27 May 2010
This from my forthcoming book on regimental numbers issued to men joining the infantry regiments of the British Army between 1881 and 1914. The work covers all sixty-nine infantry regiments and augments and updates much of the information published on this blog.
Volunteer Service Companies - South African War
Army Order 29
"... in order to avoid the confusion which would result from the assignment of numbers to Volunteers and ordinary recruits indiscriminately, and also to simplify future reference, the Volunteer numbering should run consecutively, with an interval of a clear thousand between the last number received by an ordinary recruit, at the date on which the Volunteer numbering begins, and the first Volunteer number."
Not all regiments heeded the instruction in AO 29, mixing in Volunteers (who enlisted for one year or the duration) with regular soldiers. For those regiments which did conform, we see corresponding gaps in numbering sequences in future years; those gaps taking account of numbers already issued to men joining the VSC companies. Unfortunately the confusion doesn’t end here. There is evidence of duplication of numbers in some regiments, the same number issued to a VSC man being issued again later to a regular enlistment.
For example, Private W Herley, serving with the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, volunteered for South Africa in January 1900 and was given the number 8906 when he joined the 1st Volunteer Service Company, Lancashire Fusiliers. Fast forward to June 1902 and we see the same number issued to George Barton when he joined up for three years with the Colours and nine on the Reserve. Similarly, 8920 Private Lawrence Syrett was given his number when he joined the 1st VSC on the 29th January 1900. The same number was also issued to William Cartwright when he joined up for regular service on the 11th June 1902.
There is also evidence of numbers from within VSC number ranges re-surfacing for regular enlistments some years later. Take, for instance, the 2nd Volunteer Service Company of the Bedfordshire Regiment which, in 1901, issued numbers within the range 7915 to 7955. Twenty-two men were given numbers within this range and numbers 7946, 7948 and 7949 were all issued to volunteers. For some reason number 7947 was not used but neither was it forgotten. It appears much later, in February 1904; issued to Isaac Brown of Wellingborough who signed up with the regiment for three years with the Colours and nine on the reserve. The Bedfordshire Regiment also duplicated numbers. 7962 was issued to Private E Smith when he joined the 3rd Volunteer Service Company in 1901. The same number was issued again on the 23rd February 1904 when George Glasspool Swan signed up as a regular.
The photo shows men of the 3rd VSC, The Black Watch, (courtesy Ian Edwards) and is taken from his tribute website to the 5th (Angus & Dundee Battalion), The Black Watch.
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