Was your British Army Ancestor in uniform in 1921?

Posted on: 17, March, 2022

Was your British Army Ancestor in uniform in 1921? It’s often very tempting to assume that our lack of success in finding a service record for our British Army Ancestors is because of the unerring aim of Luftwaffe bomb-aimers in September 1940. Yes, millions of service records and a good deal more besides was destroyed during that catastrophic air raid on the night of 7/8th September 1940, but don;t discount the possibility that your ancestor went on to sign up for limited engagement with the British Army after the Armistice had been signed.

Faced with a rapid drain of British Army personnel post-November 1918, the British Army offered attractive inducements to keep men in uniform. Chris Baker explains this well in his Re-enlisting into the Army in 1919 article on the Long, Long Trail website. Some of these men would still be serving in 1921 and in this case their records probably still survive with the Ministry of Defence and can be ordered.

Findmypast’s recent release of the 1921 Census of England & Wales provides an ideal opportunity for a quick sanity check on what our ancestors were doing in June 1921. My own British Army Ancestors had all returned to civilian life by June 1921 but there were plenty of men who had enlisted as career soldiers since 1909 or earlier who would still be in uniform in 1921.

Men typically enlisted for 12 years’s service, split between colour service and reserve service. This means that a man enlisting on the 1st July 1909 could expect to serve until 30th June 1921. And this means that his service record is probably still with the MoD and can be ordered.

The VeteransUK website notes that due to Covid there is a backlog in dealing with requests of at least 12 months. Nevertheless, it may still be worthwhile getting in application now as it’s unlikely that these records will be accessioned and published by the National Archives or one of its online partners anytime soon.

So to recap, if your ancestor was an Other Rank still serving with the British Army after January 1921, or an officer who was serving with the British Army after April 1922, the MoD probably has his records. Search the 1921 Census of England and Wales, exclusively available through Findmypast, to see what he was doing in 1921. You may be pleasantly surprised to find him still in uniform.

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