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Royal Navy & Royal Marines Service Records

IMPORTANT NOTE BEFORE YOU CONTINUE: The Fleet Air Arm Museum generally does not hold records of service for those who enlisted after about 1925. Exceptions to this rule for RM and RNR records are described in the main text below.

Post-1925 records have not yet been released into the public domain and are still held in the custody of the Ministry of Defence. The website of the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency provides details as to how such records may be obtained.  Please follow this link:-

 http://www.veterans-uk.info/service_records/service_records.html

The address for Royal Navy and Royal Marines applications is:

RN Disclosure Cell
Room 48, West Battery
Whale Island
PORTSMOUTH, Hampshire
PO2 8DX

THE RECORDS AT THE FLEET AIR ARM MUSEUM

The Fleet Air Arm Museum (FAAM) holds many thousands of unique RN and RM Service Records. The majority of records are those of non-commissioned personnel who enlisted in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines before about 1925, the earliest records dating from the late 1850s. Included are the papers of most of the men who were enlisted for short service ‘duration of the war’ or ‘hostilities only’ during WW1. The following are the main categories of these documents. N.B. The date and Official/Register Number ranges quoted are approximate.

ROYAL NAVY SERVICE RECORDS

  • Original Engagement Ledgers for Continuous Service (CS), Non-Continuous Service (NCS), and Special Service (SS) ratings, covering most branches including Seamen, Stokers, Artificers, Artisans, Ship’s Police, Sick Berth Attendants. The enlistment dates covered by these papers are 1888-1923 but this varies by category. Approximately 250,000 engagements are held by FAAM. Sadly, most Royal Naval Air Service engagements are not held, other than for men who were not transferred to the RAF or whose transfers were later annulled.
  • Among the more unusual ledgers held are:  those for men of many branches who transferred to the post-WW1 Mine Clearance Service (MCS) as well as men who entered the MCS from shore;  men who were enlisted in WW1 as WT operators, many from the Marconi Company;  men who served in, or were transferred to the navies of Canada and Australia.
  • Royal Navy ratings’ Records of Service (1873-1923). FAAM holds a microfilm copy of these records, the originals of which are held by The National Archives (TNA Kew ADM 188). Copies can be downloaded from the TNA website for a modest fee. 
  • Original promotion and periodic reports on over 400 Commissioned Gunners and Ordnance Officers RN covering a period from 1870 through WW2.

ROYAL NAVAL RESERVE (RNR) SERVICE RECORDS

  • Original Record of Service Cards for RNR officers: Executive (X); Engineers (E); Cadets; Warrant Officer Telegraphists.  The cards for cadets are for boys at Pangbourne College.
  • Original Record of Service Cards for some 140,000 RNR ratings (and index ledgers/cards). These cover most categories, 1908-1955 approx. but some as late as 1966. FAAM records include RNR ratings who served in WW2. Many men appear in both ledger and card indexes. The records are held in service number order but the indices are alphabetical.

ROYAL NAVAL VOLUNTEER RESERVE (RNVR) SERVICE RECORDS

Original Engagement Ledgers (1903 to 1919 and covering some 80,000 men) for these rating categories:-

  • RNVR Divisions (Bristol, Clyde, London, Mersey, Sussex, Tyneside and Wales) pre-war Divisional Companies and wartime entry ‘Z’ ratings.
  • ‘Kitchener’s Army’ entrants to Crystal Palace/Royal Naval Division (RND) (‘KP’,‘KW’ and ‘KX’ ratings).
  • Civilian entrants to the RND (‘ZW’ and ‘ZX’ ratings).
  • Army (conscripted) entrants to RND (‘R’ ratings).
  • Civilian entrants and RN transfers atCrystalPalace(‘PZ’ and ‘ZP’ ratings).
  • Anti-aircraft Corps (‘AA’ ratings).
  • Motor Boat Section (‘MB’ ratings).
  • Birmingham Electrical Volunteers (‘E’ Ratings).

ROYAL NAVAL AIR SERVICE (RNAS) SERVICE RECORDS

  • RNAS officers’ Records of Service on microfiche (TNA Kew ADM 273).
  • RNAS ratings’ Records of Service on microfilm (TNA Kew ADM 188).
  • Original RNAS ratings’ Engagement Ledgers. These cover about 12% of service numbers F1 to F55000.

Note:  In these Engagement Ledgers some 6,500 individuals are held, comprising only those ratings who did not permanently transfer to the RAF in April 1918 or who were discharged before the RAF formed. Those engagement papers which were handed over to the RAF have since been destroyed.

  • A comprehensive database of RNAS officers and ratings has been compiled at FAAM, drawing on numerous published and unpublished sources. The database is complemented by several thousand biographical files on individuals. Files on personnel of other services ‘attached RNAS’ are also included.
  • RAF officers’ service records on microfiche. These cover former RNAS and RFC officers but not those who continued in RAF service beyond 1925.
  • RAF Muster Roll of ratings/other ranks as at formation on 1 April 1918.
  • Original ledger records of ratings, of various branches including RNAS, who were transferred to the RAF on its formation but whose transfers were later annulled.

