

Search The National Archives catalogue for escape and evasion reports in WO 208 by the name of an individual. These are individual accounts of escape attempts or capture, or awards for those who assisted escape attempts. The reports cover prisoners held in Europe and North Africa.

Not all of the records from WO 208 have been digitised and many are therefore not viewable online and won’t be findable with a name search in our catalogue. If you are unable to find an online version, see section 5 below for advice on finding original documents in WO 208.

British Prisoners of War database, Second World War

Search the British Army Prisoners of War, 1939-1945 database on £ for listings of Second World War British Army, Navy and Air Force POWs. These are not National Archives records.

Among the information you can find on an individual POW in these records is:

  • rank
  • regiment or other military unit detail
  • POW number
  • camp type, number and location

Notifications of deaths, 1939-1942

Among the Foreign Returns sent to the General Register Office, held in series RG 32 at The National Archives, are notifications of prisoner of war deaths. You can search for online versions at (£). Use the advanced search on the BMD Registers site and search in the following way:

  1. Enter the names you are searching for
  2. From the dropdown options in the ‘Search within’ box, select RG 32
  3. From the dropdown option in the ‘Event type’ box, select Deaths & Burials
  4. In the ‘Year of Event’ box, type 1940 (records dating from within 5 years of 1940 will be returned)

4. How to search for original records across our entire collection

Many POW records held at The National Archive have no online version and to see these you will need to consult them at our building in Kew or pay for copies to be emailed to you. The search for records held at Kew can, however, begin online, by searching for document references in our online catalogue.

The key to a successful search is knowing what search terms to search with and which record series to search within, though you can try speculative searches across our entire collection from the catalogue homepage. Most of the records are not searchable by the prisoner’s name so you will probably need to try the following keyword search terms instead:

  • ‘prisoner of war’
  • country names, for example Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea with the term ‘prisoners of war’
  • ‘camp’ as a single keyword, or camp name or number
  • ‘prisoner of war list’
  • ‘awards’ and ‘helpers’
  • ‘civilian’ and ‘prisoner ‘, ‘internment’ or ‘internees’
  • ship or glider name, aircraft type and number for missing personnel
  • type of service, i.e. Royal Air Force and ‘prisoner’ or ‘Merchant’ and ‘prisoner of war’ for merchant seamen PoWs

The above search terms will return higher proportions of relevant results when you target specific record series using the advanced search of our catalogue. Sets of record series collectively make up record departments, most of which represent the central government departments which originally collected and created the records. Use the following reference codes to target specific departments in which PoW records are held:

  • WO for War Office records
  • AIR for Air Ministry records
  • ADM for Admiralty records
  • FO for Foreign Office records (use our guide to Correspondence of the Foreign Office, 1920-1951 for more advice on finding FO records)
  • CO for Colonial Office records
  • DO for Dominions Office records
  • MT for Ministry of Transport records

The rest of this guide provides advice on which record series within these large departments are specifically, and in some cases exclusively, series of PoW records and how to search through them.

5. Second World War POWs in Europe and the Far East – name searchable original records

Not all the original records of POWs are searchable by name in our catalogue but a significant proportion are. We have created a bespoke search tool, below, for many of these, covering multiple series, to make searching for POW records in our catalogue by name easier. Search here either by surname only, by surname plus initial/s or by surname and forename/s (try all three alternately as different combinations may return different results):

Below is a list of the record series covered by this search – click on the series links for more details on each series:

