Skip to main content

Researching a soldier, sailor or airman who served in the First World War

A Step by step guide to using the resources at Surrey History Centre

Surrey History Centre is the perfect place to begin if you want to find out more about a person who served in the armed forces during the war. Our skilled staff can help you use the incredible range of online records now available, many of which can be accessed for free at Surrey History Centre, and also guide you through the records we hold here, particularly those of the Queen's Royal (West Surrey) and East Surrey Regiments.

Did your ancestor serve in the British Army during the Great War? Try searching these records on ancestry.co.uk

2nd Lieutenant Gerard T Bray 2/4th Battalion Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment (SHC ref 7481/187)Ancestry is free to use at Surrey History Centre and in all Surrey Libraries.  Hover your mouse over "Search" on menu bar, and select "Card Index". Now you can choose one of the following collections to search.

  • British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920
  • British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920 *
  • British Army WW1 Pension Records 1914-1920
  • UK Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls 1793-1949
  • UK WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls 1914-1920
  • UK Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal 1914-1920
  • UK Silver War Badge Records 1914-1920 *
  • UK Commonwealth War Graves 1914-1921
  • UK Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919
  • De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour 1914-1924 *
  • England, The National Roll of the Great War 1914-1918 *
  • UK British Officer Prisoners of War 1914-1918
  • UK Army Registers of Soldier's Effects 1901-1929

The originals of many of these records are held by The National Archives. Their online guides provide much helpful advice.

Was your ancestor in the Navy or Marines? Try searching these records on ancestry.co.uk

  • UK Naval Medal and Award Rolls 1793-1972
  • UK Navy Lists 1888-1970
  • UK Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal 1914-1920
  • UK Silver War Badge Records 1914-1920 *
  • UK Commonwealth War Graves 1914-1921
  • UK Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll 1914-1919
  • Great Britain Royal Naval Division Casualties of the Great War 1914-1924
  • UK Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services 1900-1928
  • UK Naval Officer and Rating Service Records 1802-1919
  • De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour 1914-1924 *

Was your ancestor in the Royal Flying Corps? Try searching these records on ancestry.co.uk

  • British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards 1914-1920
  • Great Britain Royal Aero Club Aviators' Certificates 1910-1950
  • UK WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls 1914-1920
  • UK Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal 1914-1920
  • UK Silver War Badge Records 1914-1920 *
  • UK Commonwealth War Graves 1914-1921
  • De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour 1914-1924 *

For more about the men and their families try searching these records on ancestry.co.uk

  • Royal Fusiliers recruits at Epsom c.1914 (SHC ref PC/58/82)England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858-1966
  • Censuses, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland *
  • Birth, marriage, death and parish records
  • Surrey Electoral Registers 1918-1945 (1832-1915 will be available soon)
  • Many images have been put on ancestry by personal subscribers to www.ancestry.co.uk. These can be viewed at Surrey History Centre, but only personal subscribers can make contact with the people who have put their family trees and images online.

* Also available on findmypast.co.uk

Try searching these additional records on findmypast.co.uk

Findmypast is free to use at Surrey History Centre and in all Surrey Libraries.  Hover your mouse over "Search records" on menu bar, and select "Military, armed forces and conflict". You can use this form to search all the military records. Alternatively, click on "A-Z of record sets". Now you can choose from many record sets.

Army? Try searching these records on findmypast.co.uk

  • British Army Service Records 1760-1915 (Including Militia Records TNA ref WO96)
  • Surrey Recruitment Registers 1908-1933 (SHC ref 2496)
  • Royal Fusiliers Collection 1863-1905
  • Royal Artillery Attestations 1883-1942
  • Royal Artillery Military Medal Awards
  • British Officers taken Prisoner of War 1914-1918
  • British Army Bond of Sacrifice: Officers Died in the Great War 1914-1916
  • British Army Northumberland Fusiliers 1881-1920
  • Prisoners of War 1715-1945
  • British Women's Army Auxiliary Corps 1917-1920

Navy and Marines? Try searching these records on findmypast.co.uk

  • Royal Naval Division Service Records 1914-1920
  • Royal Naval Division Records 1914-1919
  • Royal Marines 1899-1919
  • Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Other Ranks Medal Rolls 1914-1920
  • Royal Navy Seamen 1899-1919
  • Royal Navy Officers 1899-1919
  • WW1 Ships Lost at Sea 1914-1919
  • WW1 Naval Casualties Royal Marine Medal Roll 1914-1920
  • Royal Navy Officers Medal Roll 1914-1920
  • Royal Navy 1914 Star Medal Roll 1914-1920
  • Royal Marines Marriage Registers 1813-1920
  • British Women's Royal Naval Service Ratings' Service Registers 1918-1919
  • British Women's Royal Naval Service Officer Files 1917-1919
  • Royal Navy Foreign Awards to Officers Index 1914-1922

Royal Flying Corps? Try searching these records on findmypast.co.uk

  • British Royal Air Force, Airmen's Service Records 1912-1939
  • British Royal Air Force, Officers' Service Records 1912-1920
  • Royal Air Force Muster Roll 1918
  • British Women's Royal Air Force Service Records 1918-1920

For more about the men, their families, nurses and the home front try searching these records on findmypast.co.uk

  • Red Cross Nurse (SHC ref ESR/25/NEVI/1)National Roll of the Great War 1914-1918 (Includes nurses and civilian war workers)
  • Military Nurses 1856-1994
  • Harold Gillies Plastic Surgery Archives from WW1
  • Birth, marriage, death and parish records
  • British Newspapers 1710-1953.  An ever-growing collection of local and national titles has been digitised, indexed and can be searched, but only personal subscribers can view the images.
  • Britain School and University Memorial Rolls 1914-1918

Researching a soldier who served in the Surrey Regiments during World War I?

