Records for the War Dead of WW1
War Grave Agency Records
If you think a relative may have died in the First World War it should be possible to confirm this by looking at the records held by one of the war grave agencies responsible for the care and maintenance of graves and official memorials for the war dead of the First World War. In most cases the records are available to view for free online. Where they are not, enquiries can be made by letter or telephone and advice will be given to help you locate your relative.
If you can find your relative as a named casualty in the records, you will be able to see the date of death, the location of the grave or place of commemoration together with details about that cemetery or memorial and where to find it. Depending on the type of records held by the relevant war grave agency you may also be able to find details for next of kin if they were recorded and, in the case of British and Commonwealth casualties, find additional invaluable detail such as the age of the casualty, the Service number and the military unit.
Roll of Honour & Other Records
In addition to the war grave agencies there may be other records confirming the death of a person whilst serving in the military. These may take the form of official and private rolls of honour compiled after the First World War. These may be national or local. These might be a war memorial for a town or village or lists of names as rolls of honour dedicated to the men of a particular workplace, church, sports club, school or and so on. There may also be other ways to follow up a Serviceman or woman's death by looking for a death certificate, local newspaper report, a will, a Service Record, and a record of medals awarded.
Where to Find War Records of War Dead
Information about the war grave agencies and other records for war dead available for you to search is given below.
- Records for British & Commonwealth WW1 Dead
- Records for Belgian Military Dead in WW1
- Records for French Military Dead in WW1
- Records for German Military Dead in WW1
- Records for Italian War Dead in WW1
- Russian WW1 Graves in France
- Records for WW1 War Dead of the United States of America
- International Red Cross Records
If you think a relative may have died in the First World War whilst serving with the British & Commonwealth forces it should be straightforward to find a record of their death.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) holds a register of the death of every member of the Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Merchant Navy) and Civilians from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa who died in the Great War of 1914-1918.
Go to our information page about the CWGC, how to link to the “Debt of Honour” register with its list of names, grave or commemoration locations, cemeteries and memorials, together with an explanation of the sort of information you will be able to find:
Soldiers and Officers Died in the Great War 1914-1919
A list of over 660,000 British soldiers (Other Ranks) who died during the Great War was compiled by the War Office and published by His Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO) in 1921. The list is contained within 80 volumes. The dates covered for casualties are from and including 4th August 1914 to 11th November 1918. Casualties killed after the end of the war until 25th March 1921 are also included in the listing.
A list of over 41,000 officers who died in the Great War was published in one volume in 1919. The dates covered for casualties are from and including 4th August 1914 to 11th November 1918. Casualties killed after the end of the war until 26th September 1919 are also included in the listing.
The record for an individual contained in this listing does not include the location of a grave. The record does usually contain the following information:
- regiment, Corps, etc.
- battalion, or unit
- christian name(s)
- service Number
- died how
- theatre of war
- died date
- supplementary notes
The listings for “Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1918” can be consulted in person for free at the Imperial War Museum London (Department of Printed Books) or The National Archives, Kew, Surrey. The websites are given here to make appointments for visits and viewing:
The following family history websites have this data listing to search (viewing is by subscription or pay as you go credits):
Website: www.ancestry.co.uk Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919
Website: www.findmypast.co.uk Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919
Website: www.forces-war-records.co.uk Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919
The listing of “Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1918” is available to buy on CD Rom. The 80 volumes have been captured as a digital database and can be purchased from the Naval & Military Press. (The CD Rom may be available on loan from a library.)
“Cross of Sacrifice” Volumes
Cross of Sacrifice is a record of all officers of all services who died during the First World War whilst serving with the British, Commonwealth and Colonial regiments and corps. It has been compiled as an alphabetical record by S D and D B Jarvis and was published in 1993. Volumes may be available to see from a library loan or can be seen at the Imperial War Museum London and the National Archives at Kew.
Copies can also be purchased. See Related Reading below.
Royal Navy and Royal Marines War Graves Roll 1914-1919
The names of Royal Navy and Royal Marine officers and ratings who died in the First World War are listed in the War Graves Roll. The information includes:
- full name
- service number
- ship's name
- date and place of birth
- cause of death
- place of burial
- next of kin
Registers of Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel killed and wounded between August 1914 and 1929 are recorded.
The original card index of the naval officers (commissioned and warrant) who died in service between 1914 and 1920 is available.
