England First World War Records (National Institute)
The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
First World War Records
Army officers in WWI can be found in two main series:
- Those on temporary commission or in the Territorial Army are in class WO 374 alphabetically by surname.
- Pre-war regular officers, and those commissioned into the Special Reserve or given an Emergency Commission are in class WO 339 to which there are name indexes in WO 338.
Less than 86% of the original documents regarding officers killed or discharged before 1922 have survived. Information usually includes the unit in which they served, date and place of birth, schooling, occupation, current address, name and address of the father, ability to ride, and any previous army service.
The major references for this period are Norman Holding’s three books and Fowler, Spencer and Tamblin’s Army Service Records of the First World War. Special indexes abound, for example for the Gallipoli Campaign (Gariépy), and one for all WWI soldiers run by Mrs. Grace Bevan. Her 4-yr-old, when asked what Mummy did, ventured, “I don’t really know, but I think she does something with soldiers!”
Other Ranks have two major series of records:
Unburnt WWI Soldiers Documents
Unburnt WWI Soldiers Documents WO 364
These are discharge files which were unaffected by the events of WWII and are for regular soldiers who served sometime between 1914 and 1920 and were discharged mainly for medical reasons. Some men enlisted as early as the 1890s, and some files contain death certificates up to the 1950s. The contents are similar to the WO 97 files but much more extensive, there being often 10 pages of information per soldier, including:
- Attestation Sheet.
- Statement of Services, with very detailed account of career, postings, promotions etc. up to discharge.
- Military History Sheet which includes a summary of service at home and abroad, education at military college, education certificate and instructional classes, campaigns, wounds and their effects, medals and decorations, injuries, name and address of next of kin, and particulars of wife, marriage and children’s births.
- Casualty Form, with embarkation and disembarkation dates and places, and admission to each field hospital etc. The next of kin and their address is frequently included.
- Regimental Conduct Sheet; drunkenness and riotous behaviour seem rather frequent, followed by a couple of day’s imprisonment! This portion may include extracts from proceedings of courts martial, as in the following example:
| One man in the Bedfordshire Training Dept in 1916 was tried at Ampthill for:|
I. Fraudulent Enlistment
II. When on active service offering violence to his superior officer, being in the execution of his office.
He was found guilty and was sentenced to be imprisoned with hard labour for one year and to be discharged from His Majesty’s Service and to be put under stoppages of pay until he has made good the sum of £1-11-7 in respect of loss of kit.
- Discharge Sheet and reason for discharge; one poor chap had these notes:
| Idiocy, mentally deficient. Does not understand questions, cannot learn his company drill. Cannot read and writing poor. Memory defective. Is not able to perform any military duties. Disability not due to military service.|
It is comforting to think that the army did have minimum standards, but one wonders how he got into the army in the first place!
- Miscellaneous items such as the letter from a mother of an under-age son claiming him back from the army.
These Soldiers Documents, comprising 8-10% of ordinary soldiers, are available on 4835 films starting with FHL film 1566061 (Aaron, Bart-Abbott, Alfred John Charles). Do a film/fiche search for this number and the whole set will come up; it will take a few minutes as there are so many films.
‘Burnt’ WWI Soldiers Documents
‘Burnt’ WWI Soldiers Documents WO 363
These are records for those volunteers and conscripts who survived the war, who died in action or of wounds received, or who were executed. Over 60% of WWI soldiers documents were lost during bombing in WWI. Those rescued are known as the burnt documents and comprise from 25-30% of ordinary soldiers and are being filmed by the GSU. There are currently well over 10,000 films available starting with FHL film 2068273 (Aageson, Thomas-Abba, Walter) as shown below. The arrangement is only roughly alphabetical thus if you don’t find your man look through the whole film as well as considering variant spellings and aliases.
CHART: Films of the Burnt Documents
|Letters||Numbers of Films||Starting Film#|
|A-E||7272||FHL film 2068273|
|F||1045||FHL film 1937138|
|G I J K||Not yet Filmed|| |
|H L M P|| Filmed but not yet available on
|N O, Q||732||FHL film 1937168|
|R||1008||FHL film 2228752|
|S||3335||FHL film 2198026|
|T||1422||FHL film 2191721|
|U-Z||2764||FHL film 1937244|
|3rd Collation A-Z||804||FHL film 2113221|
The records in WO 363 and 364 include ordinary soldiers, members of the Territorial Force and Special Reserve, as well as the Royal Flying Corps
WWI Women’s Service Records
WWI Women’s Service Records WO 398
There are some records available, such as the Military Records of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps also known as Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, which are on 240 films starting at FHL film 2113391.
WWI Pension Records
There is a large collection of records for pensions to the war disabled and to dependants of the dead and missing, all in PMG (Pay Master General) classes, as well as Pension case files in PIN 26.
WWI Military Service Tribunals
These were held to ascertain exemptions from military service on medical and other grounds and records are in Ministry of Health class MH 47.
Records after World War I
For those soldiers ending their service after 1920 the service person or their next of kin may apply to the Ministry of Defense. There is a non-refundable fee and details of what is available have been given by Norman Hurst (2000). The information given is extensive, the following is from one example:
CHART: Post-WWI Service Record
| Full name
|| Date and place of birth|
| Address on entry
|| Father’s name |
| Mother’s full maiden name
|| Occupation prior to entry |
| Date of commencement boy service
|| 10 Jan 1922 |
| Date and period of engagement
|| 1 May 1924 for 12 years|
| Personal description on entry and at age 18 years: |
| Includes height and chest measurement, hair and eye colour, complexion, and wounds scars and marks ( a tattoo). |
| Official service number |
| Ships and Shore establishments served on (19 with exact dates) |
| Discharged to shore 30 April 1936 when 12-year service expired. |
| Enrolled in Royal Fleet Reserve 1 May 1936 with (new service number) for period of 5 years.|
| Briefly mobilized
|| 28 Sep 1938-1 Oct 1938|
| Mobilized for war service
|| 31 Aug 1939|
| Ships and shore establishments served on (7 with exact dates) |
| Date of discharge
|| 9 Oct 1945|
| Reason for discharge
|| Released in Class A|
| Ratings held: Boy 2nd Class
|| 10 jan 1922|
| Boy 1st Class
|| 15 Jul 1922|
| Ordinary Seaman
|| 1 May 1924|
| Able Bodied Seaman
|| 1 Mar 1925|
| Sub Ratings: Seaman Topedoman
|| 4 Oct 1926|
| Acting Leading Torpedoman
|| 15 May 1934|
| Character Very good throughout, apart from 1935 when good |
| Good conduct badges issued
|| 1st—20 Sep 1939|
|| 2nd—20 May 1940|
|| 3rd—15 Aug 1940|
A CD-ROM Army Roll of Honour-World War II detailing British land forces deaths in the Second World War was reviewed by Richard Goring (Army Roll of Honour-World War II [CD-ROM review]. Family Tree Magazine. Vol 17 #12, pages 34 and 39).
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