British Army

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The British Army is the land-based forces of the United Kingdom. The British Army was heavily involved in Imperial affairs in India and most regiments (both infantry and cavalry) served in India at some point. Throughout the nineteenth century, a significant number of British troops were stationed at India at any one time. In 1847, for instance, around 20% of British Army regiments were on the sub-continent. The General staff were supported by the Staff Corps and the Office of the Quarter Master General.

A British man, or man of British descent could also be a soldier/officer in one of the Presidency Armies. These were seperate from the British Army, instead consisting of regiments formed by the East India Company and under their control.

Regiments

Any regiment name prefaced by the initials H.M. (Her or His Majesty's) is a British Army regiment, although the term is not strictly applied, especially amongst the ecclesiastical records. These regiments may be referred to as "Royal Regiments".

Regiments are divided across several arms of the army, these being the Cavalry (who fought mounted on horseback), the Infantry (soldiers who fought on foot) and the support arms such as the Artillery (who used weaponry such as canons and large guns) and the Engineers construction, demolition, surveying etc.) Also see Regiment names terminology below.

The article History of British Army Infantry Regiments is a general history of the origin and development of the infantry regiments and explains some of the reforms that took place.

The cap badges of a few regiments can be found in Cap badge images.

When a regiment was to return to England, the men were given the opportunity to 'volunteer for' (join) another British Army regiment in India. The view seems to have been "A trained soldier in India is worth five recruits, and that soldier, when he is brought home, is not worth anything."[1]As an example, when the 96th Regiment of Foot was ordered home in September 1854, a ‘great number of men’ volunteered for the 32nd foot, thirty volunteered for the 43rd, while twenty-two volunteered for the 74th Highlanders.[2] However, when transferring to another unit, the soldiers were treated as new recruits, and lost any rank they had, reverting to the rank of a private,[3] although it appears likely that in practice they were promoted again reasonably quickly.

Locating a regiment

There are many ways to find out locations at which a regiment was stationed. More labourious methods include tracking through the muster rolls, army lists or station lists published in newspapers. Many of our regiment articles include a timeline of major stations. One online source providing incomplete but highly useful information, is:

It appears best to use the binoculars icon to search the Finding Aid. The search facility seems designed so that the words you enter only are found if they are next to each other, so you will need to use just one word such as India, or use phrases which are title headings such as Stations of British Troops in India, (not Stations India) (available 1836-1904), British Regiments Serving in India, (available 1816-1835), Distribution of the British Army (available 1836-1868, 1872, 1899-1903) Stations of the British Army (available 1869-1904). The latter two titles include British troops in India. For specific lists from 1862, see
Note that for some computers/browsers, it may not be possible to search the Finding Aid. "British Regiments Serving in India" 1816 is located on page 167. "Distribution of the British Army" 1836 is located on page 168
  • The publications New Annual Army List and New Army List, some of which are available on Military periodicals online contain details of the regiments in the British Army for each year of publication. The details of each regiment in each volume will usually include where the regiment is garrisoned at that point of time. This is often located at the very top of the page which gives details of the regiment. As an example, the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot was stationed at Secunderabad, Madras, page 276 The New Annual Army List for 1869, shown in the top left hand corner.

Regiment names terminology

Regiments, especially prior to the twentieth century, were not named in a uniform manner and the historical terminology used can be unfamiliar to a beginning researcher. Some common terms and the regiment types they apply to can be found below.

Term Regiment type
Dragoons Cavalry
Foot Infantry
Fusiliers Infantry
Grenadier Infantry
Hussars Cavalry
Lancers Cavalry
Life Guards Cavalry
Rifles Infantry

Wars and campaigns

The British Army were involved in numerous wars, campaigns and battles in India and the surrounding region. The Fibiwiki has a Chronological list of wars and campaigns.

