How to research a man of the Royal Naval Division

For details of the organisation and history of the Royal Naval Division, see 63rd (Royal Naval) Division

The RND was a formation that was created in 1914, which until 1916 was under the control of the Admiralty, despite being a land-based force. It transferred to the War Office and army control in 1916. This basic history led to its men having quite different sets of records to their army comrades, and to a large extent they all still exist. This page will help you find them. It focuses on the “other ranks”: that is, men who were not commissioned officers.

Imperial War Museum photograph Q109127 “Men of the Royal Naval Division in a town square with their rifles stacked”. The “town” is actually Bruges and this photo relates to the initial deployment of the RND to Antwerp in 1914. The tower is that of St. Salvator’s Cathedral and the Hotel de Londres was in a square opposite the railway station, now called ‘t Zand. The buildings that are shown still exist.

Service records

I will begin to illustrate this by reference to a project that I carried out for private clients in October 2023 and April 2022, respectively: Wilfred Manley and Alexander Strachan.

RND records

The first side of an index card held by the National Archives in collection ADM339. It provides good personal details about the man but also his rating (the RND continued to use naval ranks even after its transfer to the War Office) and his number. Wilfred Manley was Ordinary Seaman, later Signaller, Tyneside Z/8730.
The second side of the same card begins to provide dates and details of service. The ADM339 records have been digitised and can be searched and downloaded (small fee) from the National Archives Discovery website. They are also available via Findmypast.
In some cases, the man’s ADM339 record has more than one card and much more detail. This example is from the record of Alexander Strachan.

Both of the men referred to above had been enrolled into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve: Wilfred Manley with the Tyneside Division and Alexander Strachan with the Clyde Division. Note that these “divisions” were not the same thing as an operational formation.

RNVR records

Men enrolled into the RNVR also have a form of record in National Archives collection ADM337. This is Wilfred Manley’s. It provides quite different information and helps to fill in his complete story. Note that the details of his assignment to ships begins on 6 March 1916, a date which also appears on his ADM339 card. The ADM337 records have also been digitised and can be searched and downloaded (small fee) from the National Archives Discovery website. They too are available via Findmypast and also in this case via Ancestry.

For some divisions, the Fleet Air Arm Museum holds the engagement papers that men signed upon joining the RNVR. These can be useful if you need details about ratings whose records have not survived in series ADM337, and can sometimes provide information not given in the service records.

Royal Naval records

I must point out another route into service with the RND. Most of the “originals” who went to Antwerp in 1914 were reservists of the Royal Navy. This is the record of one of them, George Bellinger, who I researched for a private client in 2017. He had enrolled into the Royal Navy in 1907 and served full time until his transfer to Royal Fleet Reserve in 1914. At the start of the Great War he was recalled and allocated on 17 September 1914 to the new Drake Battalion of the RND. This record is from National Archives collection ADM188, the Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services. Again, National Archives Discovery or Findmypast are the digital sources.

Records of the Royal Marines

The RND also included units of the Royal Marine Light Infantry.

Extracts from the record of William Frederick Forse, who was killed at Antwerp on 8 October 1914 while serving with the Chatham Battalion of the Royal Marine Brigade of the RND. He had enrolled in 1894 and served until he went to the Royal Fleet Reserve in 1906. He was also recalled when war began and was posted to the brigade on 12 September 1914. These records are in National Archives collection ADM159. They have also been digitised and can be searched and downloaded (small fee) from the National Archives Discovery website and are also available via Findmypast.

Campaign medal records

The roll of issues of the campaign medals for the Great War is also held at the National Archives, in its collection ADM171. Each man has a single line entry which confirms his entitlement and the method of issue. ADM171 also includes a roll for the Royal Naval awards of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal..

Alexander Strachan’s entry for the 1914 Star in the ADM171 rolls. He had gone to Antwerp with the RND’s Anson Battalion and received his Star in 1920.

Records that are the same type and location as those for the army

Many of the other types if useful record that may apply are in the same locations and style as army records, described elsewhere in this site. They include:

  • Casualty lists
  • Hospital admissions records
  • Records of men who lost their lives*
  • Records of prisoners of war
  • Gallantry, bravery and other awards

*Ancestry and Findmypast also have what Ancestry calls “Royal Naval Division Casualties of The Great War, 1914-1924”, also known as the “Jack Clegg Database”. A most useful and diligently-compiled database and a website that contains much information about the RND.

Operational records

The war diaries kept by the units and formation headquarters of the army can also be found in National Archives collections ADM137 and WO95, with some duplication and overlap. The latter generally covers mid-1916 onwards but also include the Royal Marine Brigade in 1914.


63rd (Royal Naval) Division

How to research a soldier of the British Army

Jack Clegg