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Service records of officers in the British army
People - 6 individual histories
Private/Army: Thomas Aageson
Officer/Army: JRR Tolkien
Officer/RAF: Indra Lal Roy
Rating/Navy: James Dellbridge
Member/WAAC: Annie Ellwood
Officer/Army (executed): Eric Poole

Officer's service record: J R R Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa on 3 January 1892. He went to England with his family after his father's death in 1896 and grew up in the West Midlands. After his mother's death in 1904, Tolkien and his brother were cared for in a local boarding house under the watchful eye of a Catholic priest. A prodigious linguist, Tolkien entered Exeter College, Oxford in 1911.

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Outbreak of war

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Tolkien did not rush to enlist in the British army after the outbreak of war in August 1914. Instead he completed his studies at Oxford, in June 1915, before finally enlisting as a second lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers later in the same year.

After a number of dull months at various training camps in England, Tolkien embarked for France in June 1916. He saw action almost immediately at the BattlesBattle of the Somme (July-November 1916), which claimed the lives of two of his closest friends.


Trench fever

After four months in the trenches - a period that strongly influenced the world that he later created in books such as The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of Rings (1954-55) - Tolkien fell victim to the typhus-like condition known as 'trench fever' and returned to England in November. Unable to fully shake off its debilitating effects, he spent the rest of war either in hospital or in home service camps, where he did sufficiently well to earn promotion to the rank of lieutenant.

The papers in Tolkien's service record file (WO 339/34423) are largely concerned with the various health problems that dominated his time in the army during the First World War. There are numerous reports made by army medical boards between December 1916 and September 1918 on Tolkien's recovery from trench fever - a slow process punctuated by relapses.

The file also contains the document (dating from 22 November 1916) confirming his initial return to England from France because of illness, and two short letters written by Tolkien himself (in January and February 1917), in which he informs the Glossary - opens new windowWar Office that he is once again fit for duty.

J R R Tolkien application for commission - opens new window
Army commission application(170k)


J R R Tolkien's trench fever - opens new window
Trench fever
(service record
and letter)


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