7 July 2009
Can I ascertain a man's battalion from his number?
In most cases, the answer is probably no but I've just done a little research on a Royal Fusiliers casualty which - up until a point - does suggest a battalion based on his number and his age.
I've posted that research - and my conclusions - on a separate blog: WW1 Remembrance - George John Albrecht.
Knowing the different army number series used by the regular battalions and the special and extra reserve battalions up until 1914 at least, is generally going to be useful. Take, as an example of this, the four regular battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, the 5th (Special Reserve) Battalion, the 6th (Special Reserve) Battalion and the 7th (Extra Reserve) Battalion.
In 1913 the four regular RF battalions were numbering in the 15000s, the 5th Battalion in the 9000s, the 6th Battalion in the 2000s and the 7th Battalion in the 8000s. This would make it a straightforward task if, for argument's sake, a new RF recruit in 1913 was given the number 2100. He could only have joined the 6th Battalion (and his number may also have been prefixed with SR/ - Special Reserve). Even without knowing the year of joining we'd be able to narrow our hypothetical recruit down to the 6th Battalion and from there, come up with a rough estimate of when he joined, which actually would be January 1913. However, there'd be no way of telling - if the man's number was 15800 - whether he'd joined the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th Battalion because all four battalions shared the same number series. We'd know that he was a regular and that he'd joined in October 1913 but we wouldn't know which battalion.
George Albrecht's number marked him out as either a candidate for the 5th or the 7th Battalion, and a little extra digging to determine his age has ascertained that he would have been too young for the 5th Battalion and therefore must have joined the 7th and transferred shortly after that (but keeping his 7th Battalion number).
And that's where the trail goes cold. George was killed on the Somme whilst serving with the 8th RF but he'd already been to the Balkans, arriving there in September 1915, and to have done so means he must have served with another RF battalion. The medal rolls may reveal exactly which one.
But army service number series (particularly if blocks were set aside for specific battalions) and army service number prefixes, can certainly help in identifying which battalion a man initially joined, even though they may not reveal subsequent postings within the same regiment.
Puzzled image from Marquette University.
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