3 March 2009

The exception to the rule

Just when you think you've got the whole army numbering logic sorted out for a particular battalion, along comes an attestation paper - or usually several attestation papers - which completely throws you of course.

Take for instance, the example of William Buchanan who attested for one year's service with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Special Reserve on 17th August 1914. His number - 4898 - belongs neither to the series being used by the 3rd and 4th Battalions at that time (they were numbering in the 7000s and 9000s respectively), nor for that matter, to the service battalions which had only just crossed 3000 by the end of August 1914.

In answer to question 10 on William's papers which reads, "Do you now belong to the Royal Navy, The Army...", the answer is written, "Yes, 13 years." Unhelpfully, the particular service to which William belonged is not recorded.

And so William Buchanan is a mystery to me. His service with the A&S Highlanders did not last long though: he was discharged from the 10th (Service) Battalion on 2nd October 1914 as medically unfit. "No teeth" is written on his attestation paper.

William's service record survives in the WO 364 (pension) series at the National Archives and although not much of it survives, what is there is interesting to read. He carried a number of tattoos on his arms: "Mrs Maybrick" on his left upper arm and "two pictures from Punch" on his left forearm. On his right arm was a "coat of arms, rose and one picture from Punch." You can almost hear the authorities checking him against the notes in the Distinctive Marks section: "Well it says here, two pictures from Punch, but I've definitely seen that in The Strand..."

Mrs Maybrick was probably Florence Maybrick (pictured on this post) who, in the late 1880s was found guilty of poisoning her husband and sentenced to death. There was a huge public outcry and she was finally released from prison after 15 years. William Buchanan appears to have been a fan.

British Army WW1 Records

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