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 121 - Chelsea: pensioners' discharge documents 1760-1887

The records found in this series are similar to WO97. This series contains some of the collections oldest records. They recorded a person’s birth place, the length of service, and why the soldier was discharged. For example, in the records we find Lieutenant Colonel Robert Able of Norwich, who was 43 years old when he was discharged, ‘Having the rheumatism and being worn out’ after serving for 20 years and 6 months.

What are Chelsea Pensioners British Army service records?

Royal Hospital in Chelsea was a retirement home for the Chelsea Pensioners and an administrative office for the British Army. It was founded in 1682 and opened in 1692 to look after wounded and disabled soldiers. The hospital catered for in-pensioners but the large majority of soldiers pensioned out of the army were out-pensioners living at their own address but receiving a pension via the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Although the record collection name is misleading, the great majority of pensioned soldiers were out-pensioners and did not reside at the hospital itself. However, pensions were administered through the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.

Most of these soldiers were born in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. However, a significant proportion came from other parts of the British Empire. In particular, there are a number of soldiers recorded as having been born in India and the Caribbean. The pension records do not just relate to older men. Soldiers were eligible for a pension after 12 years of service, so relatively young men could be pensioned out.