Medal Cards and Medal Rolls
About Medal Cards and Medal Rolls
This page deals mainly with World War One, with occasional references to WWII. For WWII: according to The Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (2003), "there are no World War Two medal rolls in existence" and medal records cards are not held for units. All WWII service records for the British Army are held by the MOD; WWII Royal Navy/Royal Marines and Army have a medal cards index (C.S.20) and medals awards are noted on service records. WWII RAF personnel have a "fanfold". The records contain WWII abbreviations and acronyms which you'll need to decipher.
|'Pip, Squeak and Wilfred' Medal Set|
The British Army medal index cards 1914-1920 are index cards compiled by the Army Medal Office, from some 5,000,000 hand-written cards, towards the end of the First World War. Put simply, they are medals records for entitled personnel in the First World War. Note that medals were not always claimed.
You may be able to identify an ancestor's service medal(s), decoration(s) or other award(s) by studying online medal encyclopedias, forums and Ministry of Defence Medal Office guides. Otherwise, you could consult an expert or an informed collector.
Medal Index Cards are an important source of information; you can find more information about medals: campaigns, descriptions and eligibility at Gov.uk. "Medal Rolls are the nearest thing to a full WWI roll call, and sometimes the only resources for searching medal entitlements" (TNA).
National Archives Medal Cards and Medal Rolls
The National Archives is the official archive and publisher for the UK Government, and for England and Wales. They curate over 1,000 years of national documents. British Army medal index cards 1914-1920 can be searched online (£) at The National Archives, Kew. You can also visit the National Archives at TW9 4AD (Bessant Drive) Kew, Richmond: details are at Visit Us. Opening times are Tuesday to Saturday (subject to change).
There are about 5 million cards held in series WO 372 (WWI). Most of the cards are for soldiers in the British Regular and Reserve forces, but the collection also includes:
- most British Army officers
- Territorials and Volunteers
- Indian Army personnel
- British Army nurses
- Royal Flying Corps personnel
- Royal Naval Division personnel
- some civilians
Campaign Service Medals Rolls
The Medal Index Cards list the medals to which each serving person was entitled; the Medal Rolls for the First World War actually record what campaign medals were issued to each individual. These rolls are held at The National Archives and record the award of over 10,000,000 campaign medals (1914 Star, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and Territorial Force War Medal) to the British armed forces. The rolls have been digitised and may be searched on the Ancestry website.
- These medal rolls have also been digitised by the Naval & Military Press and the fully-searchable database - First World War Campaign Medals - is available as a DVD-ROM. County Record Offices may have a copy of the database on DVD.
- Each individual's entry in the Medal Rolls may include their full name, rank(s), number(s), regiment or corps, medals awarded and other details. Importantly these rolls sometimes record the specific battalion, brigade or battery in which a soldier served, e.g. 13th Battalion DLI. This information is invaluable as regiments fielded several battalions during the First World War, and many of them served overseas.
- Knowing that an ancestor served in the 9th Service Battalion Leicesters, rather than just the Leicestershire Regiment, will allow you to look at the right battalion War Diary and regimental history books. You might form a detailed background to your ancestor's war service.
- Most records are only available to view or download via subscriptions and fees, however there are some free records out there. Popular research sites include Ancestry (£), FindMyPast (£), and Forces War Records (£).
The Silver War Badge (SWB)
- The Silver War Badge (SWB) is often overlooked by researchers (ARRSEpedia article). Details can be found under TNA Cat WO 329. Awards were recorded on Medal Index Cards, and they can be found on Ancestry.
- If a service record has been lost or destroyed, a Silver War Badge record may be the only surviving evidence of military service. Find out more at Robert Clark's website.
Researching Empire Campaign Medals
Visit the National Archives for explanations. There are over 5 million cards held in series WO 372. Most of the cards are for soldiers in the British Army. The original medal rolls were compiled by the War Office and are held at the National Archives of the UK in Kew (TNA), Surrey.
The rolls include medals awarded for British campaigns in Europe, India, Egypt, Sudan, South Africa, West and Central Africa, China, the Middle East, and elsewhere during the height of the British Empire.
