England First World War Records (National Institute)

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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

Army officers in WWI can be found in two main series:

  • Ÿ 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

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:

  • ŸAttestation Sheet. Ÿ
  • Statement of Services, with very detailed account of career, postings, promotions etc. up to discharge.
  • ŸMilitary 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. Ÿ
  • 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. Ÿ
  • 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.
  • Ÿ 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!

  • ŸMiscellaneous 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
FamilySearch Catalog

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).


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.