NAVAL PAPERS HELD IN LEDGERS

RN and RNVR ratings’ papers are bound in volumes (Engagement Ledgers) in service number order and the principal documents to be found therein are original attestation or enlistment papers. However, some individual records can be more extensive. Some include a copy of a birth certificate. Details of previous Mercantile Marine service can also be found. The RNVR records of ratings who served with the Royal Naval Division (RND) usually contain original Active Service Casualty Forms (Army Form B.103). Summaries of RND Service and Courts Martial records are among the other papers which are sometimes also bound in with an RNVR rating’s records.  In all ledgers there may be found other administrative correspondence.

Very few service papers of officers are held but FAAM does hold an extensive series of nearly one hundred WW1 pay and appointing ledgers for WW1 officers of the RNVR, RNR and RNAS. These can offer useful information on pay and movements (including tax bills and probate) to complement an officer’s records in the National Archives.

Other ledger records at FAAM include:

  • The original Admiralty ledgers (5 volumes) recording all naval deaths in WW1, giving cause of death, burial details, next-of-kin, etc.
  • Crew books For Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) and Mercantile Fleet Auxiliary (MFA) (1915-1920 approx.). These contain alphabetical indexes of ships, crew lists (entries and discharges), rates of pay, next-of-kin, etc. The individual entries are short and can only be located by ship’s name.
  • RNVR Temporary Officers, Military Branch (1917-1919 approx).
  • Temporary Assistant Paymasters RNVR (1914-1919 approx).
  • Record of RNVR officers entered before WW1. Volume 1 covers 1903-1909. Volume 2 covers 1909-1918.
  • Register of Officers of RNVR London Division (post-WW1).
  • RNVR Chaplains Record of Service.
  • Personnel Reports on gunners and warrant officers 1911-1931.
  • Indexes of WW1 ships, depots and bases including Auxiliary Patrol trawlers and defensively armed merchant ships (DAMS) (1912-1919 approx).
  • RNAS Indexes, including WW1 death indexes.

ROYAL NAVAL DIVISION RECORDS OF SERVICE

Some 50,000 original RND Record of Service Cards are held at FAAM. The include ratings and officers, including those who died in service ‘discharged dead’. Very few RMLI cards are in the main RND Record Card archive and the minority that have survived are held in individual RMLI attestation packs. However, for the RM Deal Short Service men of the Divisional Engineers, Divisional Train, RM Medical Unit and Ordnance Company of the RND a separate RND Record Card archive has been formed and these cards are unique to FAAM. Men of the RN, RNR, RNVR and RMLI who served in the RND will also have separate records of service and engagement papers under the appropriate service heading.

ROYAL MARINES SERVICE RECORDS

Royal Marine papers are unbound. They are held in service number order but FAAM has internal databases with entries of all the men for whom it holds papers. FAAM holds approximately 60,000 Attestation Packs (all original documents) for:-

  • Royal Marines Light Infantry (RMLI)
  1. Plymouth Division Continuous Service (CS) – Register Numbers PLY/1 to PLY/23000.
  2. Plymouth Division Short Service – Register Numbers PLY/1(S) to PLY/3300(S).
  3. ChathamDivision CS – Register Numbers CH/1 to CH/25000.
  4. ChathamDivision Short Service – Register Numbers CH/1(S) to CH/ 3500(S).
  5. PortsmouthDivision CS – Register Numbers PO/10000 to PO/23000 (some earlier).

Note 1: The Portsmouth Division RMLI (CS) papers at FAAM are mainly (but not exclusively) of those men who were discharged to pension (21 years). The majority of early Portsmouth papers and those of men who left after 12 years have been separated from the main run of papers and are at TNA Kew in ADM157. Additionally, most Portsmouth men discharged dead 1914-19 may also be found filed in the Portsmouth Division discharge papers in ADM157.

Note 2:  Papers for Portsmouth Division Short Service are held at TNA Kew in ADM157.  A very small number is  held at FAAM.

  • Royal Marine Artillery (RMA)
  1. RMA CS – Register Numbers RMA/10000 to RMA/17200 (some earlier)

Note 1:  Most papers at FAAM are those of RMA men who transferred to Portsmouth Division RM consequent upon the amalgamation of RMLI and RMA in 1923. Their Portsmouth RM numbers use the original RMA numbers made into six-figure numbers by adding the prefix ‘2’ and replacing the RMA prefix with PO (e.g. RMA/17200 became PO/217200).

Note 2:  The RMA (CS) papers at FAAM are mainly (but not exclusively) of those men who were discharged to pension (21 years). The majority of early RMA  papers and those of men who left after 12 years have been separated from the main run of papers and are at TNA Kew in ADM157. The papers of many other former RMA men may be found in the papers of the Chatham and Plymouth Divisions to which they transferred on amalgamation. These men (unlike the transfers to Portsmouth Division - Note 1 above) were given new register numbers in the series in issue at Chatham and Plymouth at the date of transfer to those divisions. Additionally, most RMA discharged dead 1914-19 may be found filed in the Portsmouth Division discharge papers at TNA Kew in ADM157. Overall, it is estimated that FAAM has some 30% of the RMA (CS) records for the period 1902-1923.

