The Chelsea Pensioners British Army service records (WO97) comprise more than 1 million records for men pensioned out of the British Army in the period 1760 to 1913. The pension records do not just relate to older men: soldiers were eligible for a pension after 12 years of service so relatively young men could be pensioned out. The connection with Chelsea Pensioners is that the pensions were administered through the Royal Hospital at Chelsea. The great majority of pensioned soldiers were "out-pensioners" and did not reside at the hospital itself. Most of these soldiers were born in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales; however, a significant proportion came from other parts of the British Empire.
The Royal Hospital, Chelsea, pensioners' discharge documents (WO121) comprise 246,977 images for 84,916 men for the period 1760 to 1887. This series is almost identical to some of the discharge documents in the Chelsea Pensioners British Army service records (WO97). The difference is that this series comprises bound volumes of the discharge documents, with the front page on the right hand side and the back page on the left hand side of the relevant image. It is possible that an ancestor's record runs over more than two pages as there are 246,977 images for 84,916 men.
What are the Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records ?
These records are of men pensioned out of the British Army 1760 to 1913. The connection with "Chelsea Pensioners" is that the pensions were administered through The Royal Hospital at Chelsea. The great majority of pensioned soldiers were "out-pensioners" and did not reside at the Hospital itself.
Why are these records useful to the family historian ?
These records provide rich detail and colour to your ancestors' lives at a level that is difficult to find elsewhere. There are usually four or eight pages of detailed record per soldier whereas an individual only gets one line in, for example, a census record from the 1900s. As well as discovering details of the regiments in which they served, you will often find physical descriptions such as chest sizes (often tiny) and distinguishing marks such as tattoos. In the absence of photographs, these records are an essential tool for imagining what your ancestors looked like. You'll also be able to see the individual's signature. Discharge records may also give details of wives and children, medical history and disciplinary record.
Whereas many other military records provide information about officer class soldiers, these records include papers about ordinary soldiers of other ranks. This makes it more likely that you will be able to find details about your ancestors. If searching the censuses leads to a dead end, it is possible you can find who you are looking for here.
These records are among the most popular at The National Archives, as family historians and genealogists have realised how valuable they are.
What exactly will I be able to find out ?
The Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records provide the soldier's name, place of birth, regiment(s), year of discharge and dates of service within the British Army. They contain details which are largely unavailable elsewhere. These records are useful in finding out information about ancestors from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and overseas. There are a good number of records from the Caribbean and India in particular. This is the first time these records have been scanned, transcribed and published online.
If they're about pensions, do they just tell us about old soldiers ?
No, soldiers were eligible for a pension after 12 years of service, and earlier if they were wounded, so relatively young men could be pensioned out. The term "pensioner" refers to a pension being paid to an ex-soldier, not that they are a resident pensioner at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Why can't I find an entry ?
The series generally does not contain the records of soldiers who died in service or who took an early discharge because these did not receive a pension. Some ex-soldiers re-enlisted at the start of the Great War in 1914 and their records are unlikely to be found in the Chelsea Pensioner series.
Timeline and Historical context
Here are some of the major conflicts in the period 1760 to 1913 that are covered by the same period as the Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records which may help you to find your ancestors:
- 1775: American War of Independence
- 1793 to 1802: British involvement in French Revolution
- 1795: British capture of Ceylon
- 1798: Irish Rebellion
- 1803 to 1815: Napoleonic Wars
- 1854 to 1856: The Crimean War
- 1857 to 1859: Indian Mutiny
- 1880 to 1881: The First Anglo-Boer War (also known as the "Transvaal War")
- 1899 to 1902: The Second Anglo-Boer War
Attestation papers - official papers written for a solider upon joining the Army.
Description Books - before the days of photography, the Army had to have a means of recognising soldiers, not least in the case of desertion or to prevent pension fraud. Description Books provided detailed physical descriptions of each solider and details of birthplace, trade service and enlistment.
Discharge papers - official papers written for a soldier upon leaving the Army.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea - a retirement home for the "Chelsea Pensioner" and administrative office for the British Army, founded in 1682 and opened in 1692 to look after wounded and disabled soldiers. Catered for "in-pensioners" but the large majority of soldiers pensioned out of the army were "out-pensioners" living at their own address but receiving a pension via The Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Kilmainham Hospital - a predecessor to The Royal Hospital Chelsea, catering for wounded and disabled soldiers from 1684.
