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WW2 records transfer to UK National Archives from Ministry of Defence

The UK National Archives announced on 17 August that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has started transferring 10 million British military personnel records to Kew for their permanent retention. The scope of the record transfer is Army, Navy and Air Force records for individuals born up to and including 1939.

With so many records involved, the plan is to transfer them in batches and it is expected to take six years to complete the transfer. The records include approximately 500,000 personnel with First World War service, however, the majority will be those who served in World War 2.

Although the transfer of records commenced early in 2021, the records will not be available to researchers immediately. Understandably, the National Archives has a mountain of work to do in assessing, cataloguing and properly storing them at Kew.

While this is wonderful news, particularly for people who have had to wait for a year or more for access to the records via the MoD, there is a surprising twist. The National Archives stated that in order to protect the personal and medical information in these personnel records, they will be closed until 115 years after the individual's birth. This is 15 years beyond the normal closure of 100 years for people's birth registration and 1939 Register records. The National Archives added:

"Whether or not the material can be open to all or closed fully or in part will be assessed on this basis or upon request under relevant data protection and freedom of information laws."

This is very disappointing and means if the records were to start being released for public access in 2021, then we could only access the personnel file for individuals born up to 1906.

The National Archives clearly understands the public interest in these records and is looking at how they can provide the widest possible access to them. This includes exploring a number of options, including digitisation. I think I speak for genealogists and historians alike when I state digitisation can't come soon enough.

Click here for the National Archives' full announcement.

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