26 March 2017

Regimental number research - Why all is not lost


At times, when it comes to British Army research, it can often seem as if Hermann Goering and the War Office were working hand in hand. 

Even before the Luftwaffe comprehensively destroyed millions of documents in an incendiary attack on the Army Records Store on Arnside Street in September 1940, the War Office had been systematically weeding and destroying soldiers' files for decades. The records that survive in the soldiers' pension files to 1913 in series WO 97 at the National Archives (and now on Findmypast) represent a tiny fraction of the paperwork that would originally have been generated. In the majority of cases a soldier's file may only contain his four-page attestation paper; that is, if a file survives at all.  Files only survive for those soldiers who claimed or might have claimed a pension. So if your ancestor died in service before 1913, forget about finding papers for him.


All of the riflemen listed above died whilst serving with the 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade in India in 1898. None of these men has a surviving file because as deceased soldiers they were never going to be making a pension claim and therefore there was no need - so the War Office reasoned - for their files to be retained.  Furthermore, these men's names will not appear in the soldiers' effects registers held at the National Army Museum and published by Ancestry because these records only begin in (or survive from) 1901. In fact, the only evidence that these men ever served as soldiers at all will be found in regimental records if these survive or in medal rolls, if they were entitled to receive a medal. And these are big IFs. A full service record will not survive in regimental archives but names might appear in enlistment registers or Part II Orders if these have been retained by the regiments. The enlistment registers were disposed of by the Ministry of Defence many years ago but before they were all dumped into a skip, the MoD did at least give regiments the option to have them back. Many regiments took up this option and this is why, for instance, some have found their way on-line. Findmypast has now published enlistment registers held by The Royal Artillery, Royal Tank Corps and the Scots Guards, and others may follow.

In defence of the War Office and MoD, an un-weeded soldier's file could potentially contain hundreds of separate pages: a multitude of official army forms, correspondence and internal memoranda. If just one document had to be retained, the four-page attestation paper is the obvious candidate as it records the man's movements from attestation to discharge. It also contains details of where he served, medal entitlement, wounds, and next of kin. Finding the space to store hundreds of thousands of multiple-page files must have been a headache, and an expensive headache at that. 

Unidentified Rifle Brigade marksman

Returning to the Rifle Brigade deaths, above, burial records for at least some of these men have been digitised and appear within Findmypast's India Office collection. So we can see, for instance, that the first man on the list, J Ashworth, was 27-year-old Joseph Ashworth who died of "ague" on the 4th February 1898 and was buried the same day.

The sad reality is though, that there must be hundreds of thousands of soldiers for whom nothing tangible survives. All this, by way of a preamble to emphasise the importance of the humble regimental number.

Let's go back to Joseph Ashworth. His regimental number was 1572 which, looking at my database of regimental numbers, suggests that he joined the Rifle Brigade in Winchester on the 16th or 17th September 1891. He probably enlisted for a period of seven years with the colours and five years on the reserve and had probably been overseas since 1892 or 1893.  If a soldier was serving overseas when his period of colour service was due to expire, he served an additional year with the colours and reduced his reserve service by a year. This suggests that Joseph would, in the normal course of events, probably have transferred to the reserve in 1899 and would have been discharged from the army as a time-expired soldier in 1903. (Note, however, that Joseph would almost certainly have been recalled to the colours in October 1899 and sent to South Africa to fight the Boers).


The Rifle Brigade Chronicle will be useful here and I have just recently acquired a pretty comprehensive collection of these annual publications beginning in 1890 and running right up to 1965. These make nice companions to the King's Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle which begin in 1901 (and I also have a complete run of these from 1901 to 1914).

Just yesterday I completed a research project where all that survived for a First World War soldier was his medal index card and an entry in the British War and Victory medal roll.  By analysing his regimental number details (he had two numbers, one with the King's (Liverpool Regiment) and one with the RAMC), I was able to determine when he enlisted, when he would have been likely to arrive overseas, when he transferred to the RAMC and the RAMC unit he served with). This information is crucial because it then allows an individual to consult the relevant war diaries.

So, despite the best efforts of German airmen and Whitehall clerks, if a service record or pension record does not survive for your British Army ancestor, don't give up hope, there may still be a lot more to discover by digging deeper into his regimental number.

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

19 March 2017

5th Dragoon Guards - PoW Other Ranks 1914


The following men were all serving with the 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales's) Dragoon Guards when they became prisoners of war of the Germans on or before Christmas Day 1914. There are only 20 names on this list. Read more about this Prisoner of War data source on my 1914 PoWs page

This data has been transcribed from two separate lists (B.O.2 1/42  and B.O.2 1/50 inclusive) which are now housed at the Imperial War Museum. 

This is an edited list, giving number, rank and name only. The full transcription also includes date of capture and home address or next of kin address for most men. 


