Catalogue description Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents

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Details of WO 97
Reference: WO 97
Title: Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents

This is the main series of service documents of soldiers (but not officers) who either became in- or out-pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The attestation and discharge documents in this series constitute the most detailed record of a soldier's service. The early part of the series also occasionally contains records of men who bought themselves out of their regiment or who applied unsuccessfully for a pension.

The records usually give particulars of age, birthplace, service (including any decorations), information about physical description, previous occupation on enlistment and the reason given for discharge to pension. Documents after 1883 usually contain fuller particulars, such as next of kin and details of marriage and children.

The series generally does not contain the records of soldiers who died in service or who took an early discharge and never received a pension. These service records would not have survived because they were not required for pension purposes.

The types of document that have most commonly survived are :

  • discharge forms, which were issued when a soldier left the regiment;
  • attestation forms, which are the documents signed by the new recruit;
  • the proceedings of a regimental board and record of service, which was a later variety of discharge form;
  • a variety of supporting correspondence;
  • questionnaires of past service, which an applicant for an in-pension completed if others documents had not survived;
  • affidavits, which out-pensioners outside London made every quarter to state that they were not drawing on other public funds.

PLEASE NOTE: WO 97 Piece numbers 1 to 6383 inclusive: Electronic images of these records can be searched online through our partner website.

Note: Catalogue descriptions for this series were enhanced as part of a project supported by the Friends of The National Archives and the Army Museums Ogilby Trust.
Date: 1760-1913

The documents are arranged in three series by date of discharge to pension:

  • for the period 1760-1872 the documents are arranged alphabetically by name within regiment, including militia to 1854 (WO 97/1-1721);
  • from 1873-1882 the documents are arranged alphabetically under cavalry, artillery, infantry and corps (WO 97/1722-2171);
  • from 1883-1913 there are two alphabetical sequences for the entire army for discharge papers arranged by range of surname (WO 97/2172-6322): 1883-1900 (WO 97/2172-4231) and 1900-1913 (WO 97/4232-6322).

WO 97/6323-6383 are supplementary series formed from documents which were found to have been misfiled when the post-1913 records were sorted.

For the period 1760-1854 (WO 97/1-1271) a name index has been produced in a joint project by the Friends of The National Archives and the Army Museums Ogilby Trust. Consequently each piece in the range WO 97/1-1271 has a number of item records associated with it. Each item record relates to an individual soldier and records their name, any alias names, their place and county of birth (as recorded in the document and thus often mispelt), their regiment(s) and their age on discharge. Covering dates given for these records give the soldier's year of enlistment to year of discharge unless otherwise stated.

Please be aware that the last digit of the item reference for an individual soldier (e.g. 89 in WO 97/1/89) does not refer to any folio or other reference on the original document. It has been generated automatically for system reasons.

Related material:

For the collection of discharge papers, (late eighteenth century to early nineteenth century), that are bound in ledgers, and from which many early documents in WO 97 have been cut out, see

See also Division within WO

WO 121

First World War soldiers' documents are in WO 363

Soldiers' documents from pension claims are in WO 364

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Royal Hospital Chelsea, 1682-

Physical description: 6383 boxes and files
Access conditions: Available in digital format unless otherwise stated

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