This post will suggest some tips for finding army service numbers and their corresponding date of issue using medal index cards. There are a number of different medal index cards (MIC) which were used to record a man's First World War medal entitlement, but this post is just concerned with those which also show his enlistment date.
I should say at the outset that using the MICs to accurately plot the date that an army number was issued to a soldier, can be a risky business. However, with so many WW1 service records destroyed during WW2, they can be a useful secondary source, provided you tread with care. I'll come back to this point later.
If you have an account with Ancestry.co.uk, identifying those cards that show the enlistment dates and those that don't, is a pretty straightforward task. There are three different versions of MIC which I have illustrated below. These images are Crown Copyright of the National Archives and I have removed those details which would identify the soldier.
The most common of the MICs. No provision to record date of enlistment or discharge / disembodiment and I personally don't recall ever seeing this information recorded on these cards.
Many men receiving the Silver War Badge (SWB) had their entitlement to it recorded on this card, particularly if this was their only entitlement. The man below fell into this category and was discharged medically unfit. There is provision on this card to record the date of enlistment and date of discharge. Printed information at the bottom of the card gives details of the print run and the date of that run, in this case 200,000 printed in November 1916.
Probably the least common of the medal index cards and whilst there is no provision to include date of enlistment / discharge, these are sometimes found added in (as below). Again, printed information at the bottom of the card gives details of the print run and the date of that run, 20,000 in April 1918 in the example shown.
The first thing to note about these cards is that they are different colours. That's important if you're scrolling through the MICs on Ancestry because the darker cards stand out like a sore thumb.
The second point to note is that those cards which were issued to men who just received the SWB often record the regiment details slightly differently. So for instance, version 3 above, records the regiment as W Yorks. A search on that specific term on Ancestry, yields 2,290 MICs. Type in West Yor* however, and the count shoots up to 67,678. The percentage of cards showing enlistment dates is far higher on the W Yorks search than it is on the West Yor*, and the same holds true for every other regiment that I have looked at.
The variation in the spelling of the regiment name may often be subtle, but once you have identified what those variations are, it's then a simple matter to run a search based on that.
I mentioned at the start of this post that it can be risky to build an accurate database of enlistment dates based solely on the information recorded on MICs. For one thing, the enlistment date may not be the date that the man joined the unit shown on the MIC. He may have joined another regiment initially and then transferred.
Also, for enlistment, read ""attestation". It is particularly important to bear this point in mind when looking at MICs recording enlistment dates from November 1915 onwards as many of the dates shown refer to Derby Scheme attestations. So, in a typical scenario, a man may attest under the Derby Scheme in November or December 1915, go back home to await mobilisation and then be called up some months later. In these cases, the date of enlistment shown is the Nov / Dec attestation date, whilst the number dates to the time that he joined his regiment. And that little factor can seriously throw out a database of accurate joining dates and their corresponding numbers.
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