WEEK 7 Explore military records
Uncover a trove of information about your soldier forebears by delving into military records
Like so many of us, pop star Cheryl discovered that she had a great grandfather who fought as a Tommy in the First World War. Over 8.5 million men joined the British Armyy alone and the centenary hash encouraged the digitisation of many militaary collections. The National Archives ( T NA) has a dedicated page at nationalar rchives.gov.uk/ first-worldwar to help p people find what they need. Although a large percentage of soldiers’ service recoords were destroyed duringd the Blitz, thosee that survive can be searched on Ancestry annd Findmypastt, along with medal cards and rolls off honour. Some records, including operational war diaries,, can be downloaded through TNA’s Discovery catalogue discovery. nationalarchives.gov.uk.
Find military personnel
Findmypast has personnel records for people who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Merchant Navy, but TNA’s research guides at nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-yourresearch are a good place to start if you already know which section of the forces your ancestor joined, and whether or not they were an officer. The guides cover all of the major conflicts and show what records survive for people who have served crown and country since the 17th century. Personnel records from 1920 onwards, including the Second World War, are still held by the Ministry of Defence, but will be released upon payment of a fee if the person has died. There is information about how to apply at ggov.uk/get-g copy-py military-y service- records. If an ancestor died in the First oro Second World War then they mayy appear in the Commonwealth Waar Graves Commission dat tabase at cwgc.org, whicch gives details of graves and memorials managed by the Commmission. A new pay-ptoview wwebsite at war- mmemorial. co.uuk contains over 280,000 naames, covering frrom the 177th century up to recent conflflicts and, althouugh only a small proportion survive, the First WorldW War field ambulance records at forces-warrecords.co.uk may be worth checking. The wills of soldiers who died between 1850 and 1986 can be searched at gov.uk/probatesearch and the wills of Irish soldiers who served in the British Army are online at soldierswills. national archives.ie. It’s often easier to research the career of someone who died on active service than those who survived, but once you’ve pieced together your ancestors’ service history you may be able to find out more about their unit and its movements using published sources and diaries written by their comrades. Longlongtrail.co.uk is a useful resource dedicated to the history of the British Army during the First World War and offers a wealth of information about regiments and battles as well as offering a useful forum. The Imperial War Museum has a Research Room in London where personal diaries, letters, rare books, photographs and audio recordings collected since 1917 can be accessed. Some can be found at iwm.org. uk/collections. Regimental museums can also be worth a trip, whatever period your ancestor served.
If they took to the seas, then a trip to the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich could be in order. Although the majority of service and operational records are at TNA, the Caird Library has a fantastic collection of books, images and ephemera that can be searched at collections.rmg.co.uk. Its research guides at rmg.co.uk/discover/researchers/ research- guides are equally handy.
Over 8.5 million men joined the British Army alone
Three First World War medics travel on a motorcycle with a sidecar