  1. RMA Short Service – Register Numbers RMA/1(S) to RMA/3900(S).

Note:  The papers of some RMA (SS) men, including most of those who were discharged dead (including killed in action), have been separated from the main run of papers and are at TNA Kew, where they are filed with other Portsmouth/RMA papers in ADM157. The majority of those discharged dead appear to be filed in the Portsmouth Division discharge papers in ADM157.

  • Royal Naval Division (Divisional Engineers, Divisional Train, RM Medical Unit and Ordnance Company) Deal Short Service – Register Numbers Deal/1(S) to Deal/5900(S). In addition to service papers, there are also RND Record Cards for most of these men.
  • Royal Naval School of Music – Register Numbers RMB/1 to RMB/3100.
  • Royal Marines Labour Corps (RMLC) (New Formation) Short Service – Register Numbers Deal/1N to Deal/1400N.  This corps served in France during 1919.

ROYAL MARINES PAPERS

RM papers are unbound. Originally, these records (“Attestation Packs”) were loose-filed in bundles or boxes in order of Register Number. In contrast to the RN/RNVR ledgers, they may contain a much more extensive record of a man’s service from attestation to discharge, with a wealth of data in between. A description of the type of information contained in many of the RM records is presented below to indicate what may be available. An individual’s pack might include:

  • Original RM Attestation.
  • Army Attestation of those who were conscripted or transferred.
  • Letters of release and recommendations from civilian employers.
  • Appeals against conscription.
  • Original arithmetic, handwriting and dictation tests.
  • Examination questions and worked answers for RM Gunner.
  • Records of medical examination on entry and during service.
  • Active Service Casualty Forms (Army Forms B.103).
  • RND Record Cards.  Very few cards of RMLI men serving in the RND are in the main RND card archive at FAAM/Kew (see above).
  • Conduct Record Sheets – often for a whole career and with extensive lists of offences.
  • Various discharge papers, including parchment discharge certificates for previous service.
  • Invaliding Medical Record.
  • Hurt Certificate.
  • Report of Accidental Wounding.
  • Report of death in action.
  • Service Certificates.
  • National Health Insurance card.
  • Declaration of alias.
  • Court Paternity Orders and other Court papers.
  • Correspondence to/from military authorities, including letters from next-of-kin.
  • Records of inquiries conducted in the field, often including original witness statements written in Field Notebooks.
  • WW1 Ration Book.
  • Unemployment stamp book.
  • Active Service Will.
  • List of effects at death.
  • Naval Pay Book.  The records of the many pensioners recalled for service on the outbreak of WW2 often retain their WW2 Pay Book, many with photograph.
  • Army Pay Book from previous Army service – some have been found to contain Army identification discs (dog-tags).

The above list is by no means exhaustive. The RM documents as a whole give a remarkable snapshot of military life and contemporary society in the first decades of the 20th Century. The amount of detail in the records held at FAAM shows how comprehensive the RM records were. Inevitably there are some gaps where records are (or appear to be) missing. Many of these are probably at TNA Kew and filed under ADM 157. It is known that the papers of many men who had completed their twelve-year limited engagement and were recalled during WW1 from the Royal Fleet Reserve (RFR) are often absent. The whereabouts of these RFR papers is unknown.

Those with an interest in the Royal Marines will be naturally drawn to the records of the men who served in the RMLI and/or RMA but the other records are important because they often contain information on parts of a man’s service career outside the Royal Marines. For example, although many RNVR volunteers during WW1 found themselves serving as naval ratings in the Royal Naval Division (RND), many ratings were transferred to the RM to serve in units in the RND such as the Divisional Train, Ordnance Company or as RM Cyclists. Men who enlisted in the RMLI often transferred later to the Royal Navy and continued their service as, for example, stokers or ship’s police. Within the Royal Marines transfers were commonplace, some RMLI men serving in all three Divisions, often more than once, and others moved to and from the Royal Naval School of Music and the RMA/RMLI.

Of particular interest to FAAM are those Royal Marines and naval ratings who moved across to the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in the very early days of naval aviation. Some were commissioned as RNAS pilots and observers.  Many of these ex-Marines of the RNAS transferred to the fledgling Royal Air Force in 1918.

Although the RM papers are generally restricted to pre-1925 entries, the records of some individual marines can run as late as 1958. The papers are very comprehensive for pre-1925 men who served in or were recalled for WW2. The records of men’s service in WW2 Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (DEMS) are probably unique as no DEMS crew lists are known to survive.

Please note that some RM records (including some Portsmouth CS, all Portsmouth SS and many RMA and RMLC attestation packs) are stored at TNA Kew where a number of RMA and RMLI records are filed together.

RECORDS AT FAAM CAN BE CONSULTED BY APPOINTMENT, OR COPIES CAN BE SENT BY POST. CHARGES APPLY.

 

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