Find My Past
Soldiers Personal Records [SPRs].
These are the primary sources. SPRs from 1800 to 2004, which used to be held by the Regiment, were transferred to the Army repository at RAF Swadlincote in 2018. These, for all ranks, can be retrieved for a fee, “by those qualified to receive them” from the Army Personnel Historical Disclosure Section, Brown Street, Glasgow G2 8EX or visit: https://gov.uk/get-copy-military-service-records/apply-for-someone-else-records . Due to the pandemic there is, at present, a considerable delay. Regimental Headquarters retain some historic files for officers from 1900.
Regimental Record Books.
The Regiment has been working with online family history firm Findmypast. They have digitised the names and records listed in various books held in the Regimental Library at Wellington Barracks, so that this information can be more easily found by members of the public. The process began just before lockdown and is now complete up to 1946. This provides an excellent basis for research.
On enlistment, each soldier swore under oath that he would serve the Monarch, and an attestation form was completed in duplicate giving personal details, signed by the recruit and often including a medical officer’s certification that he was suitable. There are many formats, but printed paperwork mostly began from 1820. The attestation form often gave information about place and date of birth, where he enlisted, next of kin and physical details, such as height, weight and identifying marks.
The early books list no more than Name and Number from 1820, though including those serving at that date. From 1884, Regimental Headquarters were required to maintain a record of details from the attestation forms completed by every recruit in books. Each entry has only one or two lines but gives a good basic set of information and, in the case of World War 1, gives the dates a soldier was in the British Expeditionary Force.
Also maintained was a list of Discharges giving date and reason for leaving the Regiment: transfer to Reserves or to another unit, medical discharge or by purchase, death etc. Other books include campaign books from the Crimea, Egypt 1884, the Boer War, Shanghai 1927 and Sudan 1932.
Findmypast is a subscription service but allows a free 14 day trial period. By going to the “Military, Armed Forces” section then adding Regiment and Number, results come very quickly. If the number is not known, then Regiment plus Name and other information such as date of birth will usually be enough to find an individual. Using a wildcard search is also a useful tip. For instance, if you know your ancestor’s number began with 123 but you don’t know the other digits, simply type 123* in the service number field on the online search form.
If you Google “Get to know the Coldstream Guards” you will find a fuller description of what Findmypast offers, with a chance to check an individual on their files using Forename, Surname and Year of Birth.
There is a plan to digitise later books, but the information contained in the books reduced as records became more centralised. The records of those serving or enlisting in 1974 or later became computer based, though books continued to be maintained until 1981.
Other sources of information about ex-soldiers include:
Google will sometimes help. There are other family history firms. The largest, Ancestry has no specific Coldstream sources but has a large database which may provide information. Some local libraries have a subscription and allow free access.
Until 1820, the recording of soldiers was done at the Company level and, every six months, each Company rendered a muster roll to the Army for pay, rations and entitlements. The Muster Rolls for the Coldstream from 1759 [WO12/1557] to 1877 [WO12/1770] are held at the National Archives at Kew. There is a file per year, but these are not digitised and a reader’s ticket is needed to inspect them.
As an example, the Waterloo Muster Rolls for the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards covered the period from 29th December 1814 to 29th June 1815 There are 10 Company Musters with the Commanding Officer and Regimental Sergeant Major noted in No 1 Company. It showed those present at the beginning of the period and lists all changes over the six months, including all deaths. Those present at the battle got 2 years knocked off the requirement for pension.
The Royal Military Hospital, Chelsea [RMH].
Early paperwork was not usually held unless the soldier received a pension in which case the records were sent the Royal Military Hospital, Chelsea [RMH] or the Royal Military Hospital, Kilmainham who administered Army pensions. From 1877 all records were sent by the Regiment to RMH.
The records up to the end of the First World War are now at the National Archives. The earliest papers, up to 1820 are usually copies of the Discharge Form but later include the Regimental Board report on discharge and a copy of the attestation form. These forms, up to the point at which army numbers replaced regimental numbers in 1920, have been digitised by Findmypast.
RMH continued to administer pensions and receive Soldiers Personal Records [SPRs] until 1955 and their later records have now been sent to storage at the Army repository and are made available with any SPR request.
Regimental Histories from MacKinnon [1650 to 1830] to Howard and Sparrow [1920 to 1946] are available on-line through the Hathitrust. Links can be found on the Regimental website. It is possible to do a search of each book for a name or place. They give a guide to the movement of battalions but do not mention too many names. Each, however, do include lists of Officers with seniority, promotions and dates of service.
Other lists do give Rolls of Honour, Awards and soldiers who gained a commission.
Soldiers did not have a Regimental Number until these were introduced in 1820, after which time Regimental Headquarters held the attestation papers. There were 3 series of Coldstream Guards regimental numbers; the first series from 1820 to 1856 [1 to 6300] at the end of the Crimean War, and a second series which ran until 1896 [1 to 10000]. The third series [1 to 32000], covered until 1920 and so included soldiers who served during the First World War.
In 1920 Army numbers began and the Coldstream were allocated a block of seven figure numbers, beginning with 2646001. About 3500 soldiers had Regimental Numbers and then got Army Numbers as well. The block lasted until the end of the Second World War, by which time about 11,500 numbers had been issued.