Enlistment in India

It was possible for a man born in India to enlist in the British Army in India, a fact to be considered when researching. Enlistment was possible for men with European parents, or Eurasian men of fair complexion―those whose looks allowed them to ‘pass’ as white.[4]

There is one reference to an Anglo Indian Boy Trumpeter in the Royal Artillery c 1936[5]

Enlistment and birth in other overseas British Empire countries

When researching, keep in mind that similar to the situation in India, it was also possible for men from other countries to enlist when regiments were stationed in their countries.[6] Men whose fathers were in the British Army could be born anywhere in the world the British Army was stationed.

Records

See also - Military reading list and Occupation:Soldier

There are various sources of information for finding out about a man in the British Army.

Army Lists

Army Lists are useful if you are researching an officer.
For volumes available online, see Military periodicals online

Military records at the National Archives

For advice about the National Archives, both about visiting and your options if you can't visit, see the Fibiwiki page The National Archives

Muster rolls

Unlike those of the presidency armies, muster rolls for British Army regiments stationed in India are not at the British Library but are instead at The National Archives at Kew in London. The majority of the Muster records up to 1878 are in WO 12, including Cavalry and Infantry. The catalogue describes the records as:

Detail from a 1877 Married Roll
"...a comprehensive means of establishing dates of enlistment, movements throughout the world, and of discharge or death. The first entry may show age on enlistment. An entry on the form "Men becoming non-effective", sometimes to be found at the end of each quarter's musters, shows the birthplace, trade, and date of enlistment of any soldier discharged or dead during the quarter. From about 1868, at the end of each muster, may be found a Marriage Roll, which enumerates wives and children for whom married quarters were provided."

From 1878 to 1898, all muster rolls are in WO 16. The majority of the records for the years 1878 to 1888 contain detailed pay lists with names. From 1888 onwards (WO 16/2917-3049) the series consists of company muster rolls only, and these do not contain pay lists.

An 1889 example of data from a Marriage Roll can be seen here on Cathy Day’s archived site.

Muster roll records are unfortunately NOT available on LDS microfilms. If you are are unable to visit Kew, read the National Archives' guide Paying for Research. FIBIS also has a research service for FIBIS members.

Please note that muster roll records may be missing for some Regiments and periods, in India and generally. For example, there are virtually no muster roll records for the Royal Artillery in India.

Findmypast has the records Worldwide Army Index 1861 extracted from the National Archives April-June quarter Paylists held in WO 10 (Royal Artillery), WO 11 (Royal Engineers) and WO 12 (Cavalry, Guards, Infantry and other units) series War Office records, including men serving overseas. Searching the records is free, but charges apply to view the records, although they can be viewed for free at TNA (and other institutions with a FMP subscription). Note that soldiers of the East India Company Armies in 1861 would not generally appear in these records as most of these soldiers appear to have been transferred to the British Army after June 1861, although some soldiers appear to have transferred earlier and are included in these records.

Service and pension records

Chelsea Pensioners

Discharge papers (WO 97, (to 1913)), usually containing service/attestation information, and pension records (WO 22) may also be found at TNA. Records in WO 97 are usually only for men discharged with a pension (i.e. for long service or having been invalided [7]) as these were the papers sent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea and preserved, but from 1883, most causes of discharge, (apart from death (with a few exceptions)[8]) were included. Note however, the survival rate of discharge papers appears to be low for men discharged overseas[9] [ie not in Britain, and therefore low for India]. If a man went on to serve during World War 1 then his records would normally have been removed from WO97 and placed with his WW1 service records[10]. WO 97 records are also unlikely to include men who immediately went on active service with a Milita unit, (whose discharge papers may have been transferred to the Milita unit)[11]. The records often contain a wealth of genealogical information, including birth date and location, next of kin, physical description, service locations, medical history and medals. They may include information about marriages, births of children or deaths of family members.

