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.

For British Army records outside this era see: S Fowler & W Spencer; Army records for family historians, 2nd ed, 1998.
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
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
There are two supplementary series at the end:

1843 to 1899: arranged alphabetically by surname for the whole army
1900 to 1913: arranged alphabetically by surname for the whole army
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 survive.11th Foot
You can expect to find the following in a set of papers:
• name, age, place of birth and trade or employment before enlistment
• 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 awarded
• date and place of discharge.
• conduct on discharge (nearly always good in spite of common offences)
• 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.
2. soldiers transferred to the Army Reserve after completing their service and then recalled in 1914.
If you cannot find the record there may be some alternative routes to find the regiment:
1. Chelsea Hospital Admission 1715–1913 registers for out-pensioners: WO 116 (Medical) and WO 177 (Long service) or Kilmainham registers for Irish soldiers: WO 118.
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.
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.

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 Archives.
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