The National Archives at Kew in England (https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk) has recently announced that Ancestry would be digitising service records material from the Second World War, but it has now extensively detailed its digitisation plans remit for the next few years. First, its introductory post (from https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/news/award-of-mod-records-digitisation-contract/)
We have announced that we have awarded Ancestry®, a contract to digitise the first tranche of Ministry of Defence service personnel records. Both parties are looking forward to working to make these important records accessible online.
Gemma Maclagan Ram, Commercial Director at The National Archives said:
‘Widening access to records is very important to us and we are pleased that this partnership with Ancestry will allow people to look at these records in the comfort of their own homes. We know how important these records are to military groups, veterans and family genealogists and we are working with Ancestry to ensure that they are accessible online as early as possible.’
This contract covers the first four groups of non-officer British Army service records: approximately three million files in total, amounting to an estimated 36 million images. We anticipate that the digitisation will take over four years, so from late 2024 Ancestry will publish in tranches, when each series of records is ready for publication online.
The real detail, however, is in the subsequent link at https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/our-role/plans-policies-performance-and-projects/our-plans/ministry-of-defence-service-records/ - and it is packed with information.
The following are some key snippets:
- The records included in this collection cover personnel in all three services – Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force – where the individual has a date of birth before or up to 1 January 1939. They include around 500,000 personnel with First World War service, and the vast majority of those who served in the Second World War.
- The most common information within the collection are attestation papers, which capture details of when the individual joined the service, along with a Record of Service that shows which units and between what dates the individual served in.
- There are just under ten million records, representing the biggest and most complex transfer of public records in our history.
- We have already received over four million records and expect to complete the transfer of all Army non-officer records within the scope of the project by the end of March 2024. We will then move onto RAF non-officer records in 2024-25. The whole transfer process will run until 2026.
- The first four collections to be digitised are British Army service records of non-officer ranks: WO 420: Approximately 54,000 service records of other ranks (not Officers) who served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) during the Second World War. The REME was established in October 1942 and was responsible for the maintenance and repair of military equipment. It consisted of skilled tradesmen, many of whom had initially transferred from other units. WO 421: Over 94,000 records, originally held at the Bournemouth Combined Manning Record Office, of soldiers from 12 smaller units/corps during the Second World War and immediately after, discharged as over age personnel. WO 419: Over 830,000 records of other ranks discharged from the infantry of the British Army between 1921 and 1939. The majority of the service records relate to individuals who served during the First World War, and who opted to continue their service beyond 1921, but also include those who served only throughout the inter-war period and were discharged before the outbreak of the Second World War. WO 422: Over two million records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who served in infantry regiments of the British Army during the Second World War and who were discharged from the armed forces as ‘over age’ before their time expired in the reserves after 1945.
- These collections were chosen as they contain the largest proportion of open and publishable records. They also include records of individuals from across the world who served in the British Army, particularly during the Second World War.
- Are you digitising everything in each MoD service record? No – due to the scale of the project, and the nature of the information that records contain, it is not possible to digitise each service record in its entirety.
- Will MOD service records for living individuals be digitised? Only MOD service records of individuals with a date of birth over 100 years ago will be published.
- Our licensing partner for the first tranche of records, Ancestry, will publish the records on their platform in phases between 2024 and 2029.
- The service records will be available to view free of charge in digital format in our reading rooms. They will also be available free of charge at two more public access venues within the UK, details to be confirmed. Libraries and other public institutions with institutional Ancestry subscriptions may also offer free access.
- The digitisation project "consists of just over three million records, and an estimated 36 million images".
- We are gradually cataloguing the service records as they are transferred to us... Collections now partially available to search and browse (on Discovery) include: WO 420: Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers regiment (other ranks); WO 421: selected smaller corps (other ranks); WO 422: infantry over age (other ranks)
- Will MOD service records for living individuals be digitised? Only MOD service records of individuals with a date of birth over 100 years ago will be published. The long-accepted assumption of 100 years for life means that records can be opened 100 years and one day from the date of birth of the individual. Our licensing partner for the first tranche of records, Ancestry, will publish newly opened records on an annual rolling basis as they reach 100 years old.
It looks like we'll have lots to get stuck into over the next few years! For further detail, visit the link above.
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