Findmypast’s **British Army service records** is one of the most significant British Army collections available online. There are around 7.8 million records available. The collection includes a myriad of Army forms including attestation papers, medical forms, discharge documents, pension claims, and proceedings of regimental boards. The attestation form was completed when the soldier joined the regiment and was updated throughout his military career. This, together with other papers found in soldiers files can help piece together a very detailed picture of an individual. This search covers all available papers for each soldier.

Some of the medical reports found on attestation forms reveal how tough conditions could be for the men and how they reacted to these conditions. In the records, we discover that Reuben Booth (service number 29821) from the 10th Battalion suffered from trench foot and dental caries, but the doctor's notes state: ‘This man refuses dental treatment’. In addition, the doctor's notes of a medical report about a musician from Roden Hill, Marton, Buckinghamshire, claim that the man ‘walks with a marked limp which in my opinion is greatly exaggerated’.

The British Army service records include the names of both officers and other ranks. Commissioned officers include the ranks of general, brigadier, colonel, major, captain, and lieutenant. Until 1871, commissions (up to the rank of colonel) were purchased. The sale of commissions could lead to incompetent leadership, which became clear during the Crimean War and the ill-fated ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. It was abolished soon after. Non-commissioned officers, or other ranks, include privates, lance corporals and sergeants. Knowledge of your ancestor’s rank will help you with your search for military records. Many of the records in this collection were composed by the Royal Chelsea Hospital for pensions.

The British Army did not have a central record keeping system until the First World War. Most documents prior to 1914 come from individual regiments. The records comprise soldiers' attestation and discharge papers and form part of the War Office (WO) series of records now held at The National Archives in Kew. The War Office was the precursor of today's Ministry of Defence. Thousands of British Army records, especially from the First World War, were destroyed during the Second World War in September 1940 when enemy bombs hit the War Office Record Office, located on Arnside Street. What survived was eventually moved to The National Archives and subsequently microfilmed.

Each record comprises a transcript and several black and white images of the records of your ancestors who served as non-commissioned officers and other ranks in the British Army during World War 1.

The amount of information included in each record varies, but the British Army Service Records 1914 – 1920 usually include the following details about your ancestor:

  • First name
  • Last name
  • Age at Attestation in months
  • Age at Attestation in years
  • Date of Attestation
  • Birth year
  • Birth country
  • Birth county
  • Country of residence
  • Date of death (if during service)
  • Series
  • Soldier number
  • Rank
  • Regiment
  • Unit/Battalion

The accompanying images may include additional information about your ancestor. Further details may include:

  • Physical description (including any distinctive markings)
  • Occupation
  • Marital status
  • Name and address of next of kin
  • Names of relatives
  • Religion
  • Promotions (if any)
  • The number of images varies greatly with each record; they may contain up to one hundred images. The images contain such documents as: Military History Sheet Proceedings on Discharge Medical History Enrolment Paper Descriptive Report on Enlistment Short Service papers Personal effects form Casualty forms Note that some soldiers used an initial or a diminutive instead of a first name, so you should be aware of possible alternatives to your ancestor’s first name. Also note that the WO363 set may contain poor quality images due to the condition of the original documents.

Discover more about these records

These records contain two distinct series: WO363 service records and WO364 pension records. The records date from 1914 to 1920.

Around two thirds of the 6.5 million WO363 documents were destroyed during the bombing of the War Office Record Store in London in September 1940. The records that survived were burnt or otherwise damaged and are known as the “burnt documents”.

WO364 are service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who were discharged from the British Army and claimed disability pensions for war service from 1914 to 1920. These records are unlikely to contain any papers for soldiers who were either killed in action and had no dependants or who were discharged as part of the demobilisation at the end of World War One and did not claim a pension.

The records have been re-indexed, and this process has uncovered thousands of men whose records had been incorrectly indexed or whose records were buried within other records. Although called World War 1 records, some records date as far back as 1870, while others extend well into the 1920s. Many records comprise complete service histories; others contain the basic name of the regiment and soldier number.