Finding an Indian Army Officer’s First World War Service Record

This article will help you to find a British officer’s or Warrant Officer’s Indian Army service record. Unfortunately, the service records of Indian Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers (Jemadars, Subadars etc.) have not survived to the present day. I have also written a guide to help you find a British officer’s service record and other articles to help you research soldiers who served in the Indian Army:

British Officer’s Indian Army Service Records

The surviving service records for British officers or warrant officers who served in the Indian Army can be found at the British Library in London. To view these documents you will need to register for a reader’s card. You will either be given the original service record or a microfilm containing a copy which you can either email to yourself as a pdf file or print off. If the service record is only available as a microfilm order it to the Newsroom, not the Asia and Africa Reading Room as the microfilm readers in the latter room are awful.

The majority of surviving service records for officers who served in the First World War belong to those who continued to serve in the Indian Army past 1930. Prior to this date, it was custom to hand officers their service records when they left the Indian Army. The files contain a variety of official documents and will usually include multiple confidential reports, their service history and medal entitlement. I have found from my own research that you stand a good chance of finding a Warrant Officer’s (Sub-Conductor, Conductor etc.) service record.

If you are researching an officer who originally served in the British Army you should search the service records held at the National Archives (see below). If a British officer joined the Indian Army Reserve of Officers (I.A.R.O.) there may also be an application to join the Indian Army Reserve of Officers. They will also have an entry in the I.A.R.O. books on open access in the Asia and Africa Reading Room. Even if a service record no longer survives then there is a very high chance that at least one of the officer’s confidential reports has. If you are researching an officer who joined the Indian Army less than 85 years ago look at my guide to Second World War Indian Army service records.

Searching the British Library’s India Office Catalogue

You must make sure you search the archives and manuscripts catalogue, as the India Office collection is not included in the British Library’s main search catalogue. To start your search type in the full name of your officer. If the file has survived it should appear near the top of the search results with the officer’s surname first. Most officers are recorded by their full name but there are a handful listed by initial only. However, their unit and date of first commission is usually recorded so you should be able to work out if you have the correct soldier. Use the Indian Army List to work out when an officer was first commissioned. If you have no success try searching just the officer’s surname.

Searching for an Officer’s Service Record at the National Archives

There are a lot of British Army service records to officers who joined the Indian Army held at the National Archives. These files will document their service in the British Army but often contain documents regarding their transfer to the Indian Army. I have written a separate guide for these documents: Finding officers’ service records at the National Archives. To look for an officer’s file at the National Archives, you will need to search two parts of the catalogue:

  • WO 339 – Service records of officers who finished serving before 31 March 1922.
  • WO 374 – Records of officers given a Territorial Force commission.

These service records were part of a supplementary series of files held on officers and the main files were destroyed when the warehouse they were stored in caught fire in the Blitz in 1940. The records will usually contain official documents relating to an officer’s service before they joined the Indian Army.Captain Robert Frank Clothier, 13th Rajputs (The Shekhawati Regiment)Captain Robert Frank Clothier, 13th Rajputs (The Shekhawati Regiment) who was killed in action at Tanga, German East Africa on 3 November 1914. The photograph was published in The Sphere on 5 December 1914. In common with other British Indian Army officers who died during the war, there’s no service record for Clothier at the British Library as it was handed to his next of kin.  However, his confidential reports have survived which offer a good insight into his career and personality. Clothier’s final confidential report from his commanding officer for 1913-14 is transcribed below:

Has worked very hard and given me entire satisfaction as Adjutant. Is energetic, keen and of active habits, has plenty of initiative and good knowledge of his work. His character has developed considerably of late and I think he would make a good staff officer. Not yet passed for promotion.

Below is an example of an Indian Army Form Z 2041 Record of Services, Officers, Indian Army to Eustace Leslie Bostock-Wilson of the Indian Army Reserve of Officers. This was given to Bostock-Wilson when he left the Indian Army which is why there’s no service record at the British Library. There’s no service record at the National Archives either, though it does hold his wife’s petition for a divorce. Bostock-Wilson served with the Supply and Transport Corps, the Indian Army’s equivalent of the Royal Army Service Corps. The service record is seven pages in length and provides information on an officer’s promotions, employment, qualifications, languages spoken, war services, “Titles, Honorary distinctions and Medals”, leave and furlough etc. A lot of the information contained within the document, which would have been just one of a series in an officer’s, can’t be found elsewhere. Part of the instructions for the keeping and disposal of the document are transcribed below.

After appointment to the Indian Army this record will, so long as the officer is borne on the rolls of a regiment, remain in regimental custody. When removed from the rolls of his regiment on being transferred permanently to civil employ, retiring or being placed on the unemployed supernumerary list, the record will be completed and made over to the officer. On appointment to the Military Accounts Department, or permanent appointment to the Army Remount Department, it will be sent to the head of the department.

After permanent appointment to the Supply and Transport Corps, the record will be kept by the Commander of the Division or Independent Brigade within which the officer is serving, being transferred with the officer when necessary. In the case of those Supply and Transport Corps officers who are employed at Army Head-quarters, or are seconded, the record will by kept by the Quartermaster General in India. The records of services of all other officers will be transmitted to and kept by the Military Secretary to Commander-in-Chief. When an officer dies his record will be made over to his family.

British Officers Service Record Indian Army