British Army Service Records 1760-1915

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Militia service records

A Militia is a voluntary part-time home defense force. The Militia Act of 1757 established Militia regiments in all counties of England and Wales, and derives from Anglo-Saxon common law traditions. The yeomanry cavalry (see below) and the volunteers were introduced later. In 1907, the yeomanry and the volunteers combined as the Territorial Force, and in 1908 the Militia was revived as the "Special Reserve."

Many men served their time in the Militia, though it was a voluntary force - it was intended to be seen as an alternative to the army. Men were expected to attend several months of basic training, and return regularly for additional military training, but were otherwise free to go about their daily lives. This meant it appealed especially to men in casual work - labourers, farm-workers, colliers - as a source of additional income. This also means that many men's ordinary occupations are recorded in their service records.

In this dataset you can search around 500,000 Militia service records for the period of 1806-1915, organized as WO96 in the National Records.

Information about British Army Service Records 1760-1915

These record collections provide rich and detailed information about soldiers of the British Army. It's common to find several pages of records per soldier – some soldiers have hundreds of pages of records!

Before the advent of photography, the army had to have a way of identifying soldiers in case of desertion or pension fraud.They kept description books, which provided detailed physical descriptions of each solder as well as details of birthplace, trade service and enlistment.

The information listed varies, but the records tend to be very detailed and will usually include a combination of the following:

Biographical information

  • Name
  • Date and place of birth
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Name and address of next of kin
  • Marriage details
  • Children's names and dates of birth


  • Height and chest size
  • Complexion
  • Hair and eye colour
  • Distinguishing features, including tattoos and scars

Service history

  • Date of attestation
  • Regiment
  • Rank, including a record of any promotions
  • Where stationed
  • Campaigns fought in
  • Medals awarded
  • Date of discharge and reason for it

Medical history

  • Conduct and character observations

War Office: Imperial Yeomanry, soldiers' documents, South African War

The Imperial Yeomanry was a volunteer cavalry unit formed in late December 1899, in order to bring in more troops for the Boer War. It was made up of new volunteers and men supplied from existing yeomanry units (many of which were standing volunteer regiments).

The records include attestation papers (official papers written for a solider upon joining the army), discharge documents (official papers written for a soldier upon leaving the army), and occasionally other papers.

The attestation papers reveal that most men were already serving either with a Yeomanry or Militia unit, but some men had no previous experience of military service. These men were generally farmers from the middle-upper classes.

This military service records collection contains nearly 159,000 images of documents for 26,680 men during the period 1899-1902, cataloged as WO128 in the National Archives. It is as close to a complete record of other ranks from a particular unit in a specific military campaign as it is possible to get.