11 April 2015

It's all in the numbers

I have just posted a roll-call of British Army officers and men who died a hundred years ago today on the 11th April 1915. You can see the full roll of 125 men on my WW1 Remembrance blog.

I want to use this opportunity though, to make some observations about some of the regimental numbers that appear in this sad roll call. In general terms, what we have here is a real mix of innocence and experience.

On the one hand we have the regular soldiers; infantrymen who, for the most part have numbers in the 7000s, 8000s, 9000s and low 10,000s (I am speaking in very general terms here).

On the other hand we have a number of men from Territorial Force battalions, most of whom would not have been overseas for very long, and even men from the newly formed service battalions. For instance, 11932 Private Edward Armstrong of the 6th Battalion, King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) died at home and is buried in Winchester (West Hill) Old Cemetery, while 18810 Lance Corporal J W Campbell of the 16th Royal Scots (the 2nd Edinburgh Pals) also died at home and is buried in Edinburgh.

There are also men of the Special Reserve who died on this day. A good indication of men who had originally enlisted in the Special Reserve are the number prefixes 3/ (for the Special Reserve) or 4/ (for the Extra Reserve). Do note though that this is hardly a fool-proof method as a number of Regiments had four regular battalions, and or three Special/Extra Reserve battalions. Note too, that the prefixing of regimental numbers with a number to indicate a Special or Extra Reserve enlistment was not universally or consistently applied.

In our 11th April 1915 list, the following men were original Special Reserve enlistments:

3/6317 Private Baker, 1st Battalion, Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
LSR/2165 Private Albert Coppard, 2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
3/2019 Private Fryer, 1st Battalion,Wiltshire Regiment
T2/SR/01270 Driver William Perry, H. No, 1 Coy, (Park Royal) Army Service Corps
Z/7 Rifleman Joseph Prestidge, 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade

Note the variety of letter and number prefixes in this single tiny sample. The LSR prefix for the Royal Sussex Regiment was one of those prefixes which certainly was not used consistently.

For me though, the most interesting number is the number 326001 which was issued to a Territorial Force man, Private Joseph Clark of the 1/7th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. There is a surviving service record for 326001 Joseph Clark in WO 363 but this man did not originally enlist until January 1916 and therefore could not have been killed on 11th April 1915. Closer inspection reveals that he did in fact die on 11th April 1918; a simple transcription error which appears on the CWGC website only, and one which I have pointed out to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The number 326001 belongs to the new TF series which was issued in 1917 and whilst it is not uncommon to find TF men killed in 1916 bearing a six-digit number issued some months later, to find a six-digit TF number allocated to a man killed in 1915 is unheard of.  I'll expand on this another day.

For help with your own numbering or military research conundrums, check out my military research service.

The image on this post shows deck patients aboard HMHS Dongola, Gallipoli, April 1915 and is taken from the Captain J. Pearson collection photo album, the RAMC Muniment Collection in the care of the Wellcome Library.

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