This article will help you to find and order the service record of a British officer or warrant officer who served in the Indian Army during the Second World War. This is one of a series of guides I’ve written to help you research soldiers who served in the British and Indian Armies during the war:
I also offer a soldier research and document copying service.
British Indian Army Officers’ Second World War Service Records
The service records of most British officers and warrant officers who served in the Indian Army during the Second World War are kept at the British Library in London. They are part of the L/MIL/14 series of Indian Army Records. The section the service records appear in is titled “Indian Army Records of Service (c 1901-1947)”. There are over thirty thousand service records as part of this collection and they can be searched using the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts search engine.
Due to the Data Protection Act, you’ll only find officers in the Indian Army Records of Service series who joined over 85 years ago. In theory, each year, the catalogue entries should be updated with more officers added. However, I’m not sure whether this actually occurs so don’t be surprised if there’s no entry for an officer who joined the Indian Army in 1937 or 1938. Even if an officer joined the Indian Army within the last 85 years, you can usually still order their service record. You’ll have to contact the British Library to see if a service record is held and this is discussed further down the page. If you don’t know the exact date an officer joined the Indian Army then you can look at an Indian Army List or search the London Gazette. I’ve written guides for using both sources:
If you know an officer entered military service over 85 years ago then you can search the British Library’s Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue. Don’t search the main catalogue as the India Office records aren’t included.
The majority of officers have their full name recorded. If you are searching for an officer with a rare name I’d recommend just searching their surname. However, for the more common surnames, I’d start by searching the officer’s full name. If you don’t get a result then search by first initial, surname and the following “L/MIL/14”. For example, if you wanted John Smith you’d search “J SMITH” and “L/MIL/14”.
Once you click on a search result it should also record the officer’s date of commission, highest rank and unit they served with. A lot of this information will be in the form of abbreviations and acronyms and I’ve written a guide to help you unravel the results: Indian Army Abbreviations and Acronyms.
Officers who Enlisted less than 85 Years Ago
The first thing to do is find out if a service record is held and you’ll need to contact the India Office Records Department at the British Library. You can contact them by clicking on “Asian & African Studies Reference Team” found here: India Office Records Contact. It’s about halfway down the page next to the photograph of the reading room. Often, you’ll receive a reply within a few days.
However, not everyone can access the files due to the Data Protection Act. If the soldier in question is still alive then you must have their permission. If the soldier was born over 100 years ago or is deceased (you may have to provide a death certificate) then you should be able to access the file. However, certain information may be kept back if it is of a sensitive nature and relates to another person who could still be alive.
What type of Information can be found in a Service Record?
A service record will contain a wide variety of information, a lot of which will not be recorded elsewhere or will be very difficult to find. Most service records will contain documents which record all the units a soldier served with and the period they served with them. Other information usually found in a file includes but is not limited to disciplinary and medical matters, a physical description, annual confidential reports for pre-war officers, pre-war employment and education, dates of promotion, leave taken, courses attended, and so on. You may also find information relating to a soldier’s service in the British Army in the file, but this is not guaranteed.
Next Steps after you have a Service Record
The first thing you will need to do is to decipher the military jargon and I’ve written a guide on Second World War Abbreviations and Acronyms to help you. Then, you’ll want to see if there are any war diaries for the units the officer served with. I’ve written another guide explaining what a war diary is, how to find them and what they contain here: Second World War Unit War Diaries.