Photo of two soldiers with flak gun (Catalogue reference: DEFE 2/502)

This is a brief guide to researching British army records for a soldier who was discharged after the beginning of the First World War. These records are informative and varied, though not all for this period survive.

While many records are available at The National Archives, some service recordsservice record - a document recording the career of an individual in the armed forces are currently held by the Ministry of Defence. The majority of the personnel records for the First World War have been destroyed or damaged.

Soldier ranks include Private, Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, and Warrant Officer. The Ministry of Defence website gives more detail.

  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Service records (1920-present)

      Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service recorda document recording the career of an individual in the armed forces from the Ministry of Defence. These are not available to members of the general public, but next of kin may request access to them.

    • Records of Guards regiments

      Guards regiments retain their own records which can be accessed by writing to the appropriate regimental headquarters.

    • Soldiers' effects ledgers (1901-1960)

      Contact the National Army Museum about soldiers' effects ledgers covering April 1901 to March 1960. These list monies owed to a soldier who died in service.

      You may be able to purchase a transcript from the ledgers which usually show

      • full name
      • regimental number
      • date, and sometimes place, of death
      • next of kin and monies paid to them

      Ledgers from 1901 to 1914 also show the soldier's trade and date of enlistment.

    • Selected soldier pension record cards

      Contact the The Western Front Association (WFA) to request a paid search into the selected soldier pension records cards. Read their guidance pages for more information about the records.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Websites

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

    • Books

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

      Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list. The books are all available in The National Archives' reference library, or you may be able to find them in a local library.

      You can also search our bookshop for a wide range of history titles.

Did you know?

The National Archives does not hold army service recordsservice record - a document recording the career of an individual in the armed forces for the Second World War.  They are still with the Ministry of Defence.

Many army service records between 1914 and 1920 do not exist as they were destroyed by enemy bombing in 1940 - only about 40% survive.

The condition of the surviving service records can vary greatly - some are badly damaged.

When searching for a person you may find information on:

The records of soldiers who served in the guards regiments (Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh) are accessible by writing to the appropriate Regimental Headquarters. Some of these records were destroyed by enemy bombing whilst stored in the Guards chapel during the Second World war.