skip to content

Army - Soldier's Documents (Pension & Service Records) - Other Ranks before 1914 (Military)

Nature of Source

Records of soldiers (not officers) who served and survived to receive a pension either as an in-pensioner or out-pensioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The in-pensioners were and still are known as the ‘Chelsea Pensioners’. The records consists of attestation forms (papers signed when joining up to serve) and discharge forms (papers signed when leaving a regiment), a summary of the soldier’s career and other documents and correspondence. Records of those discharged without pensions before 1883 were destroyed.

Knowing which regiment a man served in is of great benefit when researching a soldier’s career at The National Archives (TNA). If the person’s place of service is known, then the Monthly Returns held at TNA will help in identifying his regiment as the returns show the location of each regiment on a monthly basis. The returns are held in series WO 17 and WO 73 and cover the years from 1759 to 1865. Additionally, the monthly journals United Service Journal and the Naval and Military Magazine (some editions can be found at the Internet Archive or at Google Books) also publish similar information as well as a number of reference books. Alternatively, his will might mention his regiment or possibly the birth certificates of his children. If the person (whether a soldier or officer) married, died or had children at a station abroad, then the Chaplain's Returns (1796-1880) which record such events, provide the regiment’s name. The registers are available online at

Apart from the records in the main series in held in series WO 97, a similar set of discharged to pension records for other ranks and non-commissioned officers can be found in series WO 121 (1760-1887). The series covers Chelsea out-pension claimants between 1871 and 1884 and also those discharged without pension between 1884 and 1887. The details about the soldier will be similar to those found in WO 97 and will include his rank, regiment and occupation or trade.

The records are only applicable for those discharged to pension and not for those that died on service or who took an early discharge without pension. From 1883 the papers relate to those discharged by purchase or end of engagement and are arranged alphabetically by name. It is therefore important to know which unit the soldier served with. Soldier records covering WWI in the Soldiers' Documents in series WO 363 and Soldiers' Documents from Pension Claims in series WO 364 could include soldiers enlisted before 1914.

Please note that soldiers were given regimental numbers which would change if they were transferred to another regiment and so may appear more than once in different army records. Information about regimental numbers and the dates on which these were issued to soldiers joining the British Army between 1881 and 1918 can be found at Army Service Numbers 1881-1918 Index. For the history and affiliations of every battalion of every British infantry regiment see Present day army numbers remain with the soldier throughout their careers.

The records of the Household Cavalry which comprised of the Life Guards, The Blues and Royals and the Household Battalion have all survived and can be found at The National Archives in series WO 400 with copies held at the Household Cavalry Archives, Combermere Barracks in Windsor. The surviving records of service for over 12,000 servicemen from the Household Cavalry are also available to search and download in Discovery, the catalogue of The National Archives covering 1799 to 1920. The records contain details of servicemen who were part of the Household Cavalry during the Battle of Waterloo, the Boer War and the First World War. The Guards Regiments have retained their own archives and are kept at the appropriate H.Q. or museum archives. These include The Guards Museum in London and the Queens Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum in Cardiff. The site hosts the Military Genealogy Database which contains a database of names from the 1st King's Dragoon Guards, Queen's Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) and 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards.

Also look for the records of the King's Freemen which relate to discharged servicemen given special privileges to trade in towns and cities across Britain. Those given the right to trade were not officially Freemen but merely granted the right by the Crown. The rights also extended to the man's wife and children. The records contain the man's discharge papers and marriage and baptism certificates for the wives and children. The records begin around 1749 and extend to 1816. The London Metropolitan Archives holds about 4,000 sets of discharge papers of servicemen permitted to trade in the City of London with a name index. For more information see the online leaflet 'King's Freemen' and their Records in the CLRO'.

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.

