How to explore the incredible Burnt Documents of World War 1
The Burnt Documents are the remained of the 6.5 million World War 1 soldiers' papers which were destroyed by fire in September 1940. Thanks to an incendiary bomb at the War Office Record store in Arnside Street, London, about two thirds of the original 6.5 million soldiers' records were ruined, with the remainder largely charred or water-damaged.
Thanks to meticulous indexing by Findmypast, you now have a greater chance than ever before of finding your World War 1 ancestor in the Burnt Documents.
The publication and re-indexing of World War 1 service records (series number WO 363) and pension records (WO 364) by Findmypast revealed over 4.2m indexed entries, including close to 600,000 names never previously captured.
About two thirds of the original 6.5 million soldiers' records were ruined, with the remainder largely charred or water-damaged(span)
These records contain between one and a hundred pages, covering everything from physical description of your ancestors, to details of the battles and campaigns they participated in, and remarks on their conduct and character.
As well as a more thorough transcription process which involved looking at every single one of the 35m+ images in the two series, Findmypast has also identified and indexed lists of names that appear tucked away in individual service papers.
The Burnt Documents
These water-damaged examples are typical of the type of information found, and fairly typical of pages from WO 363, known as the Burnt Documents.
These records cover everything from physical description of your ancestors, to details of the battles and campaigns they participated in, and remarks on their conduct and character(span)
Above we see a page from an individual service record in which a physical description is given, marks on eyesight, profession and age are listed as well as all units this man was posted to. In the particular instance below, we see a partial casualty list of men serving with the 7th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. The list is dated 6th November 1918, and in addition to recording details of men killed in action, we can see that wounds are mentioned.
The vast majority of men appearing in these lists have been indexed for the very first time. Whilst the information may only extend to a line or two of printed matter, for many thousands of people this will be the first time they have uncovered details of their ancestor's participation in World War 1.
Again, below, we see casualties for the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. Regimental number, name and regiment all indexed by findmypast. So for example we can see that 8456 Corporal J Pegg of the 7th Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment had a painful scar, and was returned to England in a hospital ship.
You will also find service records of men who fought in the Boer War, and also men who should not be included in these series at all. The earliest pension record we have found is for a man born in 1832, who enlisted in the 94th Regiment of Foot in 1850.