29 December 2015

The importance of regimental numbers in military research



This is a well-worn topic on this blog but it doesn't harm to go over the basics again once in a while. And before I forget, the image above is borrowed from the Postcards of Cornwall website and shows men from Section 4, A Company, 10th DCLI photographed in 1915.


The reason I began my study of regimental numbers in the first place was that for many of the men I was researching at the time, a regimental number on a medal card / medal roll was all I had. Knowing how particular the army was I felt sure that there must have been a system in place when it came to issuing regimental numbers and that if I could crack the code, a man's regimental number could tell me quite a bit.


Over the years I  have built a database of men with known enlistment and/or transfer dates and the regimental numbers they were issued with. I did this for the majority of all infantry of the line battalions and for all other corps except the Army service Corps and Labour Corps. My study embraced all branches of the army: regular, militia, special reserve, extra reserve, Volunteer Force (partial), Territorial Force, Yeomanry and New Army (from 1914). I have published a fraction of this research on this blog.




So here's an example of what I mean. The eight names listed above are the first eight results you get if you run a blank search of "Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry" on Ancestry's medal index card collection. The DCLI appears to be one of the worst affected regiments when it comes to surviving documents from 1914-1918 and so understanding when numbers were issued for this regiment becomes particularly important. Here's what I make of the numbers:


36689 Percival H Abbiss
Some papers survive in WO 363 but documents dealing with his transfer to DCLI do not survive. From my database, 36689 dates to October 1917


38115 Albert E Abbott
No service record survives. The number dates to late November 1917.


5288/201891 Albert S Abbott
No service record survives. The six-digit number marks this man as a member of the 4th (Territorial Force) Battalion. Papers survive in WO 364 and show that this man enlisted in April 1916, although he had attested earlier, in December 1915, under the Derby Scheme. My army service numbers database also identifies patterns of Derby Scheme enlistments.


6326 Alfred Abbott
Some papers survive in WO 364 which show that this man was discharged from The Norfolk Regiment in June 1917. The papers show that this man enlisted in 1891 and again in October 1914. The 1891 enlistment cannot have been when he was issued with the number 6326 and therefore this number must have been issued in October 1914. The only battalion that this can have been was the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion.


676/240010 Arthur W Abbott
No service record survives. The six-digit number marks this man as a member of the 5th (TF) Battalion and an enlistment date of June 1908. This man was probably an original member of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion which pre-dated the 5th (TF) Battalion. By the time he was issued with his new six-digit number in 1917, he was the 10th longest serving man in the battalion.


28818 Fred Abbott
No service record survives. The number dates to September 1916.


23049 George Abbott
No service record survives. The number dates to August 1915.


27960 George Abbott
No service record survives. The number dates to May 1916.


So there you have it in a simple blog post: eight good reasons why regimental numbers are important.


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