Photograph of British army officer (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/454)

This is a brief guide to researching British army records for an officera senior member of staff in the armed forces who served up to 1913. These records are varied and plentiful and the vast majority are available at The National Archives.

Officer ranks include Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel, Brigadier and General. The Ministry of Defence website gives more detail.

This guide will help you to find out if the information you are looking for exists, and if it does where to find it or more information about it.

  • What records can I see online?

    • Officers' service records (1764-1913)

      Search officersofficer - a senior member of staff in the armed forces' service recordsservice record - a document recording the career of an individual in the armed forces by name in WO 25 and WO 76. Please note, these record descriptions have been created from a card index which was not comprehensive and may contain some errors.

      Narrow your search by using quotation marks to find a person's full name, such as "John Williams".

      Please note, this is a search across the entire catalogue description of each record, not just the name. A search for someone called Barnes, for example, may give some results for people born in Barnes.

    • Alternatively browse WO 76 and WO 25 by regiment in the catalogue, and select individual pieces (such as WO 76/1 or WO 25/2) to view on digital microfilmdocuments digitised directly from microfilm, delivered as large pdf files sometimes up to 800 pages long.

    • Printed annual army lists (1754-1879)

      Browse the printed army lists (WO 65) available as digital microfilm via Discovery, our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, and other national bodies. They are arranged by regiment, of the regular army only, and give the names of officers with dates of their commissions. They are indexed from 1766, but engineer and artillery officers are only included in the index from 1803.

    • Campaign medals (1793-1949)

      Search by name online in the campaign medal and award rolls (WO 100) using Ancestry (£There may be a charge for accessing this information. Searching indexes may be free.), if you know a person was awarded a specific medal. The medal rolls do not usually contain biographical information. You can also search these records on microfilm at The National Archives at Kew, but you will need to know the campaigna military campaign and the relevant regimenta unit of infantry or cavalry forces in the British army to use these records.

  • 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 annual lists (1740-1879), quarterly lists (1879-1922) and monthly lists (1798-1940) for the regular army in this period. The monthly lists include officers of colonial, militia and territorial units. All lists contain dates of birth and promotions.

      Officers on half pay can be traced in the Army Lists, which give date of commencement.

      Annual lists:

      • arranged by regiment
      • name indexed from 1766 (except engineer and artillery officers)
      • name indexed for engineer and artillery officers from 1803

      Quarterly lists:

      • list officers in order of seniority
      • include details of officers' war service from April 1881

      Monthly lists:

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

      William Spencer, Army Records (The National Archives, 2008)

      Consult Hart's Army List by Henry George Hart (Smith, Elder & Co., 1839-1915), an unofficial alternative to the official Army List with details of officers' war service from 1839.

    • Websites

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

Did you know?

Although Britain has had a regular standing army since around 1660, there are few personnel records before the early 18th century.

The British Army did not keep records of individual officersofficer - a senior member of staff in the armed forces which spanned their entire careers. You will have to look at a number of sources to piece together an officer's experiences.