The National Archives has worked with findmypast to scan and place online WO 97 (Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers' Service Documents 1760-1913). All WO 97 records, for the years 1760 to 1913 are currently available on findmypast as part of a group of records called British Army Service Records 1760-1915. This group of records consists of

  • Militia service records 1806-1915 (WO96)
  • Chelsea Pensioners British Army service records 1760-1913 (WO97)
  • Royal Hospital, Chelsea: pensioners' discharge documents 1760-1887 (WO121) (see Other Pension Records below)
  • Royal Hospital, Chelsea: pensioners' discharge documents, foreign regiments 1816-1817 (WO122)
  • War Office: Imperial Yeomanry, soldiers' documents, South African War 1899-1902 (WO128)
  • Royal Hospital, Chelsea: documents of soldiers awarded deferred pensions 1838-1896 (WO131)

Searching the records is free, but charges apply to view the records, although they can be viewed for free at TNA (and other institutions with a FMP subscription).

For some findmypast blogs about these records, see below[12]

This link [7] has some general information about pensions, quoting from The Victorian Army at Home by AR Skelley

Kilmainham Pensioners

The records online at findmypast now include those men discharged through the Kilmainham Hospital in Ireland, as British Army Pensioners - Kilmainham, Ireland 1783-1822. These records are held under TNA reference WO 119, and are similar to the Chelsea Pensioner records WO 97, above. Searching the records is free, but charges apply to view the records, although they can be viewed for free at TNA (and other institutions with a FMP subscription).

There are other records for Kilmainham , not digitised, under WO 118 “Registers of in- and out- pensioners of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham”. In-pensioners were admitted until 1922.

Other Pension Records

Another useful TNA source is the WO 22 subseries "Army and other pensions paid out locally in India, Ceylon and China" detailing names and payments made, including WO 22/228-230 Bengal, WO 22/237-238 Bombay and WO 22/266-270, mainly Madras.

This India List post mentions WO 120 and WO 121 records. Catalogue references are:

  • WO 120 "From about 1812 dates of death have been noted and in the last series these dates extend to 1877" The WO 120 records are available on LDS microfilm with this catalogue entry.
    • The book British Army Pensioners Abroad, 1772-1899 by Norman K. Crowder includes all British Army pensioners who retired to any place outside of Great Britain for which records are available (1772-1899). There are 8,934 entries, transcribed from WO 120/35 and WO 120/69-70. Each entry has one line, in the form "51st Regiment of Foot; Josh ABBOTT; pension awarded 27 Sept 1842; residence - Hobart Town, Australia; died 22 Apr 1871. Source WO120 Volume 69 page 206". [13]
  • WO 121 records. These records are available online on findmypast as part of British Army Service Records 1760-1915, refer above. The records include "Register of men discharged without pension", 1884 to 1887. Although the catalogue does not mention this, there are many records of men leaving the army in India under the heading "Nominal list of men discharged by the Commander-in-Chief in India." As the register provides name, regimental number, rank, corps, date and cause of discharge, attestation date (and a few other administration details) it is an invaluable resource for those not able to find these details elsewhere. Searching the records is free, but charges apply to view the records, although they can be viewed for free at TNA (and other institutions with a FMP subscription).

These records are included in the National Archives catalogue entry Records of the Royal Chelsea and Kilmainham Hospitals. The latter hospital was in Ireland. This category of records also includes

  • WO 116 Disability and all Royal Artillery pensions and
  • WO 117 Pensions awarded to soldiers for length of service.

Some of these records, in particular WO 116 (for what appears to be WO 116/1-165 being Cavalry and Infantry Disability October 1715 to 1882 and Royal Artillery 1 November 1833 to 1893) and WO 117 ( October 1823 to 1913) are available to download free of cost from The National Archives Documents Online: Digital Microfilms. These are stated to be large pdfs, which need a broadband internet connection. This Ancestry.com British Army Message Board post details some of the information found.

