Their ‘Debt of Honour Register’ is a valuable resource for those researching a relative either killed, or who died, in the Services since 1914.
Using the search engine it is possible to trace the grave or memorial to an individual, and possibly some information about their background, even if you don’t know that much about them to start with. The website, found at www.cwgc.org, covers both World Wars as well as actions post-1945 and between the wars.
Service Records for the main Commonwealth countries (Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand) are held by their respective Armed Forces or Records Offices.
Details of New Zealand records are at www.nzdf.mil.nz/personnel-records/nzdf-archives/default.html.
Canadian Records are in the National Library and Archives in Ottawa. Requests need to be in writing and be signed, but can be faxed to the archives at ATIP and Personnel Records Division, Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A, ON4, Canada (Fax: 001 613 995 6274). More information on the records, proofs of relationship and death, and how to apply for copies is available at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-909.007-e.html.
A good place to start for Australian records is at www.ww2roll.gov.au, which gives very basic details of over one million Australian servicemen and women. To find out more about how to find actual service records try www.naa.gov.au/collection/explore/defence/service-records/index.aspx.
South African service records are held at the Department of Defence, Documentation Centre, Private Bag X289, Pretoria 0001, Republic of South Africa.
Colonial Servicemen: Many men and women from the smaller colonies enlisted to fight in the British armed forces, and their records should be available through the record offices of the three armed forces in Britain.
The West Indies formed the Caribbean Regiment, which served in the Mediterranean theatre later in the war – their war diaries are in TNA.
Indian Service Records: The Indian government had its own armed forces. Records for British officers and warrant officers are held in the collections of the India Office Records in the British Library, in their L/MIL series. The India Army List also gives details of their service. The vast majority of servicemen were, of course, Indian (Pakistan was only formed after the war). Their service records seem to have stayed in India after independence, but political considerations meant that for many years they have been neglected and their exact whereabouts are unknown.
It may be worth contacting the Indian National Archives. As some Gurkha Regiments stayed with the British Army post-independence, you can try contacting the Gurkha Museum.
Women in the army
Hundreds of thousands of women served during the Second World Wars. Conscription was introduced for women in 1941.
Territorial Service (ATS)
In the army, women generally served in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) as clerks, drivers and mechanics, in radar stations and decoding units and operated anti-aircraft guns. In June 1943, there were 210,308 officers and women in the ATS.
Their service records are in the same Glasgow MOD office as their male counterparts. Most ATS members served on attachment to other units, so you’ll need to find the War Diaries from the units they served with, though there are some War Diaries specific to ATS units throughout the main series. You can search on TNA’s catalogue using ‘Auxiliary Territorial Service’ as the key search term.
The Women’s Royal Army Corps Museum collection has passed to the National Army Museum.
First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY)
A small volunteer organisation formed before the First World War, the FANY formed the basis of the first ATS Motor Driver Companies. Other FANY were attached to the Polish Army. Many FANY joined Special Operations Executive (or were commissioned into FANY as cover) serving as cipher clerks, radio operators and administrative assistants. Many of Special Operations Executives’ women agents were FANY.
Records of FANY members are at:
FANY (PRVC), TA Centre, 95 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 2DX.
There may be a charge for finding records.
Nurses and the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD)
The army nursing service was provided by Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service. Service records are held by the MOD in Glasgow. A few hospital War Diaries are available at TNA. A specific medal awarded to military nurses is the Royal Red Cross. There are Registers for awards covering the Second World War in WO 145/2 and WO 145/3. Medal citations are in WO 373.The VAD was part of the Red Cross, running hospitals and convalescent homes as well as helping staff military hospitals, acting as support staff to nurses, administrators, ambulance drivers and cooks.
VAD service records are held by the Red Cross in the form of record cards, information on which may include dates of service, the nature of duties performed, the detachment belonged to, the institutions and places where they served and any honours awarded.
You’ll need to write to: British Red Cross, Museum and Archives department, 44 Moorfields, London EC2Y 9AL.
Provide as much information about the individual as possible. In particular it’s useful to include: any known addresses, middle names, maiden or married names, date of marriage, any known service details and date of birth. Though no formal charge is made for information, a donation would be polite.