The Kay Family Association UK

Researching Relatives from the Great War

Getting Started

Gather together as much information as you can about your relative(s) who you want to research. Looking at the 1914-18 period for dates of birth between 1874 and 1903 would more likely fit the ages of service personnel for the period. Make sure you know the person’s full name, date and place of birth and any other details like possible next of kin. All this may prove useful in determining you have the right person.

In the trenchesIf your relative lived in Lancashire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Leicestershire, Somerset, Sussex, Warwickshire and Wiltshire then the On-Line Parish Clerk (OPC) can provide a mine of information.

Check the 1911 census for a possible address and trade; these are available, in the most, by paid access through Genes Reunited or Ancestry. Be aware that many servicemen lied about their ages when joining up.

If you believe, through family stories, that the person may have died during the Great War try the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Web site at Note, there are over 800 graves of ladies killed during the war under CWGC care, so don’t just think about males relatives. Are there any family stories of a female relative acting as a Nurse or a Driver during the conflict? The CWGC web site will provide lots of information to help you confirm the right person and their final resting place.

You may wish to see their service records to understand the battles in which they fought or where they did their service. The problem is that over 60% of service records for UK soldiers were destroyed by fire during WW2. This is not the case for Commonwealth service personnel, their war records can be accessed through the National Archive Australia or for New Zealand service personnel. Various web sites such as provide access to the remaining UK Service records. These are usually paid services.

Prisoner of War Records

As in any war, prisoners were taken by both sides. There are some very interesting stories of officers being allowed to return home for leave just by giving their word that they would return back to prison – and they did. The Red Cross kept records of all prisoners during WW1, but it is only since 2014 that the records have been digitised and are now available to view. The records can be accessed at

Campaign Medals

The British War Medal 1914-1918Every soldier qualified for at least one campaign medal if he left his native shore to serve overseas. Normally the person would need to be over 19 (if in the Army), but again many lied about their ages. The medals records generally do not have age, address, next of kin or similar information. But they are vital records that can reveal much about the man’s service, especially if the man’s army service record can’t be found

An index was created in the form of a card system, giving the reference(s) to the roll(s) into which the man’s details were entered. The index cards have been digitised and can be found at the National Archives Documents Online and at Ancestry. Please note that some Regimental Museums have purchased copies of the rolls and may do a search for you for a donation. Some men can have two indexes, as it was not unusual for men to transfer to different Regiments during their service. Also, any number you see against a person’s name, for the Army, is a Regimental or Corp number not a Service number and hence can and will change.

Silver War Badge

The Silver War BadgeThe Silver War Badge, sometimes wrongly referred to as the Silver Wound Badge, was instituted from 12 September 1916 under Army Order 316. It is a circular badge with the legend “For King and Empire – Services Rendered” surrounding the King George V cypher. The badge had a pin to wear as a brooch. The badges are individually numbered and so can be traced back to a particular service person. The most commonly seen reason for discharge from service and issue of the badge is KR 392(xvi), meaning the soldier had been released on account of being permanently physically unfit.

The rolls are held in original format at the National Archives. They have also been digitised and can be seen at Ancestry.

Hospital Admissions and Records

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to find records of a soldier’s admission to or discharge from a hospital? Sadly in most cases it will not be possible as the records have been discarded a long time ago. There is however a little known collection held at the National Archives in their document series MH106. These records are slowly being transcribed and are being put on line by Official Casualty Records were sometimes published in local newspapers.

Pension Records

As part of the demobilisation and discharge procedures, all soldiers were required to state any claim of medical problems or disabilities arising from or being aggravated by their service. The man underwent a pre-demob medical examination at which these problems or disabilities were recorded.

It was possible for a man to submit a claim even if he was discharged quite normally: for example if he had been wounded but made a recovery during service or if he had contracted malaria but was otherwise well at time of his discharge, he might make a claim.

A collection of pension records was released in 2012 and is now held by the Western Front Association. Manual look-ups will be carried out by WFA volunteers for a fee. Note that details can only be released if certain conditions are met.

Voluntary Service

The voluntary organisations such as the British Red Cross and the St John’s Ambulance, together with the Quaker Friends Ambulance, carried out a great deal of valuable work in support of the army during the war.

Unlike military records, details of service for men and women who served with these organisations are not held at the National Archives. The British Red Cross Society has an archive and provides a search service for Voluntary Aid Detachments and personnel records. Details can be seen at the British Red Cross Society website. The Red Cross also established many temporary hospitals across the UK and Ireland. This is interesting in its own to see the buildings – many still standing – that were used as such.

Local and National Records

One of the most sought-after sets of reference books of the First World War is the National Roll of the Great War. The National Publishing Company attempted, shortly after hostilities ceased, to compile a brief biography of as many participants in the War as possible. The vast majority of entries refer to combatants who survived the Great War and the National Roll is often the only source of information available.

Fourteen volumes were completed on a regional basis. Original volumes of this work are scarce; each of the volumes covers a region, as follows:

  • Section I London W, C and N
  • Section II London W, C and N
  • Section III London W, C and N
  • Section IV Southampton
  • Section V Luton and vicinity (includes other parts of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire)
  • Section VI Birmingham
  • Section VII London W, SE and C
  • Section VIII Leeds
  • Section IX Bradford
  • Section X Portsmouth
  • Section XI Manchester
  • Section XII Bedford and Northampton
  • Section XIII London SE
  • Section XIV Salford

Access to the Manchester Volume can be found by clicking on this link; the index database now allows simple searching of this unique reference source.

Regimental Records

Do you have any old family photos of your relative in uniform? Can you make out any regimental insignia? If you can make out an insignia then contacting the relevant Regimental Museum for assistance can prove useful. You may have to pay or make a contribution. Ask if they have Regimental War Diaries that you can peruse.

Memorials etc.

The Imperial War Museum has started a project to capture the location and inscriptions on all War Memorials from the Great War, which can be found at It may seem surprising that there isn’t a list of memorials already.

Many memorials were paid for by public subscription, others were erected in the village/town church. Be careful with church memorials as not everyone who died/survived will be on the memorial due to religious beliefs and practises. Also, some war memorials contain people from out of area as parents paid for a name to be included even in the person didn’t live in that village or town.

Many firms also erected memorials not only to those who died but those who survived as well. Gents of Leicester are a good example, also main railway stations may have a memorial to those from the railway companies who died.