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The National Archives holds a wide range of British Army Records which go back to 1660. They generate a great deal of interest but the majority of our ancestors will have been enrolled as rank and file soldiers and not officers. Prior to World War I it helps to know which regiment your ancestor served in. There are a number of records which will help identify the appropriate regiment. World War I personnel records form a single alphabetic series but unfortunately these were damaged during World War II and are known as the Burnt Records. They are in very poor condition and there is no access to the originals, however they are being filmed and released letter by letter. This project will be completed by 2003 and letter “R” was released earlier this year. I have not yet has an opportunity to visit Kew since they were released.
Royal Naval records are also held at the TNA. The personnel records for the regular Navy are available. Each record is a single page in a large ledger that gives a brief summary of a sailor's career from enlistment to discharge. The records include the names, with dates, of all the ships the sailor served on, his changes of rate and even in one case the various gaols to which he was sent for unspecified misdemeanours.
Royal Naval Reserve records have now been released. These take the form of record cards, one or more for each sailor. There is a brief personal description, including date and place of birth, parent’s names and one or more addresses usually with dates. The records include a brief history of the man’s training and a brief summary of his service from mobilisation to discharge. There is also a list of the ships that he served on in peacetime.
The Medal Roles provide some basic information about sailors in both the regular navy and the reserve.
Another source of basic information about the casualties of both World Wars are the Commonwealth War Grave Commission records.