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)




First World War Searches

Enquires for data on the First World War (WW1) are the most frequent type of enquiry that I receive. In order to assist conducting research the following notes have been designed to help anyone who might be interested in commissioning some research. The notes give an outline of the various searches that can be performed.

Service (Personnel) Papers and Related Documents

1) Army Officers' Service Papers
2) Army Soldiers' Papers
3) Royal Naval Officers' Papers
4) Royal Naval and Royal Marines Service Papers
5) Royal Air Force Officers' Papers
6) Royal Air Force Airmen's Papers
7) Royal Air Force Other Ranks' Muster Rolls
8) Officer Prisoners of War
9) Women's Service Papers

Medals and Awards

1) Army Medal Index Cards
2) Women's Medal Index Cards
3) Army Medal Rolls
4) Silver War Badge Rolls
5) Admiralty Medal Rolls
6) Awards of the MC, MM, DSM & MSM

Service (Personnel) Papers and Related Documents

1) Army Officer Service Papers - There are about 217,000 files on officers that have survived. Usually they contain data on those who had left the army before approx 1920, or killed in action / died of wounds / died on active service. Some of these files which have survived can be quite voluminous.

2) Army Soldiers Papers - A large portion of soldiers' papers were destroyed during World War 2 so the remaining series is incomplete. These papers give excellent data on the soldier and are the best point to obtain genealogical on army other ranks.

3) Royal Naval Officers Papers - There are documents available for Naval Officers but the manner in which they are archived is rather complex and not easy to follow. Getting their service "records" is time consuming but an outline of their career can be obtained via other sources.

4) Royal Naval and Royal Marines Service Papers - These document can be searched for personnel entering the services prior to 1923 / end-WW1. These personnel were granted service numbers and most of their records are available. These papers generally give a wealth of personal data and normally give the ships served on and dates.

5) Royal Air Force Officers' Papers - The RAF was formed on the 1st April 1918 and many personnel were transferred to it from the Army or the Navy as appropriate. Typically these records give personal details and are a valuable source of genealogical data.

6) Royal Air Force Airmen's Papers - These are available for men whose RAF service number are below 329,000. Like those for the RAF officers these documents give excellent genealogical data on the Airmen.

7) Royal Air Force Other Ranks Muster Rolls - These documents give information such as name & number, rank, rates of pay, terms of engagement and promotions. There may be some data relating to service in predecessor units and their RAF classification.

8) Officer Prisoners of War - These papers give details of Army, RFC / RAF / RNAS & RND officer PoWs. Information usually included are name, rank, dates of capture / repatriation, date / place of death (if appropriate) and sometimes references to escapes.

9) Womens' Service Papers - These papers cover the service of women in the QMAAC, WAAC, QAIMNSR, WRNS & WRAF during WW1.

Medals and Awards

1) Army Medal Index Cards (MIC) - these should exist for every British Army officer and other rank who qualified for medals. This includes those related to the RFC, British East African Units and some British citizens who served in Colonial / Dominions' Forces. It is the best "attempt" to a roll call of army personnel. Information for someone who qualified for the1914 / 1914-15 Star contains first name, rank, unit(s) and numbers, other medals awarded, first theatre of war and date of entry. Often the MICs can have battalion, commissioned status, enlistment / discharge dates, entitlement to gallantry medals and any other awards.

2) Women's Medal Index Cards - Women who served in women's services such as the OStJJ, BRCS, VAD, TFNS, QMAAC, QAIMNS, QAIMNSR, hospital units, French Red Cross and sometimes as civilians.

3) Army Medal Rolls - These documents enhance the data on the MICs (see above) and usually reveal battalion, transfer dates and date of disembodiment / discharge death.

4) Silver War Badge Roll - There are two types of searches relating to the SWB. The first is confirming entitlement from a name and the other is using the number on the back of the badge to find the recipient.

5) Admiralty Medal Rolls - These documents can be examined to see which awards were granted to RN, RM (RMLI, RMA, RMB etc), RND, RNAS, RNR, RNVR & MMR etc.

6) Awards of the Military Cross (MC), Military Medal (MM), Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) - The awarding of these medals was noted in a card index and the index for the appropriate medal can be searched. These cards may give full unit details, London Gazette date and any subsequent awards such as bars to the medal.