  • ADM 358, Missing naval personnel
  • AIR 40, RAF escapees among records of the papers of the Air Ministry’s Directorate of Intelligence
  • AIR 81, RAF missing personnel – these files may contain missing person and casualty action sheets, death certificates, personal  letters and correspondence, exhumation reports, investigation reports, questionnaires by repatriated personnel  and personal effects of POWs; you can also search these records by the place, date or location of the incident in which air crew went missing or by the type of aircraft (for example, Blenheim)
  • BT 373, Merchant Navy prisoners of war – you can also search these records by ship and some of the records are available online at Findmypast (£) – see section 3
  • CO 1070, Colonial Office card index of allied internees and some prisoners of war captured in Hong Kong and Malaya (index cards for names A-D are missing)
  • WO 208, Escape and evasion reports
  • WO 416, German record cards of British and Commonwealth POWs and civilian internees – not all the records in this series are yet open to the public as records remain closed for those born less than 100 years ago

Records of escape and evasion

Among the various records of the War Office’s Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence held in series WO 208 are a number of different types of files relating to POWs who escaped camps or who evaded capture in enemy territory. Key among these are the escape and evasion reports covering prisoners held in Europe and North Africa. Files in WO 208 include:

  • individual accounts of capture, escape attempts or awards for those who assisted escape attempts
  • detailed recommendations for honours and awards made to foreign civilians and military personnel who assisted allied escape and evaders (in range WO 208/5451-5460)
  • details of individuals who assisted evaders in Belgium and Luxemburg, Denmark, France, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Italy and Poland which may provide limited personal information (in range WO 208/5461-5480)
  • special questionnaires made by individuals about work of escape committees, escape aids, German Censorship and collection of geographic information which might assist future escape attempts (in range WO 208/5437-5450)

You should use one or both of the following two ways to find an escape and evasion report in WO 208:

  • search by name for a reference to a report in WO 208 which you can use to order the original document – if the reference for the report itself does not appear in search results you may find a reference to one of the index cards once used to access the reports and this should, in turn, provide a catalogue reference to the report in WO 208 (each index card listing provides a prisoner’s name, rank, number and corps)
  • search by name at (£) – this should provide either the report itself or a WO 208 index card reference which you can search for in our catalogue which will in turn provide a catalogue reference to the report in WO 208 (as above)

There are other series that cover POW escape and evasion records:

  • Reports of Royal Air Force POWs who escaped or evaded capture in AIR 40/1545-1552. These reports include internal indexes. Read our guide on RAF personnel for other records of RAF POWs.
  • escape and evasion maps produced by MI9 between 1940 and 1945 in series WO 418. Escape maps and plans can also be found within the escape and evasion reports in WO 208.

Records of liberated prisoners

The two most significant sets of records created to document the experiences and individual details of prisoners were:

  • Liberation questionnaires – these were questionnaires put to liberated prisoners to document their experiences. As indicated in section 3, you can search for these questionnaires online at, though the online images and indexes exclude individuals born less than 100 years ago. The original questionnaires are arranged in alphabetical surname ranges (separately for Germany and Japan). You can browse WO 344 by these ranges.
  • Liberation and interrogation reports – these reports may provide more details than the liberation questionnaires. Some contain details of escape attempts, intelligence details and so on. Search for liberation reports by surname and either first name or initials in WO 208 or the search box above. Search results may include other types of documents held in WO 208.

However, not all interrogation reports are searchable by name in our catalogue. If your name search fails then you should try consulting the card index for these records. sorted by prisoners’ names, in the reading rooms at The National Archives. Use the guide ‘reports by prisoners of war, Second World War’ available in the reading rooms for guidance on how to find references and the explanation of the appendices.

Lists of prisoners of war

These are lists held in record series WO 392. Most of the lists are available online at Findmypast (see section 3) but the following is available only as an original document:

  • WO 392/21 – Lists of members of the Allied Forces held prisoner in Italian hands, including personnel from the British Army, Australian Army, Canadian Army, New Zealand Army, South African Army, Indian Army, naval forces and air forces.

