WW1 UK Service Records

The first thing to note is that the World War 1 service records available are not complete. I had ajb war recordpictorial 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
  • Age
  • Birthplace
  • Occupation
  • 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
  • Injuries
  • Medals
  • 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.

British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards

The British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index cards can be used to fill in the gaps of your ancestor’s WW1 military career and outline the medals that they would have received. They do not however contain any biographical information as such so if you are researching a fairly common name you will need to have found out information such as their regiment beforehand.

The Medal Rolls Index currently contains approximately 4.8 million people, which is nearly all of the total collection. The records can be searched by first and last name and Corps, Unit or Regiment. These cards were created by the Army Medal Office (AMO) of the United Kingdom in Droitwich near the close of World War I (WWI). The cards are available to search and view either at the National Archives or through Ancestry.

The collection also includes:

  • most British Army officers
  • Indian Army personnel
  • British Army nurses
  • Royal Flying Corps personnel
  • Royal Naval Division personnel
  • some civilians

About the Index Cards:

There is both a front and back side to each card. Cards are arranged alphabetically by soldiers’ surnames. There are a few different card forms that were used, so the amount of information recorded will vary. However, for the majority of the time the type of information that may be found on the cards includes:

  • Name of soldier
  • Regiment
  • Corps
  • Rank(s)
  • Regiment number(s)
  • Name of medal(s) received

If you are lucky you will find:

  • Roll and page numbers (references to the original AMO medal rolls)
  • Theatre of war served in and date of entry
  • Date of enlistment
  • Date and reason of discharge
  • Remarks

There is no date of birth or address given so you will already need to know something about their military career.

To find out more visit the National Archives website or Ancestry.