World Wars 1 and 2 sources

Sources we hold about the two World Wars at the Oxfordshire History Centre.

Please note: Oxfordshire History Centre does not hold the official service records of individual servicemen or military units.

World War One

Records relating to recruitment and mobilisation

Britain officially entered the war at 11pm on 4 August 1914. The nation’s resources needed to be mobilised to support the war effort.

The contemporary minute books of the Oxford Territorial Army Association (O11) provide a fascinating insight into these first hours and days of the war.

Records relating to relief from the effects of war at home

There was great concern that the outbreak of war might cause unemployment and hardship to the families of the fighting men.

The minute books of the Oxford Citizens Emergency Committee (OCA1/29) in Oxford City Archive contain a wealth of information and statistics on local economic and social conditions.

The minute book of the Bampton East Petty Sessional Division War Relief Fund Sub Committee (B2/X2/1) contains a list of Belgian refugees.

Records relating to military service

The Military Service Act

The Military Service Act of January 1916 introduced conscription for the first time. The Act required local tribunals to be held to consider exemptions. Hearings regularly took place in public and were reported in the local press.

The majority of Local Tribunal records were destroyed after the war but a minute book survives for Banbury Borough 1916-1918 (BOR2/XXIV/i/1).  The most comprehensive survival of records is for Witney where we hold a minute book 1915-1918 (UDC4/9/A1/1) a register of proceedings, and a register of cases (UDC9/R1/2). 

The Oxford City Archive contains a file of papers of the Oxford Local Tribunal 1915-18 (OCA/Crypt/A.9.4) and a Fair Minute Book 1917-18 (OCA1/32/A1/1). This includes a large amount of personal information relating to individual applications. There is also an interesting private collection of Military Tribunal Papers (P327). These are for an individual who attended local hearings as a representative of the Ministry of National Service.

Records of service men and military units

These are held either at the National Archives or Ministry of Defence. The Imperial War Museum  Department of Documents holds wartime correspondence and diaries of many servicemen. The RAF Museum at Hendon also holds many private records.

Information about local regiments is available from the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock and the Royal Green Jackets Museum  in Winchester.

World War Two

Records of local government

Local authorities played a key role in national civil defence plans.

Key records of the County Council’s overall responsibility for civil defence are:

  • Minutes and reports of the Air Raid Precautions Committee 1938-1939 (CARP, ref. CC1/26)
  • County Emergency Committee for Civil Defence 1939-1945 (CECD, ref. CC1/27) 
  • County Defence/Invasion Committee 1941-1945 (CDEF, ref. CC1/28)

There are sections on war and civil defence in:

  • Chipping Norton Borough Archives (BOR1/36)
  • Woodstock Borough Archives (BOR4/31/5)
  • Register of War Damaged Property for the Witney area (Witney RDC IV/i/1)
  • Register of Evacuees for the Henley area (Henley RDC VIII/vi/1)
  • Invasion Committee War Books for the parishes of Kirtlington and Spelsbury (Kirtlington (PC157/A4/1 & PC246/A1/1).
  • Various Oxford City committee minutes, including the ARP, Evacuation and Emergency committees (OCA1/59, 69 and 70

The effects of the war could be found in other records, such as the housing plans for Kidlington Garden City which include air raid shelters (RCD10/3/Y1/44).

Records relating to organisations

The Home Guard

There were six Home Guard companies in Oxfordshire. The Papers of the Oxford Territorial Army Association (O11) includes a section on the Oxfordshire Home Guard. There is also an important collection of records for the Garsington Section (4th Battalion, Section 1) of the Home Guards (P396). This provides a vivid insight into their work.

Other organisations

The Oxford Fire Fighters and Watchers were set up in 1941 by local businesses to protect their properties and watch for incendiary attacks. Their minute book (O144) records details of their work. The records of the Baldon Women’s Institute Fruit Preservation Centre (O173) provide a further example of the activities of a local group committed to the war effort.

Private collections

Sometimes important collections remain in private hands and it is worth checking the catalogues of private papers. The Wantage Evacuation Papers (P3) were created by the Chief Billeting Officer of Wantage UDC and were kept by him. They contain a large amount of information on individual householders and evacuees.

Other sources can be found using the subject index cards in the History Centre searchroom under the headings:

  • Air force
  • Army
  • Civil defence
  • Navy
  • War

or entering these terms in our online catalogue Heritage Search

Local administrative records

Records of official and unofficial organizations give an insight into the impact of the wars on the local community.

There could be comments in parish service registers and minutes, or school logbooks and admission registers. Our schools collections include some admission registers for schools evacuated from London to Oxfordshire during the war.

Both Wars 

War Memorials

War Memorials were erected across the county after the ending of the First World War.  Many local War Memorial Committees were formed across Oxfordshire and records of these are held in our Parish Councils collections.  Records can also be found in Parish collections and include faculties and original drawings of the memorial design.  

Information about War Graves can be obtained from the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Local newspapers

Copies of the Oxford Journal Illustrated are available on microfilm in the searchroom and can contain photographs of servicemen