16 January 2014

Regimental numbers

Gracious, it's been a while since I posted anything here.  There is still much to say about regimental numbers but I have been very busy on a number of other projects. 

I was flicking through some old issues of Your Family History magazine the other day and in a military special issue from 2012 came across a piece by Graham Caldwell on First World War records. In it, he talks about regimental numbers and references this blog.  On the subject of numbers, and citing the example of 52415 Jesse H Towner of the West Yorkshire Regiment, he writes:

"[numbers] are... unique within the same regiment or corps... For example, a soldier in the Devonshire Regiment or Royal Field Artillery could also have the number 52415, but not another soldier in the West Yorkshire's, irrespective of which battalion he belonged to."

As a theory, this is of course, completely bonkers.  Let's have a look at The West Yorkshire Regiment in December 1914.  By this date there would have been at least three men with the number - let's pick one at random - 7000.  The first number 7000 would have belonged to a regular soldier who would have joined in 1903 and who would probably have served with the 1st and 2nd Battalions, been on the reserve when war was declared and then have been posted back to the 1st or 2nd battalions when war was declared.  7000 also appears in the series being used by the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion and would have been issued in 1908. The same number appears for a third time in the series being used by the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion and would have been issued in 1909.  So, three examples of the same number in the same regiment (and the same could be said for 7001, 7002, 7003 and so on).

As for the Territorial Force battalions, the West Yorks had four TF battalions which each began numbering at 1 in April 1908. Each continued numbering sequentially until 1917 when the TF was re-numbered and it was only then that each of the four TF battalions were issued with distinctive six-digit numbers from new series.

The initial new service battalions of the regiment which were numbered 9-14 all drew their numbers from the same series which had been the exclusive preserve of the regular battalions prior to August 1914 and so from this date you find these six battalions and the 1st and 2nd battalions all numbered from the same series.  But the 15th to 18th Battalions (the Leeds Pals and the Bradford Pals) each started numbering from 1, albeit their numbers were prefixed with the battalion number.

So you could quite easily find a man in the West Yorks with the number 2000, for instance, and he could have belonged to any one of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 15th, 16th, 17th or 18th West Yorks. 

In actual fact, the number that Mr Caldwell refers to is unique to the regiment - but only because numbering in the other battalions didn't reach this high.  52415 belongs to that series used by the 1st and 2nd battalions and some of the later service battalions and if nothing else it tells us that Jesse H Turner was the 52415th person to be issued with a number from that series since the 1st and 2nd Battalions had started numbering from 1, way back ion 1st July 1881.

So for goodness sake don't believe the old lie that all numbers were unique to a regiment. They weren't.

Mr Caldwell also notes against the image of Jesse Towner's medal index card (above, courtesy of Ancestry) that the "Cl" in "Cl Z" in the remarks section means that he was, "sent a dated clasp".  Again, utter rubbish.  "Cl" is an abbreviation of "Class" and denotes that he was transferred to Class Z of the Army Reserve. 

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Anonymous said...

My Grandfather William Henshaw was a private in the Cheshire Regiment - Labour Corps WW1 his Regiment Nos were 37710 and 33965. He was a Saddler. He was living in North Wales at the time of enlistment. Do you have any information i.e. where he would be stationed etc.,

Paul Nixon said...

Re William Henshaw

Nothing I'm afraid, other than that his Cheshire Regt number dates to around April 1916. He could have been a Derby Scheme volunteer who was subsequently called up in 1916 but in the absence of documentary evidence to the contrary this must remain supposition.


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