MOD Records Project
After discussions spanning a number of years, in February 2021 the Ministry of Defence (MOD) began the transfer of just under 10 million personnel records to The National Archives for permanent preservation. The records will be transferred to Kew in batches over the next 6 years.
The records included in this collection cover personnel in all three services, Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, where the individual has a date of birth prior to or up to 1939. They include around 500 000 with First World War service and the vast majority of those who served in the Second World War. These records are of national significance which is why both MOD and The National Archives are working to ensure that their long-term preservation can be assured before they are made accessible to public both online and on site at Kew.
This is the biggest and most complex transfer of public records in our history. In an average year, we will take in approximately 1.5 linear kilometres of physical records from government departments. These service records will require us to take in an additional 33 linear kilometres of physical records over the life of the project. We know the project carries significant operational and logistical overheads, but this is an incredible opportunity allowing us to develop an understanding of the records and the information they hold.
We are aware that many people are keen to access them as soon as possible e.g., military historians and those researching their family tree. However, there is necessarily a lot of work that takes place before these newly acquired records can make it to our reading rooms.
To begin, once the records are transferred to us we must ensure that all the material can be stored safely and to archival standards. In practice, this means removing them from their original packaging and placing them in to specially made archival boxes that will keep the records free from any degradation or damage. In addition, we will index and catalogue all the records so researchers can locate them and with almost 10 million records, this is a significant task.
As these are personnel records, they naturally contain a range of personal data including medical information. To protect the information in these records, closure will apply until 115 years past the date of birth of the individual. Whether or not the material can be open to all or closed fully or in part will be assessed on this basis or upon request under relevant data protection and freedom of information laws.
Staff across The National Archives are working hard to ensure that these documents are suitably preserved and kept in conditions which allow researchers to have access to them. To that end, we are also looking at how we can provide the widest possible access to these important documents and are actively exploring various options, such as digitisation. This takes time, which is why, despite the documents beginning to arrive in Kew in February, we have not yet been able to allow access.
We will give updates via our social media platforms on how our work is progressing and when we expect to make them available in our public reading rooms.