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.
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