This article looks at Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19 which is an important source to consult if you’re researching a British Army casualty. I have also written other guides to researching soldiers who served in the British Army and additional guides to researching British Army dead:
- Guides to Researching Soldiers who Served in the British Army
- Bond of Sacrifice – For early officer casualties
- De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour
I offer a First World War Soldier Research Service.
Soldiers Died In The Great War 1914-19
In 1921, His Majesty’s Stationery Office published Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19. This series contained eighty volumes which recorded the other rank casualties of a specific corps, regiment or regiments. A separate volume was produced for officers called Officers Died in the Great War 1914-19. These volumes recorded the British Army’s dead between 4 August 1914 and March 1921 and they contain over 700,000 names. The following column regarding Soldiers Died in the Great War appeared in the Dundee Evening Telegraph 15 December 1920:
A series of 80 volumes containing the names of soldiers who died in the Great War, 1914-19, is now being published officially. Except in the case of the smaller corps, a separate roll is devoted to each regiment. The rolls of the dead have been compiled from information furnished to officers in charge of records through the official casualty lists… The price of most volumes varies from 2s 6d to 7s 6d…
The original volumes can be quite scarce and before their digitalization, were widely sought after by researchers. They were later reprinted and if you wanted to buy a later copy, they can usually be bought for less than £10 from Amazon or eBay.
What Information does Soldiers Died in The Great War 1914-19 Contain?
Soldiers Died in The Great War 1914-19 should contain information on all soldiers who died between 4 August 1914 and March 1921. However, it is not as comprehensive post-Armistice (11 November 1918) and if a soldier died after discharge they won’t be included. The information contained in a listing will vary but they will contain a mixture of the following:
- Name: Usually a full name is provided but sometimes only initials
- Regimental Number: This will be the regimental number of the soldier when they died
- Regiment and Unit: eg. 1st Battalion, The Hertfordshire Regiment
- Birth Place
- Date of Death: eg. France & Flanders
- Cause of Death: Killed in Action, Died of Wounds, Died (Illness, Accident etc.)
- Death Place
- Theatre of War: Egyptian, Western European Theatre etc.
- Supplementary Notes: Former regiment/corps and regimental number – see below
Of the information recorded, the cause of death is very useful as soldiers often died of wounds many days after they were wounded. If you’re researching a soldier who died I would recommend checking Soldiers Died in The Great War 1914-19 straight away to see if they were killed in action on that particular day or died of wounds or another cause (usually disease). Though bear in mind that a soldier may have died of wounds on the day he was wounded. I would then recommend looking at the unit’s war diary for more information regarding its activities on the day the soldier died. If the cause of death was recorded as “Died” then it’s possible they were killed in an accident and fatal accidents are usually recorded in a war diary. Many soldiers drowned while bathing, were killed in railway accidents or died while training, especially with grenades and mortars.
A key piece of information which may be contained in a listing is a soldier’s former regimental number and regiment/corps. This will appear in a supplementary notes section. If no service record has survived for a soldier, then their Soldiers Died in the Great War entry may be the only document left recording this information. For example, on 16 August 1917, Rifleman Roger Alabaster was killed in action while serving with 5th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment with his service record later destroyed in the Blitz. Roger’s supplementary notes section recorded that he had previously served with the 12th Battalion, The Essex Regiment and his regimental number was 5091.
The 12th Battalion was one of the Regiment’s reserve units and remained in Britain during the war. However, the 5091 regimental number is from the Regiment’s Territorial Force number series. The 2/7th Battalion, Essex Regiment sent a large draft to the 5th (City of London) Battalion during the year which ties him to this unit. By using the information from the supplementary notes section, I have been able to research Roger’s service with the Essex Regiment. As medal records should only record the regiments/corps a soldier served with abroad, there is no entry for the Essex Regiment on Roger’s Medal Index Card or Medal Roll.
An extract from the 1st Battalion The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry’s Soldiers Died in the Great War is shown below. This is how all the volumes are laid out, with the men listed alphabetically by unit. The entry for Arthur Ashman recorded that he had been born at Richmond, Surrey, had enlisted at London, his regimental number was 10654, rank Private and he died at home on 20 March 1918. Further research would be needed to identify the cause of Arthur’s death which wasn’t related to wounds. The entry for Gilbert Babbage is useful as it shows he had previous service in the Royal Devon Yeomanry.
How to Search Soldiers Died in The Great War 1914-19
Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19 is available to search on Ancestry and FindmyPast. I prefer FindmyPast’s search engine but if you want to be thorough when researching a soldier you will need to join both sites as they have different record sets. Fortunately, they both have free trial periods and if you’re only researching a couple of soldiers you’ll be able to get all relevant documents during this time.
Another record set which you can use in combination with Soldiers Died in the Great War is the Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects. These records may add more information regarding the soldier’s cause of death or location, for example, the hospital they died in and will state the amount of pay and war gratuity sent to the next of kin. This record set is only available on Ancestry with the original volumes held by the National Army Museum.