How to look for records of... Volunteers and Territorials
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide to discover how to find records of people serving in the Territorial Army and its predecessors, from the late 18th century until the mid-20th century.
Records from the Second World War and later are held by the Ministry of Defence.
For information about the Militia or the Special Reserve, see our Militia research guide.
2. What is the Territorial Army?
The Territorial Army, renamed the Army Reserve in 2013, is an army of volunteers which supports the British Army. Volunteer units have existed for centuries, but in 1908 they were merged to form the Territorial Force.
Members of the Territorial Force were mobilised in the First World War and served alongside the regular army.
In 1920 the Territorial Force units were formed into the Territorial Army. The Territorial Army was mobilised again in the Second World War.
3. Finding records – general tips
Comprehensive collections of records relating to the Territorial Army and its predecessors have not survived. Therefore it might be difficult to trace a particular person.
Many records are in local archives. Search the Find an archive directory for local archives or regimental museums.
There are various types of Territorial and volunteer records at The National Archives, including personnel service records. However, many of these records are not searchable by personal name. Search Discovery (£), our catalogue using keywords such as:
- other unit names
Refine your search by department – most relevant records are in the War Office collection (WO).
4. How to find Territorial Army service records for the First and Second World Wars
You can find members of the Territorial Force amongst the British Army service records for the First World War.
Search military records (£) of non-commissioned officers and other ranks on Ancestry.co.uk.
Search and download (£) British Army medal index cards in Discovery, our catalogue to find records of men awarded the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal.
Find a Territorial officer’s service record by searching for his name within WO 374.
Second World War service records are still held by the Ministry of Defence. Visit the GOV.UK website for information about requesting access to a summary of a person’s record.
5. How to find other records of the Territorial Army
Most records of the Territorials are in local archives and regimental museums. Search for local archives and regimental museums using Find an archive.
The National Archives has very few records of the Territorials. For example:
- administrative records in WO 70, including muster books of some London and Middlesex volunteer and Territorial units
- records of the organisation of the Territorials in WO 32
6. Which volunteer units existed before the Territorial Army was created?
There were various types of volunteer units before 1908 including:
- the Volunteers (1794-1813, revived as the Rifle Volunteers in 1859)
- the Yeomanry (1804 onwards)
- the Imperial Yeomanry (1899-1902)
In 1908 all of the above units were consolidated as the Territorial Force.
The Militia (created by the Militia Act of 1757) was also a volunteer force, but it remained separate from the Territorials. In 1908 it became the Special Reserve. See our Militia research guide for more information.
7. How to find records of the Volunteers
Use the printed Army Lists (available in some research libraries) to trace the career of a Volunteer officer. Look up officers’ commissions in the London Gazette using The Gazette website.
The National Archives has some records of the Volunteers up to 1859, though coverage is patchy. Consult:
- muster books and pay lists in WO 13/4160-4621
- muster rolls of some London and Middlesex regiments in WO 70
- lists of officers’ commissions in HO 51
- pension records in PMG 13 and WO 23
After 1859 records of the Rifle Volunteers are very rare and are mostly held in local archives or private collections. Search for archives using Find an archive.
However, you can find some records at The National Archives:
- pay lists in WO 13/4622-4675
- regimental books of the Paddington Rifles in WO 70/1-21
- registers of decorations and medals in WO 330/3-4 and WO 102/21
- medal rolls for the City of London Imperial Volunteers for the South African (Second Boer) War can be found in WO 100/231
8. How to find records of the Yeomanry
The Yeomanry were mounted on horseback and served at home only. Most surviving records are in private hands or regimental museums. Search Find an archive to find local record offices and regimental museums that may contain relevant records.
The National Archives has a few records of the Yeomanry including: muster rolls in
9. How to find records of the Imperial Yeomanry
The Imperial Yeomanry was raised in 1899 for the South African (Second Boer) War.
Officers’ records have not survived, but you can use the printed Army Lists (available in some research libraries) to get an outline of service.
Look up details of officers’ commissions in the London Gazette using The Gazette website.
You can find records of some other ranks who left the Imperial Yeomanry to join the regular army in the Royal Hospital Chelsea pension records (WO 97) on findmypast.co.uk (£).
Search by name in the campaign medal rolls (WO 100) on ancestry.co.uk (£).
Search the British Medals database to find the names, ranks, numbers and units of around 40,000 men who served with the Imperial Yeomanry. You can also look up an individual by name in the published source The Roll of the Imperial Yeomanry, 2 volumes by Kevin Asplin (the author, 2000).
For records of the Imperial Yeomanry serving in South Africa search for:
- registers and casualty books by regimental number in WO 129
- attestation and discharge documents from WO 128 on findmypast.co.uk (£)
10. Further reading
Read ‘Records of the Militia and Volunteer Forces 1757-1945’ by William Spencer (Public Record Office, 1997).