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WW2 Service Records

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

If you follow me on social media, you will remember that in the last week or so I posted a comment that WW2 Service Records were set to move to The National Archives at Kew.

This was something I had recently heard from someone in the know & who at this stage shall remain anonymous! I held onto this information & crossed my fingers & toes that this would happen.

Since lockdown the wait for British World War 2 Service Records has drastically increased. Not just because there have been more people researching their Ancestry during lockdown but also because a lot of the staff who normally process the applications were working from home.

A Client I was working with waited a full year for her family members RAF Service Record, which entailed a lot of chasing & issues trying to make payment. During this time, I was able to speak to a staff member from the RAF Disclosures Unit at RAF Cranwell who told me that they were all working from home & that there had been a time when they were unable to get into the office which resulted in a backlog in processing postal enquiries.

Updates in Who do you think you are Magazine

On receiving my August edition of ‘Who do you think you are’ Magazine I was interested to learn that this topic had been covered in not only an article but also a reader’s letter.

The article talks about the huge delays at the Ministry of Defence as the staff work through their application backlog. Some 16 Family Historians have written to the magazine regarding the current delays of up to a year & more following their order. The Article further states that British Military Service Records after 1920 are currently held by the MOD in Glasgow. We can safely assume they are talking about Army Records when they say this! However, it further states that although transfer of the records to The National Archives at Kew has begun it is expected to take 7 years to complete. As the MOD controls the 3 Services of the Royal Navy, Army & Royal Air Force I would hope that the records for all 3 services would be transferred at the same time!

In the same magazine there is a letter written in by a Mr Anthony Bevis in relation to Service Records. Mr Bevis was researching deaths of WW2 Servicemen on the Isle of Wight & was finding it frustrating that he was unable to apply for some records as he was not the next of kin (more on this requirement below). He wrote to his MP Jeremy Quin who is the Minister of State for Defence Procurement. Jeremy forwarded the letter to Baroness Goldie a Minister of State at the MOD who replied advising that the Ministry of Defence had started to transfer 9.7 million Service Personnel Records to the National Archives & that in the coming months the Archive would provide more information on how they expected these records to be accessed.

Baroness Goldie advised that the Data Protection Act 2018 would apply to the records where the individual is known to be alive. I am sure this will also be the case for any mention of children & will involve a lot of checking before these are released.

Mr Bevis advised that he had contacted the National Archives for comment & was advised that they could not provide much more information but that they would release more details in the coming weeks. They did comment that this will be the largest transfer of records they have ever undertaken, that it would involve a lot of work so that records could be viewed by the public & that this would probably be completed in stages.

The National Archives also commented that a lot of work was currently going on to prepare for the release of these records

The Current system of applying for Service Records

Applications can currently be made through the website

You can apply for someone else’s British WW2 Service Record if any of the following applies: -

· You are the immediate next of kin (e.g., spouse/parent

· You have consent from the immediate next of kin

· you have a research interest (only limited information unless they died over 25 years ago)

To apply you will need to know the person’s name, date of birth and service number.

You need to complete 2 forms, a search form & a request form.

There are 2 different Request forms one for next of kin or those with permission from next of kin & one for those who are not.

You are then required to complete a Search form relevant to the Service e.g., Royal Navy/Royal Marines, British Army or Royal Air Force.

If you are looking for Women’s Auxiliary Air Force Service Records or Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Service Records then you need to complete the Royal Air Force Search Form.

On completion of the forms, you then post them to the address listed on the forms along with a £30 cheque & a copy of the death certificate for the person you are researching. Note that no fee is chargeable if you are the immediate next of kin.

You normally get anywhere between 2 & 4 pages for WW2 Records & often double that for the Cold War period.

Within these you can expect to see: -

· name, service number, rank & regiment/corps/squadron

· date & place of birth, address & physical description

· date of enlistment & date of discharge

· date of death (if they died in service)

· good conduct medals

· details about their career e.g., units they served in with dates, promotions, training etc

There is of course a disclaimer by the MOD that there is always the chance that little or no information may exist, I suppose there are records that are unfortunately lost or damaged.

This is exciting news as an Air Force Researcher/Professional Genealogist. I have often found it easier to research men who served & died whilst serving with the Canadian or Australian Air Force than I have the British as I am able to obtain their service records.

From what I hear the Canadians & Australians are making plans to digitise the records of those who survived the war & recently whilst researching a crash that involved 5 Australians, I was able to get my hands on records for 4 of them so it is obviously already a work in progress.

It is definitely time for the British to catch up!!

I will update you of any future developments.

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