The War Graves Roll, the registers of killed and wounded and the card index of officers killed are available to view free at the National Archives, Kew, Surrey. For the catalogue references go to:
The Roll is also available to view on the following website (records can be viewed by subscription or pay as you go credits):
Website: www.ancestry.co.uk Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll 1914-1919
Royal Naval Division Casualties of The Great War 1914-1924
The Roll is available to view on the following family history website (records can be viewed by subscription). This particular compilation has been corrected and revised from previous listings of Royal Naval Division casualties.
Website: www.ancestry.co.uk Royal Naval Division Casualties of The Great War 1914-1924
Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force Casualties
Casualty cards, giving details of the casualty, the aircraft involved and sometimes the next of kin details are available. These are held at the R.A.F. Museum Hendon in north London.
There are also records held at the National Archives at Kew which relate to R.F.C. and R.A.F. casualties, records of squadrons, officers reported missing and messages from the Germans about missing pilots. For catalogue references go to:
The National Archives hold Registers of Deceased Seamen for each year of 1914 to 1918. These provide information for:
- full name
- rank or rating
- nationality or birth place
- last place of abode
- name of ship
- official ship number
- port of registry
- net tonnage
- date and place of death
- remarks (includes reason for loss of ship)
De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour 1914-1924
Five volumes and a sixth volume index containing a biographical record of about 26,000 members of His Majesty's naval and military forces who fell in the First World War. The volumes were compiled by the 9th Marquis of Ruvigny and Raineval and were published by the Standard Art Book Co. of London. Some entries include a photograph and may include detail. This is not a complete list of casualties who died, and most of the recorded names in the volumes date from deaths in the early years of the war.
Volumes 1 and 2 are available to search and dowload for free on the California Digital Library website (terms and conditions apply):
Website: www.archive.org Volume 1
Website: www.archive.org Volume 2
Volumes 1-5 are available to search on the following family history websites (access to viewing and downloads is chargeable as a subscription or pay as you go credits):
Website: www.ancestry.co.uk De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour
Website: www.findmypast.co.uk De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour
Website: www.forces-war-records.co.uk De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour
National Roll of the Great War
This is a Roll of those who fought in the Great War and who did not necessarily die. The idea was to compile a biographical list of the participants. 14 volumes were produced by the National Publishing Company, listing approximately 100,000 participants in the war. Of these under 20% of those listed were participants who died. The volumes are arranged into regions as follows:
- Section I: London (W, C and N)
- Section II: London (W, C and N)
- Section III: London (W, C and N)
- Section IV: Southampton
- Section V: Luton and area (including parts of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire)
- Section VI: Birmingham
- Section VII: London (W, SE and C)
- Section VIII: Leeds
- Section IX: Bradford
- Section X: Portsmouth
- Section XI: Manchester
- Section XII: Bedford and Northampton
- Section XIII: London (SE)
- Section XIV: Salford
The National Roll is available to view on the following websites (records can be viewed by subscription or pay as you go credits):
Website: www.ancestry.co.uk The National Roll of the Great War (11 Volumes)
Website: www.findmypast.co.uk The National Roll of the Great War
Other Rolls of Honour
A Roll of Honour may exist for a particular military unit and might have been published in a unit history. There may be a mention of the individual you are searching for in a locally, privately produced Roll of Honour for the company he worked for, the school he went to, the football or cricket team he played for, the town he lived in or the church where attended.
Town War Memorials
Most towns and villages in the United Kingdom have a war memorial or plaque listing the names of those who died serving their country in the First World War. In many cases names of those men from the locality who were killed during the Second World War have been added to the memorials of 1914-1918.
Those villages whose men all returned safely and which do not, therefore, have a memorial are known as the “Thankful Villages”.
War memorials vary in shape and size, they may be official or privately funded, some have fallen into disrepair, but many are carefully looked after.
The UK National Inventory of War Memorials (UKNIWM) was established in 1989 as a project to locate all the war memorials in the United Kingdom and to record the names on them. A television programme on Channel 4 called “Lost Generation” started collecting a nationwide database of the names on war memorials and this data was passed to the UKNIWM. The work to build up the database is being managed by the Imperial War Museum London. The UKNIWM is now known as the War Memorials Archive. For more information visit website at:
The War Memorials Trust is also compiling an online project to record, conserve and remember war memorials across the United Kingdom. For information see:
The Times national newspaper included lists of those killed in action or who died of wounds. Local newspapers often included lists and photographs of local men killed or who died of wounds.
The British Library Newspaper Library at Colindale in north London has an archive to view. Local libraries may also hold archive copies of regional newspapers dating back to the 1914-1918 period.
