Photograph of prisoners of war in the First World War (Catalogue reference: FO 383/413/20)

This is a brief guide to researching records of British prisoners of war during the First World War and before. Records of British prisoners of war for this period are varied and can be complicated. They are also incomplete. Those records which do exist are available either online or at The National Archives. This guide does not cover prisoners of war in British hands.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • the name of the person
      • the rank and regiment (where applicable)
      • a date range and location to help focus your search
  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Incomplete list of prisoners of war

      Contact the International Committee of the Red Cross who hold an incomplete list of known PoWs and internees of all nationalities for both World Wars.

    • List of prisoners of war held in regimental museums

      It is possible that the soldier's regiment kept or has since compiled its own list of prisoners of war. Search ARCHON for the location and details of regimental museums.

    • Records held locally

      Search the Access to Archives (A2A) and National Register of Archives (NRA) databases to find records held in local archives.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Books

      Read the List of British Officers taken prisoner in the various Theatres of War by the military agents Cox and Co. to establish whether an officer was a prisoner of war.

      The list covers the British Army, Royal Air Force, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Naval Division. The book gives:

      • the name
      • the rank of the officer
      • the date when he went missing
      • where and when he was interned (but not the specific camp/s)
      • the date of his repatriation
      • the date and place of death if the officer died while prisoner

      Read the Guide to the Materials for American History to 1783 by C M Andrews (New York, 1965) for details of British troops captured during the American Revolutionary War and during earlier military and naval actions in North America.

    • Websites

      Browse the Long, Long Trail website for information on tracing a person during the First World War.

      Consult the London Gazette on The Gazette website for British PoWs captured during the Crimean War and by the Boers during the South African War. These are incomplete and generally name officers only and are arranged under regiment.

Did you know?

An estimated 192,000 British and Commonwealth captives were taken during the First World War. There is no comprehensive list covering all of these prisoners of war, and any documents which are known to survive only cover a fraction of those who were captured.

There is very little information on prisoners of war who were liberated after the Armistice on 11 November 1918.

When searching reports for a prisoner of war, you may find information on a person's:

  • unit
  • home address
  • details of capture
  • activities before and after capture

Approximately 750 pages of interviews and reports on other ranks who were prisoners of war during the First World War are known not to have survived.

Upon repatriationreturn or restoration to a citizen's own country, officers were required to detail the circumstances of their capture. If you know an officer was a prisoner of war, their service record may have their capture report with it.

There are no known official or published sources to help determine whether an ordinary serviceman or Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) was a PoW.

Minimal details may be recorded:

  • on the service record which may supply dates of capture and/or release
  • on the medal index cards in WO 372