Over 1.1 million records of British casualties sustained during WW2 available to search online
Today, 2nd September 2016, the records of over 1.1 million casualties sustained by the British Army during the Second World War have been published online at Findmypast.
Released in association with The National Archives to coincide with the 77th anniversary of Britain’s entry into the war, the British Army casualty lists 1939-1945 record the details 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.
The records are comprised of daily lists prepared by the War Office. Each list covers the various expeditionary forces serving in different locations such as The Western Desert, Malaya, Italy, Greece or France, and also cover those killed or injured at home or at overseas stations outside theatres of war. In some cases, the lists also recorded casualties suffered at sea when transport ships were attacked by enemy vessels.
The records consist of fully searchable transcripts and scanned colour images of the original documents. Each entry lists the person’s name, rank, service number, regiment, status, and previous theatre of war. The image may also provide additional information such as a date of death or a notation on their previous status.
The Poor Bloody Infantry
The data reveals that some of the heaviest fighting took place in France, with over 158,000 casualties reported. In Northwest Europe (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands & Norway) over 104,000 military personnel were killed, wounded or captured while the Jungles of Malaya and the Western Desert of Egypt and Libya also saw large numbers of British troops taken out of the fight.
The records also reveal some interesting statistics about the war. Durham Light Infantry suffered the worst casualties of any infantry regiment during the war, having lost over 23,000 men while fighting in Dunkirk, Normandy, Burma, North Africa, Italy, and Germany. The Gordon Highlanders also suffered particularly heavy casualties while the Royal Artillery suffered the heaviest casualties overall. Privates faced the highest risk, being 15 times more likely to be killed, wounded or captured than a rifleman, while Gunners, Lance Corporals, and Drivers also appeared to have been particularly at risk.
The British Army at war
In 1939 the British Army was a small volunteer force, but on 3rd 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 Army suffered over 200,000 deaths during the course of the War, over 180,000 men were taken prisoner, and nearly the same number again were wounded.
Notable names in the records include:
- Tommy MacPherson, also known as the ‘Kilted Killer’, the most decorated British soldier of the war. Tommy was awarded the Military Cross, received the Croix de Guerre three times, the Legion d’Honneur, and Papal and Italian medals for his service with the Scottish Commandos. He was captured during a mission to raid the headquarters of Erwin Rommel - the German Field Marshall - in 1941, and made several escape attempts. He didn’t succeed until 1943, during a transfer to a Polish camp. Only months after his escape, MacPherson 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. MacPherson caused so much chaos and structural damage that the Nazis placed a substantial bounty on his head.
- Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart VC, KBE, CB, CMG, DSO, one of the toughest professional soldiers to ever serve with the British Army. De Wiart served in the Boer War, First World War, and Second World War. He was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, and ear, and tore off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them. He also survived two plane crashes, one of which resulted in his capture by Italian forces in 1941. Whilst in captivity, De Wiart made five escape attempts including seven months tunnelling, and once evaded capture for eight days disguised as an Italian peasant. De Wiart was released in 1943 when the Italian government tasked him with delivering peace terms to London
- Dame Evelyn Marguerite ‘Margot’ Turner, Colonel Commandant of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. Turner fled Singapore in 1942 and was forced to survive for three days on a small deserted island after her escape fleet was destroyed in a Japanese air attack. She was then picked up by a vessel overcrowded with women and children which was later sank by Japanese gunfire. Turner and another nurse were able to save 16 others including small children and get them all to a raft. Tragically, all save Turner perished and she was found alone, starving and disorientated by an enemy cruiser, and immediately placed in a Japanese prison camp. Turner managed to survive the brutal camp conditions for another three years until it was liberated in 1945.
- Members of the 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. Nurses served both 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.
Paul Nixon, military expert at Findmypast, says: “At a point in our history when commemoration has rightly been focused on the First World War, this release of over one million names on official casualty lists from the Second World War acts as a timely reminder of the sacrifices of a later generation.”
David Langrish, Head of Public History and Military Records Specialist at The National Archives says: “Split into sections covering Officers and Nurses and then Other Ranks, these lists cover individuals reported as killed in action, wounded, prisoner of war, missing, died of wounds, missing believed killed, dangerously ill, and involved in accidents. The daily War Office Casualty Lists provide a fascinating insight into the multitude of dangers faced by men and women serving with the British Army during the Second World War.”
Findmypast (previously DC Thomson Family History) is a British-owned world leader in online family history. It has an unrivalled record of online innovation in the field and 18 million registered users across its family of online brands, which includes Lives of the First World War, The British Newspaper Archive and Genes Reunited, amongst others.
Its lead brand, also called Findmypast, is a searchable online archive of over two billion family history records, ranging from parish records and censuses to migration records, military collections, historical newspapers and lots more. For members around the world, the site is a crucial resource for building family trees and conducting detailed historical research.
In April 2003, Findmypast was the first online genealogy site to provide access to the complete birth, marriage, and death indexes for England & Wales, winning the Queen’s Award for Innovation. Since that time, the company has digitised records from across the globe, including major collections from Britain, Ireland, Australia, and the United States.
About The National Archives
The National Archives is one of the world’s most valuable resources for research and an independent research organisation in its own right. As the official archive and publisher for the UK government, and England and Wales they are the guardians of some of the UK's most iconic national documents, dating back over 1,000 years. Their role is to collect and secure the future of the government record, both digital and physical, to preserve it for generations to come, and to make it as accessible and available as possible. The National Archives brings together the skills and specialisms needed to conserve some of the oldest historic documents as well as leading digital archive practices to manage and preserve government information past, present and future.