6. Second World War POWs in Europe – name searchable printed sources

At our library in Kew we hold several printed and published sources which between them provide details of approximately 169,000 British and Commonwealth prisoners of war of all ranks held in Germany or German-occupied territory. They can provide key details which may also prove vital in a search for original documents:

For each prisoner they include:

  • name
  • rank
  • service number
  • regiment
  • prisoner of war number
  • final camp location

7. Second World War POWs in Europe – camp reports and prisoner accounts

We hold a variety of records which contain details on conditions and prisoner treatment in the camps. These are not name searchable records and to find records in the series listed in this section you will need to try some of the keywords suggested in section 4.

POW camp reports, 1941-1947

POW reports were compiled by the Red Cross and supply details of camp conditions.

Search by camp name in WO 224 for some details of POW camps. Also browse using our catalogue in:

  • FO 916 and WO 224 for reports from various sources on internment camps
  • CO 980 and HO 215 for conditions of Far East camps

Consult CAB 101/199 and WO 32/14550 for some reports made by former PoWs.

Prisoner of war accounts in Nazi persecution files

Search among the correspondence and claims files in the Foreign Office claims department records, in series FO 950, for accounts from Britons imprisoned on enemy territory during the Second World War. Search with terms like ‘POW’ and ‘prisoner’ and, less reliably, with the names of individuals.

Some records relating to individuals are closed and the claimants’ names have been withheld under the Data Protection Act. You can request the opening of closed records in FO 950 under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by filling out our Freedom of Information enquiry form. In your request please specify the series reference FO 950 and the full names of the claimants you are researching.

8. Second World War POWs in the Far East – original records

There are online records of POWs in the Far East (see section 3) but here we cover those that are not viewable online. To see these records you will need to visit our building in Kew or pay for copies to be sent to you.

Many of the sources described in section 5 cover POWs in the Far East, including:

  • liberated prisoner of war interrogation questionnaires
  • camp reports
  • Merchant Navy prisoners of war

Lists of prisoners of war

These are lists held in record series WO 392. Most of the lists are available online at Findmypast (see section 3) but the following is available only as an original document:

  • WO 392/24 – British POWs held in Japan or Japanese occupied territories

Hospital registers for prisoner of war camps in the Far East, 1942-1947

These hospital registers (WO 347) kept by the prisoners of war, provide medical details such as:

  • date admitted to hospital
  • date of discharge, transfer or death
  • sometimes the ailment/ disease admitted for

They also provide personal details such as unit, age and religion.

You will need to start your search by consulting the indexes. Browse the indexes in WO 347/60-200 and choose the relevant surname range. Once you have ordered the document identify the relevant index card and make a note of the two part reference given – for example 1/13. 1 is the book number and 13 the page number. Use this to identify the relevant book within WO 347/14-59, the book numbers run sequentially.

9. Second World War – records of War Crimes

Among the case files of the War Crimes Group (NW Europe), which investigated war crimes, are cases of crimes committed against Allied Prisoners of War. Search in series WO 309 and WO 311 using keywords in relation to the crimes themselves to track down these records.

For further information, consult our research guide to records of War Crimes 1939-1945.

10. Korean War POWs – original records

The following records contain lists of POWs held in Korea:

11. Beyond The National Archives: records held elsewhere

Search the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for prisoners of war who died in captivity.

Search the Imperial War Museum for personal records of Allied prisoners of war, including interviews, letters, and diaries.

Search the National Archives of Australia and Australian War Memorial for details on Australian prisoners of war.

Search the Auckland Museum for details of New Zealand prisoners of war.

Search the Library and Archives Canada for details of Canadian prisoners of war.

Search the US National Archives for details of American prisoners of war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross Archives holds lists of prisoners of war and internees of all nationalities for the Second World War. At present they are only taking search requests enquiries that meet certain criteria – see their website for further information.

The Wiener Holocaust Library has a unique collection of material relating to prisoners of war’s experiences in camps in Europe, the USA and in Britain – see their website for more information.

Contact the American National Archives and Records Administration for records of over 100,000 helpers and correspondence files of the Allied Screening Commission, and the routing slips of the Commission’s paying and investigating officers.