This guide provides advice on searching for records of Royal Naval Reserve personnel. The Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) was established in 1859 and was made up of experienced officers and seamen from deep-sea merchant ships.
Service records for Royal Naval Reserve officers after 1920, and for ratings after 1955, are held by the Ministry of Defence. Only the subject of the record, or next of kin, may request access to them.
What do I need to know before I start?
If you are looking for the records of someone who served in the First World War it may be worth searching in the records of the Royal Naval Division. From 1914-1916 a number of Royal Naval Reserve officers and ratings served ashore in Flanders as infantry and formed the Royal Naval Division. In 1916 the Division was transferred to the army as the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division.
In general, and for any period, it will help if you can find out the following so that you can establish which sets of records to focus your search on:
- the rank of the person
- their service number
- the range of years during which they served
Ratings’ service records (1860-1955)
A rating is the most junior class of seaman in the Royal Navy.
Search and download (£) surviving ratings’ service records for 1908-1955 (BT 377/7) and a representative sample for 1860-1908 (BT 164) from Discovery, our catalogue. Only a small sample of service records for Royal Naval Reserve ratings survive for the period 1864 to 1908.
Royal Navy officers’ service record cards and files (c1840-c1920)
Download (£) selected RNR officers’ service records (ADM 340) from our catalogue.
Medal rolls (1914-1918)
Search by name for information about the award of honours, campaign medals and RNR long service medals in the Royal Navy medal roll (ADM 171) using Ancestry.co.uk (£). These rolls do not usually contain biographical information.
Digital microfilm copies of these records are also available to download and browse from our website free of charge. See ADM 171/70-72, ADM 171/77, ADM 171/92-3 and ADM 171/120-124.
Merchant seamen’s campaign medal records (1914-1918)
Some Royal Naval Reservists served in the Mercantile Marine Reserve. Download (£) from our catalogue, medal records of mercantile marine reservists within merchant seamen’s medal records (BT 351/1/1-2).
Officer medals (1939-1945)
Browse papers on awards to RNR officers during the Second World War in BT 164/23.
Records available only at The National Archives in Kew
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 (£).
Indexes to ratings’ service records (1908-1955)
Look in BT 377 for alphabetical name indexes to the service records which are arranged by service number. Some names appear only in indexes and not in records.
Miscellaneous information sources on ratings
Look at ADM 23/170 for information on Admiralty pensions granted to RNR ratings. Service records of Merchant seaman for the war period and Second World War naval operations records may also be useful.
Records in other archives and organisations
Officers’ service records (1921-present)
Consult the GOV.UK website to establish how to request a summary of an officers service record from the Ministry of Defence.
Records at the Fleet Air Arm Museum
Contact the Fleet Air Arm Museum about access to original Royal Naval Reserve ratings service records from 1909 to 1955, and officer record cards including: Executive (X), Engineers (E), Cadets and Warrant Officer Telegraphic.
The museum also holds crew books for Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) and Mercantile Fleet Auxiliary. These contain alphabetical indexes of ships, crew lists, rates of pay, and next of kin.
Consult the published Navy Lists to follow a Royal Naval Reserve officer’s career. RNR officers have been included since 1862. Confidential Navy Lists (ADM 177) contain information omitted during the world wars.
For RNR officers the Navy List gives name, rank, date of commission and seniority. It should also indicate names of ships served on.
Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list.
The books are all available in The National Archives’ reference library. You may also be able to find them in a local library. You can buy from a wide range of history titles in our bookshop.