The records of over half a million men who served in the Militia between 1806 and 1915 have been released online for the first time by findmypast.co.uk, in association with The National Archives and in partnership with FamilySearch.
The forerunner to the British Territorial Army, the Militia was a voluntary, county-based, part-time force for home defence.
The Militia attestation papers released are some of the most detailed records available to family historians and include not only servicemen born in the UK, but also throughout the world, with listed soldiers born in Italy, Ceylon, South Africa and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.
The Militia attestation papers 1806-1915 (Catalogue series WO 96) comprise approximately 500,000 records and 2.4 million images. The attestation forms were filled in at recruitment and, in most cases, annotated to the date of discharge to form a record of service. They provide unique descriptions of what recruits looked like, for example, Arthur Wilson’s distinguising marks included a tattoo of an acrobat on his left forearm.
Like the Territorial Army, the Militia was made up of working men from a wide range of professions.
William Spencer, Principal Military Records Specialist at The National Archives, commented: ’It took a certain kind of individual to leave a day job as a blacksmith, labourer or barman and enlist as a part time soldier in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the majority never left British shores, many saw active service with the regular army in places such as South Africa during the Second Boer War. Like its modern equivalent, the Territorial Army, the pre-First World War militia offered a way for former soldiers to continue serving their country and civilians a chance to leave humdrum jobs, earn extra money and enjoy the comradeship such services had to offer.’