Obtaining a Copy of Military Service Records

How to apply for the records of a deceased service person

Records of service for the deceased are held by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and The National Archives (TNA). Who you apply to depends on:

  • when the person served
  • which service they were in
  • their rank.

Apply for records held by The National Archives

TNA hold most records of service for those who served in the British Army after World War 1 and were:

  • below the rank of officer
  • discharged before the end of 1963.

Records for all ranks in the Royal Navy (including Royal Marines), British Army and Royal Air Force from before and up to the end of World War 1 are also held by TNA.

Request a Freedom of Information (FOI) search from The National Archives to get these records.  There may be a fee. If there is, you will be quoted a search cost.

Apply for records held by the MOD

You can apply for a copy of a deceased person’s records of service if they’re not held by TNA and that person was in the:

  • Royal Navy (including Royal Marines)
  • British Army
  • Royal Air Force (RAF)
  • Home Guard.

What information you’ll get

Each record of service may include:

  • first name and surname
  • service number
  • rank and regiment or corps
  • place and date of birth
  • date they joined and left the armed forces
  • date of death, if they died in service
  • good conduct medals
  • details about their career, for example, the units they served in

Information may be withheld if it:

  • could harm the security or operations of the armed forces.
  • relates to medical or disciplinary information.

In some cases, little or no information is available about someone’s military service. For example, Home Guard records may only include their personal details from when they enlisted.

How to apply

You can apply online or by post.

There’s no fee.

 You’ll need to provide the person’s:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • service number, if you know it

You do not have to provide a death certificate. But without one, information may be withheld unless the person either:

  • died in service
  • was born more than 116 years ago

If you’re applying online and can provide a death certificate, it needs to be in digital format (PDF, PNG, or JPEG).

If you do not have the death certificate, you can order a copy 

or provide a declaration of a presumed death.

Due to high demand, please do not submit more than 5 applications every month.

 Apply online:

When you apply online for a British Army or Home Guard record, the MOD will check if they hold it. If they have it, they’ll send it to you. If they do not, you’ll be told to check The National Archives.

Start Here

Apply by post

Download and fill in a request for information form. If your request is for a Home Guards record, fill in the Home Guard form only.

Download and fill in a search form. The form you need depends on which military service the person was in.

Send both forms and any supporting documents (for example, a death certificate) to the address on the search form.

After you’ve applied

The relevant military service will confirm they’ve received your application. The search can take up to a year. You’ll be sent the records either by post or email depending on which service you applied to.

Royal Airforce Research Additional Support Guide

 If you are searching for information about individuals and events concerning those who served in the Royal Air Force the following archive departments may be able to help you.

The National Archives (TNA)

The National Archives is now the name of what was the Public Records Office (PRO). A good starting point for RAF research would include some of the following documents:

  • AIR27 for Squadrons
  • AIR28 for RAF Stations
  • AIR29 for other RAF Units

The microfilm for AIR27 can be purchased from the Archives with the cost dependent on the length of the reel.

 The National Archives, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

The CWGC can provide names of all Commonwealth citizens who gave their lives during WWI and WWII and those who lost their lives in the post war period 1945-1948 in conflicts.

Non-Commonwealth citizens are not recorded by this organisation.

 2 Marlow Road, Maidenhead, Berks SL6 7DX

01628634221 – ask for Enquiries Department.

E-MAIL

The RAF Air Historical Branch (AHB)

The AHB deal with casualty enquires and maintain historical records relating to individual aircraft and operations.

Building 824, RAF Northolt, West End Road, Ruislip, Middlesex, HA4 6NG

02088338161

Prisoner of War Records

Records of prisoners of war (POWs) were compiled by each country and are now held centrally by the Archives Division and Research Service of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Switzerland. Because of their personal nature, these records are not available to the public.

Prisoner of War Records for the First World War have been digitised and can be accessed here.

The main First World War official sources are the interviews and reports provided by repatriated or escaped prisoners in record class WO 161. These can be viewed online on a pay-per-view basis. Although more than 3,000 individuals are represented, this is only a very small percentage of those who were held captive. There is also a small possibility that you may find correspondence or reports on prisoners of war in FO 383.

Some details about those who died in captivity during both World Wars will be held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and is available through their Debt of Honour database.

Any official documentation relating to British POWs is held by The National Archives (TNA). More information about these records can be found in the research guides British Prisoners of War, c1760 – 1919 and British Prisoners of War, 1939 – 1953.

TNA holds a vast amount of material for Second World War prisoners of war. Japanese prisoner of war index cards can be found in WO 345. TNA also holds liberated prisoner of war interrogation questionnaires in WO 344. These were the debriefing reports given by prisoners released from German or Japanese captivity at the end of the Second World War.

Royal Flying Corps (RFC)/ RAF Service Records- World War 1 and up to 1922

Many records are only available online, sometimes on more than one site. Some records are free to view but others are available on either a subscription or pay per view basis.

OTHER USEFUL LINKS

London Gazette

Lists all officer promotions and medal award citations for all Armed Force Services from 1665 until the present day.

Civilian Decorations and Honours are also printed here.

Squadron Associations

Most RAF Squadrons will have an Association linked with it or its antecedent and may be able to assist further with research enquiries.

Bomber Command

With minimal exceptions, Bomber Command flew only out of UK stations. If your search doesn’t produce the results, you were expecting it could be that your relative served in one of the other Commands that also flew bombers:

  • Second Tactical Air Force (2TAF)
  • RAF Middle East Command
  • Mediterranean Air Command
  • Coastal Command
  • Transport Command
  • Air Command Southeast Asia

A search for the squadron number on the internet should clarify in which Command your relative served.

Other things to look for

Useful Websites

The IBCC’s Digital Archive and Losses Database are primary research resources for Bomber Command.

Some of these other sites are free access, but some may require subscriptions to view the content:

Local libraries, records offices and newspapers are also a great source of information and sometimes photographs.

NB: This document is only a guide to assisting research and is not either inclusive or exclusive. Other sources of information not included may also be available.