An interesting series of selected records is PIN 71: Selected War Pensions Award Files for Service Prior to 1914. This series consists of personal case files on disablement pensions arising from service in the Army or Navy before the First World War and case files concerning widows of such servicemen. The files contain medical records and details of place of birth, age, names of parents and siblings, religion, physical attributes, marital and parental status. The series appears to consist of approximately 6,300 individual files which are searchable by name online on the Discovery catalogue. The actual files however are not available online.

Service and pension records from World War 1 from the National Archives are available on the pay site Ancestry .com, and from May 2014 on the pay site findmypast refer below. They do contain some papers for men who did not serve in WW1.[14]

Courts martial and desertion

Research guides

National Archives Guides
British Library Guides

India Office military records at the British Library

For a comprehensive description of sources available in the India Office Records, see Peter Bailey's article in FIBIS Journal 13.

There is a small collection of India Office records at the British Library called British Army Records IOR/L/MIL/15 1806-1930 (catalogue entry which includes links to subgroups including British Army: British troops embarked for India IOR/L/MIL/15/42-46 1871-1889).

There are also reference books from the Military Department Library relating to the British Army IOR/L/MIL/17/1 (catalogue entry), including Army Lists for the British Army, apart from publications specifically relating to the British Army in India.

Ecclesiastical returns

If the man married, had children or died out on the Sub-continent then records of these occurences can often be found in the India Office Church records. However, some regimental chaplains only filed their BMDs with the General Register Office in London. The British Army Overseas Indexes can be found in genealogical libraries, the National Archives and searched on various websites including findmypast.com and familyrelatives.com. Certificates of these army returns can then be obtained from the GRO by ordering them online. For more details refer Chaplains Returns.

Note that if a record is available both in the Church records and in the General Register Office records, the latter may contain more information, at least for some time periods. By way of example, in 1903 the additional information available for a marriage record was the nationalities of the groom and bride, and the occupations of the fathers of the groom and bride.

Other sources

Additional sources include:

Soldiers’ wills

Online search Find a soldier's will Search for the will of a soldier who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986. UK Government Probate Service. Free to search, (but first you must register) and then pay for a record.

No further details are given, but previously this link[15] advised that 300,000 wills of soldiers killed in action were to become available online. They do not include officers. These wills date from the Crimea period onwards, and appear to be wills completed by soldiers in their paybooks. It appears the majority are from WW1. The article "Wills of English soldiers killed in the Great War" by David Tattersfield 25 September 2013 (“The Western Front Association”) has more details.

The index to some soldiers’ wills are also available in the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1861-1941 from Ancestry.com

Soldiers’ effects records at the National Army Museum

These records relate to monies paid to the named relatives of deceased soldiers and those discharged insane. They do not give details of the personal possessions of dead personnel, but provide next of kin details. Transcripts of records between 1901 and 1960 are available, at a charge. They are not viewable at the Museum as they are stored off site.[16] Further details are provided in this National Army Museum link

WFA WW1 pension record cards

WW1 Prisoners of War - ICRC Archives

Medal Rolls

See Medal Rolls. Includes information about those medal rolls available online.

1911 England and Wales Census

British Army personnel in India, together with their families appeared for the first time in an England and Wales Census in 1911. Search the 1911 census data, free to search, but a pay site to view data. Also available on the pay site Ancestry.com and perhaps other pay sites. This National Archives catalogue entry shows the regiments that were included in the 1911 Census. The items (17 in total) are RG 14/34978-34992, 34995, 34997. However, it is probable there were other regiments in India at this time. The census was taken on the night of Sunday 2 April, 1911. Note however, there are is at least one known instance of a soldier and his family known to be in the British Army in India at the time of the census, whose names do not appeat in the census, another indication that the data may not be complete.