642 Private Morris Benbow 
4708 Sergeant William T Capps 
5368 Private Oscar E Carroll 
6353 Trumpeter Clifford C F Clifford 
Saddler Gibbs 
5228 Pte James Groves 
1310 Private A C Hamm Private Harrison 
7208 Lance-Corporal J J Maguire
3750 Lance-Corporal W Marlow 
7818 Private C E Mitchell Private Mitchell 
411 Private F Moors Private Moors 
7610 Lance-Corporal John Newson 
5475 Corporal Henry Paice 
3805 Corporal Jacob Peach 
633 Private George Pratt 
5369 Bandsman Alfred Wells 
5098 Corporal T W West 
6321 Private Thomas Wilberforce 
5342 Private Wilfred A Wilde  
7799 Private Walter H Yarney

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Contact me if you need help with your military ancestor. 

12 March 2017

Why would he have been given a new number?


It's time for another of those, 'this is how it worked' type of posts.  I was dealing with an enquiry in the week where the soldier in question had originally joined the 3rd Battalion of a county regiment in 1902 and, after a short while, had been given a new number, What was the reason for this?

The 3rd Battalion was a militia battalion. This particular regiment had only one militia battalion but many regiments had more than one. Each militia battalion had its own series of regimental numbers which had, at some point, started at 1 and which were issued sequentially. 

So hypothetical Recruit A could be standing in a queue at the regimental depot waiting to be issued with a regimental number for the 3rd Battalion, and Recruit B could be standing next to him in a separate queue waiting for a regimental number for the 4th Battalion. Both battalions drew numbers from their own regimental number sequences, there was no cross-over.

On the other hand, if a man wanted to join the army as a career soldier he would arrive at the same regimental depot and would be issued with a number from the series used by both of the regular battalions. Typically, his army career would begin with the issue of the regimental number and kit at the regimental depot followed by three months' intensive training followed by a posting to the home battalion. Learning his trade there for a further eighteen months or so he would then, in all likelihood be posted to the overseas battalion in one of the British Empire's far-flung outposts - and most likely, India. 

This switching between depot and regular battalions did not impact on a man's regimental number. He retained this number throughout his army career, and it was still retained for him when he joined the army reserve. If he extended his period of reserve service for a further four years as a Section D Reservist, the number would still be his as and when he was recalled to the colours. If he was discharged, deserted or died, his number was not to be re-issued. Queen's and King's Regulations were explicit on this point, this from Queen's Regulations 1895:



As can be seen from this extract, numbers were not finite and, in this instance, when an infantry regiment was close to issuing number 9999 it would have to apply "in sufficient time to obtain authority to start a new series". Read more about regimental numbering as dictated by Queen's and King's Regulations by clicking on the link. 

As regards my questioner, the reason her ancestor had two numbers was that he had first served with the militia and later enlisted with the regular army. In such cases, even though service records may not survive in either WO 96 or WO 97, it is entirely possible (and hugely satisfying) to pinpoint the enlistment dates.

Also see my post on duplicate regimental numbers.

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





4 March 2017

Royal Berkshire Regiment - Other Rank PoWs 1914


What follows is a list of 30 Royal Berkshire Regiment men whose names appeared on regimentally compiled lists after the war. All of these men were captured by the enemy and became Prisoners of War on or before the 25th December 1914. Read more about this data source on my 1914 PoWs page. This data is taken from three separate lists sent to Sir Ernest Goodhart, as follows:

B.O.2 1/94: a single typed sheet from the Royal Berkshire Regiment Prisoners of war Care Committee giving the names and addresses of eight Berkshire Reginment men. Letter dated 18th December 1918 
B.O.2 1/95: a supplementary typed sheet from the Royal Berkshire Regiment Prisoners of War Care Committee giving the names and addresses of 11 Berkshire Regiment men. Letter dated 27th December 
1918 
B.O.2 1/97: a two-page typed nominal roll sent by Lt-col i/c Infantry Records, Warwick. Dated 20th February 1919. 

Other information not transcribed here includes, for most of the men, date of capture, home address, whether or not they had been repatriated, and additionally for some men, next of kin and next of kin address.

8189 Pte Ernest G Atkins
8650 Private T Buckland
9363 Private Henry J E Checkitts
7370 Private A Dance
7881 Private J Davies
6406 Sgt-Major A Denham
5457 Private E Dines
7586 Private C Doughty
7659 Private C Fordham
10193 Private J T Gilbert
5330 Sergeant C Graves
9089 Private W Hoar
8236 Sergeant A Hughes
7486 Private W T Kirby
6083 Private S Knight
5789 Private S Laing
7249 Private C J Lane
6220 Private W Mills
9662 Private W R Money
8534 Private A P Russ
7175 Private F Shaw
7333 Private T Short
8140 Private F L Simmonds
8988 Private W Simmonds
6674 Private J F Smith
6671 Private A Stone
6600 Private Edgar Vokins
9146 Corporal G Ward
10009 Private T Woolford

The photo on this post shows 8580 Drummer Joseph Dines who was not a PoW but who did arrive in France in November 1914. He would have known many of the men listed above and his number indicates that he must have joined the Royal Berkshire Regiment on about the 15th October 1907. He would therefore have been nearing the end of his period of colour service when Britain went to war and was almost certainly in India in August 1914. I have no note now, telling me the source of this photo, and so my apologies if I have infringed any copyright.

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