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Because of the sheer number of young men involved, World War I affected just about every family in the UK. Huge numbers of records are available to help you discover your ancestors who fought for their country in ‘the war to end all wars’.
The most comprehensive WWI records are service records. These bring together various documents created throughout each soldier’s military career. They generally include recruitment forms with personal details like height and hair colour; career sheets showing regiments, ranks and key dates; and casualty forms revealing any injuries.
We have two collections of WWI service records on our site. The first, simply called WWI Service Records, 1914–1920, covers soldiers who were killed, plus those who remained in service until the end of the War. Some of these records were destroyed by bombing during WWII – long before we started scanning them. However, our collection still includes more than 2 million war heroes, and is usually the best place to start your search.
Our second collection of service records is called WWI Pension Records, 1914-1920. This includes soldiers who were discharged during the war, usually because they were injured. Its name comes from the fact the Pension Office used the documents to work out what each man was entitled to after the war. This collection covers another 900,000 of our bravest ancestors – if you can’t find your man in the first Service Records, try here next.
Searching service records if often easier than looking in other military collections. They usually include details like addresses and birthplaces, so it’s possible to distinguish between two soldiers with the same name. Once you’ve found your relative, make sure you write down his regimental number, which appears at the top of many of the forms – this will help you spot the same man in other records.
Just about everybody who fought in WWI was entitled to at least one medal – and often they earned three or four. Each award was given in specific circumstances, either for service at particular places and times, or for particular acts of bravery. Find out which medals your ancestors gained, and they’ll give you crucial clues about their time at war.
Our most important collection of medal records is WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920. These cards were used to record what medals each soldier was entitled to. With more than 5 million men covered, the index is a virtual roll call of the entire British Army during the war. You’ll find many soldiers with the same names, so this is where the regimental number comes in handy.
We also have collections dedicated to particular medals. Silver War Badge Records, 1914–1920, lists everybody who was honourably discharged with illness or injury – they wore the Badge at home to avoid being accused of shirking their duty. Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-1920, reveals the brave men who earned one of the Armed Forces’ most illustrious awards. And if your relatives served at sea, Navy Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1972, reveals sailors’ WWI decorations.
Most our other Great War records cover the millions of courageous soldiers who were lost in the fighting. De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour, 1914-1924, is the largest of our casualty lists, with biographies of over 26,000 men from all three Armed Forces, often with photographs. British Commonwealth War Graves Registers, 1914-1918, meanwhile, gives you the chance to find out where your relatives are buried, covering around 250 cemeteries.
These more advanced collections help you fill in the gaps, once you’ve pieced together a timeline of your relative’s military career using service and medal records. See a full list on our military records page.