British prisoners of war, Brandenburg 1917

Do you need help researching your soldier ancestor? If the answer is yes, read on. As well as publishing this website, I also carry out research.

First the bad news. There is no single nominal roll, archive collection or database of soldiers who served in the British Army. The data on this British Army Ancestors website has been compiled from many sources, mostly from records housed in The National Archives, but there are gaps.

Records for men who served in the British Army to 1913 are held mostly in WO 96 and WO 97 at The National Archives and you will find links to those records here. However, before these papers ever reached the National Archives, they had been ruthlessly weeded. If a soldier died on active service, his record was destroyed. If news reached the Ministry of Pensions that a soldier had died after he left the army, his record was also destroyed.

Even where papers do survive, this may just be an attestation paper.

Records for the First World War are held in WO 363 and WO 364 at The National Archives but around 60% of the records now housed in WO 363 were destroyed in bombing during the Second World War. Records for men who were still in the army in 1920 or enlisted in 1920 or later are still with the Ministry of Defence and can be requested.

The net result is that between them, over-zealous Whitehall clerks and the German bomb-aimers of 1940 have contrived to carve large chunks out of British Army records.

But don’t despair.

The good news is that despite these gaps it is still usually possible to fill in some details about British soldiers. Clicking on the blue buttons (below) that you’ll see against every record on this site will lead you to some information although you’ll normally need to pay to view that information on paid websites like Findmypast or The National Archives.  

Remember too that whilst millions of records have been published online over the years, there are millions of other records that are still housed in regimental, county or national archives. Muster rolls and pay lists, for example, thousands of them, are all housed at The National Archives in Kew and provide valuable information on Victorian soldiers for whom no service record may survive. To view these muster you’ll need to go to Kew or hire a researcher.

It will cost you nothing to ask me a question.

As well as having established the British Army Ancestors website and successful blogs such as Army Service Numbers 1881-1918, British Army Medals and Army Ancestry Research I am an experienced military researcher and have helped thousands of people.

Drop me a line if you need help with your own British Army Ancestor: paul@british armyancestors.co.uk