The Cardwell Reforms of 1881 saw The Essex Regiment formed out of the old 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot and the 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot. The 44th became the 1st Battalion and the 56th became the 2nd Battalion. Formed in July 1881, the first man to join the new regiment's 1st and 2nd battalions was given the number 1. The next man along was given the number 2 and so on. There was no distinction made between the two battalions; they both shared the same numbering sequence.
There are over 47,000 Essex Regiment service and pension records (for this regiment - and its antecedents) in various War Office series held at the National Archives. Clicking on the link will take you to the results on Findmypast but you will need a subscription or Pay-Per-View credits to actually view the records. Some of these records can also be viewed on-line on Ancestry although Findmypast has by far the most comprehensive service record collection.
Use the regimental numbers and dates on which these were issued, below, to determine parameters for when your own Essex Regiment ancestor would have joined up. Note though that these numbers are only for regular enlistments. Special Reserve and Territorial Force battalions operated completely separate regimental number sequences.
Here are some army service numbers and corresponding joining dates - one number per year - for the years 1881-1908.
33 issued on 15th October 1881
274 issued on 1st February 1882
974 issued on 24th April 1883
1237 issued on 5th January 1884
1439 issued on 22nd May 1885
1649 issued on 19th January 1886
2089 issued on 11th February 1887
2330 issued on 27th January 1888
2517 issued on 16th February 1889
2818 issued on 28th January 1890
3205 issued on 5th February 1891
3425 issued on 6th January 1892
3768 issued on 12th January 1893
4118 issued on 5th February 1894
4455 issued on 4th March 1895
4609 issued on 29th January 1896
4832 issued on 16th March 1897
5029 issued on 26th January 1898
5349 issued on 19th January 1899
6117 issued on 7th August 1900
6407 issued on 14th April 1901
6691 issued on 14th January 1902
7434 issued on 7th January 1903
7966 issued on 20th June 1904
8337 issued on 20th January 1905
8596 issued on 29th March 1906
8996 issued on 24th June 1907
9242 issued on 20th July 1908
Let's pause here for a moment. The numbers above are those issued to men who joined the regular battalions of the 1st and 2nd Essex regiment between the years 1881 and July 1908. So for instance, if you know your ancestor was a regular soldier serving with the Essex Regiment in the late 1800s and he had the number 5000, you can tell from looking at the above data that he would have joined up some time between 16th March 1897 (number 4832) and 26th January 1898 (number 5029). Looking at those numbers and at the slow rate of recruitment to these regular battalions of the Essex Regiment (an average of 330 men recruited per annum up until 20th July 1908), it seems likely that number 5000 would have joined either in early January 1898 or in December the previous year.
Alongside the regular battalions of the Essex Regiment were the Militia and the Volunteers, each with their own separate numbering sequences. The scope of the Army Service Numbers database does not cover the Militia or the Volunteers, although as we shall see, the numbering sequences of the Militia and Volunteers in some regiments were carried on into the 3rd (Special Reserve) and/or (4th Extra Reserve) and/or Territorial Force (TF) battalions.
Lord Haldane's reforms of 1908 created the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion in the Essex Regiment and the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Territorial Force Battalions. The Essex Regiment appears to have toed-the-line, all the new TF battalions commencing their numbering from 1. Men who had been in the old Volunteers were encouraged to re-enlist in the TF and they were given new numbers. For the most part, men enlisting in the 3rd Battalion were also given new numbers starting from 1, although there is evidence that some men who had previously served in the Militia, joined up and were allowed to keep their old Militia number. For instance, John Ballinger who joined the Essex Regiment Special Reserve at Chelmsford on 12th July 1908, kept his old Militia number, 9507, until his engagement expired in 1912.
And talking of Chelmsford, my home town, here are some numbers and dates for the 5th Essex Regiment (TF) which had its base in the County Town. I'll start this sequence in 1909, the men in 1908 mostly being old Volunteers who re-enlisted:
623 issued on 16th February 1909
1248 issued on 6th January 1910
1437 issued on 5th January 1911
1601 issued on 9th January 1912
1915 issued on 24th February 1913
2158 issued on 29th January 1914
This is another good place to pause. By August 1914, many TF battalions had recruited close to 2000 men and as we can see from the sequence above, the 5th Essex had exceeded that. Once war was declared, all battalions saw a surge in recruits and new service battalions were created to cope with the influx.
