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Remembered Today:

Compilation of the Absent Voters List


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There is another thread running on AVLs at the moment, however, rather than clog that up, I thought I might post this to explain how the lists were compiled, and some of the difficulties involved.

The AVLs for the 1918 election were produced by civilian registration officers from details supplied households at home. Once these lists had been compiled, the names of those in the forces were sent to the relevant authorities, so that they could make arrangements for voting cards or to be sent to the men in question in the UK (about 1 million) and ballot papers sent to men serving on the Western Front and in Italy (some 2 million papers). Those serving in France, Belgium and Italy were were issued with a card AFW 3940 on which they could state their qualifying address and send it directly to the Registration Officer of the constituency in which they were entitled to vote. Men serving in "distant theatres" were allowed to vote by proxy. In this case, this was done by special proxy voting form, AFW 5014, and sent to these theatres by the War Office. In the case of the Army, these tasks were coordinated by the Adjutant General's Department and the work actually undertaken by the Unit Records Offices.

Each record office was furnished with two copies of the AVL and the officer in charge of the respective offices took steps to revise the lists and to correct the numerous errors they contained. The Adjutant General’s Department noted that "owing to the hurried way these lists were prepared (by the civilian registration officers) a very large percentage of entries were incorrect and in many cases soldiers could not be identified at all." Amongst the problems were movement of units, casualties and transfer of men from one unit to another, which could of course include regimental number changes.

Out of interest, the total number of people allowed to vote at the 1918 General Election rose from just over 7 million at the previous election, to around 21 million. It's also worth bearing in mind, that those under 21 still could not vote, and there was still some residual voting qualifications based on property, so some men may not necessarily have appeared in the electoral rolls.

A note on the AVLs themselves. Many names were published in separate lists, others were simply included in the main register and annotated N or M for “naval” or “military.” In the the latter case, these do not necessarily include any unit details.


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This is the top of a page from one of the Dundee Wards,just to let you see the information you get on the A.V.Ls.


all the best Gary.

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It's also worth bearing in mind, that those under 21 still could not vote, and there was still some residual voting qualifications based on property, so some men may not necessarily have appeared in the electoral rolls.

Though qualification for serving soldiers was lowered in 1918 with the qualification being that "(he) had attained the age of 19 years by 15th April 1918".


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Thank you for the explanation. The question of SSFA lists arose last week on one of the threads here. I wonder if you have any advice on the prevalence of,or access to,these valuable sources ?


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This is the text of an article I put together relating to Surrey and Absent Voters' Lists. I apologise for the lenght, any spelling mistakes, etc.



According to a number of guides on tracing World War One ancestors, the Absent Voters Lists of 1918 and 1919 show members of the armed forces and give the unit and service number of an individual and therefore are a useful source for identified an individual serviceman; unfortunately, except for the Surrey Borough Constituencies, they do not survive for the County Constituencies. On the Electoral Rolls, an absent voter serving with the armed forces is only shown with the notation N/M (Navy/Military) to the right of their name and with a letter a preceding it. Both the Borough Absent Voters Lists and Electoral Rolls are held elsewhere.

Notice should also be drawn to section 5. (4) of The Representation of the People Act, 1918, 7 & 8 GEO 5. CH. 64. which states:

“A male naval or military voter who has served or here after serves in or in connection with the present war shall notwithstanding anything in this or any other Act, be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector if that voter at the commencement of service had attained, or during service attains the age of nineteen years, and is otherwise qualified.”

While section 9 (2) of the same Act addresses the disqualification of conscientious objectors.

A good overview of British Electoral Registers and what in fact the British Library holds can be found at the following page http://www.bl.uk/collections/social/spis_er.html on their website. A complete inventory of the British Library’s holdings is listed in Parliamentary constituencies and their registers since 1832 (British Library, 1998) lists non-parliamentary registers (burgess rolls, jurors lists, valuation rolls, etc.) and poll books held by the Library while the whereabouts of surviving registers for particular areas can be found in J Gibson and C Rogers, Electoral Registers since 1832 (FFHS, 1989).

I recently brought a copy of King’s Regulations (KRs) for the Army, 1912 (HMSO, reprinted with revisions, 1914). These were the army’s ‘Standing Orders’ that provided that governed all aspects of life in the army. They were revised and updated by the monthly issue of both Army Orders (AOs) and Army Council Instructions (ACIs). The Royal Navy was similarly regulated by their own set of KRs that were updated by Admiralty Monthly Orders (AMOs).

While browsing through them, I found that paragraphs 1934 to 1941a dealt with the registration of marriages, births, baptisms and deaths of soldiers and their families. This set me thinking about how the Army implemented the Registration of the People Act in 1918 and the compilation of Absent Voters’ Lists. I made the assumption that most other ranks of the regular units of the Army and naval ratings did not qualify to vote in 1914.

