22 August 2008

The mavericks

Let's take a small hypothetical county regiment around the year 1909 and look at what we would expect to see in terms of numbering series within the regiment. This regiment has two regular battalions (one based at home, the other overseas but both battalions taking their numbers from the same series) and by 1909 they've reached about number 9500 and can quite happily keep on going until 19,999 as per the instruction laid out in the King's Regulations for 19o8.

The 3rd (Special Reserve) battalion, having been formed out of the local militia battalion in 1908, has retained the militia numbering sequence and might be at around 5000. The regiment also has four Territorial Force battalions, each of these having their origin in local Volunteer battalions and each having started numbering from 1 in April 1908. At this stage, the majority of men in these TF battalions will be men who previously served as Volunteers.

So we have seven battalions in total and at a snapshot for 1909 it's pretty easy to see who belongs where. That man with number 9300 must be a regular, number 4800 must be a Special Reservist and number 400 is going to be a Territorial Force man with any one of the four TF battalions. So much for hypothesis.

Let's now take a look at a real example for 1909: The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). By January 1909, regular soldiers joining the regiment were being issued numbers in the 10,300 range. The Cameronians had two reserve battalions, the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion and the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion (both with separate number series). In terms of numbering, the 3rd Battalion was slightly - by about 250 digits - ahead of the 4th Battalion, thus number 6986 was issued to a 3rd Battalion man in May and number 6740 was issued to a man in February. (Incidentally, the two battalions seem to have maintained this gap, certainly up until the end of September 1914).

The 5th and 8th battalions of the Cameronians, are the mavericks of the title of this post. In 1908 when most other Territorial Battalions were commencing their numbering from 1, the 5th and the 8th Cameronians, (born respectively out of the 1st Volunteer Battalion Scottish Rifles and the 4th Volunteer Battalion Scottish Rifles), carried on with the same number sequences used by those Volunteer units. Thus by March 1909, a man joing the 5th Cameronians would be given a number in the 5800s whilst a man joining the 8th Cameronians would be given a number in the 8100s. (The 6th and 7th Battalions had not followed the example of their wayward brother and sister and had started numbering from 1.) When these battalions reached 9999, they started numbering from 1 again. The 8th Battalion reached that point in November 1914 and the 5th Battlion in September 1915.

So what then, do we make of great uncle Jack who we know was discharged from the Cameronians in August 1915 and who had no medals but had the number 6000? These are the possibilities that the Army Service Numbers database will throw out:

1. 6000 would have been issued to a 1st or 2nd Battalion man at some point between 1897 and 1898. Armed with this information, if you know Great Uncle Jack was 24 when he was discharged, he couldn't possibly have been a pre-war regular. We can apply the same age logic throughout.
2. 6000 could have been 3rd Bn man who joined in 1908 (and who was subsequently posted to either one of the regular battalions or a service battalion but retained his 3rd Bn number).
3. 6000 could have been 4th Bn man who joined in 1908 (and who was subsequently posted to either one of the regular battalions or a service battalion but retained his 4th Bn number).
4. 6000 could have been a Territorial who joined the 5th Bn in 1909.
5. 6000 could have been a Territorial who joined the 8th Bn in 1908.

We do know, that if Great Uncle Jack had no medals he either didn't serve overseas or he deserted and therefore was denied his medals.

In any event, there are a number of possibilities there but we can say that the number 6000 was not one issued to a man joining a service battalion. In August 1914, Kitchener's men joining the Cameronian service battalions were being issued with numbers in the 11000 range and above. The man could have been discharged from a service battalion but if this was the case, his number indicates that he would originally have been posted from either the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th Battalions.

There are numerous examples of what I'll call "maverick" battalions but as often as not, their numbering series are more of a help to a modern day researcher, than a hindrance.

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