How to look for records of... Soldiers in African forces under British control
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
- This is a brief guide to help you research personnel in African armed forces. The records are comprehensive and varied, though sometimes complicated.When former British colonies gained independence from the United Kingdom, their governments assumed responsibility for all records relating to their armed forces, with a few exceptions. Most records are therefore held by the national archive of the country in question.This guide will help you find any information which exists.
What do I need to know before I start?
Try to find out:
- the name and rank of the person
- where they served
- a date range to help focus the search
Campaign and award medals (1877-1953)
Look in the regimental medal rolls (WO 100) for a person in the African forces who received a medal using Ancestry.co.uk (£).
Browse the long service and good conduct award registers (WO 102) in Discovery (£), our catalogue.
Medal index cards (1914-1920)
Search the First World War army medal index cards (WO 372) for a soldier serving in African force who received a campaign medal or gallantry award.
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 (£).
South African War (1899-1902)
Browse our catalogue for service records and attestation papers for men who joined the Imperial Yeomanry, a British regiment raised specifically for the Boer War, in WO 128. The records are arranged by regimental number. There are indexes to these records in WO 129.
Look in WO 126 and WO 127 for records of units raised in South Africa which include details of men who enrolled. These are arranged alphabetically by unit name.
King’s African Rifles (1897-1953)
The King’s African Rifles was formed from various East African forces in 1902 and was based in Kenya.
Browse the registers of correspondence relating to the formation and affairs of the King’s African Rifles in CO 581, CO 582, CO 623, CO 624, and CO 820.
Royal West African Frontier Force (1900-1912)
The Royal West African Frontier Force was formed from various West African forces in 1900.
Browse correspondence relating to the formation and affairs of the Royal West African Frontier Force in CO 442 and CO 820.
Royal African Corps (1800-1819 and 1822-1840)
The Royal African Corps was formed in 1800 under Colonel John Fraser.
Browse the general muster books and pay lists of the Royal African Corps and Royal African Colonial Corps in WO 12.
Records in other archives and organisations
Records held abroad
Many service and operational records for African forces are held by the national archive of the relevant nation.
Find the service number of a man in the Imperial Yeomanry, Lovats Scouts and Scottish Horse in the Boer War, 1899-1902 on the BritishMedals website.
Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.
William Spencer, ‘Army Records’ (The National Archives, 2008)
‘South African Field Force Casualty List, 1899-1902’ (London, 1972)
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