Many records are only available online, sometimes on more than one site. We have listed the main sources but there may be others. Some records are free to view but others are available on either a subscription or pay per view basis (£).

Eligibility for campaign and service medals is based on set criteria, usually being present in a particular theatre of war within given dates.

Check which First World War service medals an individual may have qualified for:

The qualification criteria for the British War Medal were slightly different for Army and Naval personnel. Members of the British Army had to have served overseas but the Admiralty granted the British War Medal to all ranks who had completed 28 days' mobilised service between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918.

The name, rank and number of the individual will appear on the medal. The Ministry of Defence is not able to issue or replace First World War medals under any circumstances.

Second World War personnel may have qualified for:

  • The War Medal 1939 to 1945
  • The 1939 to 1945 Star
  • Africa, Artic, Atlantic, Burma, France and Germany, Italy and Pacific Stars
  • The Defence Medal: 1939 to 1945

Second World War medals are not named.

Check the official description of eligibility for each medal. The locations and dates of service recorded on an individual’s service record will indicate if they are entitled to a particular medal.
 
The Ministry of Defence Medal Office can confirm if an individual is eligible to receive Second World War or post 1945 medals and issue those previously unclaimed to veterans or their next of kin.

The Admiralty compiled a series of Medal Rolls to record the medal entitlement of those who served with naval forces during different campaigns, those who received medals for long service or good conduct and those who were awarded medals for gallantry. There are separate ledgers for the different branches of the navy, each providing an alphabetical listing of those entitled to a specific medal. The National Archives (TNA) guides on Campaign and Service Medals and Gallantry Medals provide more detailed information.

The full collection of Naval Medal and Award Rolls covering campaign, service and gallantry medals for naval personnel 1793–1972, held by TNA (ADM 171) is available to search on Ancestry (£).

Individual parts of the rolls are also available – the First World War service medal rolls 1914-1920:

  • Royal Navy officers (ADM 171/89ADM 171/90 and ADM 171/91) on TNA (digital microfilm available to download free of charge) and on Lives of the First World Warand FindMyPast (£) 
  • Royal Navy ratings (ADM 171/94-119) consist of 25 parts arranged alphabetically on TNA (digital microfilm available to download free of charge)
  • Royal Marine officers (ADM 171/92 and ADM 171/93) on TNA (digital microfilm available to download free of charge) and on Lives of the First World War and FindMyPast (£)
  • Royal Marine NCOs and other ranks (ADM 171/167168169170171) on TNA (digital microfilm available to download free of charge) and on Lives of the First World War and FindMyPast (£)
  • Royal Naval Reserve officers (ADM 171/92 and ADM 171/93) on TNA (digital microfilm available to download free of charge)
  • Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve ratings (ADM 171/125) on TNA (digital microfilm available to download free of charge) and on Lives of the First World War and FindMyPast (£)
  • Royal Naval Division personnel (including Royal Navy, Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Naval Auxiliary Sick Berth Reserve, Royal Marine Light Infantry, Royal Marine Artillery, Royal Marine Band and civilian hospital staff and army officers who were associated or attached) – the 1914 Star Medal Roll 1914-1920 (ADM 171/139) available on TNA (digital microfilm available to download free of charge) and on Lives of the First World War and FindMyPast (£)
  • Royal Navy officers, Royal Marines, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Naval Reserve who received foreign awards 1914–1922 include Foreign Awards To Naval Officers Index 1914-1922 (ADM 171/67) on TNA (digital microfilm available to download free of charge) and on FindMyPast (£)

Gallantry medals are awarded for an especially heroic deed or action. Announcements are listed in the official journal The London Gazette. For some but not all awards, there may also be a separate citation, which describes the action for which the award was made. See The National Archives guide to recommendations for military honours and awards. Operational records or a published ship or unit history might provide some details, although the individual may not be named. Newspapers may also include an account of the action although for security reasons key details such as locations and ship names are usually removed.

Royal Navy and Royal Marine gallantry awards:

  • 'Honours sheets' 1914–1919 (ADM 171/78-88) on TNA (digital microfilm available to download free of charge)
  • Surviving recommendations 1854–1982 (ADM 1 accessed by using the index in series ADM 12 and ADM 116) at TNA
  • Victoria Cross citations on Lives of the First World WarFindMyPastAncestry, and Naval and Military Press (£)
  • Published listings of medal awards for decorations such as the Victoria Cross and Distinguished Service Medal at IWM. Search our online catalogue.
  • Seedie’s Roll of Naval Honours and Awards, 1939–1959 compiled by BC Dickson (Tisbury, Wiltshire: Ripley Registers, 1989) available at IWM
Other things to look for:

Download our guide to tracing your Royal Navy ancestry.