Sifting through military records at TNA
This page is dedicated to helping Australians locate their
British military ancestors and so only covers the
appropriate period corresponding with colonial Australia.
British Army records outside this era see: S Fowler & W
Spencer; Army records for family historians, 2nd ed,
1760 to 1913.
The National Archives at Kew in London hold all the surviving
records for British soldiers from about 1760 to 1913. These
records are held in the War Office files WO 97 which are
often called soldiers discharge papers but are in fact
a record of the soldier’s service from enlistment
to discharge. That is the soldier’s attestation papers
(made at recruitment), his service record, and his discharge
papers. The early records are very brief and lack details.
WO 97 documents are grouped into four periods:
1760 to 1854: indexed in the online catalogue
There are two supplementary series at the end:
1855 to 1872: arranged alphabetically by surname by regiment
(128 regiments at this time)
1873 to 1882: arranged alphabetically by surname within
the arm of service (infantry, cavalry, guards, etc)
1883 to 1900 and 1900 to 1913: arranged alphabetically
by surname for the whole army
1843 to 1899: arranged alphabetically by surname for the
Papers for those discharged without a pension (pensions
were granted for long service and/or medical reasons) before
1883 were destroyed in a fire. From this date all papers
1900 to 1913: arranged alphabetically by surname for the
You can expect to find the following in a set of papers:
• name, age, place of birth and trade or employment before
• date and place of enlistment
• next of kin with their address
• marriage details if the soldier marries while in service
• changes to next of kin details
• promotions, demotions, crimes, campaigns, wounds and medals
• date and place of discharge.
• conduct on discharge (nearly always good in spite of common
• where soldier was to live after discharge
You will find papers relating to the following soldiers
missing from the collection:
1. soldiers discharged in a colony who elected to take
their pension in the colony.
If you cannot find the record there may be some alternative
routes to find the regiment:
2. soldiers transferred to the Army Reserve after completing
their service and then recalled in 1914.
1. Chelsea Hospital Admission 1715–1913 registers
for out-pensioners: WO 116 (Medical) and WO 177 (Long
service) or Kilmainham registers for Irish soldiers:
Pictured: Soldier in the uniform of the 11th
Regiment of Foot based in Australian colonies with one company posted
to Adelaide, 1845–57. For readers interested in tracing all soldiers
associated with South Australia from the arrival of
marines on the Buffalo in 1836 through to the Vietnam,
you are referred to Graham Jaunay's booklet; Researching South
Australian military ancestors.
2. Returns of Payment of Army and Other Pensions arranged
by payment district 1842–1883: WO 22.
3. Pension paid to emigrants to Australia 1830–1848:
WO 43/542; check also WO 120/69-70 for 1814–57 and
WO 23/21 for 1845–54.
To access this material
from Australia requires the use of The National Archives paid search
service: for specific documents held by The National Archives
OR engaging a specialist researcher
who is familiar with the holdings of The National