Military Archive Research
by Dr. Stuart C Blank
Member of the Orders and Medals Research Society (OMRS)
Member of the Royal Air Force Historical Society (RAFHS)
Member of the Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association (NHCRA)
Member of the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS)
Member of the International Bank Note Society (IBNS)
Member of the International Bond and Share Society (IBSS)




Royal Marines Service Records

Like other branches of the military, officers records are kept separately to non-commissioned officers and other ranks. Thus, when researching a Marine it is necessary to know whether or not he was commissioned. To ease the task of researching a Marine it is usually to utilise the following categories:

(1) Officers Serving Before 1793

(2) Officers Who Served 1793-1925

(3) Warrant Officers Service Records

(4) Royal Marine Surgeons

(5) Other Ranks Service Records

(a) Attestation Forms, 1790-1925
(b) Description Books, 1755-1940
(c) Records of Service, 1842-1936

(1) Officers Serving Before 1793

No original service records for officers appointed before 1793 have survived. Documents or official publications of a later date may confirm a commission or appointment. The Army List from 1740 includes Marines officers on full and half pay. There are also Seniority List of Officers of the [Royal] Marines from 1757 to 1886 which may be used as an alternative. There are other publications but Army / Navy Lists are the most appropriate.

(2) Officers Who Served 1793-1925

Records of Officers' Services have been kept since 1793. They give full details of service and include sometimes the name and profession of the officer's father. These records did not contain short service records but only those records of officers who served well into the 1800s. These records are only complete from about 1837.

The records for Royal Marine Artillery officers for the years 1793 to 1855 and in some cases to 1870 are kept separate and there is an index list of RM warrant officers appointed between 1904 and 1912 (and serving up to 1923).

(3) Warrant Officers' Service Records

Only three volumes of Warrant Officers' Service Records are known to have survived. They cover dates of entry:

Dates of Entry, Latest Discharge, Volume

1875-1903, 1946, Volume 1 Part 1
1873-1907, 1946, Volume 2 Part 2
1904-1912, 1923, Volume 2
1890-1920, 1944, Volume 3

Many Warrant Officers went on to become commissioned officers so their details may be found amongst Officers' Service Records.

(4) Royal Marine Surgeons

A register of RM Surgeons covering the years 1755 to 1814 exists at the National Archives. The Royal College to which the surgeon belonged and alumni lists of universities are likely to yield further details. In the records for the Admiralty Medical Department there will be found the Establishment Book of Royal Marine Infirmary at Woolwich (1817-20) which gives further details.

(5) Other Ranks' Service Records

There are three main series of records which can be used to research the record of a Marine. However, each series is arranged by Division. Thus it is imperative to know his Division.

There are five main methods to establish a Marine's division:

i) Medal entitlements.
ii) The name of a ship he served upon. Before 1947 marines who served on board a ship were drawn from the same RM division as the home port of the ship.
iii) If we have his company number and a date we can consult the tables of allocation of Company Numbers to Divisions.
iv) It is possible to use a "war graves roll" if he served during the World Wars and was a casualty.
v) If an address where the Marine lived, from a birth or marriage certificate, or census, it is probable that he joined the nearest Division to that address as he would have belonged to that Division's "catchment" area.

(5) (a) Attestation Forms, 1790-1925

These documents give birthplace, previous occupation, physical description and often a record of service. They are filed either by date of enlistment or discharge.

(5) (b) Description Books, 1755-1940

The Description Books consist of several different types of register giving the date and place of enlistment, age, parish of birth, previous occupation, physical description, promotions and whether injured or killed. Generally they were drawn from the details in attestation papers, not all of which have survived. They are organised by Company within a Division and then by initial letter of surname (but not necessarily alphabetically) or by rank.

(5) (c) Records of Service, 1842-1936

These are arranged by Division and then by Service Number. They provide a Marine's date and place of birth, trade, physical description, religion, date and place of enlistment and a full record of service with comments on his conduct.