The Ministry of Defence (MOD) says that it will commit more of its staff to working through the backlog of military service record requests after family historians complained about substantial delays.
All British military service records after 1920 are currently held by the MOD in Glasgow, although transfer of service records for the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy to The National Archives in Kew has begun and is expected to continue until 2027. Records of deceased servicemen and women are released to next of kin for a £30 fee after filling in and sending a postal application form.
An online ordering system was demonstrated by the MOD at RootsTech family history conference in London 2019 but online ordering is only available for requesting RAF records.
WDYTYA? Magazine has heard from 16 family historians who have experienced delays of up to a year and more after ordering a record and many more are complaining on genealogy forums and on Twitter.
Many date from the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, but correspondence from the MOD also indicates that the delays are linked to a backlog before the pandemic began.
Graham Plant submitted a request for his father’s records in August 2020. He emailed the ministry chasing the status of his application in January 2021.
The MOD replied: “Please bear in mind however that the department was completely closed for 5 months where nothing was processed or actioned. There were around 10 thousand applications waiting to be opened and recorded before any action could be taken – we also had a backlog of 6 month [sic] of ongoing enquiries when we closed. I am afraid that no further action can be taken on your application at present, furthermore we are unable to provide a definitive date when a response will be issued to you and we ask for patience in this matter.”
Plant finally received the military service record in late October 2021, 14 months after placing the order, although he had to issue a new cheque due to the delay.
A ministry spokesperson said: “The measures in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have impacted on the ability to respond to requests for service records. As staff gradually return to offices they are working diligently to process the backlog of requests as efficiently as possible. We thank requesters for their patience and understanding at this time.”
Concerns about the delays have been amplified by the transfer of records to TNA. Sue Wright applied for two service records in January 2020 but has heard nothing.
In an email to us Wright said, “I am pleased to hear that these records are now to be transferred to The National Archives and understand that this undertaking is going to take some considerable time. However, this now poses the question: is the MOD going to honour the requests already in the system and deal with them in a chronological order and then, what happens if the records that have requested have already been transferred to TNA?”
The MOD has told WDYTYA? Magazine that it will continue to fulfil any requests for service personnel records that it held at the time that the request was submitted and will be adding more staff to work through the backlog in the new year. This means that any orders for records that have since been transferred to TNA will be fulfilled by the MOD although they will have to recall the relevant information from TNA, causing likely additional delay. “We are working closely with The National Archives to ensure a smooth transition of records and minimise any disruption to this service,” a spokesperson said.