Service and pension records for more than two million soldiers who fought in the British army in World War I are being put online for the first time. The documents provide a broad range of detail, from name and next of kin to wounds suffered and conduct record.
Sadly, this record set does not contain information about all the five million soldiers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland who fought in World War I. It seems that about 60% of the service records were destroyed in a German bombing raid in 1940. The surviving records, many badly damaged and known as the "burnt documents", were conserved by the National Archives and filmed.
The pension record details for about 100,000 soldiers are the first to go online. These relate to some of those men discharged on account of sickness or injuries sustained and include the medical records relating to the disability for which a pension was granted.
The service records, which will follow at a later date, describe the careers of soldiers who completed their service, were killed in action or executed, or died of their wounds or disease. These records will provide full details of their service, and, where recorded, death.
The number of documents relating to a soldier varies according to their circumstances, but in some cases there are scores, including items of correspondence.
All the records are already viewable on 28,000 rolls of microfilm at the National Archives in west London, but it is hoped the digitization process will make them available to a much wider audience.
The National Archives described the online release as "tremendously significant" and said it would lead to a better understanding for military historians as well as help those researching their family trees.
The release by the Ancestry website, working in partnership with the U.K. National Archives, is taking place in stages over the next two years. The images are available to view on a subscription or pay-per-view basis.
The records, known as the WO363 British Army Service records and the WO364 British Army Pension records, can be searched at the website ancestry.co.uk as part of a deal with the National Archives.
About 100,000 records are online now, including surnames beginning with A or B, with the rest following by the end of 2008. Searching the name index on the website is free and scanned pages from the original files will be available to members of ancestry.co.uk or on a pay-per-view basis.