Findmypast’s British Army service records is one of the most significant British Army collections available online. There are around 7.8 million records available. The collection includes a myriad of Army forms including attestation papers, medical forms, discharge documents, pension claims, and proceedings of regimental boards. The attestation form was completed when the soldier joined the regiment and was updated throughout his military career. This, together with other papers found in soldiers files can help piece together a very detailed picture of an individual. This search covers all available papers for each soldier.

The British Army service records include the names of both officers and other ranks. Commissioned officers include the ranks of general, brigadier, colonel, major, captain, and lieutenant. Until 1871, commissions (up to the rank of colonel) were purchased. The sale of commissions could lead to incompetent leadership, which became clear during the Crimean War and the ill-fated ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. It was abolished soon after. Non-commissioned officers, or other ranks, include privates, lance corporals and sergeants. Knowledge of your ancestor’s rank will help you with your search for military records. Many of the records in this collection were composed by the Royal Chelsea Hospital for pensions. The hospital first opened in 1682 for retired soldiers. A pensioner is either an ‘in-pensioner’, meaning that he or she resides at Royal Chelsea Hospital, or an ‘out-pensioner’ if he or she lives in a private residence. Women were first admitted to the Royal Chelsea Hospital in 2009. In-pensioners must surrender their pension to the hospital, be aged 65 or older (this was raised from 55), be able to live independently, and not have any dependents such as a spouse or children.

WO 22 - Royal Hospital Chelsea: returns of payment of Army and other pensions 1842-1883

In this series, you will find documents related to pensions paid by the Royal Hospital Chelsea. They will detail a soldiers’ change of residence and date of death. Furthermore, they detail the rate of pension paid and whether and when a pension was expired, reduced, renewed, or increased. The date of admission to out-pensioners will give you an indication as to when your ancestor retired from the armed forces.

WO 23 - Royal Hospital Chelsea: admission books, registers, and papers 1702-1876

This series was created to administer pensions payable by the commissioners of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, to both in-pensioners and out-pensioners. These superannuation books recorded your ancestor’s rank, department or regiment, date of commencement, rate of pension paid, and payment dates. Some of the books will have additional notes such as birth dates and whether your ancestor was an in- or out-pensioner.

Each record comprises a transcript, and most include several black and white images (ranging from 1-100) of the records of your ancestors who served as officers and other ranks in the British Army.

The amount of detail in each transcript can vary depending on when the record was created and the purpose of the record, such as whether it was created for pension purposes or new recruits. Some of the First World War service papers in series WO 363 were damaged during the Second World War; therefore, the information gathered from these forms can be limited. In the transcripts, you may find a combination of the following items:

  • First name
  • Last name
  • Birth year
  • Birth county
  • Birth country
  • Service number (i.e. regimental number)
  • Rank
  • Regiment
  • Unit/Battalion
  • Age at attestation in years and months
  • Attestation date
  • Attestation corps
  • Residence
  • Pension
  • Death date – if the individual died during service
  • Document type – attestation or discharge
  • Series – this gives you further clues to the context of the records; for example, the series WO 97 is titled Chelsea pensioners British Army service records 1760-1913, which explains that these are pension records from 1760-1913.
  • Archive and reference

Images

The accompanying images may include additional information about your ancestor. Use the previous and next arrows on the images to view more pages. Further details may include

  • Physical description (including any distinctive markings)
  • Occupation
  • Marital status
  • Name and address of next of kin
  • Names of relatives
  • Religion
  • Service history
  • Pension applications and outcomes
  • Correspondence