Campaign Medals Award Rolls 1793-1949
Personnel who served in the British Army prior to or after the First World War, or immediately after the Second World War, may have been awarded other campaign medals. Digital microfilm copies of Campaign Medals Award Rolls 1793-1949 can be downloaded from The National Archives and searched on Ancestry (£).
- WO 100 contains Campaign Medal and Award Rolls under the General Series, comprising original lists (submitted by regiments and units) of officers and men entitled to campaign medals and clasps.
- The Anglo-Boer war website has information on the Anglo Boer War 1899-1902 and other South African conflicts in the period 1779-1906. It has a forum for discussion of the many aspects of these conflicts; go to https://www.angloboerwar.com.
- Further information on medals: campaigns, descriptions and eligibility, for WWI, WWII and post WWII, can be read at the Gov.uk website.
Territorial Force and Voluntary Organisations
- The WWI Territorial Force and Voluntary Action organisations including Civilian Medical Volunteers, served alongside the regular army at home and abroad. Find out more at The Long, Long Trail website.
- The volunteers including women who worked for organisations like the YMCA, The Red Cross and the Salvation Army (overseas), also qualified for campaign medals. They can be found in exactly the same way as searching for a soldier.
- The Territorial Force War Medal was awarded to all members of the Territorial Force (including nursing sisters) who volunteered for overseas service not later than 30 September 1914 and who had so served between 4 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 (TNA Discovery | WO 329).
- The Territorial Force Efficiency Medal (TFEM) (1908 - 1921) was awarded for 12 years service in the Territorial Forces. The UKNA references are WO 102/31 and TNA British Army medal index cards 1914-1920.
Tracing an Individual
When researching service personnel: their correct date of birth, full name and individual service number(s) are always important and unique identifiers (ARRSEpedia Family Research). Original documents and possessions, Armed forces and civilian service badges, medals and medals records, are all valuable components and clues for identifying ancestors and units, and for tracing their career.
It is usually easier to search The National Archives (TNA) for a soldier's Medal Index Card 1914-1920. With the exact details from TNA, you can find the right card(s) on the major commercial genealogy sites including Ancestry and Findmypast. Tutorials are available online.
It should be possible to trace and confirm that an individual served in the First World War, because unlike WWI service records: the medals and awards records were not damaged by enemy bombing in the Second World War. National Archives (reference WO32/21769) lists the various collections of documents that were destroyed in the fire. The document can be downloaded (£) from the Discovery section on The National Archives’ website.
Name, Rank and Unit
An ancestor's medal card may give his or her name, rank(s), number(s) and regiment or corps. Many individuals served in more than one unit during WWI. The commercial genealogy websites (£) show images of medal cards and gallantry awards, transcriptions and other details; these often provide supplementary information to lost or damaged records.
'Serving in Some Capacity' Medal Rolls
- Series WO 379 records the entitlement to medals and awards of men and women serving in some capacity during the First World War. Most of the records concern those serving in the Army, while some refer to the Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force (RFC/RAF); to civilians in military establishments, e.g. doctors and nurses in hospitals; to people mobilised for other war service, e.g. in colonial labour corps. Also to allied personnel who assisted British soldiers behind enemy lines.
- Territorial Force Nursing Service (sister organisation to the WWI QAIMNS) medal rolls are now available to view online. These TFNS records were thought lost, however an online exclusive collection of over 5,000 names can now be viewed.
- You can browse the TNA Armed Forces Service Records pre First World War and general (1702-2007) at TNA Collections.
What's on Medal Index Cards 1914-1920
There are four types. The WWI index cards were compiled from the original Medal Rolls. Databases also include awards made to women in the services, and details of service personnel who were 'mentioned in despatches' (MiD) announced in the London Gazette.
|Captain George Alfred Charles GLEED MiD DoW|
Because most soldiers were eligible for at least one medal, nearly all British soldiers appear in the index cards. You can also download and view these records on the major military genealogy sites (£). A War Office Service Medal and Award Rolls Index for the First World War can be read and searched at TNA Discovery. A good professional article for medal and index cards can be found at Robert Clark's What are Medal Index Cards.
Important Details on Records
Service records show additional information such as units, or when a soldier died, or final discharge. Causes and dates of discharge can often be found in Service Records.
