This is a brief guide to researching British government and military records of a war involving Britain. Guidance is available for some major conflicts elsewhere on this site, but this guide will help you find general records not covered in other research signposts.
War records are wide ranging, sometimes incomplete and are kept in a variety of places. This guide will help you gain a general overview of the main sources of the information that exists, and where to find it. This guide is for people interested in the subject of a war as opposed to those interested in finding a specific person who fought in a conflict.
Cabinet papers (1915-1978)
Search records of the Cabinet Office (£) for the period 1915 to 1978 for documents concerning decisions and discussions before, during, and after a conflict or a war.
Our online records
Browse Discovery, our catalogue to find out what records are available digitally from The National Archives concerning conflicts and wars.
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 (£).
There are many records covering conflicts and wars at The National Archives. Try searching our catalogue with a specific term, name or subject to help focus your search.
Search and browse the following departments to gain an overview of a conflict from various government and military records:
- War Office (WO), Admiralty (ADM) and Air Force (AIR) – this is where most armed forces and general war records will be found
- Foreign Office (FO) – correspondence, policy and negotiation with other states
- Ministry of Defence (DEFE) – this mainly covers military and defence records after the Second World War
- Prime Minister’s Office (PREM) – mainly correspondence to and from the Prime Minister’s office
- Home Office (HO) – focuses on domestic and internal affairs
There is likely to be some overlap between separate departments on any given subject. For example, a decision made during the Second World War may have been informed by the Foreign Office (FO), discussed by the Cabinet (CAB) and Prime Minister (PREM) and then carried out by the army (WO), Royal Navy (ADM) and RAF (AIR).
Records in other archives and organisations
British Library records
Visit the British Library’s website to find out what information they hold on wars and conflicts involving Britain, especially those concerning Asia, Africa and the Pacific.
Imperial War Museum
Visit the Imperial War Museum’s website to find out what information they hold on wars and conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Records held locally
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.
Visit the National Archives’ shop for a range of historical books.