If the soldier you are seeking lost his life in the war there are plenty of resources to help track him down, and between them they may give you a good deal of information that will help in finding more information.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
The principal record of soldiers who lost their lives in the Great War is the “Debt of Honour” database maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.The database is free to search.The information was compiled from original cemetery and memorial registers, copies of which can be found at most of the cemeteries and in some libraries (for example, Birmingham Central Library has a set). As seen in the example below, the man’s name, number, rank, regiment, date of death and place of burial or commemoration are given; in many cases it also gives his age and some personal detail such as the name and address of next of kin.
An example of the details held in the “Debt of Honour” database by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
See the Long, Long Trail’s tutorial on how to search the records of the CWGC [opens new window]
Soldiers Died in the Great War
A list of soldiers who lost their lives was also compiled into a 1921 HMSO publication, “Soldiers Died in the Great War”, which was based on regimental records.
- “Soldiers Died” was originally published in a large number of regimental volumes, listing men by unit and surname. There was also a volume for commissioned men, “Officers Died in the Great War”
- Original and reprinted volumes are reasonably easy to find on the used book market and are held in many regimental museums.
- The information has been digitised and is available on CDROM from The Naval & Military Press.
- The CDROM information has been used as a basis for a searchable listing at the pay-per-view sites Ancestry and Findmypast.
- The information includes the man’s name, rank, number, regiment, date of death, cause of death, theatre of war and some or all of his place of birth, place of residence and place of enlistment.
- The original version contains some errors of fact.
- The digitised version inevitably contains the same errors of fact and adds some transcription errors.
- The Ancestry version has not used the full theatre of war description, so for example both France and Italian theatres are given as “Western European”.
Screen capture of the information as presented by the CDROM version of “Soldiers Died”.
Official registration of death
The death of a soldier was registered in the same way as a civilian (even if killed in action overseas) and a copy death certificate can be ordered from the General Register Office (England and Wales office).
- The death certificate may not give much information beyond that found in the CWGC “Debt of Honour” register and “Soldiers Died”. It is unlikely to give an accurate cause of place of death.
- The index to overseas military deaths can be found at the pay-per-view site Findmypast.
Official casualty lists
The death of a soldier was usually listed in the “Times” and/or “The Scotsman” and the “Irish Times” newspapers, all of which are searchable online. “The Scotsman Archive” and the “Irish Times” are pay-per-view sites; the “Times” archive is accessible online through some libraries, archives and educational establishments.
Some local newspapers now available at the pay-per-view site British Newspaper Archive also carried the lists, or their local parts of them.
- When a man was initially declared missing and his death was later officially accepted as having taken place, he may not be mentioned at all in these lists.
Records of Effects
Some records of soldiers effects (mainly cash that was due to them) can be found in the London Gazette and at the National Army Museum. They give some details of the man (including, in the cases of those who died whilst in medical care, an identification of their hospital), the sums paid, and the name of those to whom the sums were paid.
- The records held by NAM have been digitised and are available at Ancestry.
- The local newspapers carried many announcements, lists and obituaries including many with photographs. County Records Offices, regional libraries with local history sections, and the Newspaper Library at Colindale in London, are all good sources for local press articles.
- For Ulster, the private website Eddie’s News Extracts has an excellent collection of locals rolls of honour.
- The private website Roll of Honour has many listings from war memorials in the UK.
- The private website North East War Memorials Project has many listings from war memorials in the North East of England.
- The roll of honour at the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh carries the same information as”Soldiers Died in the Great War”, for Scotsmen. A work entitled “Irelands Memorial Records”, available in printed form or at Ancestry, contians the same details for Irishmen.