Military history

Whether you’re looking for an ancestor in the military or interested in historic conflicts, experts from The National Archives and elsewhere offer an authoritative take on military matters.

  • Video contentMob Besieges Pacifists, First World War

    Mob besieges pacifists during the First World War

    Each month the Education team highlights a Pathé film relating to current events, anniversaries or key topics that you may be covering in the classroom. With the centenery of the outbreak of the First World War, we’ve chosen this footage […]

  • Audio contentAir Ministry letter concerning West Indian recruits (catalogue reference AIR 2/8278)

    The untold story of the RAF’s black Second World War fliers over Europe

    While the United States could boast the black fliers of Tuskegee, few people are aware of the important contribution made by 500 RAF aircrew recruited from the Caribbean and West Africa. Overcoming the legacy of the official British Colour Bar […]

  • Audio contentcn-11-6

    Operation Unthinkable: Churchill’s plan for World War Three

    Churchill’s top secret plan to attack the Soviet Empire was scheduled for 1 July 1945. British, US, Polish and German forces were to attempt to liberate East Germany and Poland and bring Stalin back to the conference table. If they […]

  • Audio contentTroops travelling to Manchester for review by Lord Kitchener

    Digitising MH 47 the Middlesex military service appeal tribunal

    On the introduction of conscription in 1916, Military Service Tribunals were set up to hear applications and appeals for exemption. Surviving material is fragmented but two complete sets of tribunal papers were retained, including those for the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal. […]

  • Audio contentAIR 1/169/15/160/5 24

    Britain’s air forces in the First World War

    This talk covers the record sources for those who served in the air forces, their formations and machines. It also explores a case study of a famous airman to illustrate some of the inventions and developments that led to final […]

  • Audio contentbattle-of-flodden-e101-56-27

    The Battle of Flodden

    500 years ago, English and Scottish armies fought a massive battle near Flodden on the border. The Scottish king, James IV was killed along with many of his nobles. The English king, Henry VIII was fighting in France with most […]

  • Audio contentbs0026502

    Tracing your merchant seamen ancestors through crew lists and agreements

    The Merchant Navy Crew Lists and Agreements are one of the greatest sources we have for family, maritime, social and economic history. They are a continuous record of Britain’s maritime trade activity during the 19th and 20th centuries as well […]

  • Audio contentTuring notes on Enigma page 3 (catalogue reference: HW 25/3)

    The secret listeners

    Before Bletchley Park could break the German war machine’s codes, the enemy’s radio traffic and communications were monitored around the clock by the Listening Service – a team of young men and women based in every theatre of war who […]

  • Audio contentinf-13-19-2-army-recruitment-1975

    Join up and see the world! British military recruitment after national service

    In the First and Second World Wars, men had come forward to join the colours willingly, or had been compelled by conscription. But after the end of National Service, and the demobilisation of the last conscripts in 1963, Britain’s military […]

  • Audio contentsc1-30-80r

    William Wallace’s rising and execution, and Edward I’s conquest of Scotland

    The period of crisis in Scotland following the death of Alexander III, and leading to the eventual conquest by Edward I, still excites controversy and discussion, not least about the role of William Wallace. During work on an AHRC-funded project […]

  • Audio contentJourney's End

    The Journey’s End Battalion: The 9th East Surrey and R C Sherriff in the Great War

    ‘Journey’s End’ is a well-known play about the Great War. The author, R C Sherriff, saw all his front line service with 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment. The podcast explores in particular Sherriff’s experiences with the battalion and his reactions […]

  • Audio contentcatalogue reference WO 78/1037/98

    The post-Restoration army: 1660-1714

    We follow the history of the army from its inception as a standing force after the overthrow of the English republic and the restoration of the House of Stuart, through its increasing professionalisation during the War of the Spanish Succession […]

  • Audio contentImage from cover of 'Stalingrad' by Anthony Beevor

    Writer of the month: Stalingrad and Berlin – researching the reality of war

    Antony Beevor is an author whose books include: Stalingrad (Samuel Johnson, Wolfson and Hawthornden Prizes); Berlin The Downfall; The Battle for Spain (Premio La Vanguardia); D-Day – The Battle for Normandy (RUSI Westminster Medal and Prix Henry Malherbe); and most […]

  • Audio contentChina Tibet & Tartary 1860, cat. ref. MR1-736 (1)

    An Embarrassing Question: Opium, Britain and China 1856-1860

    The war between Britain and China from 1856 to 1860 became widely known as the Second Opium War, but what part did opium play in the conflict? Using a variety of records in The National Archives, online resources and published […]

  • Audio contentcopy1-550-rugby-tackle-1910

    The Final Whistle: the Great War in 15 players – a London rugby club at war 1914-1918

    A missing war memorial first inspired a quest to discover club members who fell in the Great War. 85 names have now been identified. Some remarkable stories paint a miniature portrait of the whole war – every service, arm, theatre […]

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