Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationObtaining Service Records
 For officers and ratings in the Royal Navy, the Royal Navy Reserve and the RNVR

Service records are confusing and difficult to interpret but are the key to researching the story of family members who served in the Navy as a rating or an officer. They are restricted to close family members until 116 years after birth when they are transferred to The National Archives and made avaliable to everybody.

Capital ships of the Royal Navy, the cruisers and battleships, were "self-accounting". The ships' Writers updated the Service Certificates for the men and the Pay and Victualing Ledgers for the ship. The names of men joining and leaving the ship, going on leave, returning from leave, changing messes, becoming entitled to a "tot" of rum and anything that could effect the numbers being fed on a particular day were recorded in the ledgers. In smaller ships including destroyers the  ledgers and service certificates known as "central record cards" were held by the "depot" at the naval base. The name of the shore base where these records were held appeared on a man's Service Certificate followed by the name of his ship in brackets. The date he joined and the date he left was recorded alongside.

To find out more about the work of ship's writers on larger  "self accounting" ships read the entry for PO Robert Reid "Bob" Campbell, Ship's writer (C/MX 64730) in the destroyer depot ship HMS Hecla, who left her at Simons Town before she was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Morocco on 12 November 1942.  Sue Pass, Head of the Naval Record Office. had this to say: "As we often say in the department Navy is not 'navy' it’s often grey due to the complicated way it is record wise".

Service Records of Ratings and Petty Officers (PO)

Ratings held a personal copy of their record card which recorded the name of the accounting base (with the name of his ship in brackets) and reports on his performance by the commanding officer. In the example below, Stoker 1st Class Thomas William Charles Tweedy (P/KX 77368) served in HMS Vortigern from 15 June 1939 until 15 March 1942 but the naval base where the ships records were kept changed several times and when his ship was sunk and his body was not recovered he was "(presumed) DD" (discharged dead).

Sample service recordFlimy
Service records are as dry  as dust but they tell a story if you learn to read it
Left: Crop from the service record of Stoker Thomas Tweedy
Right: Flimsy of Lt Cdr C.G.W. Donald RN killed by a sniper six months later on 23 May 1940

Service Records of Officers

The service records of officers from the most junior Midshipman to the Commanding Officer were not held aboard ship but retained by the Admiralty. When an officer left a ship or the CO changed the officer would receive a personal copy of the CO's Officer's Fitness Report (Form S206) on his performance sent to the Admiralty. A standard entry might read  performed "to my entire satisfaction". These reports known as "flimsies" are frequently found amongst a retired officers papers after his death but his family can follow the same procedure for ratings (see below) to obtain a copy of his full service record. Six months after leaving HMS Iron Duke Lt Cdr C.G.W. Donald RN was shot dead by a sniper at Boulogne on the bridge of his first command HMS Vimy. The ships in which an officer served can also be traced through his entries in the quarterly Naval Lists and along with other sources are used by the Dutch researcher Hans Houterman to create his online  directory of the naval service of officers on

Obtaining Service Records

Download records from the National Archives

Service records of officers and ratings are eventually transferred to the National Archives (TNA) at Kew for download by visitors. If a person was born more than 116 years ago you can be confident that the record will be in the National Archives but I have found records for persons born a few years after this date.  If you obtain a Readers Ticket for the National Archives and visit in person no charge is made for downloading. At present, during the Covid pandemic, one can dial into their website and download records without charge instead of paying 3-50 per record. The only requirement is that  you register with TNA.

Details of how to locate records on the National Archives DIscovery search engine are given below.

The search page on the website of TNA:

Find "Words":
Alongside "all of these words" enter the full name of the person whose record you hope to find (including middle name if known)

Search "for or within references":
Alongside "any of these references" enter ADM (for Admiralty)

Click on SEARCH
If the name is common and there are too many records restrict by date range.

For further details visit this page:

Apply online to for service records:

It has recently become possible to apply online to for a copy of service records not in The National Archives, including officers and men who served in the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. You need to have been their immediate next of kin when they died (for example spouse, parent or child) and it costs 30 for each record, which is non-refundable. The fee covers research and administrative costs. There’s no fee if you were the person’s spouse or civil partner at the time of their death, or a parent if there was no spouse or civil partner.You need to know the person’s full name and date of birth. If you have the person’s service number, this will help find the correct record quicker, the more information you provide the easier (and quicker) it will be to locate the service record. You also need a copy of the person’s death certificate, unless the person died in service or was born more than 116 years ago.

Further details are given on this page:

To apply online, you need a:

    digital copy of the death certificate of the person you’re requesting the records of in the correct format (PDF, JPG or PNG)
    debit or credit card

Your request will be forwarded to Restore Records  Management who will carry out a search and e-mail you the record.

All the surviving Pay and Victualing Ledgers and the Central Record Cards are held by the Navy Records Office of Restore Records Management at Swadlincote, South Derbyshire. Restore  Records have a contract from the Ministry of Defence to supply copies of service certificates to the next of kin of officers and men. When the original no longer exists they can be reconstructed from the ledgers for the ships in which the man served. This is a lengthy and time consuming task for which a standard fee of 30 is charged. It will readily be appreciated that these ledgers may contain errors or gaps but, strangely, they may also contain details of ships not listed on the original service certificate, especially when a man is only briefly aboard while "taking passage" to join a new ship. Restore Records supply copies of central record cards with a brief guide to the information given on them which can be downloaded as a PDF.

Postal applications for Service Records

If you are assisting an elderly relative who does not have Internet access it is still possible for them to apply for service records by post by writing to:

Navy Disclosures
Room G10
West Battery
Whale Island

Telephone: 03001574401 / 03001607286 / 03001636872

Further Research

Having identified a man's ships and dates of service one can begin to research his wartime service in standard reference works, online and in the Reports of Proceeding of Commanding Officers held at the National Archives. If an officer was particularly famous he may have written a biography and in a few cases a ship biography may have been published describing a ship's history from launch to sinking - or going to the ship breaker for scrap. In addition to the entries for V & W Class destroyers on this site there is also a brief introduction to researching V & W Class destroyers.

Ship's Company

It would be possible to create a list of all the officers and men aboard a ship when she was sunk from the Pay and Victualing Ledgers and until a few years ago this was done. It took a long time and was very expensive and the service has been discontinued, on the grounds that applications had to be processed through Freedom of Information (FOI) mechanisms. I commissioned three lists for HMS Venomous, the V & W in which my father served, and in 2010 and 2017 published a "ship biography" of Venomous written by Bob Moore and John Rodgaard.

Copies of the crew lists of V & W Class destroyers created before this service was discontinued can be obtained from Restore Records on payment of the standard 30 fee set by the Admiralty. They include crew lists for HMS Wakeful and HMS Wryneck on the dates they sunk. Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies researched and compiled by Don Kindell can be seen on and the names of men who died with their next of kin can can also be found on the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but lists of survivors compiled at the time were not retained.

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