Interpreting soldiers service records

If you have hunted online and found a soldier's army service record and medal index card, you are likely to find it difficult to understand. The various documents are full of jargon, codes, abbreviations and everything designed to baffle you. This page, and the related pages that it suggests you visit, will help you through.

 

Key pages on this site

The Long, Long Trail contains much technical information with regard to a soldier's time in the army. As you go through the man's service record you might wish to check back to the following pages:
  • Understand what happened to a man in the phases of his army career > below
  • Specific insights and articles on technical matters > Insights
  • Abbreviations, terms, codes and jargon > Abbreviations

A soldier's life

Giving you some basic understanding of a soldier's career - helpful in interpreting your man's records:


Campaign medal index

The easiest information to find, a campaign medal index card may give some useful information. But is only a gateway to the medal rolls, which for most soldiers is a key document giving vital information about their units and in some cases their dates overseas.


Army service records

Whether you have found three pages of a man's service record or a hundred, the various documents fall into a number of different groups. It is worth understanding how you can group them. This will ease your interpretation considerably.

Enlistment Typically-found documents that relate to this group
The beginning of the soldier's time in the army - and of his service record Attestation Form
Description on Enlistment
Descriptive Return

Understanding the date and terms under which a man joined is key to much else. I'll be adding an extensive article on this in due course.
Discharge Typically-found documents that relate to this group
The end of the soldier's time in the army Discharge certificate
Claim for disability
Transfer to reserve

Understanding the date and terms under which a man left the army is key to understanding whether he was awarded a pension, whether he might have served again and even the circumstances of his enlistment. I'll be adding an extensive article on this in due course.
Postings and transfers Typically-found documents that relate to this group
The events of the soldier's time in the army Statement of Services
Military History Sheet
Medical History
Casualty Return Active Service

The most impenetrable part of a man's service record is usually his postings and transfers. Service records do not tell you where he went or what he did or which battles he took part in. But from his postings and transfers you can derive a great deal of knowledge about these things. I'll be adding an extensive article on this in due course.


Tip: producing a timeline

  • To cut through all the jargon and complexity, why not start by creating a simple timeline? Go through each document in turn, and pick out every item where you see a date. Make a note of what happened (even if it is a code or bit of jargon)
  • List each item in date order from start to last.
  • Now work through each date to understand what the information means. This is where my articles on a soldiers life and the way the army worked in 1914-1918 will help. Don't forget to use the search box on the Long Long Trail.