As you are all probably aware, many books and articles about tracing military or naval ancestors in the First World War mention using Absent Voters’ Lists, although nobody appears to have done a survey to what survives nationally. A number of Absent Voters’ Lists are available on the internet and there are links to them on ‘The Long, Long Trail’ website. Interestingly, many of these appear to relate to Parliamentary Boroughs.

A trawl through both ACIs and AOs at The National Archives found the ACI that I have quoted below in full, except for its appendices, to show how this was achieved. The Royal Navy’s response to the Act was found in AMOs. (1500 of 1918. TNA reference: ADM 182/25). It was worth pointing out that compared with the grand total of 5, 704, 416 men who served with the British Army during the First World War, for instance the total strength under arms in October 1918 was 3, 817, 837, the average number of men borne annually by the Royal Navy during the same period was only 307, 500. AMO 1500 is actually split into three parts as follows:

Part I: Terms of the Franchise.

Part II: Registration.

Part III: Voting.

If any one is interested in the finer details I can lend you a copy.

Representation of the People Act.

Registration of Military Voters

Army Council Instruction (ACI) 540 of 16 May 1918 (TNA reference: WO 293/8)

1) The Representation of the People Act, 1918, makes special provision for the registration of members of the Military Forces. Every officer and man who is a British subject and will have attained 19 years of age on the 15th April, 1918, is entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector for any constituency in which he would have resided but for his service in the Army. A statement made by him in the “prescribed” form and verified in the “prescribed” manner that he would have had the necessary qualifications for being registered but for his service, is to be treated as sufficient proof of qualification if there is no evidence to the contrary. Occasionally an officer or soldier may possess a voting qualification other than that of residence, due to the fact that but for his Army service he would have been the occupier on his own account of premises for carrying on his profession, trade or business, such premises being necessarily distinct from his residence and situated in another constituency. But ordinarily the residence will be the only qualification to be considered.

2) The Act having become law, registration officers in all constituencies will immediately commence to prepare the registers and lists of absent voters, and the procedure to be followed in the Army is laid down in this A. C. I.

3) Officers and soldiers serving at home – A form of postcard (A. F. W. 3940) embodying the “prescribed” form has been approved and will be distributed by Os.C. units amongst all officers and soldiers serving under their command. These forms can be obtained on application to the Secretary, War Office, Army Forms Depot, Victory Place, New Kent Road, London, SE1. When applying for A. F. W. 3940 no other form will be included on the indent. As soon as the necessary Army Forms can be obtained action will be taken by all concerned.

4) Every O. C. unit at home, and every other officer who renders a weekly A. F. B. 104/127-145 will be responsible for obtaining A. F. W. 3940 and causing one of such to be handed to every officer or soldier under his command. The Officer i/c a military Hospital will be similarly responsible that one is handed to each officer under his command, and to each officer and soldier of the Imperial Forces who is a patient in his hospital or in any auxiliary or other hospital affiliated thereto.

5) Officers and soldiers, who fulfil the requirement as to age, will complete the A. F. W. 3940 in accordance with the instructions thereon, and the additional instructions contained in Appendix I to this ACI (which should not be overlooked), particular importance attaching to accuracy in stating the unit and regimental number. After completion all forms will be countersigned by an officer, and the greatest care will be taken to ensure, so far is as possible, that the correct county or borough, and, if possible, the appropriate registration officer’s address, are inserted (except as regards those for Scotland) on the correct side of the form. To assist in securing the correctness of the addresses, a list of Counties and Boroughs with the addresses of the registration officers is given in Appendix II to this ACI. The list should be consulted when possible. Where a borough given in the address on A. F. W. 3940 is not found in the list of boroughs in Appendix II, A. F. W. 3940 should be sent (except as regards those for Scotland) to the Registration Officer of the County entered under the heading “Qualifying Address” on the card. If any uncertainty exists as to the exact county or borough in which any address is situated that which is believed to be correct will be inserted on the address side of the postcard. Under no circumstances will this be omitted. In Scotland arrangements have been made for a single to which all A. F. W. 3940 will be sent, namely, “Care of the Registrar-General, Edinburgh.” To ensure correct distribution accuracy in stating the qualifying address is in all cases essential.

6) No further action need be taken by any officer of the Territorial Force or by any soldier or military voter whose records are kept in any Record Office, as further procedure will be undertaken by the Officer i/c Records as directed in paras. 17-21 of this ACI, but in the case of an officer of the Regular Forces, both of old and new armies, and also of officers of the Special Reserve, it will be necessary for them to communicate personally with their respective Registration Officers half yearly by the 30th June and 31st December, and also to notify to such Registration Officers any change of postal address immediately such change occurs.

