8 February 2015

Charles Naish - a numbering oddity explained

On the face of it, Charles Naish's medal index card (below) is fairly easy to read. It shows service with a Territorial Force (TF) battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and an original number 160, later 202642. Charles served overseas from 12th March 1915 and was therefore entitled to a WW1 trio. The pencil-written number 57 in the top left hand corner is a throwback to the time, pre July 1881, when the Middlesex Regiment was the 57th (West Middlesex) Regiment of Foot.

Hold on a minute though. His original TF number indicates very early entry into this battalion. In fact, he was probably a member of the Volunteer Force who, on the demise of the VF, joined the TF.  Why then is his second, six-digit number, so high?

Readers of this blog will hopefully have picked up that in general, when these five and six digit numbers were issued to men of the TF in 1917, the lowest number of the new series was issued to the longest serving man in the battalion; the second lowest number to the next longest serving man, and so on. There were exceptions, but as a rule, this logic was fairly consistently applied. These new numbers were issued to men who were still "on the books" of the relevant TF unit which meant, inevitably, that some numbers were issued to men who were missing in action but not confirmed, or officially presumed, to have been killed in action.

Charles Naish's number, 202642, belongs to the series which was issued to the 7th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, a series which started at 200001 and extended to 240000. 202642 implies that there were 2,641 men who had been issued numbers before Charles, and yet he was an old soldier. What's going on?

Fortunately, Charles Naish has a surviving service record which explains everything. He was indeed an old soldier who had served with the 1st Volunteer Battalion since 1903. He enlisted with the 7th Middlesex on the 2nd April 1908 for a period of four years and then re-engaged for one year annually thereafter. Re-engaging for one year in April 1914 he could have had no idea that Britain would be at war within four months, and had probably overlooked that crucial clause 15d. on his original E.502 attestation which stated:

"... if your term of service expires when a proclamation ordering the Army Reserve to be called out on permanent service is in force, you may be required to prolong your service for a further period not exceeding 12 months."

So Charles went to France with the 7th Middlesex Regiment in March 1915 and remained with the battalion until he was discharged as a time-expired Territorial in April 1916, having served an additional twelve months. By then of course, conscription had been in force for a month and it wasn't long before Charles was back with his old battalion. In fact he joined the 7th Middlesex again at Purfleet in July 1916. By this time, regimental numbers being issued to men in this battalion were in the early 7000s and Charles was given the new number 7010. It doesn't appear on his medal index card because by the time he went overseas, the new six-digit number series had come into force and he landed in France as 202642.

I am pleased to say that Charles Ernest Naish survived the war as a high ranking NCO. I hope his service, illustrated above, could be a useful test case in solving similar numbering conundrums.

The posts on my Army Service Numbers blog are intended to assist today's researchers and family historians in piecing together service histories of their military ancestors. I also offer a British Military History research service. Click on the link for further information.

Images:7th Middlesex marching through Sittingbourne in 1914 courtesy of Sittingbourne Heritage Museum. Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry.

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