Also see

Army - Applications for Pensions for Widows and Children - Officers before 1914 (Military)
Army - Casualty Lists, Other Ranks before 1914
Army - Pensions (Medical & Service) Admission Books, Other Ranks before 1914 (Military)
Army - Pensions Returns & Regimental Register of Pensioners, Other Ranks before 1914 (Military)
Army - Soldiers' Documents (Service Records) from Pension Claims ('Unburnt Collection'), Other Ranks, WWI (Military)
War Memorials, Graves & Rolls of Honour (Military, including WWI) Including Scotland

Where Found

The National Archives (WO 97, Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents. A name index extracted from WO 97/1-1271 covering 1760-1854 has been produced in a joint project by the Friends of The National Archives and the Army Museums Ogilby Trust. The index is available at the TNA Discovery catalogue. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type WO 97)
The National Archives (WO 121, Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Discharge Documents of Pensioners. A name index for WO 121 is available at the TNA Discovery catalogue. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type WO 121)
The National Archives (WO 131, Royal Hospital, Chelsea: Documents of Soldiers Awarded Deferred Pensions)

The National War Museum of Scotland (Records concerning the history of Scottish service personnel from the 17th to the 20th century, including regimental order books and private diaries)
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

1760 - 1913

Genealogical Value

Name, date and place of birth. Age and occupation on joining. Physical description. Army career including promotions, demotions, medals awarded and places where served. Dates of service and reasons for discharge. Place and date of discharge and intended address. Next of kin and details of marriage and children after 1883.

Further References

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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon

Murphy, Gerry. Where Did That Regiment Go? The Lineage of British Infantry and Cavalry Regiments at a Glance: The History Press, 2016

Buy Now on Amazon
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

Buy Now on Amazon
Robinson, Jane Marchese. Tracing Your Boer War Ancestors: Soldiers of a Forgotten War: Pen and Sword Books, 2016
Saks, David. Boerejode: Jews in the Boer Armed Forces 1899-1902: 2010  

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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon
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

Buy Now on Amazon

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

Buy Now on Amazon
Westlake, Ray. The Territorials 1908-1914: A Guide for Military and Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2011

TNA Research Guides

Websites (Guide to the Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records) (TNA Your Archives Guide: Commissioners of The Royal Hospitals, Chelsea & Kilmainham) (The National Archives Podcast: Nineteenth century soldiers: getting the most from online resources, by William Spencer. This talk aims to explain the intricacies of soldiers' service records online, in record series WO 97, and how using the records of the First World War is something which should be considered when researching nineteenth-century soldiers) (TNA Guide: Looking for a subject, Military history) (TNA Guide: Looking for a person, Army)
(British Battles is a web site dedicated to documenting British Battles fought by Britain and its Empire forces from the 18th Century to the end of the 19th Century, illustrated and mapped) (Anglo Boer War: Information on the Anglo Boer War 1899-1902 with a forum for discussion of the conflict. Sections include: Biographical information on people who were involved in the Boer War; Details of the medals awarded for the Boer War and other contemporary and South African campaigns; Information on the Imperial, Colonial, South African and Boer units that participated) (The Second Anglo-Afghan War 1878-1880. Online resource for those interested in the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880. It is also the home of the Second Afghan War database project, a collection of names, family histories and stories concerning those who participated in this lesser-known campaign) (UK Military Family History Online: Links to web sites with online data and information to aid in military family history research) (Guide to Army Lists and published lists available on CD) (Online store selling military records from a variety of suppliers) (Veterans UK) (Ancestor Research & Military Genealogy) (Imperial War Museum, Your History, Family History: Army: Information sheets include Tracing Army Ancestry, Army Service Records, Tracing Army Units and List of Abbreviations) (British Military Records: The Army by Fawne Stratford-Devai) (Military Archive Research, by Dr Stuart C Blank) (The British and Commonwealth Military Badge Forum
British Cavalry Badges. Forum devoted to those with an interest in military badges and military badge collecting. Sections include British Cavalry Badges, Bibliography of Military Insignia and a Glossary) (GENUKI Military guide with useful links) (British Military Records by Jay Hall) (Army Museums Ogilby Trust: Guide and links to military museums in the UK) (National Archives of Scotland Research Guide: Military Records)