- A good example of a WWI Medal Index Card is pictured at the Frampton Remembers WWI website: notes explain numerous codes and abbreviations.
- Contact the MOD for information and applications for military service records after 1920; access to information is limited, unless they died more than 25 years ago.
- For guidance on records concerning 1920 - present, including WW2 military and government records: visit The National Archives online. "These records are not available to members of the general public, but next of kin may request access to them".
A soldier's desertion or imprisonment may also be recorded on their card. Medals could be forfeited and forfeitures noted on service records. UK National Archives databases also include medals records for personnel who 'served in some capacity' during the First World War.
Deciphering British Army Medal Index Cards 1914-1920
The medal index cards contain codes and abbreviations which can be utterly confusing. There is a guide to interpreting a medal index card's references, abbreviations and codes, at The Long, Long Trail website.
- Medal Index Cards were used to look up an individual's Medal Roll, and a lot of other useful information was recorded on a card.
- The National Archives website has a useful page of abbreviations at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/british-army-medal-index-cards-1914-1920/. Also tables of abbreviations for ranks and for units.
- Robert Clark's website could help with deciphering Medal Index Cards and Medal Rolls; go to What Are Medal Index Cards.
The Imperial War Museums
The IWM also has a page of comprehensive information about medals records and research, and recommends a few sites including Lives of The First World War with life stories and facts. Visit Medal Records information at the IWM. You can also search War Memorial records.
While searching the World War One Medal Index Cards, you may find that your ancestor had more than one regimental (or soldier) number. Regimental numbers are extremely complex, but understanding these can help you unlock a soldier’s service history.
A regimental number was far from unique. Most regiments issued regimental numbers from multiple series and if your ancestor was in the Territorial Force, you may find that he has two numbers: his original number and a new number, which would have been issued to him when the Territorial Force was re-numbered in 1917. For detailed information on regimental numbers visit Paul Nixon’s blog: Army Service Numbers 1881-1918.
RootsChat is a completely free family history forum site, and it discusses medal index cards and medals research at Topic. You might join the forums and post your enquiries for the attention of helpful and knowledgeable members.
A good place to discuss and learn about deciphering Medal Roll Index Cards is the Gentleman's Military Interest Club website. You'll find photographs of medals and cards, inscriptions, and some very helpful advice. One alternative is the Fold3 website; you can search the British WWI Medal Rolls Index or Medal Index Cards database (£).
There are no significant collections of Indian army records available at The National Archives. However, TNA states that copies of the medal index cards of over 20,000 soldiers who served in the Indian Army (WO 372/25-29) were made available in July 2008 and can also be searched and downloaded. Alternatively you can presently search FIBIS.
There are records in The India Office Library, and TNA holds a set of published Indian Army Lists 1903-1939. The British Library has information on Indian Army service records held in the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collection. These also include records of the Honourable East India Company. A Dictionary & Glossary can be found on the India Office Family History page at the British Library.
Second World War Medals Guide
In summary, service records for all ranks who served after 1920 remain with the Ministry of Defence and each branch of the armed forces maintains its own record office. You can apply for access to personal data held by the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
Second World War personnel may have qualified for the War Medal 1939 to 1945, 1939 to 1945 Star, Africa, Atlantic, Burma, France and Germany, Italy and Pacific Stars and/or the Defence Medal: 1939 to 1945. There are no medals rolls, but all World War 2 medal records for the British Army are held by the MOD Army Personnel Centre.
The WW2 medal index cards are not complete like the WWI cards; information can be found at the Researching WW2 website, and WW2Talk actually shows WW2 medal index cards. Since these military records are also full of jargon, abbreviations and acronyms, there is a useful guide at WW2 Abbreviations and Acronyms.
The London Gazette
The London Gazette website contains basic information about how to get started on searching for military awards and citations. Website: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/awards-and-accreditation/resources. Also see: http://www.greatwar.co.uk/medals/british-ww1-medal-records.htm. The London Gazette is an online historical archive created from the digitization of the printed volumes, and the archive includes the period covering the two World Wars.
