This guide is intended to help make the process of ordering a service record for a soldier who served in the British Army during the Second World War as simple as possible. I have written this guide as I often get emails from clients asking for help in ordering a service record. This article is divided into four sections:
- Where are Second World War service records held?
- What information do they contain?
- A guide to ordering a service record if you are the next of kin or can receive their permission
- A guide to ordering a service record if you are not related to a soldier but would like to find out more about their service
I have written a separate guide if you are looking for the service record of a British officer or warrant officer who served in the Indian Army during the Second World War: WW2 Service Records held at the British Library.
I offer a Second World War soldier research service.
Where are British Army WW2 Service Records Held?
All Second World War service records for personnel who served in the British Army are held by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), except for those who served in the Coldstream and Scots Guards which are held at their respective archives. The MOD not only keeps the service records of Second World War soldiers but of:
- All British Army officers who served past April 1922.
- All British Army soldiers who served past January 1921.
These service records are held by the Army Personnel Centre – Historical Disclosures Section at Glasgow and you can learn how to order them below. I have also created guides on my other website Researching WW1 if you are looking for a soldier’s service record from the First World War. Click on the links below to find out more:
- Finding British Army Officer Service Records for WW1
- Finding British Army Soldier Service Records for WW1
What Information do British Army WW2 Service Records Contain?
A service record will provide a wealth of information relating to a soldier’s service during the Second World War. They are vital records which will enable you to research a soldier in greater depth and will contain information which cannot be found elsewhere. The exact contents of a service record will vary from soldier to soldier depending on when they joined and the nature of their service. The service records for officers have the greatest variation in surviving documents and have often been heavily weeded. However, officers are a lot easier to track through war diaries. You will receive a photocopy of the service record, usually with the following information:
- Biographical information: when and where they were born, next of kin, address, etc.
- Description: height, weight, eye and hair colour, distinctive marks, etc.
- The units they served with and the dates they were with them
- Where they served, Britain, the Middle East, etc.
- Promotion dates
- Medal entitlement and if they claimed their medals this will be shown
- The MOD will not release any documents containing medical or disciplinary information. However, I have seen some minor medical documents in files and dental records often turn up
- Testimonial on discharge
- If you’re very lucky, the file will contain a photograph of the soldier
The service records are full of military jargon which is often in the form of abbreviations and acronyms. I have created a page to help you decipher the documents: Abbreviations and Acronyms found on WW2 Service Records.
Once you’ve interpreted your service record, the next step will be to find the relevant war diaries which will add a lot more information regarding a soldier’s service. War diaries are the most important documents to consult after a service record and I have written a guide on how to find them: How to find WW2 War Diaries.
Applying for WW2 Service Records as the Next of Kin or with their Consent
This section is relevant if you are the next of kin or have received the next of kin’s permission to apply for a service record. The next of kin will be the first living person in the MOD’s list below:
- Spouse/Civil Partner
- Other (Specify)
To apply for a service record you will need:
- Their name
- Army or personal number (often called a service or regimental number) or date of birth
- A death certificate, unless their date of birth is over 116 years ago or they died in service
Officers had personal numbers and other ranks army numbers. Personal numbers can usually be found quickly on the London Gazette, while its often impossible to find an army number. For most people, especially the next of kin, it is easier to provide a date of birth than an army number. However, an army number was unique and soldiers often lied about their date of birth on enlistment. I’ve created a guide to help you find an army number but in most cases, you won’t be able to. Once you have the required information, you will need to complete two forms and send them off to the Army Personnel Centre along with a cheque for £30. The address needed and name for the cheque can be found on the forms. The two forms you will need can be found by clicking the link below which will take you to the government’s website:
The first form you will need is ”next-of-kin’s records” and then “British Army”. Both forms are very straightforward and they won’t take you long to fill out. Once you have sent off the forms with a cheque and photocopy of a death certificate (if needed), you should receive a copy of a file within four months or so. I find the service does take longer if you apply in the weeks around Remembrance Sunday.
I offer a Second World War Soldier Research Service and have helped my clients order service records, as well as death certificates if needed. To find out more about my research service, click on the link below:
Applying for WW2 Service Records if you are not the Next of Kin
Applying for a service record if you are not the next of kin or do not have permission follows the same steps as above. However, depending on when the person you are researching died you may only be given limited information. To apply for a service record you will need:
- Their full name
- Personal number for an officer or army number for an other rank, or date of birth
- A death certificate, unless their date of birth is over 116 years ago or if they died in service
If a soldier died within the last 25 years you’ll only receive limited information:
- Date of birth
- Regiment/Corps (but not the exact units)
- Army number
- Period served
- If they received the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal
If a soldier died more than 25 years ago you’ll receive a photocopy of the service record which will contain the units they served in and duration (this is the most important information), their ranks and promotion dates, medal entitlement, etc. If you apply without the next of kin’s permission, then the MOD will block out the soldier’s next of kin information in the file, as shown below. You’ll still receive the same military information.
Once you have either their number or date of birth and a death certificate (if applicable), you will need to fill out two forms which can be printed off by clicking the link below. The first is labelled ”not next-of-kin’s records” and the second “British Army”.
When you have completed the forms, you will need to send them off with a cheque for £30 and a copy of a death certificate (if needed) to the Army Personnel Centre. The address and name for the cheque can be found on the forms. You will usually receive a copy of the service record in around four or five months.
I offer a Second World War Research Service and have helped my clients order service records, as well as death certificates if needed. I also provide a copying service for WW2 war diaries which are the most important documents to view after a service record. Click on the link below to find out more: