10 September 2017

Regimental numbers are windows into the past

A regimental number is like a window into the past. And for many soldiers for whom no service or pension records survive, it may often be the only window.

This blog will demonstrate why regimental numbers are so important for today's family and military historians. To illustrate this have taken a list of men from the King's Royal Rifle Corps whose names were all published in The Times on the 30th January 1915. All had been posted as missing; and officially notified by the War Office on the 6th December 1914.

I've arranged the numbers chronologically. If - and it's a big IF - these numbers had all been issued to men joining the regular battalions - that's the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions - it would be a simple job to identify when these men joined the KRRC. However, there will be men in this list who had originally enlisted with the 5th (Special Reserve) or 6th (Extra Reserve) Battalion, and both of these battalions operated their own distinct regimental number series.

I am often queried why someone's regimental number does not fit with the sequences I have published on this blog. "It can't possibly be correct..." goes the hypothetical cry, "according to your information he must have enlisted in 1894 when he was nine!  The answer is invariably that the ancestor concerned did not originally enlist with a regular battalion - and remember, it's mostly regular battalions that I have concentrated on to date - but with a special or extra reserve battalion; or later, a Territorial Force battalion or New Army battalion.

But for the purpose of this exercise - and because I don't have the time to look at each of these 229 records individually - let's assume that all of these men were issued with these numbers when they enlisted as career soldiers with the King's Royal Rifle Corps.

The first man on this list was certainly a career man. Philip Horace Taylor originally enlisted at Aldershot in 1898. His service record shows that he served in the Boer War and was reported missing and a prisoner of war on the 3rd November 1914. He would spend the rest of the war in captivity and would finally be transferred to Class Z of the Army Reserve in 1919 having served 21 years and 37 days; enough time to claim a pension.

So Private Turner appears to be the longest-serving man here, but  - and assuming we're just talking about regulars, remember - all the men in this first group had joined the KRRC while Queen Victoria was still on the throne:

802 Pte Philip Horace Taylor
891 Pte J Barrett
900 Pte W Walton
1182 Pte F Wood
1315 Pte J Murphy
1403 Pte J Benson
1447 Pte J Brady
1466 Col-Sgt Harry W Charles
2043 Pte F Potter
2125 Pte G Winsor
2151 Pte H Turner
2179 Pte J Speak
2200 Pte A Duggan

In order for these pre-August 1900 KRRC enlistments to still be serving in August 1914 they must have either re-engaged to complete 21 years with the colours OR enlisted as Section D reservists. This would have extended their period on the reserve for a further four years. As a reward for this commitment they were paid the grand sum of 6d per day. Colour-Sergeant Harry Charles had certainly re-engaged and must have cursed his luck - and the odd German - when he was captured at Ypres on the 2nd November 1914. He has a number of papers held by the International Committee of the Red Cross archive. Follow the ICRC PoW link to search for prisoners of war. The site is FREE!

2262 Pte J Walsh
2268 Pte B Cocker
2274 Pte W Corser
2463 Pte J Wilkins
2471 Pte J Street
2499 Pte T McQueeney
2563 Pte G Clarke
2569 Pte T Farley
2570 Pte A Payne
2573 Sgt F Tyler
2727 Pte W Eaton
2989 Pte S Johnston
3033 Pte N Bartley
3069 Pte S Sykes
3334 Pte Bert Cooper (enlisted 7th December 1900)
3347 Pte Samuel Beach

Numbers in this range would have been issued to regulars joining up in 1901:

3347 Pte Samuel Beach
3487 Pte Jonathan Bingham
3575 Pte W Wilson
3686 Pte J Lalley
3917 Pte H Clarke
3939 Pte S Pammant
3963 Pte W Bailey
3998 Pte H Chesterton
4081 Pte E Revell
4139 Pte T Ball

Numbers in this range would have been issued to regulars joining up in 1902:

4170 Pte J Cade
4187 Pte Eli Henry Meecham
4210 Pte W Birkett joined on the 28th January 1902
4221 Pte A Grant
4245 Pte C Moore
4250 Pte W Cox
4320 Pte J Watt
4330 Pte P Murphy
4368 Pte A Stockwell
4390 L-Cpl J Brown
4499 Bugler C Simpson
4563 Pte P Newton
4581 Pte J Sheldon
4658 Pte J Whalley
4660 Pte J Conley
4685 Pte J Barfield
4771 Pte H Jayes
4808 Pte W Jones
4813 Pte F Adfield
4841 Pte J Roberts
4944 Pte W Leyland
5075 Pte J Allen
5098 Pte T Hill
5225 Pte J Rafferty

These numbers would all have been issued to career KRRC enlisting in 1903:

5260 Pte W Andrews
5297 Pte J Quinn
5406 Pte R Robinson
5432 Pte T Batson
5454 Pte G Ashton
5502 Pte W Towler
5529 Pte C Thompson
5575 Pte A Garrison
5602 Pte J Dunn
5608 Pte W Gilbert
5630 Pte J Fell
5704 Pte H Donnelly
5710 Pte J Kempton

And so on...

The point is that by analysing the regimental numbers it is possible to work out not only when a man joined the regiment but also what his subsequent service probably looked like. I find this actually more interesting than analysing service records; although I have plenty of experience of doing both - drop me a line if I can help you with your research.

5743 Pte W Barker
5782 Pte G Savigar
5794 Pte G Samuels
5813 Pte J Cook
5856 Pte A Nash
5871 Pte W Garner
5875 Pte G Allen
5894 Pte W Fox
5903 Pte F Mockford
5909 Pte E Barker
5910 Pte C Hurt
5915 Pte R Topper
5922 Pte A Dean
5980 Pte H Drummond
5997 Pte L Broadbent
6036 Pte J Cannon
6047 L-Cpl W Meadley
6088 Pte G Wolliter
6133 Pte J Forengo
6136 Pte J Holden
6205 L-Cpl J Almond
6277 Pte J Cahill
6297 Pte P Gunning
6385 Pte T Campey
6410 Pte F Jagger
6434 Pte E Myers
6457 Pte S Bowers
6511 L-Cpl F Callaway

What is easy to forget when looking at the lists of 1914 casualties is the loss to the British Army in terms of experience. Many of these men had more than a dozen years' service under their belts before they sailed for France in 1914. They were efficient at musketry and drill, and many of them would have served throughout the British Empire.

6514 Pte E Stinson
6522 Pte W Swingle
6539 L-Cpl G Cooper
6556 Pte C Crook
6579 Pte M Stephenson
6605 Pte J Franklin
6630 Pte H Freeman
6651 Pte G Coake
6678 Pte F Harratt
6681 Pte C Cammaeron
6687 Pte J McDermott
6697 Pte J Blunt
6710 Pte T Maughan
6751 Pte W Phillips
6759 Sgt S Thompson

Men from about this point onwards are all enlistments from 1907 onwards. Typical terms of enlistment at this time would have seven years with the colours and five on the reserve, although if a man was serving overseas during his period of colour service he could expect to actually serve eight years with the colours and four years on the reserve.

6759 Sgt S Thompson
6791 Pte G Davies
6833 Pte H Greenwood
6978 Pte W Freatwell
6987 Pte W Champion
7022 Pte J Fereday
7026 Pte W Emery
7055 Pte L Posnett
7064 Pte W Smith
7067 Cpl H Revell
7110 Pte C Cully
7120 Pte T Starkie
7141 Pte J Meakins
7165 L-Cpl S Crockett
7209 Pte F Roberts
7247 L-Cpl O Mullarkey
7270 Pte W Colfar
7300 Pte W Chapman
7316 Pte R Fitt
7320 Sgt T Painting
7334 Pte J Parker
7339 Pte W Pallin
7358 Pte B Edmunds
7364 Pte D Kingston
7370 Pte S Hill
7411 Cpl A Chapman
7414 Pte C Easden
7417 Pte J Farrell
7418 Pte W Brown
7442 Pte A Smithurst

7462 Pte V Conn
7469 Pte W Ryan
7502 Pte W Collins
7512 Pte J Coleman
7531 Pte C Amass
7540 Pte B Gayler
7574 Pte R Chambers
7590 Pte F Hines
7649 Pte H Bradley
7659 Pte George Cutler
7867 Pte J Whitney
7871 Pte S Shemmings
7890 Pte J Lee
7947 Pte Thomas Baister
8002 Pte S Chater
8011 Pte A Mullins
8032 Pte W Johnson
8047 L-Cpl E Amies
8058 L-Cpl J Garwood
8115 Pte D Cullimore

Use my snapshot of KRRC enlistment dates in my King's Royal Rifle Corps to work out for yourself when the men in this list would have joined the regiment. Don't forget too that many of the men in this list will also appear in my list of KRRC prisoners of war. I'll publish that soon. 

8679 Col-Sgt J Reynolds
9111 Sgt S Gilbert
9277 Pte A Day
9354 Pte C Casey
9358 Cpl P Freeman
9373 Pte F Noble
9379 Pte H Beel
9452 L-Cpl T Waud
9579 Pte H Walters
9749 Pte P Broughton
9842 Pte J Burke
9866 Pte C Ayres
10006 Cpl A Morgan
10043 Pte F White
10324 Cpl A Lee
10346 Pte G Stonham
10436 L-Cpl W Dalby
10462 Pte H Moore
10463 Pte A Pitman
10526 Pte P Bell
10530 Pte C Parrott
10688 Pte T Day
10718 Pte C Wills
10768 Pte G Young
10777 Pte R Cox
10892 Pte S Booker

All of the men below had only joined the regiment in 1913 and thus could still be considered to have been learning their craft as soldiers.

10912 Pte A Burridge
10928 Pte E Paveley
10933 Pte W Ward
10948 Pte W Allen
10950 Pte H Sims
10963 Pte A Fry
10976 Pte G Pearson
10977 Pte W Ramsay
10980 Pte G Symes
10983 Pte P Brown
10990 Pte A Lloyd
11002 Pte W Strong
11005 Pte R Reeve
11012 Pte A Beale
11013 Pte L Price
11025 Pte W Soppitt
11027 Pte Walter John Shubrook
11046 Pte George Henry Peter Lanz
11049 Pte S Francis
11054 Pte A Silverton
11082 Pte B Pocock
11100 Pte G Ford
11101 Pte F Williams
11104 Pte H Thorpe
11133 Pte A Gilbert
11134 Pte J Reynolds
11140 Pte B Brown
11141 Pte G Walker
11145 L-Cpl F Adams
11151 Pte A Evans
11214 Pte B Wood
11246 Pte H Tiplady
11262 Pte L Davis
11296 Pte E Morgan

The last two men on this list are both 1914 enlistments, still wet behind the ears:

11319 Pte H Searle
11545 Pte F Thomas

All photos on this post are from my own KRRC collection. Service record extract courtesy of The National Archives.

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