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Army - Courts Martial Records/Deserter Registers/Regimental Description Books, Other Ranks before 1914 & WWI (Military)

Nature of Source

Courts Martial Records contain the records of those tried and disciplined by the army courts.

The Deserter Registers detail soldiers who deserted who are also listed in the Police Gazette. The registers are found in TNA series WO 25 covering 1799-1852, with the Police Gazette available at TNA covering 1828-1845.

The Regimental Description Books provide a physical description of each soldier to be used in cases of desertion. The books are arranged by regiment and then indexed by name. Some records exist from 1756, however most commence from the middle of the 19th century. The records can be found in TNA series WO 25/266-688 and WO 67 and cover the years from 1795-1900.

Those executed do not appear in Soldiers who died in the Great War publication. Most records are closed for 75 years. Deserters were also noted in local newspapers and the Police Gazette.

Service records for all ranks who served after 1920 remain with the Ministry of Defence with each military service maintaining its own record office. The Veterans UK web site provides contact details of where to apply for service records for each of the services.

Where Found

The National Archives (Army: WO 71, WO 72, WO 81-WO 93, WO 213/2-26)
The National Archives (Airmen: AIR 18)
The National Archives (Sailors: ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 156, ADM 167)

Officer trials from 1806-1904 are indexed in WO 93

National Army Museum/Templer Study Centre (The museum houses a wealth of information on the history and traditions of the Army including officer Army Lists, regimental and campaign histories, soldier's effects records, military memoirs and diaries, regimental and other military periodicals and books and other archives relating to the pre-1914 Army. The museum also holds the enlistment and discharge books for the Buffs, the Middlesex Regiment, and the five Irish regiments disbanded in 1922. See the web site for details of their collections and a series of information sheets for researching army family history)

Period Covered

1796 - 1963

Genealogical Value

Courts Martial Records
Name, rank, career and sentence of soldier.

Deserter Registers
Name, physical description, regiment, age, birthplace and occupation of the deserter as well as the date and place of joining and desertion.

Regimental Description Books
Name, physical description and regiment of soldier. Place, age and date of enlistment. Place (address) of birth and occupation of soldier. If applicable date and place of death. Character and conduct. Previous army career, including promotions, desertions, transfers and discharges.

Further References

General  
Beckett, James Deuchar (ed). The Beckett Soldiers Index, A-C: Jade Publishing, 2003  
Beckett, James Deuchar (ed). The Beckett Soldiers Index, D-G Jade Publishing, 2009  
Beckett, James Deuchar (ed). The Beckett Soldiers Index, H-K: Jade Publishing, 2009
(Listing of soldiers from 1793 to about 1854 extracted from TNA series WO 120 and WO 116 and other sources such as marriage registers and medal awards. Arranged alphabetically by surname, forename and regiment including whether discharged at either Chelsea or Kilmainham Hospital. These published editions cover more ground than the Beckett Soldiers' Index available at The National Archives)
 

Bevan, Amanda. Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives: The National Archives, 2006

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Brereton, J.M. A Guide to the Regiments and Corps of the British Army: Bodley Head, 1985

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Blank, Dr. Stuart. Researching British Military History on the Internet: Alwyn Enterprises, 2007

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Cox. Reginald H. W. Military Badges of the British Empire 1914-18: Ernest Benn, 1982

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Farmer, John, The Regimental Records of the British Army: Grant Richards, 1901 (Free download available at the Internet Archive)

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Fowler, Simon. A Guide to Military History on the Internet: Pen & Sword, 2007

Fowler, Simon. Tracing your Army Ancestors: Pen & Sword, 2006

Fowler, Simon. Tracing Your Army Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2013

Gaylor, John. Military Badge Collecting: Pen & Sword Books, 2002
Grehan, John & Mace, Martin. British Battles of the Crimean Wars 1854-1856: Pen & Sword Books, 2014  

Kitzmiller, John. In Search of the Forlorn Hope: A Comprehensive Guide to Locating British Regiments and Their Records, 1640-WWI: Manuscript Publishing Foundation, 1988

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Murphy, Gerry. Where Did That Regiment Go? The Lineage of British Infantry and Cavalry Regiments at a Glance: The History Press, 2009

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Paterson, Sarah. Tracing Your Family History, Army: Imperial War Museum, 2006 Buy Now on Amazon

Pols, Robert. Dating Old Army Photographs: Family History Partnership, 2011

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Saks, David. Boerejode: Jews in the Boer Armed Forces 1899-1902: 2010  