National Army Museum

The National Army Museum's website includes the following Information Sheets which also refer to sources at other institutions

Post 1920 Attestation books

Following the restructure of the Army in 1920, new Attestation books were introduced, the originals of which were sent to various Regimental Museums in the early 2000s [17]

Regimental Journals

Some regiments published a regular regimental journal which can be a valuable source of information. Examples are St George’s Gazette, journal of the Northumberland Fusiliers,(previously 5th Regiment of Foot) published from 1883 to 1968, and The Highland Light Infantry Chronicle, journal of the Highland Light Infantry (previously 71st Regiment of Foot), published quarterly from 1893 to 1958. Whether a journal existed may be included in the regimental information available on the website Regiments.org (refer below). This link also lists the titles of some regimental journals.[18] The British Library and National Army Museum are possible sources of these journals, together with Regimental Museums and regional libraries, if the regiment had a strong regional connection. A broken range of editions of The Rifle Brigade Chronicle for the years 1890 to 1905 is available online. A few editions of the Highland Light Infantry Chronicle are also available online, however these are accessible in limited countries only.

Newspapers

Army personnel serving after January 1921

The Army Personnel Centre Historical Disclosures Section holds Army Service records for officers whose service ended after April 1922 and soldiers whose service ended after January 1921.

The service records of Army personnel serving after these dates remain closed to the public. To obtain details from such records you will often have to prove kinship. Charges may apply. Application forms should be sent to

The Army Personnel Centre
MS Support Unit, P & D Branch
Historical Disclosures, MP555
Kentigern House,
65 Brown Street, GLASGOW G2 8EX
Telephone 0845 600 9663
Email disc4@apc.army.mod.uk

See the web page Requests for personal data and Service records (gov.uk) for forms to download. Veterans:UK and and their fact sheet Army Personnel Records And Family Interest Enquiries (docs.google version), original pdf

This WW2Talk Forum post advises "you want to get next of kin FULL records (make a note on the application for FULL records)".

This further WW2Talk Forum post advises “They will accept anything that is proof of death, even a undertakers receipt or a photograph of a post war civilian headstone”. However, you do not have to supply a death certificate when the date of birth of the individual was more than 116 years ago.[19]

WW2Talk Forum post WW2 Soldier Research - Tips and Links for New Researchers, dated 28 August 2012 advises about the next of kin hierarchy and that “There is currently about a 12 month wait to receive the records once you apply”.

FIBIS resources

  • Margaret Mulvihill, "'Peculiar Circumstances': Catholic Chaplains of the Victorian British Army in India" FIBIS Journal No 24 (Autumn 2010), pages 26-28. For details of how to access this article, see FIBIS Journals.
  • Ainslie Sharpe, "Boy Soldier to Lancer: John Arnfield in the Anglo -Sikh Wars" FIBIS Journal No 26 Autumn 2011, pages 31-40. For details of how to access this article, see FIBIS Journals.
John Arnfield joined his father's regiment, the 3rd Regiment of Foot, the Buffs in India in 1833, as a Boy soldier, aged 14 years and became a Private on his 18th birthday.
He went on to serve with the 16th Lancers in the Gwalior Campaign and the 1st Sikh War, and with the 9th Lancers in the 2nd Sikh War.
He resigned in 1853 having spent 20 years in the British Army, all in India. However, his years as a Boy were not counted as years of service, so he was not entitled to any pension.

Social conditions and activities

Harrington Prayer Rooms were set up in all the major cantonments for use as a 'Soldiers' Scripture Reading and Prayer Room'. [20]

See also

External links

Encyclopedia articles

Other

Historical books online

The following volumes are available to read online on the Digital Library of India website: Volume 5, 1803 to 1807, includes detailed treatment of the situation and operations in the East Indies and Ceylon. Volume 11,1815-1838, includes the War with Nepal, the Pindari War, the War in Ceylon and the War with Burma. Volume 12, 1839-52. This volume is mainly concerned with India, and covers operations in Afghanistan and on the Khyber Pass, together with internal security operations in India itself. Volume 13, 1852-1870, includes the Indian Mutiny

