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First World War home page Service records for the First World War
Service records of soldiers in the British army
Servicer records of officers in the British army
Naval service records
Air force service records
Service records for women and medical personnel
Medals awards during the Frist World War
Court martials during the First World War
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Service records of officers in the British army

In August 1914, the officer class in the British army was a small and privileged élite numbering only 15,000 men. During the course of the war, a further 235,000 individuals were given either permanent or, more frequently, temporary commissions. The pressing need for an expanded officer corps enabled men from a wider variety of social and educational backgrounds to become 'temporary gentlemen'.

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Officers' records

The National Archives holds records for the majority of British army officers who served in the First World War. However, the files of officers who were still serving after 31 March 1922, as well as those of officers who rejoined the army after this date, are still held by the Ministry of Defence.

Moreover, the surviving officers' records themselves are incomplete. Of the three original parts to an officer's file - the record of service form (AF B 199), the confidential reports (AF B 196) and the correspondence file - only the latter generally still exists. The AF B 199s and 196s for officers commissioned after 1901, which were stored separately from the correspondence files at the War Office repository in Arnside Street, were destroyed in the German bombing raid of September 1940.

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The National Archives' largest collection relating to officers who served in the First World War is the WO 339 series, which contains files on nearly 140,000 individuals. Most of them pertain to the 'temporary gentlemen' who were commissioned as officers for the duration of the war only, among them PeopleJ R R Tolkien.

WO 339 also contains files on many of the individuals who already possessed commissions in the Glossary - opens new windowregular army before war broke out, as well as the records of British army 'other ranks' (i.e. non-officers) who received commissions in the Indian army between 1914 and 1918. Material on officers (both European and Indian) in the Indian army can also be found at the British Library. Most of the material in WO 339, it should be noted, consists ofcorrespondence about an officer and his service rather than a service record per se (see our guide to British Army officers after 1913).

Indian army officers - opens new window
Indian army: claim for
widow's pension

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Miscellanea and the famous
Officer's service record - opens new window
Officer's service record


The National Archives has various other record series that contain material on officers who served in the First World War. WO 374, for example, houses the files (arranged alphabetically) of officers of the Glossary - opens new windowTerritorial Force and other 'miscellaneous' officers (such as those who came out of retirement). WO 25 contains a small collection of officers' records from the Glossary - opens new windowRoyal Engineers, which covers commissioning dates up to and including 1915. The surviving service records for cavalry and infantry officers are located in WO 76, while WO 68 contains various records relating to the pre-war voluntary force, the Glossary - opens new windowMilitia.

WO 138 contains files on famous British army officers (such as Glossary - opens new windowField Marshal Douglas Haig and the poet Glossary - opens new windowWilfred Owen ) and files relating to officers who were either dismissed during the war or whose service led to official War Office enquiries after the war.

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The Army List

The National Archives also holds the Army List, a basic record of all officers holding commissions in the British army. It was published in various formats during the First World War (monthly, quarterly and bi-annually) and can be used to trace a particular officer in the regulars, the Territorials and the reserves.

The Army List also contain information about British army officers who saw service in Africa (in either the King's African Rifles or the West African Frontier Force) and the officers of the Glossary - opens new windowDominion forces that formed part of the British army. Further lists of officers can be found in the individual regimental histories that are available in The National Archives library.

For further information, see The National Archives' research guides.

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