Surrey History Centre holds the records of the Queen's Royal (West Surrey) Regiment and the East Surrey Regiment. The original records and a huge collection of photographs can be consulted at the History Centre. Use our research guide to find out more about what we hold.

Nominal rolls of officers of the Queen's Royal (West Surrey) Regiment 1914-1919 (SHC ref 8227/1/1-16), the East Surrey Regiment 1914-1919 (SHC ref 8227/2/1-12) and the 21st-24th Battalions the London Regiment (SHC ref 8227/3/1-4) are available to search and view online on Ancestry.co.uk (free at Surrey History Centre and in Surrey Libraries).

We also hold registers of enlistments, discharges and transfers for the two regiments, 1920-1958 (SHC ref 7791). The early registers also record any previous service, including of men who served during the Great War and re-enlisted after it ended. The enlistment and transfer registers are available to search and view online on Ancestry.co.uk (free at Surrey History Centre and in Surrey Libraries).

The Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment raised twenty five battalions to serve in the Great War. 8000 men were killed and 7 Victoria Crosses won. The regiment fought in many of the most famous actions on the Western Front winning battle honours in the retreat from Mons, on the Marne, at Ypres, Loos, the Somme, Albert and Cambrai. The 2nd Battalion also served at Vittorio Veneto and along the Piave river in Italy. The territorial battalions were originally used to replace regular troops in India but they too later fought in France. They were also involved in the disastrous campaign in Gallipoli and served against Turkish forces in Palestine and Mesopotamia. In 1921 the regiment was officially renamed the Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey).

The East Surrey Regiment also mainly served on the Western Front. In 1915 the 1st Battalion famously won 3 VCs in just 24 hours while defending Hill 60 south east of Ypres. Another famous action took place on the first day of the Somme, 1st July 1916, when soldiers of B Company, 8th Battalion, dribbled 4 footballs across No Man's Land during the attack on Montauban. They suffered many casualties but secured their objective. Beyond the Western Front the 2nd Battalion also fought Bulgarian forces at Macedonia and Salonika and took part in the costly attack near Lake Doiran. Other battalions served in Italy, Egypt and Mesopotamia and against Turkish guerrilla bands in Aden.

First World War regimental records indexes

Prisoner of War band from a Great War scrap book compiled by Mrs Christabel Elias Morgan (SHC ref QRWS/30/ELLIAA/2)Volunteers and staff at Surrey History Centre have created indexes to some of the regimental records and these are now available online. These include a register of Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment Prisoners of War 1918; and a 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment Rank and File index 1916-1919.  Some of our indexes are free to use anywhere. All are free to use at Surrey History.

Battalion War Diaries of the units of the Surrey Regiments

Try reading the Battalion War Diaries of the units of the Surrey Regiments for a detailed daily record of the location, movements and actions of each of the battalions.  They are available online free courtesy of the Surrey Infantry Museum.

Recruitment and conscription records at Surrey History Centre

Surrey History Centre holds the recruitment registers of the 31st Regimental Recruiting District (based in Kingston and covering north-east Surrey and south-west London) 1914-1918 covering the influx of volunteers in the early months of the war, those who joined up under the Derby Scheme and the introduction of conscription in 1916 (SHC ref 2496). We also hold a single register from the 2nd Regimental Recruiting District 1917-1918 (based in Guildford and covering most of modern Surrey).  Indexed transcripts of these registers are available on findmypast.co.uk (free at Surrey History Centre and in Surrey Libraries).

When conscription was introduced under the Military Service Act 1916, local tribunals were set up in every borough and district to hear the appeals of those who thought they should not be called up. A Surrey and Croydon Appeal Tribunal considered appeals against the verdicts of the local tribunals.

Surrey History Centre holds case registers for the Dorking Rural Local Tribunal, a minute book of the Haslemere Urban Local Tribunal and letter books of the Woking Urban Local Tribunal. We also hold papers relating to cases heard by the Surrey and Croydon Appeal Tribunal, but only those considered by the sub-committee which met at Guildford (though these cover much of modern Surrey)  Surrey Military Tribunals records are available on findmypast.co.uk (free at Surrey History Centre and in Surrey Libraries).

Records of the Middlesex Military Service Appeal Tribunals 1916-1918 are held by The National Archives. During World War I parishes such as Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell and Sunbury, now in Surrey, lay within Middlesex. The records, which are much more comprehensive than those which survive for Surrey tribunals, have been digitised and can be searched online free of charge and records downloaded free of charge until 2024.

More online resources

Images:

2nd Lieutenant Gerard T Bray 2/4th Battalion Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment (SHC ref 7481/187)

Royal Fusiliers recruits at Epsom c.1914 (SHC ref PC/58/82)

Red Cross Nurse (SHC ref ESR/25/NEVI/1)

Prisoner of War band from a Great War scrap book compiled by Mrs Christabel Elias Morgan (SHC ref QRWS/30/ELLIAA/2)

Top