7) Officers and Soldiers serving in France and in Italy – The procedure will be similar to that described in paras. 3 to 5, except that the distribution of A. F. W.3940 to units will be automatic, and will be carried out in the same manner as the green envelopes A. F. W. 3078 are distributed in these countries.

8) In order to provide for the cases of individual soldiers not serving in any recognised unit, or sick in any British military hospital, a certain number of A. F. W. 3940 will be obtainable at all field post offices, which can be issued on the demand of any officer, who should as far as possible satisfy himself that no other cards have been issued for the individuals for whom he asks. It is thought that in this way every officer and soldier serving in France and Italy will be in a position to obtain and fill up a form, and to post it to the Registration Officer of the County or Borough in which his qualifying address at home is situated.

9) Every officer who signs A. F. B. 213 will be responsible that each officer and soldier under his command is given facilities for obtaining and filling up A. F. W. 3940.

10) Soldiers serving in distant Fronts and Garrisons (i.e., other than France and Italy). – A. F. W. 3941 somewhat similar to A. F. W. 3940, has been prepared and will be filled in by each Officer i/c Records for all soldiers other than those mentioned in paras. 3 to 9 from the documents in his possession. The address to be given in every case will be the address of the wife in the case of a married soldier, and the address of the next of kin in the case of an unmarried soldier or widower. This address may not be the actual address that will qualify for the vote, but it will enable the Registration Officer to get in touch with the soldier’s relative, and so obtain the correct address.

11) Although reliance will have to be placed on A. F. W. 3941 filled up by Officers i/c Records for the supply of information respecting soldiers serving in distant fronts and garrisons, a supply of the A. F,s. W. 3940 will also be sent out to such distant fronts and garrisons for distribution under local arrangements in order that men who so desire may have an opportunity of filling up the prescribed forms themselves. It will be recognised that the information so furnished can scarcely be made use of for the purposes of the first register, as time will hardly allow of the return of the postcards before the making up of the lists of voters will be completed. It is, however, considered desirable to allow men in distant fronts the opportunity of filling up the form, and the information supplied may be used in connection with the compilation of a future register.

12) Officers serving in distant Fronts and Garrisons. – In the case of officers of the Territorial Force the Officers i/c Records will fill up the A. F. W. 3941 from the documents in their possession; but in the case of all other officers so serving, it will be necessary for them either to communicate personally direct with the Registration Officers of the Constituencies in which they consider entitled to a vote or else to instruct their representative at home to do so. As stated in para. 11 A. F. W. 3940 will be distributed so as to be as far as possible within the reach of every officer and soldier. It will be further necessary for all officers, other than Territorial Force, to themselves communicate half-yearly with their respective Registration Officers and keep them informed from time to time of any change of address in the manner described in para. 6.

13) Women serving with the Forces who, being 30 years of age, acquire a vote under Section 5 of the Act. – An A. F. W. 3942 has been printed to meet such cases:

a) Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps Mobile Branch. – A. F. W. 3942 will be distributed or obtained at Home, in France and elsewhere as applicable, on lines similar to those laid down in paras. 3 to 9 for the distribution of A. F. W. 3940. Members of the Mobile Branch of the QMAAC who are serving aboard or are lightly to be so sent at short notice will, if they are of the required age and if they have the required qualifications, complete this form in accordance with the instructions thereon, after which the form will be countersigned by an officer or administrator and addressed as laid down in para. 5. Subsequent action will be taken in these cases by the Officer i/c QMAAC Records as if the members were soldiers serving in the Forces.

B) Matrons, sisters and nurses of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Services and Territorial Forces Nursing Services serving aboard, also members of Voluntary Aid Detachments employed in British military hospitals aboard, together with any other women serving with the forces overseas who draw pay from Parliamentary or Dominion funds, may, if over 30 years of age and qualified, complete an A. F. W. 3942 and forward it to the Registration Officer of the area in which they claim to be entitled to a vote in order that their names may be included on the list of military voters. They will, however, have to communicate personally from time to time to the Registration Officer concerned and notify all changes of address in the manner described for officers in para. 6.

14) On receipt of the information contained in A. F. W. 3940, W. 3941 and W. 3942, the Registration Officer will prepare their registers and lists of absent voters, verifying each case by inquiries made at the localities indicated. After they have taken such steps as the law requires they will communicate direct with each military voter who is found to be entitled to a vote.

15) The Registration Officer when they canvass their district may be expected to collect information regarding absent military voters which may not appear or may not coincide with that given on the above quoted Army Forms. This will entail queries being addressed to Officers i/c Records, who will reply to such to the best of their ability from the information in their possession.

16) When the registers are near completion the Registration Officers will send to each Record Office a list of military voters entered under that Record Office on the register of absent voters in their respective constituencies, giving in each case the home address qualifying for the vote.

17) Officer i/c Records, on receipt of these lists, will:

a) Verify the names and report all errors in description and failures to identify to the Registration Officer concerned as early as possible.

