In search of information

Peter Donnelly
Curator King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum

These notes mainly relate to the army, but will in a small part cover service personnel of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The aim of the note is to give guidance to the beginner by providing some of the main references for information. These will in turn provide further links to other sources.

Thousands of people are undertaking research on their families and those who come across a family member who served in the forces are often lucky to find more information about them than a civilian of the same period.

The first thing to say is, if the person died there will be a record. If they died during the First World War (1914-1919) or the Second World War (1939-1947) the details of their commemoration will be retained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. You can write to them at:

CWGC, Enquiries Section,
2 Marlow Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 7DX
or use their website:

For deaths outside this period contact the Casualty/Compassionate Cell of the British Army, in writing to:

MOD Personnel Services 4 (Army (Casualty) Compassionate (Coord)),
Trenchard Lines, Upavon, Pewsey, Wiltshire, SN9 6BE.

If the person did not die and they served prior to 1922 there is a good chance that there will be some record of their service at the Public Record Office. This may be a record of their discharge (before 1914 if they completed 22 years in the Army); it may be their First World War service papers, or it may just be their name listed in the British War and Allied Victory Medal roll.

The Public Record Office (PRO), houses substantial records of officers and soldiers who served with the British Army, and other services. WO363 contains records of First World War Soldiers. Although 60% of First World War records were lost through bombing in 1940 certain documents have survived. These are held by the PRO. Contact the PRO in advance of a visit to see what information they may have available. If you are unable to visit in person they can supply a list of researchers who will undertake the work for you for a fee. The PRO provide a whole range of useful information sheets which can also be found on their website.

Public Record Office, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond.

A really useful book is Army Service Records of the First World War by William Spencer, Published by the Public Record Office in 2001.

If the person served after 1922 details will be held by the Army and they are available only to the person themselves or the next of kin. A fee is usually charged to provide the information. Contact:

Army Personnel Centre, Historic Disclosures
Mailpoint 400, Kentigern House, 65 Brown Street, Glasgow, G2 8EX.

Once you have found out the details of the person’s service – you can set about finding out the actions and campaigns they took part in. To do this study the unit or regimental histories. There are official sources such as the War Diaries held at the Public Record Office. There are also many published unit and regimental histories which can be obtained through libraries or good book shops. Often second hand book shops are worth a visit, along with specialist institutions such as the Imperial War Museum and National Army Museum.

A major source of unit and regimental history is of course the Imperial War Museum and the Corps and Regimental Museums. The former now have a splendid Northern site in Salford Quays and the others are spread all over the country, they are listed in the Museum Associations Museum Yearbook (try your local reference library for a copy) Other locations can be found in “A Guide to Military Museums” by Terence and Shirley Wise and on the British Army and Army Museums Ogilby Trust Websites: and

The Imperial War museum have a series of pocket size volumes on “Tracing your Family History” for each of the three services: Navy, Army, RAF and The Merchant Navy. These volumes list a large variety of sources of information. Their web site provides an excellent over view of the contents and services available from the museum; their publications can be obtained on line or by post. The web site address is:

Regimental Museums 

These vary greatly in what they hold and what services they provide. Some have more records than others, some have no records of individuals who served, and others have established extensive databases of thousands of names over many years of time-consuming detailed labour.

When contacting Regimental Museums please be aware that there are many pressures made upon the resources of the staff , often only one person, so don’t always expect an immediate reply. If you send an e-mail please include your postal address. If you really want to help providing a large stamped self-addressed envelope will get the staff on your side!. Most of all, the majority of museums are Charities, so a donation to support their work is always appreciated. Some museums do charge a fee for research.

The Museum of the local regiment, The King’s Own Royal Regiment, is housed within the City Museum in Market Square, Lancaster. The Museum:

  • Do not charge a fee but hope a donation will be made
  • Aim to answer enquiries within a couple of days
  • Have pre-printed information sheets to speed reply
  • Hope and expect people to undertake some study themselves, for example following the reading lists provided or researching information at the PRO.

The museum does not have a record of everyone who ever served in the Regiment. Through long hours of work Computerisation of records is currently taking place and this will obviously aid the speed and extent of providing information. However this is a long process and will be an ongoing project for many years to come.

The museum has available a wide range of low priced publications which will assist some researchers.

An appointment is required for personal callers. One member of staff deals with the King’s Own.

Other sources to consider include local Reference Libraries who often hold copies of local newspapers which, during wartime, often include details about soldiers who were killed, injured or awarded medals. Some libraries also hold copies of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Registers and copies of the official publication ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’, published in 1921 and more recently on CD-ROM.

Enquiries relating to the issue and replacement of medals should be addressed to:

Ministry of Defence, Army Medals Office
Government Buildings, Worcester Road, Droitwich, Worcestershire, WR9 8AU.

For Schools

For Schools there is an excellent self contained teaching package available on a First World War Education Based Web site especially written for the Museum. It is:

The site is based upon The National Curriculum and addresses Key Stage 3. The package is “educationally” complete, containing Teachers and pupils notes and worksheets and, importantly, involves visits to local sites. The staff of the Museum are only too delighted to assist Schools with projects. Peter Donnelly at the museum is on hand to explain to teachers exactly what is available.