12 March 2009

Every number tells a story - 5th Essex case study

I've copied the extract above from With the 1/5th Essex in the east by Lt Col T Gibbons. Many years ago I interviewed 2075 Private Bertie Murkin who'd served with the battalion, and he gave me his copy of Lt Col Gibbons's book.

The three appendices list officer and other rank casualties, officers and men wounded, decorations awarded and officers who served. As a reference source for anybody interested in the 1/5th Essex, the book is invaluable.

The extract above is taken from the roll of other ranks wounded and I post it here to illustrate the point about the importance of army service numbers in determining when a man joined a particular unit - in this case, the 1/5th Essex.

Find photos of Essex Regiment soldiers on my British Army Ancestors website.

The six digit numbers are those numbers issued when the Territorial Force was re-numbered in 1917. These were issued sequentially and in order of seniority (length of service) with the battalion. Refer back to my post showing sample service numbers for the 5th Essex Regiment to get a clearer idea of exactly when these men enlisted.

The first man on the list above, 2500021 CSM H Frost, was almost certainly serving with the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, The Essex Regiment before he joined the 5th Essex when it was formed on 1st April 1908. 250060 Pte F W Goodey was also an early recruit, his number dating to 1909 or 1910.

Private Gowers, wounded twice, has two numbers; his original number: 2177 (wounded on 14th August 1915), and his new six digit number 250363 (wounded for a second time in March 1917). From my data, number 2184 joined up on 5th August, so it's a good bet that Private Gowers, with a number just seven digits lower, joined up at around the same time.

As for the four five-digit numbers beginning 36*** and 37***, they're all conscripts who were given regular army five digit service numbers on being posted to the 5th Essex.

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Bertie Murkin, who gave me his book, must have joined up in April 1914. There appears to have been a recruiting drive around this time and his number indicates that he joined the Terriers on about the 27th April. He was later re-numbered 250319.

The Naval and Military Press has re-published With The 1/5th Essex in the east and has this to say about the book:

"Unusually for a British service [actually it was a Territorial Force battalion] Battalion, the Fifth battalion of the Essex Regiment spent its entire Great War service in action against the Turks. The battalion had a bloody baptism of fire when it was thrown into the inferno of Gallipoli in 1915, fighting in the trenches near Anzac Cove. The rest of its war was spent in Egypt, guarding the Suez Canal, and then in Gaza and Palestine, where the battalion formed part of Allenby’s successful advance to capture Jerusalem and Damascus in 1918. Illustrated by photographs, maps and accompanied by a Roll of Honour, this is an unusually fine history of a unit that, though not on the western front, still saw savage fighting."

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