FIBIS (India or South Asia)
Fibiwiki is a good resource for medals, rolls and books, if your ancestor served in India during WWI or earlier. FIBIS is an encyclopaedia for British India, India or South Asia, between 1600 and 1947 (search medals). There is more information on Medal Rolls at at Fibiwiki Medals. The medals article has details of medals awarded for various military campaigns and service in India. Most of the nominal medal rolls for these awards are at the British Library and many of the rolls are reprinted in books on the open access shelves.
Are You Looking for Medals? http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/are-you-looking-for-medals/.
British Medal Cards 1917-1961 Sourcebook: https://www.facebook.com/WW2MedalCards/?hc_ref=ARRLCv4Hkxt4dUrbwKeMkXmIfXXFbESKctcRZ2eUodvCIqcudjgkKRFeNFOtk81nn0I&fref=nf.
British WW1 Medal Records 1914-1920: http://www.greatwar.co.uk/medals/british-ww1-medal-records.htm .
British military campaign and service medals (all armed forces): http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/british-military-campaign-and-service-medals/.
Codes and abbreviations 1914-1920 (TNA): http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/british-army-medal-index-cards-1914-1920/ .
Copies of military service records from the MOD: https://www.gov.uk/get-copy-military-service-records/apply-for-someone-elses-records.
Dorking Museum and Heritage Centre (Pte V.J. Strudwick): https://www.dorkingmuseum.org.uk/private-valentine-joe-strudwick/.
FIBIWiki (Medal Rolls): https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Medal_Rolls .
FIBIS external links (medals): https://wiki.fibis.org/w/Medals#External_links .
Genealogist Research Guide: https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/researchguide/military-records-123/.
Great War Forum (Invision Zone): http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/ .
Guide to British Army medal index cards 1914-1920: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/british-army-medal-index-cards-1914-1920/ .
Guide to British Campaign Medals of WW1: http://www.greatwar.co.uk/medals/ww1-campaign-medals.htm.
Guide to WWI British and Empire Service Records Sources: http://www.greatwar.co.uk/research/military-records/ww1-service-records.htm#usservicerecords.
Help with Researching British Army Medal Index Cards: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/british-army-medal-index-cards-1914-1920/.
Indian Army, miscellaneous units: medal rolls: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7247346
Ins and Outs of Really Big Online Genealogical Databases: https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/ins-outs-big-online-genealogical-databases/.
Interpreting a campaign medal index card: http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/soldiers/how-to-research-a-soldier/campaign-medal-records/how-to-interpret-a-campaign-medal-index-card/ .
Medals: campaigns, descriptions and eligibility: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/medals-campaigns-descriptions-and-eligibility#world-war-2-medals.
Military awards and decorations of the United Kingdom: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_awards_and_decorations_of_the_United_Kingdom.
Picture source: The National Archives, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/british-army-medal-index-cards-1914-1920/.
Requests for personal data and service records: a detailed guide: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/requests-for-personal-data-and-service-records.
Researching WWI using medal index cards (article): http://www.researchingww1.co.uk/medal-index-cards.
Researching WW2: http://www.researchingww2.co.uk/order-ww2-service-record/ or WW2Talk websites. Most military WW2 records are full of jargon, abbreviations and acronyms; there is a useful list at http://www.researchingww2.co.uk/ww2-abbreviations-acronyms.
Service Medal and Award Rolls Index, TNA First World War: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14576.
Territorials WWI (Territorial Force) and Volunteers records: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/volunteers-territorials/.
Territorial Force Nursing Service medal rolls online: http://www.qaranc.co.uk/Territorial-Force-Nursing-Service-Medal-Rolls-TFNS.php.
Territorial Force War Medal 1914-1919: https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1204799.
The Naval & Military Press has produced a number of CD/DVD-ROM products for the military history enthusiast: https://www.naval-military-press.com/product-category/other-categories/cd-rom/.
TNA research guide (India): http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/indian-army-personnel/
War Office and Air Ministry: Service Medal and Award Rolls, First World War: http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C14533.
Women in the First World War: http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/women-and-the-british-army-in-the-first-world-war/.
World War II Medal Index Cards at WW2Talk: http://ww2talk.com/index.php?threads/ww2-medal-index-card.12596/.
YMCA, TOC H, and other British volunteer organisations 1914-1918: http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/other-aspects-of-order-of-battle/ymca-british-volunteer-organisations-1914-1918/.