Researching Your WW2 Ancestors
I get a large number of enquiries from people asking me to help them research their ancestors who fought in WW2. Unfortunately there is only a limited amount of help any researcher can do with this campaign, due to the fact that the MoD still hold the service records of all soldiers of this era. Indeed, any soldier who served beyond 1922 has not had his/her service records released to the public. I suppose the good news in all of this is that, unlike the vast majority of WW1 records, they still survive!!
So what can be done, well just because the MoD have them doesn’t mean family members cannot continue their search – below I have written some tips and tricks to help you uncover your WW2 Ancestors.
Ancestor Killed in Action?
If your ancestor was killed during WW2, the first place to go is to the Commonwealth War Graves Commision website Here is a complete list of all army, navy, air force and merchant navy personnel who lost their lives during this conflict, there are even civilian casualties listed. The search form is straight forward and you will be able to gain certain information which could include the regiment/battalion/ship/ served, age at death, date of death, cemetery/memorial details, and next of kin details.
Alternatively, another good source of information is the Army Roll of Honour which is now in CD format and can be purchased from The Naval and Military Press. Click here for more information on that.
Diaries/Flight Logs/Combat Records
If your ancestor was killed in action during the war, then a good place to try and find out more information as to where/when/how/why he was killed is to consult the Battalion diaries. Every army unit that served overseas were expected to keep a relatively detailed diary of their time at war. They can be consulted as original documents (Although some are now digitised) at the National Archives in Kew. These diaries can often be vary detailed especially during large attacks/battles. It is rare for ordinary rank and file to be mentioned by name, however there are usually detailed casualty lists and Officers are usually mentioned by name.
RAF Squadron records also held at Kew, you can find them in AIR27 on microfilm. These are detailed and for each operation the crew of every aircraft is listed, and details of what happened during the flight (where known).
Air Ministry Combat records are available online and contain combat reports of squadrons, wings and groups in Fighter, Bomber, Coastal Commands and Fleet Air Arm squadrons. The records cover Commonwealth and Allied units based in the United Kingdom including the United States Army Air Force.
Naval records are rare for individual ships as they were not required to keep detailed diaries like the Army. However there are many combat reports in the ADM area of Kew, it just takes a bit more digging to find the relevant information.
Prisoner of War?
There are selected escape and evasion reports online at the National Archives. These Prisoner of War reports are listed by the name of the person making the statement, the date of the interview and the individual report number (as it appears in the report, example MI9/SPG: 1402). In addition to prisoner of war accounts, the reports include dates of capture and escape and personal information such as civilian occupation and home address.
Medals – Gallantry
If your ancestor was awarded a gallantry medal (for example a Military Medal, Military Cross etc.) then The National Archives hold an online directory of recommendations for these awards. It is rare to find WW2 award citations in the London Gazette, but these recommendations should give you good detail as to why they were awarded this gallantry medal. This online records is for the Army only.
Medals – Campaign
If you want to know what campaign medals your ancestor was entitled to, or indeed want to claim their medals (For WW2 soldiers had to make a claim to get their medals, and many didn’t) you must write to the Army Medal Office at the following address:
Officer in Charge
The Army Medal Office
Campaign medals to merchant seamen during the Second World War can be searched for and found online at the National Archives
As already mentioned, any soldier who served beyond 1922 has not had his/her service records released to the public. Access is allowed by only by direct Next of Kin, who must prove their relationship to the soldier. You have to fill out a form which can be downloaded from their website. This weblink will help for Army, Navy and RAF records.
There is a fee of around £30. You are not sent copies of the original record, but a typed summary of service which normally only includes basic details; if you have specific information you want it is worth asking direct questions. It can take a few months to get your information so be patient!!