Interpreting Great War army service records – general advice

If you have followed the advice on this site you will have found some documentary evidence of  your soldier’s military service. The trouble is, you are likely to find it difficult to understand. The various documents are full of jargon, codes, abbreviations and everything designed to baffle you. This page, and the related pages that it suggests you visit, will help you through.

Group the pages of army service records

Whether you have found three pages of a man’s service record or a hundred, the various documents fall into a number of different groups. It is worth understanding how you can group them. This will ease your interpretation considerably.

Enlistment Typically-found documents that relate to this group
The beginning of the soldier’s time in the army – and of his service record Attestation Form
Description on Enlistment
Descriptive Return

Understanding the date and terms under which a man joined is key to much else. I’ll be adding an extensive article on this in due course.

Discharge Typically-found documents that relate to this group
The end of the soldier’s time in the army Discharge certificate
Claim for disability
Transfer to reserve

Understanding the date and terms under which a man left the army is key to understanding whether he was awarded a pension, whether he might have served again and even the circumstances of his enlistment. I’ll be adding an extensive article on this in due course.

Postings and transfers Typically-found documents that relate to this group
The events of the soldier’s time in the army Statement of Services
Military History Sheet
Medical History
Casualty Return Active Service

The most impenetrable part of a man’s service record is usually his postings and transfers. Service records do not tell you where he went or what he did or which battles he took part in. But from his postings and transfers you can derive a great deal of knowledge about these things. I’ll be adding an extensive article on this in due course.

Produce a timeline

  • To cut through all the jargon and complexity, why not start by creating a simple timeline? Go through each document in turn, and pick out every item where you see a date. Make a note of what happened (even if it is a code or bit of jargon)
  • List each item in date order from start to last.
  • Now work through each date to understand what the information means. This is where my articles on a soldiers life and the way the army worked in 1914-1918 will help. Don’t forget to use the search box on the Long Long Trail.

Tools

Commonly seen acronyms and abbreviations

Technical details of the stages of a soldier’s life in the army