How to look for records of... British Army officers after 1913

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

This is a brief guide to researching British army records for an officer after 1913. The National Archives has a substantial collection of records covering this period, but many other documents were destroyed or badly damaged. Some service records are still held by the Ministry of Defence. Officer ranks include Lieutanant, Captain, Major, Colonel, Brigadier and General. The Ministry of Defence website has more detail.

1. What do I need to know before I start?

The National Archives does not hold army service records for the Second World War. They are still with the Ministry of Defence.

There are over 217,000 British Army officers‘ service records for the First World War held by The National Archives. An officer’s file originally had three parts but two of these were destroyed by enemy action in September 1940. What remains was heavily weeded prior to 1940 and in many cases this means that nothing remains for many officers.

2. What records can I see online?

Campaign medal index cards (1914-1920)

Search and download (£) the index cards to First World War campaign medals awarded to army officer (WO 372).

Campaign medal rolls (1914-1920)

Search by name, regimental number and regiment the campaign medal rolls (WO 329) on Ancestry (£). You may find abbreviations on a roll entry – some of these abbreviations are explained on our army medal index card guide (see section above).

Not all officers applied for their campaign medals, so if an officer did not apply, there will be no medal index card. The campaign medal roll usually contains the same information as the medal index card, but it may also give the battalion number.

Silver War Badge rolls (1914-1920)

Search the Silver War Badge rolls (WO 329) on Ancestry (£) by recipients’ name or by badge number.

Recommendations for military honours and awards (1935-1990)

Search the recommendations for military honours and awards (£) to personnel of the British Army and dominions’ armies (WO 373).

British Army casualty lists (1939-1945)

Search the daily British Army casualty lists (WO 417) on Findmypast.co.uk. These cover British Army officers, other ranks and nurses. They state the individuals’ rank, service number, date of becoming a casualty and type of casualty. It sometimes gives the unit/battalion number – you can use this to locate a unit war diary.

The term ‘casualty’ covers anyone in the British Army who was killed, wounded, missing, or was a prisoner of war.

3. What records can I find only at The National Archives at Kew?

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

Officers’ service records (1914-1922)

Search our catalogue for references to officers’ service records by name in record series WO 339 and WO 374:

The content of the files varies – some have simply a note of the date of death whilst others contain attestation papers for those commissioned from the ranks, a record of service, personal correspondence and other items.

Alternatively, click on the links below to search more specifically for references to:

  • records of officers who finished serving before 1922, by first and last name in WO 339. WO 339 includes officers who were given a temporary commission in the regular army, those who were commissioned into the Special Reserve of officers and those who were regular army officers before the war.
  • records of officers given a Territorial Army commission or a temporary commission, by first and last name, regiment and rank, in WO 374.
  • officer’s long numbers in the online indexes in WO 338 – this is only worthwhile if you have not found anything in WO 339 or WO 374 (please be aware that the online indexes are very large files and only suitable for download on a fast and unlimited broadband connection). Long numbers for officers in the WO 374 series start with the first letter of the surname and the first vowel of the surname. The number for Anderson, for example will start with AE (references starting with a P refer to records which are still held by the Ministry of Defence). To search WO 374 with an officers name and number, remove the initials from the number. For example if the long number is AE/279, simply search for Anderson 279.

Famous army officers

Service records of a few notable individuals such as Wilfred Owen and Field Marshal Douglas Haig are in WO 138.

4. What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Service records (1922-present)

Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service record from the Ministry of Defence (MOD). These are available to next of kin and members of the general public on request to the MOD, provided the subject is no longer living. An administrative fee applies.

Sandhurst registers (1783-1964)

Visit the Sandhurst Collection website to search by name and download (£) the registers of cadets who attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst 1783-1964. These contain the cadets’ dates of attendance and may also include other personal information such as date of birth, school attended, religion and their father’s profession.

Indian Army records

Records of officers in the Indian Army are held at the British Library.

5. What other resources will help me find information?

Published British Army Lists

Consult the official published Army Lists to trace an officer’s career in the British Army. There are monthly lists (1798-1940), quarterly lists (1879-1922 and 1940-1950) and half-yearly lists (1923-1950), as well as the ongoing modern Army List (1951-), for the regular army in this period. All the monthly lists and the quarterly lists for 1940-1950 include officers of colonial, militia and territorial units. All lists contain dates of birth and promotions.

Monthly lists:

  • name indexed from 1867
  • provide some details of a regiment’s location

Quarterly lists:

  • list officers in order of seniority
  • include details of officers’ war service from April 1881 (in January issue only, 1909-1922)

Half-yearly lists:

  • list officers in order of seniority
  • January issue includes retired officers
  • issued annually only, from February 1947

Websites

Search the London Gazette on The Gazette website for information about British Army officers’ commissions and gallantry awards.

Other books

Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Read First World War Army Service Records by William Spencer (The National Archives, 2008).