How to look for records of... Deaths in the First and Second World Wars
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
This is an introductory guide to records of deaths of British and Commonwealth servicemen and women in the First and Second World Wars. It will also be useful in researching civilian casualties.
More than one million British military personnel died during the First and Second World Wars, with the First World War alone accounting for 886,000 fatalities. Nearly 70,000 British civilians also lost their lives, the great majority during the Second World War.
Please bear in mind that The National Archives does not hold death certificates.
What do I need to know before I start?
Try to find out:
- the name of the person
- the approximate date of death
- the branch of the armed forces and the unit, if applicable
Army Roll of Honour, 1939–1945
Search the Army Roll of Honour for details of British Army casualties in the Second World War (WO 304) on findmypast (£).
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, type of casualty and sometimes the unit/battalion number within which the individual served.
The term ‘casualty’ covers anyone in the British Army who was killed, wounded, missing, or was a prisoner of war.
Royal Navy registers of reports of deaths on ships (1893–1950)
Download, for free, digital microfilm copies of indexes to registers of reports of deaths on Royal Navy ships in ADM 104/102–108 and the respective registers themselves in ADM 104/109–118 and ADM 104/122–139. The registers include name, age and rank of each seaman, the ship on which they were serving at the time of their death, with the date, place and cause of their death.
Royal Navy registers of killed and wounded (1854–1911 and 1914–1929)
Download, for free, digital microfilm copies of the Royal Navy registers of killed and wounded 1854–1911 and 1914–1929 in ADM 104/144–149. Indexes to these records for 1915–1929 are in ADM 104/140–143. The registers include name, age and rank of seamen, the ship on which they were serving and the date, place and circumstances of their injury or death.
Shipping and Seamen Rolls of Honour, 1914–1918 and 1939–1945
Search the Shipping and Seamen Rolls of Honour for details of people who died or were declared ‘missing presumed dead’ in the service of the merchant marine fleets during the First and Second World Wars (BT 339) on Ancestry.co.uk (£).
Indexes to deaths in the armed forces, 1796–2005
Search indexes to registers of deaths in the armed forces on findmypast (£). The death certificates themselves can be obtained from the General Register Office.
French and Belgian death certificates for British military personnel, 1914–1919
Search for French and Belgian death certificates for British and Commonwealth soldiers and airmen who died outside the immediate war zone (RG 35/45-69) on BMD Registers (£). They are written in French or Flemish and not all records have survived.
Maritime war deaths, 1794–1964
Search selected maritime war deaths (£) on findmypast.co.uk by name. The online collection includes records series BT 334 which cover First and Second World war and ADM 242, ADM 184/43–54 and CUST 67/74 which cover the First World War period.
Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea database
Search the Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea database by name, service number and numerous other criteria. The database is continually being updated, and by the expected completion date of November 2018, it will contain information relating to all the Royal Navy officers and ratings that served in the First World War.
The database is being compiled largely from records held at The National Archives and there is no charge for access. It is a joint project between The National Archives, The National Maritime Museum and the Crew List Index Project with the help of a global team of volunteers.
Civilian War Dead, 1939–1945
Search or browse the list of 66,375 civilians killed in the Second World War on Ancestry (£), Commonwealth War Graves Commission or Genuki (for Northumberland, Durham and Yorkshire).
The list was taken from the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour and includes deaths on board ship and deaths abroad, including civilian deaths in prison camps. The original is held at Westminster Abbey.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
Lists of air casualties, 1918
Look in the lists of air casualties and related correspondence in AIR 1/860/204/5/423.
Allied air casualties recorded by German authorities, 1939–1945
Consult German record cards containing details of several thousand deceased allied airmen whose bodies were found by or near to their aircraft, having been shot down. This set of records, in series WO 416, is primarily of prisoners of war held by the Germans during the Second World War, but includes these records of deaths of individuals who were never prisoners of war but died on German or German-occupied soil. For further details, please see the WO 416 series description.
Lists and registers of deaths in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, 1914–1920
Consult the war graves rolls in ADM 242/7-10 for officers and ratings who died during the First World War. Details include the ship’s name, the cause of death and next of kin.
Enquiries into missing naval personnel, 1939–1945
Search by name, or ship name, the Admiralty Casualty Branch’s enquiries into missing personnel during the Second World War (ADM 358).
Records in other archives and organisations
Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service casualty cards
Visit the RAF Museum for incomplete records of casualties mainly from Britain or the Western Front. Details include the cause of death or injury, type of aircraft involved, and sometimes next of kin.
Records held locally
The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.
Read ‘Cross of sacrifice’ by S and B Jarvis (1993) for an alphabetical record of officers who died serving in British, Commonwealth and colonial regiments and corps, in all services.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was set up in 1917 to commemorate Commonwealth losses in the First World War; its remit later expanded to include the Second World War. Search the Debt of Honour Register (1914–1921 and 1939–1947) on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for a record of civilian and armed services’ war dead.
Consult Soldiers Died in the Great War (1914–1919) on findmypast (£) for records of officers and other ranks killed in the First World War.
Search Marquis de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour (1914–1918) for biographies of Army, Air Force and Navy personnel killed in the First World War on findmypast (£).
Search for the will of a soldier who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986 on probatesearch.service.gov.uk.
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