Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records new on findmypast.co.uk
16 March 2010
You can now search 312,909 records of men who were pensioned out of the British Army between 1883 and 1900 on findmypast.co.uk. We're working in association with The National Archives and in partnership with FamilySearch on this ongoing project and when it is complete, you will be able to see around 6 million full colour images. We are scanning the records in the following order, so the next pieces to be released will be:
|Date range||Approx no. of records||Approx no. of images||When available|
|WO97 1883-1900||312,909||2,218,606||Now||WO97 1901-1913||303,000||2.1 million||By May 2010|
|WO97 1873-1882||64,000||400,000||By June 2010|
|WO97 1855-1872||65,000||400,000||By July 2010|
|WO97 1760-1854||184,000||1.2 million||By April 2011|
Whereas many other military records provide information about officer-class soldiers, these records relate to ordinary, non-officer class soldiers. This makes it more likely that you will be able to find details about your ancestors. The connection with 'Chelsea Pensioners' is that the pensions were administered through The Royal Hospital at Chelsea. The great majority of pensioned soldiers were out-pensioners and did not reside at the Hospital itself.
Why are these records so special?
The records provide rich detail and colour to our ancestors' lives to a level that is difficult to find elsewhere. There are usually six or seven records per soldier, whereas an individual would only get one line in, say, a 19th century census record. Most of the service records note all of the regiments in which a soldier served, with both start and end dates, ranks attained, and the total service rendered, again in years and days, in each rank and regiment. Service in either the East or West Indies is noted separately.
The reason for the soldier's discharge (illness or wounds) is given, as are remarks on general conduct while in the service, and notations on height, complexion, eye and hair colour, and civilian occupation. The form is dated and signed by both the soldier and commanding officer. In the absence of photographs, these records are an essential tool in providing an insight into what your ancestors actually looked like. These records are among the most popular at The National Archives as family historians and genealogists have realised how valuable they are.
The Chelsea Pensioner Service Records are made up of servicemen from all over the British Empire. Below is a percentage break down of where the servicemen were born:
- England = 68.9%
- Ireland = 17.6%
- Scotland = 8.3%
- Wales = 2.2%
- West Indies = 0.6%
- India = 0.4%
- Sark = 0.00073%
Our marketing manager, Debra Chatfield (pictured right), said: "The Chelsea Pensioners' British Army Service Records are a wonderful resource for family historians. Unlike many other military records, which often only provide information about officer-class soldiers, these records are of 'ordinary' soldiers.
These fascinating, detailed records enable you to find out so much about your soldier ancestors, even including what they looked like, long before the invention of photography. The colour images of handwritten records provide amazing insights into the lives of our military ancestors."
Interesting characters in the records
William Milligan, Spike Milligan's grandfather, served in the Royal Artillery. He was born in St John's, Newfoundland, British America and was a carpenter until he joined the British Army on 2 September 1869, aged 18 years in Belfast. On joining the army they recorded his 'vital statistics' as follows: 5'9" (69 inches), 34 inch chest, 126 lbs, 'fair' complexion, grey eyes, brown hair, Roman Catholic, pulse (regular): 76 beats, respiration: 14 inspirations, muscular development: good, distinctive marks: "Slight varicose back of left leg".
John Henry Fry, the three day soldier - back in 1888 John Henry Fry signed up to become a soldier for the British Army in Exeter. He was born in Barnstaple, Devon in 1870 and grew up to work as a labourer before he decided to sign up to the British Army.
On 25 September 1888, aged 18 years and 3 months he joined the British Army stating he would be willing to serve the British Army for 12 years and would like to serve in the Rifle Brigade. On his enlistment papers his physical description is as follows: 5'5 1/4", 124lbs, 32 3/4 inch chest, 'sallow' complexion, blue eyes, brown hair, and he belonged to the Church of England.
A 12 year service, however, was not to be. On 27 September 1888, aged 18 years and 3 months, after just 3 days' service, John Henry Fry left the British Army. His character on being discharged was recorded as "Good during his three days' service" and his cause of discharge was recorded as "In consequence of his not being likely to become an efficient soldier".
Using other records available on findmypast.co.uk, John Henry Fry can be found to have moved to Cardiff by the time of the 1901 and 1911 censuses.