The first thing to note is that the World War 1 service records available are not complete. I had pictorial evidence that showed my great – grandfather served in WW1 but could find no service record. In the end I found out about his regiment and where he was stationed through his divorce papers!
In 1940 there was a World War Two bombing raid on the War Office in London where the records were held. During this raid approximately 60 percent of the 6.5 million records was destroyed by fire. The surviving service records suffered water damage following the bombing raid, all but were microfilmed by The National Archives. Some are ragged and difficult to read but if you do find one for an ancestor they are a great source of information.
The records should include:
- soldiers discharged between 1914 and 1920
- soldiers killed in action between 1914 and 1920
- soldiers who served in the war and died of wounds or disease without being discharged to pension
- soldiers who were demobilised at the end of the war
Information available in these records includes:
- Name of soldier
- Marital status
- Previous experience in the armed forces including territorial forces
- Date and place of attestation
- Physical description
- Name and address of next of kin
- Name, date and place of birth of any children
- Places and dates of campaigns
- Bounties awarded
- Regimental number
There is a free index of WW1 service records at FamilySearch but to see the images themselves you will either need to be a paid member of Ancestry or Findmypast, or to go in person to the National Archives at Kew.
The British Army also contained regiments from parts of the former colonies. The service records in WO 363 and WO 364 at TNA include regiments such as:
- the West African Field Force (such as Nigerian, Gold Coast, Sierra Leonean and Gambian Regiments. Covers only British Army non-commissioned officers of European descent)
- British West Indies Regiment
- the West India Regiment
Service records for soldiers serving in the armies of Commonwealth countries (such as Canada, New Zealand or South Africa) will be located in their respective archives.