Online Databases (UK, Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Soldier Service Records, 1760-1920. This collection comprises service documents of soldiers, but not officers, who either became in- or out-pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea extracted from TNA series WO 97. This collection contains an index to records transcribed from the registers. To view images of the registers on, you will need an Ancestry All Access subscription) (Military Genealogy Forces War Records: Military records of over two million British Armed Forces personnel cross matched with over 4000 Regiments including Rolls of Honour, Crimean and Boer War Databases, Medal Rolls and Casualties Lists. The site also has a facility to access information on specific units or bases including regiments, ships, airfields) (British Army Service Records 1760-1920: The collection includes a myriad of Army forms including attestation papers, medical forms, discharge documents, pension claims, and proceedings of regimental boards from 11 different series of records from The National Archives. The dataset includes records from series WO 128 Imperial Yeomanry, soldiers' documents, South African War 1899-1902; WO 97 which provides details on soldiers, popularly known as Chelsea Pensioners, in receipt of a pension from the Royal Hospital Chelsea after discharge between 1760 and 1913. Also included are series WO 121 Chelsea: pensioners' discharge documents 1760-1887and series WO 122 Chelsea: pensioners' discharge documents, foreign regiments 1816-1817 and series WO 131 Chelsea: documents of soldiers awarded deferred pensions 1838-1896; WO 400 records of the Household Cavalry 1801-1919)
(Royal Artillery Attestations 1883-1942. The information contained in this collection is taken from enlistment books which were maintained by British Army regiments during the period under consideration. Each record includes an image of the enlistment book and a transcription. The original enlistment books that from this collection are owned by The Royal Artillery Historical Trust) (1841 & 1851 & 1861 & 1871 Worldwide Army Index. The index was created by Roger E. Nixon and provides the names, ranks, army numbers and regiments of about 98 per cent of other ranks serving in the British Army. The data was extracted from The National Archives April-June quarter paylists held in TNA series WO 10 [Royal Artillery], WO 11 [Royal Engineers] and WO 12 [Cavalry, Guards, Infantry and other units])
(British Army, Worldwide Index 1841. The Index was created by Kevin Asplin from muster rolls and pay lists between April and June 1841. It includes both British Army and Honourable East India Company servicemen and cover locations as diverse as Sydney, Ceylon, Madras, Honduras, Canada and Malta) (London Volunteer Soldiers, 1859-1955. Service records of part-time soldiers, usually from London, who served with a number of volunteer military units with the British Army) (Royal Artillery Attestations 1883-1942: This collection of over 870,000 records is taken from books which were maintained by British Army regiments, intended as permanent records of a man’s enlistment)
(British Army, War Of 1812 Casualties: The index contains the details of over 12,000 soldiers in the British Army who died, deserted or were imprisoned during the War of 1812 known as the Anglo-American War) (United Kingdom, Chelsea Pensioners' Service Records, 1760-1913 extracted from TNA series WO 97. Transcribed index with images available at findmypast UK) (Register of the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. The records contain over 293,000 names consisting of casualty rolls, service rolls, honour rolls, force rolls and a variety of other material, including a completely revised casualty list of 59,000 casualty records)
(Prisoners Of War 1715-1945. Over 764,000 records of servicemen, women and civilians who were taken captive during the Napoleonic, Crimean, Boer, First and Second World Wars)
(Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects, 1901-1929. This database contains records detailing the money owed to soldiers of the British Army who died in service from 1901 to 1929. Records typically include the name of the soldier, his next of kin and their relationship, the date of death and sometimes the place, plus other details)
(The National Archives: Household Cavalry soldiers' service records 1799-1920. The records contain details of servicemen who were part of the Household Cavalry, file series WO 400, during the Battle of Waterloo, the Boer War and the First World War)
(Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902: Records containing over 258,800 names of the men and women who fought during the Second Anglo-Boer War) (Surrey Recruitment Registers 1908-1933: Registers of men who volunteered or were conscripted, published in association with the Surrey History Trust) (Napoleonic War Records 1775-1817: Databases include the Army of Reserve 1803 consisting of records of Other Ranks who were part of the 1803 England and Wales Army of Reserve; Regimental indexes 1806 consisting of indexes of regimental records of Napoleonic era Other Ranks from 1806; Foot Guards attestation papers 1775-1817 consisting of records of Other Ranks' attestations to the 1st Foot Guard between 1775 and 1817) (Casualties of the Boer War, 1899-1902: The database lists the names, regiments, dates, locations and nature of casualty of all officers and men of the South African Field Force from the outbreak of war. The data is also available at (The Military Archive: The site incorporates three extensive sets of resources: 'Murphy's Register' which has an index of records and photographs of individuals who served in British and Allied Forces from 1880's through to 1935, with a particular emphasis on the Great War: 'The Rolls' which can identify and confirm details from official records with regards to medals awarded: ‘The Library’ is a large, searchable online collection of divisional and regimental histories, and rolls of honour) (ScotlandsPeople: Soldiers' Wills, 1857-1964: Wills of 31,000 Scottish soldiers made available online by the National Records of Scotland. The vast majority of the Soldiers' Wills are from the First World War with others from WW2, the Boer War, Korean War and other conflicts between 1857 and 1964) (Forces Reunited: British Armed Forces community reunion site searchable by individual name or by unit. The site also has forums, military news, photo gallery and many other great sections) (Transcribed summary service details of officers and men who served with the 28th North Gloucestershire Regiment during the 19th Century or the Gloucestershire Regiment in WWI. Database courtesy of Mr. J. Devereux) (The Register of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902: Database that lists men and women who served in the British Imperial Forces during the Anglo-Boer War. The register includes soldiers, sailors, nurses and civilians as well as a casualty roll. The data is compiled for sources such as Official Casualty Rolls, A Gazetteer of the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, Medal Rolls, Anglo-Boer War Memorials Project and Winifred Scott's Anglo-Boer War Index. The Register will state whether the person listed has an entry in series WO 97 held at The National Archives. For a full list of sources see the website)
(ScotlandsPeople: Soldiers' Wills, 1857-1964: Wills of 31,000 Scottish soldiers made available online by the National Records of Scotland. The vast majority of the Soldiers' Wills are from the First World War with others from WW2, the Boer War, Korean War and other conflicts between 1857 and 1964) (Mitchell Library Online Resources for Historians: Boer War Burgesses. The database details the admission of volunteers for the South African War 1900-1904, as Burgesses and Guild Brethren of Glasgow)
Medieval Soldier Database (Forces War Records: Service records of soldiers who fought in the Hundred Years War between 1369 and 1453, compiled from the English Army Muster Roll and Garrison records) (The Soldier in later Medieval England: Muster Roll Database from muster rolls extracted from Exchequer Accounts, held at TNA in series E 101 covering 1369-1453; Protection Database, taken from the treaty rolls and only showing an intention to serve, held at TNA in series C 67 and C 71 covering 1369-1453; Normandy Garrison Database, extracted from mainly French repositories relating to occupation of Normandy, covering 1415-1453. The Agincourt Roll, contains the names of some retinue leaders and men-at-arms but no archers who were with Henry V in the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Guidance notes by Anne Curry entitled 'Did your ancestor serve in the garrisons of Normandy 1415-1450?' and 'Was your ancestor on the Agincourt campaign with Henry V?' are available at the site)

CD Roms

Surrey History Trust (Surrey Recruitment Register, 1908-1933. details of about 85,000 men who signed up for service in Surrey between 1908 and 1933, including volunteers and conscripts in World War I)
S & N Genealogy Supplies
(The Transvaal War Album - The British Forces in South Africa 1899-1900)