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World War One British Army service records available online for the first time

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World War One British Army service records available online for the first time

Ministry of National Service poster 1914-1918 (catalogue reference: NATS 1/109)

Ministry of National Service poster 1914-1918 (catalogue reference: NATS 1/109)

In partnership with The National Archives, Ancestry.co.uk has now made available online the entire collection of British Army World War One Service Records, 1914-1920, detailing the full military careers of more than two million soldiers who served during World War One.

Service records contain a variety of information concerning all aspects of the army careers of those who completed their duty were killed in action or executed. They include the soldier's name, date and place of birth, address, next-of-kin, former occupation, marital status, medical records, service history, regiment number, locations of service and discharge papers.

The files were chosen for digitisation because they are one of the most popular resources accessed at The National Archives and, prior to now, only available in microfilm format. Digitising the microfilm records makes these valuable records easier to search and more accessible to a wider audience.

Approximately 60 per cent of the paper originals of the service records were destroyed by fire when the War Office (in London) was struck by a bomb in 1940 during an air raid. The surviving 32.5 million records became known as the 'Burnt Documents'.

Together, the service and pension records form the definitive source of information in existence on more than three million ordinary soldiers who fought in the British Army during World War One. The sheer volume of material has meant that the collection has been digitised in stages. The final tranche of digitised files comprised of those records from O to Z.  The process has taken three years to complete.

Among the surviving service records are those of a number of both brave soldiers and celebrities, including:

  • Basil Rathbone – the British actor, best known for the portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in 14 movies between 1939 and 1946, enlisted in the London Scottish Regiment in 1916. The discharge papers within his service record describe his eyes and hair as 'dark' and his complexion as 'fresh'.
  • George Peachment – George's service record reveals he was awarded the Victoria Cross – an accolade he received for his bravery in saving the life of an officer near Hulluch, France, where he was later killed in action. His record also features a letter from his mother requesting his personal effects after his death and a journalist requesting a photograph of him.
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