28 July 2018

Royal Fusiliers - 18th, 19th, 20th & 21st (Public Schools) Battalions

It doesn't take a lot to sidetrack me. In this case, the distraction came about as a result of the most wonderful collection of photographs from the David Knights-Whittome photographic archive which has been published on flickr. Amongst the many portraits published are several hundred of soldiers who were photographed during the First World War, and of these the vast majority are of men who served with the Public Schools battalions of the Royal Fusiliers.

David Knights-Whittome had studios at Epsom and Sutton, and the 18th Royal Fusiliers, 19th Royal Fusiliers, 20th Royal Fusiliers and 21st Royal Fusiliers were all formed at Epsom on the 11th September 1914 by the Public Schools and University Men's Force. Unlike so many photographic portraits of the First World War, the majority of these images are named, the original glass plates having been stored in envelopes with the customers' names and date of studio visit recorded. For me, it's been a fascinating exercise trying to match up names to the men's medal index cards or service records. I've identified quite a few men already and I've been posting the results on my British Army Ancestors website.

The regimental numbering of these battalions is far from simple and does not reflect when a man joined up. What happened with these men is that having enlisted with the regiment they were then grouped alphabetically and then issued with their regimental numbers, all of these numbers prefixed with the letters PS/ for Public Schools. What follows should be taken as a rough guidance to regimental numbering in the four public schools battalions.

PS/1 to PS/1135
19th (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers; numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/1136 to PS/1183 (and possibly to PS/1188)
19th Battalion, non-alphabetical
PS/1189 to PS/2281
18th (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/2282 to PS/2398
Mostly unknown, some 18th Battalion men
PS/2399 to PS/3419
21st (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/3421 to PS/3615
Mostly alphabetical,and mostly 19th Battalion (albeit note that I only have 19 identified men within this regimental number range)
PS/3617 to PS/3682
19th (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers; numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/3689 to PS/3960
18th (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers; numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/3977 to PS/4298
21st (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/4301 to PS/4363
Mostly 19th Battalion but with some 21st Battalion as well; non-alphabetical listing
PS/4368 to PS/5824
Mostly 20th Battalion, alphabetical (albeit note that I only have 466 identified men within this large regimental number range)
PS/5827 to PS/5997
Mostly alphabetical but a mix of battalions

From PS/5997 onwards, the alphabetical by surname sequencing disappears and the men join various battalions. 

There are large gaps in my data - which I have largely compiled from medal rolls - and many of these gaps are as a result of men being commissioned. It should be remembered that these men were drawn from universities and public schools and somewhat belatedly it was realised that many of them could more usefully serve His Majesty's Army by becoming officers. Some men were commissioned having already done a stint overseas as other ranks in the Public Schools battalions but other men were pulled out of these battalions before they had ever set foot in France. That's one of the reasons that the Knights-Whittome archive is so fascinating because here, in many cases, are the only photos of soon-to-be officers, proudly posing in their privates' uniform.

There is still much more work for me to do on these Royal Fusiliers battalions, but it's an intriguing distraction from other projects.

The photo on this page is courtesy the David Knights-Whittome photographic archive and shows, left to right, Pte A Lancaster; PS/5756 Pte Thomas Thornber, 20th Battalion; currently unidentified.

I research soldiers!

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