Is your British ancestor among the thousands of nurses, officers, and other ranks listed as casualties, prisoners of war, or missing during the Second World War? Explore these exciting records, compiled by the War Office and held by The National Archives.
Each record will display both a transcript and an original image. The original images are held at The National Archives in Surrey and have been digitised and indexed for Findmypast. The information in the transcripts can vary, but most will include the following:
Rank as transcribed – This is the rank as it was transcribed from the document. Most records use abbreviations for rank and regiment. The previous rank field is the abbreviation expanded in full.
Regiment as transcribed – This field was created similarly to rank as transcribed. See above explanation.
Theatre of war
The image can provide you with additional information such as a date of death or a notation regarding an individual’s prior listing (i.e. if the person was listed previously as missing or a prisoner of war).
You may have annotations written next to your ancestor’s name. The letter ‘L’ or ‘CL’ and a number or a number on its own refers to another casualty list. The casualty lists are numbered. Use the previous/next buttons to move through the documents to view other list numbers.
The British Army casualty lists 1939-1945 include over a million entries from the volumes which were updated by the War Office on a regular basis from 1939 to 1947. The lists document the names of officers, nurses, and other ranks who were reported as killed in action, dead as a result of illness or accident, missing, or taken as a prisoner of war. Later records show the names of those who were previously listed as a prisoner of war or missing but had died or those who were listed as a prisoner of war and were now free. Individuals can appear in the lists more than once if their status was reported to have changed. For example, E C Young was first reported missing, then reported missing and presumed a prisoner of war, and finally reported as a prisoner of war. Each entry recorded the person’s name, rank, service number, regiment, status, and previous theatre of war.
You can find the original records held at The National Archives. The British Army casualty lists 1939-1945 includes pieces 1-102 of series WO 417: War Office: army casualty lists, 1939-45 war. The lists add to Findmypast’s unique Second World War collection. Another excellent resource for those with relatives captured as prisoners of war is the Prisoners of War 1715-1945 records.
In 1939 the British Army was a volunteer force, but on 3 September, when Britain declared war on Germany, the National Service (Armed Forces) Act was passed by Parliament. The Act enforced full conscription for men between the ages of 18 and 41. By the end of the war, an estimated 3.5 million people served in the British Army. They fought in battles and campaigns in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Far East, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. The British forces were not solely formed from the regiments of Britain: many who served came from across the Commonwealth – Australia, India, South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand. Britain and the Commonwealth lost almost half a million military personnel during the war.
Tommy MacPherson, the most decorated British soldier
Among the records, we find the name of Tommy MacPherson, known as the ‘Kilted Killer’. He is the United Kingdom’s most decorated soldier. He was awarded the Military Cross, the Croix de Guerre three times, the Legion d’honneur, and Papal and Italian medals. Macpherson joined the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders Territorial Army in 1939 and later served with the Scottish Commandos. He was captured during a mission to raid the headquarters of Erwin Rommel, the German Field Marshall. MacPherson made several escape attempts but did not succeed until 1943, during a transfer to a Polish camp. MacPherson and three others managed to make their way to Sweden and fly back to Scotland. In the records, we find Ronald Thomas Stewart Macpherson in 1941 listed as a prisoner of war. Then he is recorded a second time as being ‘previously reported prisoner of war in Italian hands, now not prisoner of war’ after his successful escape.
Only months after his escape, MacPhearson returned to Europe as part of a special operation to carry out guerrilla warfare and sabotage in support of the local resistance fighters in France. During the rest of the war, MacPherson caused so much chaos and structural damage that the Nazis placed a bounty on his head. As part of his operation, he demolished railway bridges, ambushed German troops, blew up enemy vehicles, set booby traps, and killed and captured Nazis – all while dressed in his full Highland uniform complete with tartan kilt. He has been described as the most determined, resourceful, and brave British soldier.
Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service
In addition to those serving in the British Army, the records hold the names of hundreds of nurses and sisters who participated in the war effort across all theatres of war, including France, Gibraltar, Italy, Malaya, Palestine, Singapore, and Africa. Over 400 records of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service are found in the British Army casualty lists. Nurses served in field hospitals and hospital ships. In addition to treating soldiers, they opened clinics and treated local civilians. The records show the names of nurses and sisters, as well as others serving with the Medical Corps who were reported as missing, prisoners of war, or dead.
Dame Evelyn Marguerite ‘Margot’ Turner
In 1942, Singapore fell into Japanese hands, and thousands were taken as prisoners of war. Prior to the fall, many were evacuated including Colonel Commandant of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps, Dame Evelyn Marguerite ‘Margot’ Turner. Unfortunately, Turner’s escape fleet sunk after an air attack. Turner survived for three days on a small deserted island until she was picked up by a vessel overcrowded with women and children. Then the vessel was attacked by gunfire. Turner and another nurse were able to save 16 others, including small children and get them all to a raft. However, one by one each died and Turner was the only one left. Starving and disorientated, she was found by an enemy cruiser and immediately placed in a Japanese prison camp. Margot Turner managed to survive for another three years in the brutal Japanese prison camp until the camps were liberated in 1945. Her remarkable story is told in Surviving Tenko: the story of Margot Turner.
You can find four records for Dame Evelyn Marguerite ‘Margot’ Turner. In 1942, the list shows that Turner was missing, then in 1943 Turner is listed as not missing. In 1944, we find Turner as ‘previously posted as missing 1/2/1943 now reported prisoner of war in Japanese hands’ and finally in 1945, she is listed as not a prisoner of war. This last report is from October 1945, after the Allied forces liberated the Japanese prisoner of war camps.