By March 1914, the 1st and 2nd Battalions were numbering in the 10,000s (10414 was issued on 23rd March that year). When war was declared, numbers for the new service battalions continued on in that sequence and yet a block of numbers was obviously set aside for those men who enlisted during war-time but who wanted to enlist for the old term of seven years with the Colours and five on the Reserve. And so we see with the Essex Regiment that by mid July 1915, numbers in the late 19,000s and early 20,000s were being issued to men joining service battalions, whilst you could still enlist in a regular battalion for 7&5 and be given a number in the low 11000s. As far as the Special Reserve was concerned, men were still enlisting in the 3rd Battalion in November 1914 and probably later. The last number I have on my army service numbers database currently is 3/3547 which was issued on 4th November 1914.
Here are some more numbers from the 5th (TF) Battalion, The Essex Regiment:
2229 issued on 7th August 1914
2469 issued on 15th September 1914
2591 issued on 12th October 1914
2901 issued on 7th November 1914
3219 issued on 19th December 1914
3248 issued on 11th January 1915
3276 issued on 1st February 1915
3298 issued on 21st March 1915
3317 issued on 17th April 1915
3401 issued on 5th May 1915
3685 issued on 5th June 1915
3741 issued on 10th July 1915
3820 issued on 5th August 1915
3878 issued on 11th September 1915
3904 issued on 4th October 1915
3955 issued on 1st November 1915
4087 issued on 1st December 1915
4189 issued on 29th January 1916
4253 issued on 17th February 1916
4436 issued on 27th March 1916
5089 issued on 26th April 1916
5127 issued on 21st June 1916
6095 issued on 21st July 1916
6210 issued on 11th August 1916
6692 issued on 25th October 1916
One thing worth noting is that although many Territorial Force battalions formed second and third line battalions during the First World War (these battalions being expressed as 2/5th, 3/5th etc), the battalion kept its original numbering sequence. So a man joining the 2/5th Essex could be given the number 4000 - for argument's sake - whilst the next man might be given 4001 and be sent to the 3/5th.
When the Territorial Force was re-numbered in 1917, the 5th Essex Regiment was allocated numbers within the block 250001 to 275000. Here are some sample six digit army service numbers and joining dates:
250014 originally joined on 13th April 1908
250042 originally joined on 10th March 1909
250231 originally joined on 1st June 1913
250291 originally joined on 4th March 1914
250421 originally joined on 10th August 1914
250433 originally joined on 5th September 1914
250587 originally joined on 27th October 1914
250620 originally joined on 7th November 1914
250737 originally joined on 2nd December 1914
250795 originally joined on 6th April 1915
250866 originally joined on 17th May 1915
251070 originally joined on 4th August 1915
251205 originally joined on 19th November 1915
251316 originally joined on 1st December 1915
251407 originally joined on 11th February 1916
251468 originally joined on 18th March 1916
251714 originally joined on 1st May 1916
251767 originally joined on 11th August 1916
251905 originally joined on 21st September 1916
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Every number tells a story - 5th Essex case study
With the 1/5th Essex in the east - Appendices
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The Naval and Military Press has re-published With The 1/5th Essex in the east and has this to say about the book:
"Unusually for a British service [actually it was a Territorial Force battalion] Battalion, the Fifth battalion of the Essex Regiment spent its entire Great War service in action against the Turks. The battalion had a bloody baptism of fire when it was thrown into the inferno of Gallipoli in 1915, fighting in the trenches near Anzac Cove. The rest of its war was spent in Egypt, guarding the Suez Canal, and then in Gaza and Palestine, where the battalion formed part of Allenby’s successful advance to capture Jerusalem and Damascus in 1918. Illustrated by photographs, maps and accompanied by a Roll of Honour, this is an unusually fine history of a unit that, though not on the western front, still saw savage fighting."
A word of warning!
It is wrong to assume that numbering sequences in battalions always followed a sequential pattern. They didn't. As the war progressed and casualties grew, large numbers of men were often transferred from one battalion to another and allocated numbers within blocks which did not fit the sequential patterning seen to date. This becomes particularly evident in most battalions from 1916 onwards. For an example of this, see my post on the 23rd London Regiment.