Spencer, William. Family History in the Wars: The National Archives, 2007

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Spencer, William. Army Records: A Guide For Family Historians: The National Archives, 2008

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Storey, Neil. Military Photographs and How to Date Them: Countryside Books, 2009

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Swinnerton, Iain, An Introduction to the British Army: Its History, Traditions and Records: FFHS, 1996

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Swinson, Arthur. A Register of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army: The Archive Press, 1972

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The Great War: A Photographic Narrative: Imperial War Museum: Jonathan Cape, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon

Usher, George. Dictionary of British Military History: A&C Black Publishers, 2006

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Watts, Michael and Watts, Christopher. My Ancestor was in the British Army: Society of Genealogists, 2009

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Westlake, Ray. The Territorials 1908-1914: A Guide for Military and Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2011
WWI  
Banks, Arthur. A Military Atlas of The First World War: Pen & Sword Books, 2013
Bridger, Geoff. The Great War Handbook: A Guide For Family Historians & Students Of The Conflict: Pen & Sword Books, 2013
Christopher, John & McCutcheon, Campbell. 1914 the First World War in Old Photographs: Over by Christmas: Amberley Publishing, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Doyle, Peter & Foster Chris. British Army Cap Badges of the First World War: Shire Publications, 2010 Buy Now on Amazon
Doyle, Peter. Great War British Tommy Manual: The British Soldier 1914-18 [All Models]-Haynes Owners' Workshop Manuals: Haynes, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Doyle, Peter & Foster Chris. Remembering Tommy: The British Soldier in the First World War: The History Press, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Doyle, Peter & Foster Chris. What Tommy Took to War, 1914-1918: Shire Publications, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Doyle, Peter. The First World War in 100 Objects: The History Press, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Forty, Simon. Mapping the First World War: Battlefields of the Great Conflict from Above: Anova Books, 2013 Buy Now on Amazon
Gregson, Keith. A Tommy in the Family: First World War Family History Tales and Research Tips: The History Press, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Hadaway, Stuart. Tracing Your Great War Ancestors: The Egypt and Palestine Campaigns: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2017
Holding, Norman, More Sources of WWI Army Ancestry: FFHS, 1998 Buy Now on Amazon
Holding, Norman & Swinnerton, Iain. WWI Army Ancestry: FFHS, 2004 Buy Now on Amazon
Holmes, Richard. Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front 1914-1918: Harper Perennial, 2005 Buy Now on Amazon
Holmes, Richard. Shots from the Front: The British Soldier 1914-18: HarperPress, 2010 Buy Now on Amazon
Holmes, Richard. The First World War in Photographs: Andre Deutsch, July 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
James, Brig. E. A. British Regiments 1914-18: Naval and Military Press, 2009 Buy Now on Amazon
Paterson, Sarah. Tracing Your Prisoner of War Ancestors: The First World War: Pen & Sword, 2012
Rawson, Andrew. The British Army 1914-1918: The History Press, 2014 Buy Now on Amazon
Spencer, William. First World War Army Service Records: The National Archives, 2008 Buy Now on Amazon
Swinnerton, Iain. Identifying Your World War One Soldier from Badges and Photographs: Federation of Family History Societies, 2001 Buy Now on Amazon


