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

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a 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 source of surviving records for ratings.

For information on Royal Navy operations, with details of where and when specific ships were involved in combat, among many other things, you should consult our guide to Royal Navy operational records 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, birth data or a range of other search options. The database, a work in progress, currently contains 41,000 records and is compiled largely from records held at The National Archives. There is no charge for access.

Royal Navy ratings’ service records for ratings enlisted 1853–1929

Search by name or official number and download Royal Navy ratings service records of several different kinds from our catalogue (£).

The records covered by this search include three series that cover First World War service:

  • Registers of Seamen’s Services, for enlistments from 1873 to 1924, in series ADM 188
  • Registers of Seamen’s Services, for enlistments from 1925-1928, in series ADM 362
  • Continuous Record (CR) cards, for enlistments up to 1929 but service as late as 1950, in series ADM 363

These records can include information such as:

  • date and place of birth
  • ships served on with dates
  • character and ability
  • medals awarded
  • physical characteristics on entry
  • any wounds suffered
  • date of death if it occurred during service

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