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British Battles

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Military ancestors

Army

Introduction

Copious records exist of those who served in the army, going back as far as the Civil War. In order to trace an individual it is vital to know whether he served as a commissioned officer or as an ordinary soldier (the latter category includes sergeants, corporals etc). The type of records that were kept and their arrangement is entirely different for these two categories of individual.

Records of service of those who served in the army after the First World War are not yet available to the public. Where an individual served both during and after (i.e. from 1921 onwards) the First World War, it is highly unlikely that any part of his service record will be at The National Archives. Enquiries from the individual concerned or, if deceased, from the next-of-kin should be directed to the Ministry of Defence.

Records related to those who served in the Indian Army are not at The National Archives, but are held with the Oriental and India Office Collections at the British Library. The records of those who served with the British army in India may be found at The National Archives amongst the material described below.

Officers

Some information about any officer, from 1754 onwards, should be available from the published Army Lists.

  • Read the guide for further information on British Army Lists
  • Read the guide to find out about surviving records of service if your ancestor served as a commissioned officer between 1660 and 1913
  • Read the guide if your ancestor served as a commissioned officer during the First World War. Where an officer served both during and after (i.e. from April 1922 onwards) the First World War, it is unlikely that his service record will be at The National Archives. Enquiries from the officer concerned or, if deceased, from the next-of-kin should be directed to the Ministry of Defence

Mention of the activities of officers during both the First and Second World Wars may often be found amongst the war diaries of their units. To locate these, it is essential to know the name and number of the unit (battalion as well as regiment needs to be known) and, for the Second World War, the theatre of operations. Read the guide for information relevant to the First World War; read the guide for information relevant to the Second World War.

Other ranks

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The activities of ordinary soldiers during both the First and Second World Wars are not often mentioned in the war diaries of their units, but interesting background details of the unit's activities will usually be given. To locate the war diaries, it is essential to know the name and number of the unit (battalion as well as regiment needs to be known) and, for the Second World War, the theatre of operations. Read the guide for information relevant to the First World War and Second World War.

Other categories

  • Read the guide for information about soldiers who died during either the First or Second World Wars
  • Read the guide for information about British or Commonwealth soldiers who were prisoners of war during, or prior to, the First World War
  • Read the guide for information about British soldiers who were prisoners of war during the Second World War
  • Read the guide for information about prisoners of war held by the British between 1698 and 1949
  • Records relating to just a sample of those who received pensions from service during the First World War have been preserved. Read the guide for details of pensions
  • Read the guide to find out about records for those court martialled during the First World War
  • Read the guide for information about those court martialled from the 17th to 20th centuries
  • Read the guide to find out about the records of service of women during the First World War. Read the guide for information about the records of army nurses

Only some records of those who served in the militia have come to The National Archives.

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