Tracing Service Histories

“Tracing the Second World War history of a relative is a difficult, but not impossible task. Here you`ll find a few tips.”

Often family members know little about the service histories of their relatives, and begin to get curious about this after it is no longer possible to ask about the topic. Time and again I recieve questions about tracing service histories.

Finding out about a relative’s service history is often like a detective story. It helps if you know the following:

  • Which branch of service; (Army, Navy or Royal Air Force);
  • When they served;
  • Which unit, regiment or squadron;
  • The theatre/s where they served.

Step One: Request a Service Record

In the UK, direct relatives can request a copy of the service record of a family member from the Ministry of Defence. Two forms are available; one for if they are still alive, and the other for if they have passed away. It`s a sad fact that (in the US) only 10% of those who fought during WW2 are still alive today.

The form can be downloaded from the Veteran’s Agency website( In the US I believe you can get help from the Veteran’s Administration).

Step Two: Research the units

Once you have the service record, you can begin to trace the actual events in which your relative took part.

This is never easy; but the Internet is a big help. You may need to contact regiments, squadrons or visit the appropriate museums.

Some Veteran’s Associations may have old pals in them, but it can be difficult to establish a contact with who you need to speak with. Remember also, that not all Veteran`s want to talk about what happend in the War; especially with ‘a stranger’. Respect their feelings and wishes.

Tracing the service history of a relative will rarely show up exactly what they were involved in, but often just by finding a few details, and learning about the events in which they took part will be sufficient.

Happy hunting.