Militia - a voluntary part-time force for home defence. The Militia Act of 1757 established Militia Regiments in all counties of England and Wales. The Yeomanry (cavalry) and the Volunteers were introduced later. In 1808 a further force, the Local Militia, was formed. By 1816 the Local Militia and the Volunteers had been dissolved. The Volunteer Force was revived in 1859. In 1907, the Yeomanry and the Volunteers combined as the Territorial Force, and in 1908 the Militia was revived as the Special Reserve.
WO96 - the reference number at The National Archives. "WO" stands for War Office. WO96 is War Office: Militia Attestation Papers 1806 to 1913. The records provide a key source of information for non-officer class soldiers. Records referring to non-officer class soldiers are very difficult to find elsewhere.
WO97 - the reference number at The National Archives. "WO" stands for War Office. WO97 is Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers' Service Documents 1760-1913. The records provide a key source of information for non-officer class soldiers. Records referring to non-officer class soldiers are very difficult to find elsewhere.
Groups of soldiers
- Squad: 9 to 13 soldiers
- Platoon: 20 to 42 soldiers
- Company: 70 to 200 soldiers
- Battalion: 300 to 1,300 soldiers, usually commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel
- Brigade: 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers, usually commanded by a Brigadier General, Brigadier or Colonel
- Division: 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers
- Corps: 20,000 to 45,000 soldiers
Ramsdale and variant surname entries (30) extracted from the following sets of records:
- Militia service records 1806 to 1915 (WO96)
- Chelsea Pensioners British Army service records 1760 to 1913 (WO97)
- Royal Hospital, Chelsea: pensioners' discharge documents 1760 to 1887 (WO121)
- Royal Hospital, Chelsea: pensioners' discharge documents, foreign regiments 1816 to 1817 (WO122)
- War Office: Imperial Yeomanry, soldiers' documents, South African War 1899 to 1902 (WO128)
- Royal Hospital, Chelsea: documents of soldiers awarded deferred pensions 1838 to 1896 (WO131)
Last Name First Name(s) Year of Birth Place of Birth Record Series Ramsdale Aaron 1884 Wigan, Lancashire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Albert Edward 1871 Darlington, Durham WO96 Militia Ramsdale Benjamin 1878 Staveley, Derbyshire WO96 Militia Ramsdale Charles 1780 Leicester, Leicestershire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Frank 1854 Chelmsford, Essex WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale George Barnard 1875 Darlington, Durham WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale James 1864 London, Surrey WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale James ? Bolton, Lancashire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale James Henry 1883 Ipswich, Suffolk WO96 Militia Ramsdale Jas ? ? WO121 Chelsea Ramsdale John 1808 Bromsgrove, Worcestershire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale John Robert 1884 Northallerton, Yorkshire WO96 Militia Ramsdale John Walker 1883 Atherton, Lancashire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Moses 1787 Stretton, Nottinghamshire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Robert 1871 Oldham, Lancashire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Robert 1872 Wigan, Lancashire WO96 Militia Ramsdale Robert 1874 Sheffield, Yorkshire WO96 Militia Ramsdale Robert ? Unslett, Yorkshire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Solomon 1871 Wednesbury, Staffordshire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Stapleton 1886 Borobridge, Yorkshire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Thomas ? Bolton, Lancashire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Thomas H 1875 Leeds, Yorkshire WO96 Militia Ramsdale Thomas Henry 1885 Northallerton, Yorkshire WO96 Militia Ramsdale William 1859 Northallerton, Yorkshire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale William 1881 Larbert, Stirlingshire WO96 Militia Ramsdale William 1881 Larbert, Stirlingshire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale William ? ? WO121 Chelsea Ramsdale William ? Leigh, Lancashire WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale William Almond 1869 Darlington, Durham WO97 Chelsea Ramsdale Willm ? ? WO121 Chelsea
There are no entries under the variant surnames Ramsdal(l), Ramsdel(l), Romsdale or Ramsdaille.
First name(s) John Solomon Last name Ramsdale Ramsdale Calculated year of birth 1808 1871 Parish of birth Bromsgrove Wednesbury Town of birth Bromsgrove Wednesbury County of birth Worcestershire Staffordshire Age at attestation 18 22 years 9 months Attestation date 26 May 1826 28 July 1893 Discharge rank Private ? Discharge corps 1st (or The Royal) Regiment of Foot 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment Discharge soldier number 406 4265 National Archives reference WO97 / 235 / 47 WO97 / 3706 / 7