References

  1. Page 4 The Regimental Companion: Containing the Pay, Allowances and Relative Duties of Every Officer in the British Service, Volume 3 by Charles James 7th edition, considerably enlarged 1811 Google Books
  2. From England to the Antipodes & India - 1846 to 1902, with startling revelations, or 56 years of my life in the Indian Mutiny, Police & Jails, page 36 by Isaac Tyrell (1904) Archive.org
  3. From England to the Antipodes & India - 1846 to 1902, with startling revelations or 56 years of my life in the Indian Mutiny, Police & Jails, page 38 by Isaac Tyrell (1904) Archive.org
  4. Loyalty, Parity, and Social Control-The Competing Visions on the Creation of an ‘Eurasian’ Military Regiment in late British India by Satoshi Mizutani The International Journal of Anglo-Indian Studies Volume 10, No. 1, 2010
  5. Pages 122-123, Pick up your Parrots and Monkeys: The Life of a Boy Soldier in India by William Pennington 2003
  6. Rootsweb Australia Message Board 3004 post Chelsea Pensioners - soldiers with an Australian connection It includes details of two men who were born in Australia and served in the Madras Artillery
  7. 7.0 7.1 Victorian Wars Forum thread Pension? quoting from The Victorian Army at Home by AR Skelley
  8. There are WO 97 records for a few men who died in the Anglo- Boer War (and papers in the Ancestry "WWI" series for men who died during the Anglo-Boer War) according to this Victorian Wars Forum post dated 1 October 2011 by Meurig. This further Victorian Wars Forum post dated 30 May 2012 by Mark A Reid also mentions a few other deaths.
  9. My Ancestor was in the British Army, page 63 by Michael Watts and Christopher Watts 2009
  10. My Ancestor was in the British Army, page 64 by Michael Watts and Christopher Watts 2009 and Chelsea Pensioners dated 20 March 2010 from Rootsweb Devon List.
  11. India List post dated 20 June 2011
  12. FindMyPast blogs "Behind the scenes": The Chelsea Pensioners records with Paul Nixon, content licensing manager 15 Sep 2010 and Our expert, Stephen Rigden, on spelling variations 29 Oct 2010
  13. Chelsea Pensioners - Out Pensions by Grahame Thom
  14. Victorian Wars Forum post dated 17 July 2012 by Meurig
  15. Probate Calendars to be Online Soon from Geoff Swinfield’s researchlondon.info and News from FFHS.
  16. National Army Museum Information Sheet 5: Researching Family History at the NAM page 2
  17. Great War Forum thread Attestation books - where they were sent by the MOD/Nat Archives started by Justin 11 July 2014
  18. Military Identities: the Regimental System, the British Army, and the British People, c.1870-2000, page 365 by David French 2005 Google Books
  19. "Veterans:UK" fact sheet Army Personnel Records And Family Interest Enquiries (docs.google version), original pdf (Cached URL)
  20. ‪JaneyH “‪Mystery army photo - 1890s? India?” Who Do You Think You Are? Forum 11 January 2014. Retrieved 12 August 2014
  21. Originally published in The Redan, journal of The Palmerston Forts Society, three articles by Duncan Williams , (originally published in 1999-2001 (issues 46, 50, 53)) and two articles by David Moore (issues 72,74). From the website Victorian Forts and Artillery.
  22. "A Lost Heritage: The Connaught Rangers and Multivocal Irishness" (docs.google version) by John Morrissey, 2005 , Chapter 3 of Ireland’s Heritages: Critical Perspectives on Memory and Identity edited by M Mc Carthy 2005. Website: Geography Dept, National University of Ireland, Galway. original pdf
  23. “Fire-Carriages” of the Raj: The Indian Railway and its Rapid Development in British India” by Amit K. Sharma 2010 Essays In History. Annual Journal of the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia
  24. Naval and Military Press