B) Inaugurate a card index by constituencies for each Corps which is affiliated to such Record Office. A card, 3 inches by 5 inches, A. F. W. 3943, has been printed for this purpose. This index will show the present unit of every soldier who is a military voter, and will, as a matter of day to day routine, be kept up to date.

18) The Officer i/c Records will send to the Registration Officer half yearly on dates to be subsequently notified (for the purpose of assisting in the preparation of subsequent registers) rolls giving the latest information as to the unit in which all officers of the Territorial Force, all soldiers of both Territorial and Regular Forces, and members of the QMAAC Mobile Branch who are military voters are serving, but no location of such unit will be given, and “nil” returns need not be rendered. These half yearly rolls will further include the names of all soldiers and others mentioned above who are military voters and who have joined since the previous roll was rendered.

19) In all cases of recruits joining a unit for the first time the O. C. will arrange that an A. F. W. 3940 is completed and signed by such recruit and despatched without delay to the Registration Officer of the County or Borough in which his is qualified to vote. If the claim is accepted as valid by the Registration Officer the card will be forwarded by the latter after endorsement to the Officer i/c Records concerned, so that the name may be included in the card index for that Registration Area, and also in the next half yearly sent by the Officer i/c Records to the Registration Officer.

20) Officers i/c Records will keep Registration Officers informed when any military voter is transferred to serve in any other Corps which entails the transfer of his documents, including A. F. W. 3943, to some other Record Office, the new office to be stated.

21) When an election is notified in any constituency, Officers i/c Records will be required to send immediately to the Registration Officer of the Constituency affected a roll, showing the unit in which each military voter is serving, and on this occasion he will also locate the unit in so far as to add B. E. F., or care of the Home Forces, or Proxy Area, as the case may be. Such information will, however, be treated as confidential, and such rolls will be so endorsed. It will thus be seen that in the event of a general election, the work of the Record Office will be very considerable, and every detail of the Parliamentary Registrational Index must invariably be kept up to date, so that prompt and correct may be taken.

22) In order that military voters may be able to register their votes when an election occurs, the following general summary of the procedure is given for information:

a) The registered absent voters’ list are prepared half yearly by Registration Officers as stated in para. 14.

B) The Registration Officer communicates direct with the military voter on register by post (vide para. 14). In the first instance he notifies to the voter the fact that his name is on the register and that he will be entitled to vote on the form that will be sent to him when the election takes place, or, in the event of his transfer to some garrison or front so distant that this cannot be arranged, he will be entitled to vote by proxy.

c) When the election is imminent, the Registration Officer, who will be acting Returning Officer, and who is posted up to date with the latest addresses (vide para. 21), will send the necessary ballot papers to every military voter on the absent voters’ list, unless he knows that the voter is serving in an area in which voting by proxy is permitted. It will then be essential for the voter to complete and return them immediately it is possible to do so, as the smallest delay may make it impossible to include the vote on the day of counting.

Further instructions on this subject will be issued from time to time.

23) Appendices III, IV, V and VI illustrate A. Fs W. 3940, W.3941, W. 3942, W. 3943, which are referred to in this ACI. .

24) This ACI does not in any way refer to those units of the 63rd Royal Naval Division, whose records are kept at the Admiralty, whence instructions for such units will be issued.

Additional instructions on voting by proxy were issued in ACI 852 of 1918 (1st August) while further amendments regarding voting in England, Wales and Ireland were issued on 1st November as ACI 1211 of 1918. These instructions were amended by ACI 3 of 1924 and superseded in 1928 by ACI 32.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Bootneck, thank you for that very detailed explanation, very useful. I'm a good chunk of the way through the London AVLs making comparisons of the numbers of different battalions of the London Regt which is yielding some interesting stats. However, I haven't looked at the relevant parts of the 1918 Act and the various ACIs to understand the mechanism, so that is very helpful.

If I read you right, could the AVL for Reigate survive as it was a Borough?


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Reigate, the town was part of the Reigate County Parliamentary Constituency from 1918. Prior to 1885 Reigate was part of the mid Surrey County Constituency. From 1885 to 1915, it was part of the South East (or Reigate) County Constituency.

The Surrey Borough Constituencies in 1918 were Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Richmond and Wimbledon.



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I have always thought it would be extremely useful if a listing of AVLs and their survival across the UK was compiled. If any one wants to add send me details I will happily put it all together.



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Will be happy to do so.

Steve and Mark,

Thanks for getting the ball rolling.

Have to give think about how about putting it together.

I would assume that the first question to be asked would be "What is the survival rate for AVLs across the UK by county." and then "is there any difference between the survival of 'county' against 'borough' constituencies.

All comments welcome.


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For Birmingham constituencies see the Midlands Historical Data web site

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