How can I find out about military service in WW1 for an English veteran?

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My grandfather, Robert Wright (born 1896, Kings Norton, Worcestershire, England; and still living there in the 1911 census), fought in WW1 and was (according to family oral tradition) gassed while he was serving. He went on to marry in 1919 and have children in Birmingham, England.

None of his children are alive, nor are any of his siblings, so I have no access to oral testimony.

How can I find out about his military service?

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To find his service record you should consult collection WO 363 in the National Archives (also available on Ancestry) but unfortunately a large proportion of the WW1 service records were destroyed or damaged in the Blitz so it is quite possible that you won't find him there.

You may have more luck with WO 364 which is the records of pension claims, especially if he was in fact injured. Once again that is also available on Ancestry.

Another source which should list him if he was discharged due to his injuries is the Silver War Badge Records, which are in WO 329 as well as on Ancestry.

He will also likely appear in the Medal Index Cards which are WO 372 and, you guessed it, are on Ancestry.

The last two won't give you much more than his rank, regiment and serial number, but those are the most important details for tracking down further information.

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Each of the excellent sources listed by TomH is actually the property of The National Archives and can be searched at their site. In particular the British Army medal index cards 1914-1920 https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/medal-index-cards-ww1.htm provides a quick way to obtain the name of the regiment(s) in which your ancestor served and his service number. That information will be the key to all your future searches.

Although it is rare to find details of where individual soldiers were posted, once you know the Regiment you can use The Long, Long Trail at http://www.1914-1918.net/ to find lists of dates and places where the unit saw action.

The same author (a military historian) has developed On the Trail of a Tommy at http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/research/index.php/find-your-soldier/ as a guide to the sort of research you want to do.

If your ancestor's regiment was caught in a gas attack, then that may have been reported back home. That is particularly the case if the regiment had been formed locally and several men from the same area were involved. Use The British Newspaper Archive at http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ to look for reports in relevant papers of the time that might throw some light on the family story.

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The main stumbling block to finding other information on a mans WW1 service is often determining the regiment and service number One avenue I have not seen mentioned is the Absent Voters List Compiled in 1918 they list via the address the mans name, regiment and service number Not all lists survive so much would depend upon the location, I would suggest contacting the Worcestershire records office and ask if they have any, some are indexed but far from all You will need the address he was most likely living at in 1918 to start with, either his parents address or from the 1919 marriage certificate you mention For more on Absent Voters see http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/research/index.php/find-your-soldier/how-the-absent-voters-lists-can-help-your-military-research/

This is a useful pointer. I've now checked the Birmingham voters lists from 1918 onwards. Unfortunately, his first appearance is in 1919 at the address from which he married; his widowed mother is at the same address. He would have turned 21 and so become eligible to vote in 1917, so I will check with Worcestershire as well. – None – 2012-10-23T18:55:28.823

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I found many WW1 records on my Grandad’s time as a soldier via Ancestry.co.uk (as mentioned by TomH) including his medical records. It’s a paid for service but has a free trial period. I’d suggest gathering as much info on your family as possible before starting the trial to maximise its usefulness.

I was lucky in that I had access to my Grandad’s ‘little Soldier’s Book’ which gave me various details including his regiment and army number but I suspect you could still find records without this information.

Additional note: This doesn’t directly answer your question but if you are able to gather a number of military records, you might find it useful to do what I did. As I mentioned above, I found a load of military records for my grandad but a pile of random, unrelated records were confusing and difficult to make sense of. So, I decided to add them all into timeline software so I could see them in context.

It turned out to be a good decision and worth the effort of manually typing them in. Suddenly, I could see all the events in context and follow the story of my Grandad’s time during WW1.

I happened to use xtimeline at the time but would probably use Aeon Timeline if I was doing it now but any timeline software would do.

2No, it was an official little printed book. It included certain rules regarding going on leave, general army life etc. I assumed all soldiers were given a copy. – andygrunt – 2012-10-13T21:39:54.587

@GeneJ and Andy - They still give those out, at least they did when I was in the Army in the late 90's. We carried it everywhere in a ziplock bag so it would survive crawling through the mud and road marching in the rain. :) – jmort253 – 2012-10-13T21:53:01.767

During not WWI but WWII my father carried a small card that noticed each and every redeployment. Bit emotional .. it was in his wallet when he passed away so many years later. This is the stuff that real genealogies are built upon. – GeneJ – 2012-10-13T22:16:39.593

I’d be happy to give more details but I’m not sure what I can say about it. If you have specific questions, I’ll try and answer them. – andygrunt – 2012-10-13T22:55:44.613

2BTW, while there is more to Andy's answer, I would like us to encourage users to be more specific than "I found it on Ancestry..." It makes for a much better answer if it references the specific record or record group in which the information was found, then includes the supplemental pointer indicating that record or record group was accessed online via Ancestry. – GeneJ – 2012-10-14T07:05:13.860

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The wills of English and Welsh soldiers who died in World War 1 are being made available, together with some letters that were judged by military censors as unsuitable to send at the time of their writing.

There's a news story at the Guardian which says:

From Thursday [29 August] they will be available online, through a joint project by the storage firm [Iron Mountain] and Her Majesty's court and tribunal service: anyone can search the index by name, date or regimental number, and then pay a statutory £6 fee for a copy of any will. Iron Mountain has digitised everything in each record, so any letters, and the official envelopes recording the date and cause of death, will also be supplied.

The index is at https://www.gov.uk/probate-search, and includes English and Welsh soldiers "who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986". It does not include officers and Irish and Scottish soldiers.

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Some records for WW1 Prisoners of War are available at ancestry.co.uk and findmypast.co.uk, but they only seem to deal with Officers.

The International Committee of the Red Cross hold the definitive records and are newly (August 2014) available at Prisoners of the First World War.