How to look for records of... Royal Navy ratings of the First World War

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  • Some

This is a short guide to finding records of Royal Navy ratings that served during the First World War.

Servicemen of the Royal Navy are rated according to the skills they have and the tasks they perform, hence the term ‘rating’. A rating is the most junior class of seaman in the Royal Navy – lower in rank than both commissioned officers and warrant officers. Types of rating include:

  • Able Seaman or Ordinary Seaman
  • Petty Officer
  • Quartermaster

How to get started

To uncover details of a rating’s service in the First World War you should begin by searching the Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea database, the most comprehensive set of surviving records for ratings.

For details of where and when specific ships were involved in combat, among many other things, you should consult our guide to Royal Navy operations in the First World War.

Online records

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. As of June 2021, the database contains 32,000 records and is continually being updated. Once completed (scheduled for November 2022), 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.

Registers of seamen’s services (enlisted 1853–1928)

A Royal Navy rating serving during the First World War may have a record among the registers of seamen’s services (see below), some of which can cover service up to 1950.

There are further Registers of Seamen’s Services for 1925-1928, in series ADM 362, and Continuous Record (CR) cards from 1929-1950, in series ADM 363.

Search and download the Royal Navy Registers of seamen’s services for ratings, by name or official number, on our catalogue (£) within the series ADM 188. Some of these records can cover service up to 1950.

These registers of seamen’s services can include information such as:

  • date and place of birth
  • ships served on with dates
  • character and ability
  • medals awarded

Medal rolls (1793–1972)

Search by name for information about the award of campaign, long service and good conduct medals in the Royal Navy medal rolls (ADM 171) using (£). These rolls do not usually contain biographical information.

Digital microfilm copies of these records are also available to download and browse from our catalogue free of charge.

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 (£).

Service records for ratings of the Royal Navy Armoured Car Division in Russia, 1915-1918

Look at ADM 116/1717 for service records of ratings who served in the Royal Navy Armoured Car Division in Russia, 1915-1918.

Records in other archives and organisations

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.

Other resources


Search for an announcement of a 19th- or 20th-century gallantry award in the London Gazette on The Gazette website.


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 shop.

Appendix – Service numbers issued between 1894 and 1923

From January 1894 service numbers were no longer issued in a simple sequential order and were instead assigned according to the branch of the service in which the individual served. From this date onwards, therefore, service numbers also reveal something about a seaman’s job.

The following table shows which sets of service numbers were assigned to the respective branches of the service:

Service numbers issued 1894-1907 Service numbers issued 1908-1923 Branch of service numbers assigned to
178001 – 240500 J 1 – J 110000 Seamen and Communications ratings
268001 – 273000 M 1 – M 38000 Engine Room Artificers
276001 – 313000 K 1 – K 63500 Stokers
340001 – 348000 M 1 – M 38000 Artisans and Miscellaneous
350001 – 352000 M 1 – M 38000 Sick Berth Staff and Ship’s Police
353001 – 366450 L 1 – L 15000 Officer’s Stewards, Officer’s Cooks and Boy Servants