TNA Research Guides

Websites

General
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/service_records/courts_martial.htm (Courts martial during the First World War)
www.stephen-stratford.com/courts_martial.htm (British Military & Criminal History 1900 to 1999. The article deals with the courts-martial of soldiers during the First World War and in the period 1941-1953)
www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-people/miltary-justice/161-court-martial.html (Courts Martial of the First World War)
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-subject/default.htm (TNA Guide: Looking for a subject, Military history)
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-person/default.htm (TNA Guide: Looking for a person, Army)
www.ukmfh.org.uk (UK Military Family History Online: Links to web sites with online data and information to aid in military family history research)
www.armylists.org.uk (Guide to Army Lists and published lists available on CD)
www.parishchest.com (Online store selling military records from a variety of suppliers)
www.veterans-uk.info/index.html (Veterans UK)
www.armymuseums.org.uk/ancestor.htm (Ancestor Research & Military Genealogy)
http://archive.iwm.org.uk/server/show/nav.3240 (Imperial War Museum, Your History, Family History: Army: Information sheets include Tracing Army Ancestry, Army Service Records, Tracing Army Units and List of Abbreviations)
www.globalgenealogy.com/globalgazette/gazfd/gazfd44.htm (British Military Records: The Army by Fawne Stratford-Devai)
www.militaryarchiveresearch.com (Military Archive Research, by Dr Stuart C Blank)
www.genuki.org.uk/big/MilitaryRecords.html (GENUKI Military guide with useful links)
www.genuki.org.uk/big/BritMilRecs.html (British Military Records by Jay Hall)
www.armymuseums.org.uk (Guide and links to military museums in the UK)
www.nas.gov.uk/guides/military.asp (National Archives of Scotland Research Guide: Military Records)
WWI
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/firstworldwar/index.htm (TNA online WWI exhibition)
www.1914-1918.net (The Long, Long Trail - The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918: A resource for military historians, genealogists and others with an interest in the Great War of 1914-1918 with information on the soldiers, units, regiments and battles of the British Army. The site includes a section on 'Researching a soldier')
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/first-world-war (The First World War - The National Archives: Web portal dedicated to WWI with collections featuring letters, diaries, podcasts and videos, maps and photographs. Also discover online collections, research guides and educational resources to learn about the history behind the war)
www.operationwardiary.org
(Operation War Diary: Crowdsourcing partnership project between The National Archives, Imperial War Museums and Zooniverse which aims to unlock the details from within the WWI unit war diaries such as individual named individuals and place names)
www.westernfrontassociation.com (The Western Front Association: The Association was formed with the aim of furthering interest in The Great War of 1914-1918 and to perpetuate the memory of all those on all sides who served during The Great War. The site includes a section on Research and Family History with articles providing help and guidance for your research into The Great War)
www.livesofthefirstworldwar.org (Imperial War Museum: Lives of the First World War. Lives of the First World War will bring material from museums, libraries, archives and family collections from across the world together in one place)
www.illustratedfirstworldwar.com
(Illustrated First World War: Online access to the First World War pages of The Illustrated London News and the wartime years of The Sphere, The Sketch, The Tatler, The Bystander, The Graphic and The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News)
www.cwgc.org/discover1418 (The Discover 14-18 microsite is designed to enable the public to visit the CWGC memorial sites more easily and enhance their understanding of the historical context of the cemeteries and memorials. The site features a timeline and events calendar for WW1 and content themed around major battles and the different roles of the Army, Navy and Air Force)
www.everymanremembered.org (Every Man Remembered: The Royal British Legion initiative allows members of the public to commemorate with a personal dedication every individual man and woman from across the Commonwealth who fell in the First World War)
www.military-researcher.com (Guide to WW1 research including causes of discharge)
www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa (The Great War Archive: WWI digital photographs, audio, film, documents, and stories submitted by the general public. The initiative was run by Oxford University between the 3rd March and the 30th June 2008. Users can now share First World War objects on the The Great War Archive Flickr Group)
www.europeana.eu/portal/en/collections/world-war-I (Europeana 1914-1918. Explore the untold stories and official histories of World War I in items from across Europe including postcards, letters, diaries, images and other memorabilia)
http://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk (TNA podcast: Tracing battalions or regiments of the British Army during the Great War)
www.pals.org.uk/research.htm (Guide to researching service records)
http://ww1-lost-photos.livejournal.com (Blog covering the WWI photographs of the unknown soldiers)
www.ww1photos.com
(World War One Photos: Thousands of identified photos & obituaries of First World War officers, soldiers, sailors, nurses, airmen and civilian workers)
www.flickr.com/photos/imperialwarmuseum/sets/72157627910530369/with/6279131985 (IWM Collections: Faces of the First World War)
www.1914.org (Imperial War Museum First World War Centenary 1914-1918)
http://imr.inflandersfields.be/index.html
(Ireland’s Memorial Records: Online access to some 49,000 names published in 1923 in the Irish National War Memorial. The memorial books detail those who died or were mortally wounded during WWI, both civilian and military, and whatever their nationality)

Online Databases

www.findmypast.co.uk (Surrey, Military Tribunals 1915-1918. These records are registers and letter books from local military service tribunals at Woking, Dorking and Haslemere and papers kept by the chairman of the appeal tribunal at Guildford, produced in association with the Surrey History Trust)

CD Roms

Family History Indexes (Military Courts, 1879-1994, by Stuart Tamblin)
Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society (The Deserter Index: Index to 36,000 deserters, including units of the Honourable East India Company, extracted from the Police Gazette covering the years 1828-1840)