"The creation of an Army "Roll of Honour", preserved in the Public Record Office under the reference WO 304, was first discussed in the War Office in January 1944, as a direct result of the failure of accurate lists being published in the national press.
It was soon realised that a single roll of honour would enable the War Office, units of the British Army, and other organisations, to obtain data concerning casualties from a single source, and so be less time consuming than consulting a variety of other records.
The "Roll of Honour" was compiled between the end of 1944 and March, 1949. It was estimated to have taken 40,800 clerical staff hours to compile and produce. The data for the roll was punched on to card, each hole representing a certain item of information. The cards were fed into a Hollerith Machine (an early type of data processor), and the eventual roll was produced on an A3 paper print out.
The information captured in the roll represents that which the War Office felt appropriate for their own purposes, and the information which the Imperial War Graves (now Commonwealth) Commission desired, and that which could be made public.
Information on the original roll is contained in both plain and coded text. Apart from surname and forenames, army service number and date of death, all other information: (rank, first unit served in, unit serving in at time of death, place of birth, place of domicile and place of death), were all given numerical codes.
Individuals found in the roll died between 1 September 1939 and 31 December 1946, and also included are those deaths in service which were non-attributable (natural causes, etc.) as well as those, of course, who were killed in action or who died of wounds or disease. The roll does not include 'disgraceful' deaths, i.e. men executed for capital crimes whilst in the army, for example.
By decoding WO 304 and putting it into a fully searchable
database and plain text, the original "Roll of Honour" can now
be used and understood by researchers, genealogists and military historians
© 2000 Naval & Military Press