3 December 2016

Regimental numbers research tip: duplicate number series

On this blog you will find lists of regimental number series. Back in 2003 I started to compile a database of regimental numbers and the known dates on which these were issued. I embarked on this mission because I was researching a community in Chailey and quickly realised that for the most part, the only surviving record of military service was a medal card and medal rolls. I felt sure that there was method to the way in which regimental numbers were issued, and so it turned out to be.

I want to use this opportunity though, once again, to talk about duplicate regimental number series. I have covered this topic periodically over the eight years that this blog has been in existence, but it does no harm to cover it again.

First of all, we need to have a picture in our minds of a typical line infantry regiment in July 1881. With the exception of the Rifle Brigade, all regiments have started a new regimental number series. Their designations have also changed and, with the singular exception of the 79th Regiment of Foot, single battalion regiments of foot from the 26th Regiment of Foot upwards have been formally paired with other regiments. Gone are the old numerical "Regiment of Foot" titles and in their place are county titles.  Using my own local regiment as an example, the old 44th (East Essex) Regiment of Foot and the 56th (West Essex) Regiment of Foot have been formally merged to create the brand new two-battalion Essex Regiment. Men joining this new regiment from July 1881 are issued with new numbers beginning at 1. The numbers are issued when the men arrive at the regimental depot, NOT on the day on which they attest (although in many cases this will be the same day of attestation).

This is our first Essex Regiment regimental numbers series - numbers issued to regular soldiers.

The Essex Regiment also has two militia battalions in 1881. These are the 3rd East Essex Rifles and the 4th West Essex Militia. Both of these battalions have their own regimental series. 

In addition to the regular number series (covering the 1st and 2nd Battalions), a regimental number series for the 3rd Battalion, and a regimental numbers series for the 4th Battalion, the Essex Regiment also has four Volunteer Force battalions, each of these battalions operating its own regimental number series.

So in total, in 1881, the Essex Regiment has seven separate regimental number series being used concurrently.

Fast forward to 1908. There are no changes to regular battalions. The Special Reserve and Extra Reserve replace the militia. The Territorial Force replaces the Volunteer Force. The Essex Regiment is one of several regiments to lose one of its militia battalions. Men transferring into the new 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion from  the old 3rd (Militia) Battalion keep their old militia regimental numbers. Men transferring in from the old 4th (Militia) Battalion as well as new recruits who have never served in the militia before are all issued with new regimental numbers from a new series beginning at 1.

The Volunteer Force has been replaced by the Territorial Force, the old 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th VF battalions being replaced by the new 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Battalions. All of these battalions have their own regimental number series and all begin at number 1 in 1908. In 1910 an 8th (Cyclist) Battalion will also be formed and it will start numbering from 1 as well.

Fast forward to August 1914. The Essex Regiment will start to raise new service battalions. All of these battalions will issue numbers from the series being used by the 1st and 2nd Battalions.

The point is this.  There is massive duplication of regimental numbers in the Essex Regiment and in all line infantry regiments.

1. By the end of 1914 the Essex Regiment has two regular battalions (the 1st & 2nd Battalions) and five service battalions (the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions) all using regimental numbers from the same series.
2. The 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion uses numbers from another series.
3. The five Territorial Force battalions all have their own regimental number series

In theory therefore, by 1914 there could be four men in the Essex Regiment who all have the same number. The number 3000 would have been issued to:

1. A man joining the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion in September 1914
2. A man joining the 5th Battalion in November 1914
3. A man joining the 6th Battalion in October 1914
4. A man joining the 7th Battalion in November 1914

The number 3000 would also have been issued to a regular recruit in 1890. It would also be issued to a man in the 4th Battalion in January 1915 and a man in the 8th Battalion in October 1916. 

This duplication of numbers is evident across all infantry regiments to a greater or lesser degree, and similar duplication of numbers appears in Territorial Force numbers for other Corps. This was the principal reason that the Territorial Force was re-numbered in 1917 except of course that it still resulted in massive duplication of numbers across regiments. The number 200001, for instance was issued by 56 different regiments, as was the number 200002, 200003 and so on.

On this blog you will find man different regimental number sequences explained, but there are many many more sequences which I have not published. Take a look at my posts on the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders regimental number sequences (see here for the INDEX) and then imagine that same scenario repeating across the majority of the other infantry regiments (excluding Irish regiments which had no Territorial Force battalions). 

I hope this post has been helpful. Use the information here and elsewhere to narrow down the enlistment and/or transfer dates of your own British Army ancestor but remember, if you get stuck:

I research soldiers! 
Contact me if you need help with your military ancestor.

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