Monday, February 27, 2006

Tracing An Ancestor's Service In The Great War

Western Front Association Contributed Articles
The National Archives, Kew
This contains records of both men and units, although many of the men's records were lost in the Blitz in September 1940 when an incendiary bomb destroyed the South London warehouse where they were stored.

The website,, contains indexes of the contents of each class of documents but in order to search the records themselves, either a personal visit to Kew, or the services of a researcher, will be required. Do not be discouraged from making a personal visit if you can: it is basically just a giant reference library and the staff are very helpful. On your first visit you will need some identification in order to obtain a reader's ticket, a process which is free and only takes a few minutes.
Soldiers' Personal Service RecordsThe soldiers' records now available at the National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office), Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU on microfilm comprise two categories: the so-called "Unburnt Documents" and "Burnt Documents". The former are about 8 to 10% of the whole and relate principally to those men who were discharged with a pension during the course of the war, usually as a result of wounds. These documents were held by the Ministry of Pensions in 1940 and thus survived the Blitz. They have recently been released at Kew and are in class WO364.

The "Burnt Documents", amounting to perhaps 30% of the whole, are still held by the MoD at Hayes. They are charred, water-stained and jumbled, just as they were rescued by firemen in 1940. The project to microfilm them at Kew is now complete, the microfilms being in class WO363. The last batch of microfilms contains mis-sorted records. The actual documents will never become available to the public as they are far too fragile to handle. The remaining 60% or so of documents were irretrievably lost in the 1940 fire.


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