4 January 2013

Regimental number sequences - county regiments

This may be preaching to the converted, but it's a new year and probably time for a reminder that one number series doesn't fit all.

On this blog I have posted pointers to enlistment dates for many British Army regiments and battalions within those regiments. All of the 69 Infantry of the Line regiments are covered to some degree - mostly number sequences from 1881 to 1914. You'll find the five Foot Guards regiments represented here; also the majority of the Cavalry of the Line; some Special Reserve and Extra Reserve battalions, Territorial Force Battalions and Pals battalions. What is shown on these various posts is simply a snapshot of enlistment dates and numbers, a snapshot which will hopefully assist researchers in narrowing down a likely enlistment date for a soldier based on his number.

Do bear in mind though that a typical county regiment would have employed several different numbering sequences for the men in its battalions. Let's look at the hypothetical Blankshire Regiment and take August 1910 as our starting point.

The regular battalions, that is, the battalions populated by career soldiers, operate a single regimental number sequence. A new recruit is given his number at the Regimental Depot, spends up to three months training at the Depot and is then posted to the 1st Battalion which is stationed in the UK. After 18 months to two years he is then posted to the 2nd Battalion which is serving overseas in India. His posting from the Depot to the 1st Battalion, and then from the 1st Battalion to the 2nd Battalion does not affect his regimental number which remains unchanged.

Also administered from the Regimental Depot are those men who have joined the Special Reserve and Extra Reserve. These battalions are a legacy of the Militia which was disbanded in 1908 and each of these battalions has its own numbering sequence.

So the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion , the Blankshire Regiment was, prior to April 1908, the 3rd Militia Battalion whilst the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion was, prior to April 1908, the 4th Militia Battalion. This Blankshire Regiment only has a 3rd and 4th Battalion but some County Regiments only have one Special Reserve Battalion whilst across the sea in Ireland, the Irish County regiments typically have one Special Reserve Battalion and two Extra Reserve Battalions. Each battalion has its own numbering sequence.

In addition to the regular battalions and the Special/Extra Reserve Battalions, the Blankshire Regiment has four Territorial Force Battalions. Just as the Special/Extra Reserve Battalions trace their heritage back to the militia, so the Territorial Force, formed in April 1908, traces its origins back to the Volunteer Force. The 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th (Territorial Force) Battalions of the Blankshire Regiment were formerly the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Volunteer Battalions of the Blankshire Regiment. As Volunteer Force Battalions they operated their own regimental number sequences and now, as Territorial Force Battalions, they continue to operate their own number sequences.

So far then we have the following number sequences for the Blankshire Regiment:

1st and 2nd [Regular] Battalions – Number Sequence 1
3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion – Number Sequence 2
4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion – Number Sequence 3
5th (Territorial Force) Battalion – Number Sequence 4
6th (Territorial Force) Battalion – Number Sequence 5
7th (Territorial Force) Battalion – Number Sequence 6
8th (Territorial Force) Battalion – Number Sequence 7

Britain goes to war in 1914 and soon drafts for the 1st and 2nd Battalions are required. Men from the 3rd (Special Reserve) and 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalions are sent out to France to fill the gaps. They retain their Special Reserve and Extra Reserve Battalion numbers albeit there is often nothing in surviving documentation to distinguish these men’s numbers from the numbers of the regular soldiers. Some medal index cards may prefix these SR and ER men’s numbers with S/ (for Special Reserve) or 3/ or 4/ (to designate their battalion) but this is by no means a uniform practice.

Take a hypothetical example of 3456 John Smith who was KIA with the 1st Blankshire Regiment on 1st December 1914. John Smith was only 20 when he was killed and yet looking at the number sequence posted on this blog for the 1st Blankshires, it suggests that 3456 was issued between January 1894 and January 1895 – when John was 10 years old. How can that be? The answer is almost certainly that John Smith enlisted with the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion in 1912. His number fits the sequence being used by the 3rd Battalion and this in turn suggests that he joined the 3rd Battalion but was posted overseas to the 1st Battalion, retaining his 3rd Battalion number.

I will continue to post sequences on this blog – there are many, many more to go – but in the meantime, don’t be puzzled if, on the face of it, a man’s regimental number and the suggested joining date parameters that I have posted, don’t at first appear to make much sense. Don't rule out enlistment in the Special or Extra Reserve battalions.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Paul - you just confirmed my thoughts about numbering of Territorial battalions (I'd found a duplicate between 2 TF Bns in the Cheshire Regiment, so figured - if it wasn't an error - separate sequences was the answer).

What I'd never have guessed was the retention of the Spl Rsrv number...

Adrian B

Paul Nixon said...

Thanks for commenting, Adrian. Yes, the SR and ER numbers can throw a spanner in the works and to be honest it's not always easy to identify which is which. The TF number duplication was partially reseolved by the change in TF numbering in 1917, but frankly I don't suppose anybody in 1914 gave two seconds' thought to military and family historians of the future, and the army numbering conundrums they'd encounter. Glad the post was useful.


Anonymous said...

hi paul,

brilliant work !!

i have been trying to find out more about my great grandfarthers time during ww1 and now hopefully i can try to work it out.

he was killed 5/12/1916(aged 31) while serving with the 6th(service)battalion east yorkshire reg,but on his mic the qualifying date is 15/1/15....(i think this is when the 2nd eyr arrived in france ?

but his regimental no is 3/6661

could this mean that he started out in the 3rd battalion ?

any help would be great


Paul Nixon said...

Hello Neil

Yes, absolutely; 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion man whose number dates to mid August 1914.