British troops, Second World War

Pictures of the 4th Border Regiment who held a large sector of the Somme during a vital stage in the German advance. They were an ordinary Infantry Battalion, cut off from the main body of the British Expeditionary Force. They commandeered vehicles and turned themselves into a motorised unit and went for the enemy for five days continuously with great success. Photo shows when moving around the countryside they were surrounded by the enemy and they all took up a defensive position by the roadside.

Is your British ancestor among the thousands of nurses, officers, and other ranks listed as casualties, prisoners of war, or missing during the Second World War? Explore these exciting records, compiled by the War Office and held by The National Archives.

Each record will display both a transcript and an original image. The original images are held at The National Archives in Surrey and have been digitised and indexed for Findmypast. The information in the transcripts can vary, but most will include the following:

  • Name
  • Year
  • Capture year
  • Service number
  • Rank
  • Rank as transcribed – This is the rank as it was transcribed from the document. Most records use abbreviations for rank and regiment. The previous rank field is the abbreviation expanded in full.
  • Regiment
  • Regiment as transcribed – This field was created similarly to rank as transcribed. See above explanation.
  • Theatre of war
  • Archive reference
  • Piece description
  • Archive

The image can provide you with additional information such as a date of death or a notation regarding an individual’s prior listing (i.e. if the person was listed previously as missing or a prisoner of war).

You may have annotations written next to your ancestor’s name. The letter ‘L’ or ‘CL’ and a number or a number on its own refers to another casualty list. This is likely to be when someone who was missing has now been reported as a prisoner or someone who was wounded reported now as having died. The first number in these references will relate to the Casualty List number, found at the start of each daily casualty list. If there is a second number to this code (example: CL 1015/12), this will be the specific page that the previous or subsequent entry can be found. Use the previous/next buttons to move through the documents to view other list numbers.

Discover more about these records

The British Army casualty lists 1939-1945 include over a million entries from the volumes which were updated by the War Office on a regular basis from 1939 to 1947. The lists document the names of officers, nurses, and other ranks who were reported as killed in action, dead as a result of illness or accident, missing, or taken as a prisoner of war. Later records show the names of those who were previously listed as a prisoner of war or missing but had died or those who were listed as a prisoner of war and were now free. Individuals can appear in the lists more than once if their status was reported to have changed. For example, E C Young was first reported missing, then reported missing and presumed a prisoner of war, and finally reported as a prisoner of war. Each entry recorded the person’s name, rank, service number, regiment, status, and previous theatre of war.

You can find the original records held at The National Archives. The British Army casualty lists 1939-1945 includes pieces 1-102 of series WO 417: War Office: army casualty lists, 1939-45 war. The lists add to Findmypast’s unique Second World War collection. Another excellent resource for those with relatives captured as prisoners of war is the Prisoners of War 1715-1945 records.

In 1939 the British Army was a volunteer force, but on 3 September, when Britain declared war on Germany, the National Service (Armed Forces) Act was passed by Parliament. The Act enforced full conscription for men between the ages of 18 and 41. By the end of the war, an estimated 3.5 million people served in the British Army. They fought in battles and campaigns in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Far East, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. The British forces were not solely formed from the regiments of Britain: many who served came from across the Commonwealth – Australia, India, South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand. Britain and the Commonwealth lost almost half a million military personnel during the war.