The National Archives (TNA) WO 32/17606 Investigation into practice regarding `weeding’ of War Office files
The 1923 Schedule was the main War Office Schedule for deciding the destruction and preservation of documents until a temporary replacement schedule was issued during the Second World War (see The National Archives (TNA) WO 32/17735 War Office documents: retention periods: Destruction of Documents).
Points of interest:
1923 Schedule (Army Record Offices and War Office)
- Other than those receiving a pension, Soldiers’ Documents of those not in receipt of a pension were to be retained for 50 years (pages 10 – 11). The schedule was not amended in 1928 to reflect the agreement between the PRO and War Office that from this point forward Service Documents for newly enlisted soldiers would replace AB 358s as the permanently preserved record of service (click here for more about the changes agreed in 1928).
- Part II Orders, the detailed record of Army personnel changes were only to be preserved for 30 years (although it is not clear whether for Great War related Part II Orders destruction is from 30 years after the official end of the War or 30 years from the last date of the Orders). See page 10. The justification given for their eventual destruction is that all important detail is included in the AB 358s.
- The key documents which will be permanently preserved when it comes to the service of Other Ranks are the Army Book 358s (alongside the Service Documents of those receiving a Chelsea pension).
- Historical documents worthy of permanent preservation are focused on policy or the formation of new corps, alongside historic maps (which agrees with the comment made by a PRO official about what records of importance in their judgement had been lost after the Arnside Fire, see here).
- No mention is made of Officers’ documents held by the War Office as the copy of the Schedule was one of those intended to be sent out to Army Record Offices (see page 9, all War Office only documents are omitted as Part III of the Schedule dealing with these documents was not included). Officers’ service papers, including ultimately Army Form B 199 (Officer’s Record of Service) and correspondence were War Office documents as the War Office acted as the Record Office for commissioned officers (with a few wartime exceptions). A.F. B 199s were intended for permanent preservation.
1922 Schedule (War Office only) Note: Follows after the 1923 Schedule
- The War Office in common with Army Record Offices was desperate to reduce the amount of paper stored because of the massive increase in registered documentation due to the Great War, a War Office official stated in 1934 that ‘…There are roughly 4,000,000 files in Press [Editor’s note: storage in racks] at the present time, and these represent the residue of the huge accumulation of over 10,000,000 files which existed at the end of the War. Masses of files had to be stored in corridors where they necessarily got very dirty, especially in the corridors on the lower floors near the workshops [Editor’s note: of the main War Office building]. As opportunity has occured, largely through the operations of the weeders, the corridors are being gradually emptied, but there are still large quantities stored in the corridors owing to the look of room accommodation, and to lessen the dirt arrangements were made some years ago for all files to be vacuum cleaned regularly, the vacuum cleaner going right round the Press about every 3 or 4 months…( from The National Archives (TNA) WO 32/17606 Investigation into practice regarding `weeding’ of War Office files: Organisation of Weeding Staff and progress of weeding work (13 August 1934). This is not the papers of either the British Army during the Great War or the Army Record Offices (which were R. (Records) responsibility at Isleworth and subsequently Arnside) but those of the War Office alone. As can be seen from the report the War Office desperately needed to reduce the amount of registered files stored because of the pressure on accommodation (no date excerbated by reductions in the numbers of War Office held offices after the end of the War). In 1935 Hampden Gordon (Hampden Gordon (1935) The War Office. Putnam: London. p. 264) gives an estimate of 2.5 million registered files been left from the Great War, an impossibly large reduction compared to the earlier 1934 estimate, but whatever the actual true figure was the War Office had a desperate need to continue to urgently reduce the number of Great War related files.
- The weeding was carried out by a section of R., the Registry of the War Office and at various times between the wars employed retired War Office staff as well as established Civil Servants (see The National Archives (TNA) WO 32/17606 Investigation into practice regarding `weeding’ of War Office files).
- Much more than in the case of the 1923 Schedule the number of short periods of time before destruction is permitted is very high. The two to seven year preservation periods and the relative infrequency of ten year and longer periods before weeding/review can take place indicates the pressure to release space through the destruction of records.
- The schedule does not mention A.F. B 199s, Officers’ Records of service (Officers records were mostly the business of the War Office rather than the Army Record Offices) which were to be permanently preserved (they were perhaps mentioned in the two pages missing from the War Office copy of the 1922 Schedule used here, the 1922 Schedule had as in the 1923 Schedule some types of records/areas identified for preservation) but some of the content of what became known as as Officers’ Long Papers are mentioned in the schedule. In the case of Territorial Officers the ‘Personal Papers’ were to be retained for a 10 years ‘after the officer becomes non-effective’ and important ‘Personal Papers’ of Army Officers (presumably Regular Army Officers) were to be looked at for either preservation or destruction ‘Three years after death’. We know that the surviving Long Papers were subject to thorough weeding and that all not all Officers’ Long Papers survive.
- The R. weeders were instructed to look out for and preserve the following documents to send to R. (Records) if found in a War Office file: ‘…In the case of duplicate Attestation forms, parchment Discharge Certificates, and records of a similar nature, found in files which are ripe for destruction, the file will be sent to R.Records or other Branch concerned requesting the extraction of such records by that Branch, and the return of the file for destruction…Original or duplicate Attestation forms are on no account to be destroyed…(Ibid: Instructions To Weeding Staff (Revised to January, 1932).’
Announcement in an Earlier Army Order (AO 121 of 1923):
Transcribed from The National Archives (TNA) WO 123/65 Army Orders (War Office)
The following was transcribed from The National Archives (TNA) WO 32/17815 Disposal of War Office records: schedule for destruction
Please note: There are fourteen (images) in total and due to the layout of the document there are some small gaps between the pages.
The 1923 Schedule:
The 1922 War Office Schedule, issued on 6th July 1922 (Transcribed from The National Archives (TNA) WO 32/17606 Investigation into practice regarding `weeding’ of War Office files)
This is the Part III omitted from the 1923 Schedule, see page 9 of the 1923 Schedule. The transcription is made from a copy of most of the Schedule by a War Office official. The official’s copy omits the first two pages of the Schedule which are referred to in the pages of this Schedule as giving guidance on permanent preservation of for example War Office policy papers and selected WW1 papers.