The Death Certificates for British war dead are held by the General Register Office. Enquiries can be made to:
Certificate Services Section, General Register Office, PO Box 2, Southport, Merseyside PR8 2JD
Telephone: 0300 123 1837
Fax: 01704 55 00 13
French and Belgian Death Certificates
British soldiers who died between 1914 and 1920 in a hospital or outside of the battle zone in France or Belgium were issued with a French or Belgian death certificate. These records will be in French or Flemish.
They are available to view at the National Archives in Kew, Surrey and are archived with the catalogue reference of RG 35/45-69.
They are also available online on the official website for Births, Marriages and Deaths. These certificates can be searched for on this website and select the reference RG35-NEW on the index in the right hand margin:
British Soldiers' Wills
In August 2013 Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) announced the publication online of thousands of wills written by British soldiers who had lost their lives in the First World War. The collection does, in fact, consist of the wills of soldiers dating from 1850-1986.
In many cases the will comprises a simple, formalized statement by the soldier on a form to pass on his property and effects to his next of kin. However, in some cases there is a final letter or a more detailed will. There may be omissions in availability of a will, as a search by name and date of death does reveal that some deceased soldiers do not appear on the online list. If you find a will for your ancestor it is available to download for a small fee. To search the government website go to:
Records for Belgian war dead of the First World War are held in the archive at the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ieper (Ypres). For information you can enquire via the Research Centre of the In Flanders Fields Museum. The email and website links are at:
Le Ministère des Pensions
The French war graves agency, Le Ministère des Pensions, was founded during the First World War and cares for French military graves from WW1 to the present day.
For our information page about tracing French military graves go to:
Mémoire des Hommes Website
In memory of the many thousands of French servicemen who have served their country at times of conflict since 1914 the French Ministry of Defence has provided a website (in French, English, German and Spanish) providing thousands of digitalized biographical records. Visit the website at:
Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK)
The German war graves agency, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (VDK), was formally established after the First World War. Individuals can be traced online via the VDK's website. For a history of the organisation and how to contact the VDK go to our page at:Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge
There are almost 1,000 Russian WW1 military graves on the Marne battlefield. They are cared for by the French war graves agency Le Ministère des Pensions. See our page for information about the French war graves agency:Le Ministère des Pensions
The American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) is the war graves agency responsible for the care and maintenance of WW1 graves of soldiers serving with the United States Armed Forces during the First World War. For information about the agency and its work go to our page at:
The Red Cross was used as a “go-between” between the warring nations, whereby the locations of burials of military dead from an enemy were recorded and were passed to the enemy nation via the Red Cross. The Red Cross made copies of this information and the archive where this information has been stored since 1918 has only recently been “discovered” by British military historian Peter Barton. The records have been safely stored in a basement of the Red Cross Museum in Geneva but were an unknown source of such information to military historians until now. The original records which had been passed to the United Kingdom, France and Germany are believed to have been destroyed by enemy action in the Second World War.
The Red Cross is already working on a project to digitize the archive so that families may be able to access the records and possibly trace the original burial location of a relative who has been recorded as missing. The Red Cross hopes to be able to make the archive available for online searching in 2014.
For information about the Red Cross and its involvement in the First World War see the website:
Website: www.redcross.org.uk First World War
Cross of Sacrifice, Vol. 1: Officers Who Died in the Service of British, Indian and East African Regiments and Corps, 1914-1919 Vol. 1 (paperback)
by D B Jarvis
Published by Naval & Military Press Ltd (2 Jun 2011), 404 pages. ISBN-10: 1845748867; ISBN-13: 978-1845748869
The Cross of Sacrifice: Officers Who Died in Service of the Royal Navy, Royal Navy Reserve, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, Royal Marines, Royal Naval Service and Royal Air Force, 1914-1919 Vol. 2 (hardback)
by S D Jarvis and D B Jarvis
Published by Naval & Military Press Ltd (second revised edition 1 May 2000), 170 pages. ISBN-10: 1897632878; ISBN-13: 978-1897632871
Cross Of Sacrifice: The Officers, Men And Women Of The Merchant Navy And Mercantile Fleet Auxiliary 1914-1919: Vol. 5 (paperback)
by S D Jarvis
Published by Naval & Military Press Ltd (13 Feb 2009), 226 pages. ISBN-10: 1843426897; ISBN-13: 978-1843426899
Tracing World War 1 Family History
For advice and information on how to start tracing an ancestor who served in the military in the First World War 1914-1918 see our page at:
WW1 Research and Sources of Information
For more information about where to find archives, military records, official publications, maps, War Diaries, medal records and a variety of research material for tracing family history in the First World War period go to our section on research at:
The National Archives, Kew, Surrey
Forces War Records
Photographs Forever: Photo Restoration and Photograph Retouching
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