WO 364: Soldiers’ pension records of the First World War

Unlike their unfortunate siblings in WO 363, the papers now classified in series WO 364 at The National Archives were not in storage at Arnside Street in 1940 and therefore escaped the wrath of the Luftwaffe when that warehouse went up in flames on the night of the 7/8th September.  The papers in WO 364 were with the Ministry of Pensions at the time and, in order to supplement those records which had survived the Arnside Street blaze, they were passed to the new War Record Office in Droitwich in 1943.

The WO 364 collection comprises files on ‘other rank’ army pensioners who had since died or whose claims for a pension had been refused. These papers were due to be pulped and would have been had not the bulk of records been destroyed in the Blitz.

So the papers in WO 363 and WO 364 are complementary albeit with some key differences. You are likely to find similar documents in both series, but WO 364 contains, of course, far more internal correspondence and often specific information about pension claims. Dead men don’t claim pensions and so if your British Army Ancestor was killed during the First World War you are unlikely to find his records in WO 363. I say ‘unlikely’ because after all, this is the army and there are ALWAYS exceptions to every rule. I have found a number of papers in WO 364 for men who died during the war and so it is still worth checking.

The papers in WO 364 are also a good deal easier to read than those in WO 363. No singed edges, no smoke damage and no water damage. If you’re lucky, you’ll also find that a man who has papers in WO 363. Charles Sabourin, who I refer to on the WO 363 page also has papers in WO 364. He lost his leg in August 1914 and claimed a pension for life. The papers for him in WO 364 repeat some of the information to be found in WO 363 but there I also new information as well.

Searching for your ancestor used to involve looking through several different series on microfilm. These days it’s a good deal easier now that these papers have been digitized by Ancestry and Findmypast. For some unaccountable reason though, Ancestry splits out the two series and this is one of the reasons that I only use Findmypast to search these series. Findmypast has also indexed far more records than Ancestry and so you stand more chance of finding your ancestor using its search. A search on Findmypast, filtering on WO 364, reveals close to 643,000 records in this series (as opposed to 3.6m in WO 363).

All papers in WO 363 and WO 364 were filmed and digitized many years ago and so if you can’t find your ancestor in these series, his papers will no longer survive. The exceptions here are if he was subsequently commissioned he may have papers in WO 339 or WO 374. And if he continued to serve in the army beyond 1921 he may still have papers with the MoD.

Pension records of the First World War. These records typically give details of service and/or pension claims made by soldiers - NCOs and men only - who served in the Great War 1914-1918. This is a smaller collection than the service records in WO 363 and covers around 10% of those men who served.

What does come across in these records is just how poorly returning soldiers were treated. Pensions were awarded, and indeed, thousands of pensions were still being paid to First World War veterans half a century of more after the conflict ended. But 'A Land fit for Heroes' it most certainly was not, with many a veteran's pension reduced in the years that followed, and many men paid off with a lump sum gratuity shortly thereafter. These records make for fascinating if sober reading.

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