This guide contains advice on where and how to look for records of nurses, surgeons and other medical staff who served with the Royal Navy. Most of these records are held at The National Archives, but some material is held by the Ministry of Defence and the Red Cross.
What do I need to know before I start?
Before 1884 the Royal Navy generally employed male nurses only.
The majority of naval nurses in the First and Second World Wars served in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service.
Surgeon was an officer rank.
Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service registers and Royal Navy medical officers service records (1894-1929)
View catalogue descriptions and references for an assortment of online records of naval nurses, surgeons and other medical staff serving between 1894 and 1929, all in series ADM 104. These eleven volumes of records include:
- a service register for Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (1894-1929)
- four volumes of registers for Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service Reserve (1914-1919)
- five volumes of Royal Navy surgeons and other medical officers service records (1891-1926)
- a register of service for massage sisters who worked in naval hospitals (1917-1925)
These online records are digital microfilm. This means you cannot use our catalogue to search them by name. You must first download the digital microfilm and then scroll through the document to find a name.
Click on the ‘Details’ links for access, free of charge, to the downloadable documents. Please be aware that these are very large files and only suitable for download on a fast and unlimited broadband connection.
Registers of recipients of the Royal Red Cross (1883-1994)
Search and download entries from the registers of recipients of the Royal Red Cross (WO 145/1-3) at Findmypast.co.uk (£). The Royal Red Cross was established as an award in 1883 for women who showed special devotion while nursing the sick and wounded of the British Army and Royal Navy. It was not awarded to men until 1977.
The registers provide very few biographical details but do usually include the nurse’s service number, the job title or position and sometimes the place of work or residence. The date the award was announced in the London Gazette is also usually included. These registers document around 9,000 individuals over a period of more than 110 years.
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 (£).
Campaign medals (1793-1949)
Consult the campaign medal and award rolls in ADM 171. You will need to know the campaign and the relevant nursing service to use these records. These do not usually contain biographical information.
Records in other archives and organisations
Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (1929-present)
Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service record from the Ministry of Defence. These are not available to members of the general public, though next of kin may request access to them.
Voluntary Aid Detachment records (1914-1920, 1939-1945)
Contact the British Red Cross museum and archives for the service record of a person who served in a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) during the First or Second World War.
Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs) were non-military organisations created in 1909 and based on the Japanese voluntary aid system. Members were trained by the St John Ambulance Brigade and served alongside all branches of the armed forces.