11 May 2009

The Royal Fusiliers - Sportsman's Battalions

This post will look at army service numbers issued to volunteers serving with the 23rd (1st Sportsman's) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers, the 24th (2nd Sportsman's) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers, and the 30th (Reserve) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers. It will look at initial recruiting during the period October 1914 to November 1915.

Information contained on this post comes from an examination of surviving records in the WO 363 and WO 364 series held at the National Archives in London and now partially available on-line via the Ancestry website: Royal Fusiliers service records, pension records and medal index cards. The photograph above which shows men of the 23rd RF being inspected at Hyde Park in October 1914 is taken from THE 23rd (SERVICE) BATTALION ROYAL FUSILIERS (FIRST SPORTSMAN'S) - A RECORD OF ITS SERVICES IN THE GREAT WAR, 1914-1919 by Fred W Ward. This book is on-line via The Project Gutenberg and contains a nominal roll.

The 23rd (1st Sportsman's) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (RF) was formed on 25th September 1914 and a separate numbering series was initiated for the battalion. The lowest number on my database is SP/15 which was issued on 14th October 1914. Numbers were generally, but not always, prefixed with SP or SPTS for "sports".

Almost immediately, it would appear, a need was recognised for a 2nd Sportsman's Battalion and this battalion was formed on the 20th November 1914, numbers appearing that same month. The lowest number on my database for the 24th Battalion is 2014 which was issued on the 26th November 1914.

It would appear from the patterns of numbers appearing in both battalions that the 23rd RF was allocated numbers within the range 1-2000 and the 24th RF in the range 2001-3800s. In August 1915 the 3oth (Reserve) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers was formed and this was a local reserve battalion for the two sportsman's battalions, men joining this battalion being given numbers from the series being used by these battalions.

23rd (Service) Bn (1st Sportsman's) The Royal Fusiliers

SP/15 joined on 14th October 1914
SP/1273 joined on 21st December 1914
1423 joined on 9th January 1915
1501 joined on 2nd February 1915
1609 joined on 25th March 1915
1658 joined on 10th April 1915
1804 joined on 19th May 1915

In June 1915, numbers in the 4000 range start to appear, the intervening numbers in the range 2001 to 3999 having been taken up by - for the most part - the 2nd Sportsman's Battalion, but also the 30th (Reserve) Battalion. So,

SP/4055 joined on 25th June 1915
Sp/4067 joined on 13th July 1915

24th (Service) Bn (2nd Sportsman's) The Royal Fusiliers

2014 joined on 26th November 1914
2099 joined on 3rd December 1914
2293 joined on 6th January 1915
SP/3076 joined on 10th February 1915
3306 joined on 6th March 1915
3413 joined on 5th April 1915
SP/3524 joined on 5th June 1915
SP/3643 joined on 5th July 1915
SP/3797 joined on 5th August 1915

Numbering in the 24th Battalion certainly extended into the 3800s in August 1915 but by the following month numbers in the 3800s also start appearing in the newly formed 30th (Reserve) Battalion.

30th (Reserve) Bn, The Royal Fusiliers

3893 joined on 1st September 1915
4129 joined on 10th October 1915
4373 joined on 14th November 1915

That same month, 4538 was issued to a man who joined the 24th (Service) Battalion RF and it is at this point, with the two Sportsman's battalions filled with their initial complement of volunteers, that I am going to conclude this post.

I also offer a comprehensive, fast and cost-effective military history research service. Follow the link for more information.

Find Royal Fusiliers service records, pension records and medal index cards on-line at ANCESTRY

Further Reading

Royal Fusiliers - regimental histories

Historical Records of the Seventh or Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
Covers the period form the raising of the regiment in 1685 to 1875. Includes a roll call of every officer who served in the Regiment during these 190 years with his record of service, listed in alphabetical order.

Royal Fusiliers in the Great War
The appendix gives the Roll of Honour of officers (1054 names); a table showing the numbers of Warrant Officers, NCOs and Men on the Roll of Honour, by battalions; a table summarising decorations awarded, including foreign awards; brief biographies or notes on a number of RF general ranking officers; and several accounts of soldiers who took part in the various operations.

2nd City of London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War 1914-1919
The Roll of Honour lists 1,345 dead and the summary of awards shows 65 British decorations to officers and 246 to other ranks, excluding MiD.

The War History of the 4th Battalion The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) 1914-1919
Includes a list of Honours and Awards, including foreign decorations, as well as a list of officers and men of other regiments who won their awards serving with the 4th London Regiment.

The History of the old 2/4th (City of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers)There is no Roll of Honour nor list of Honours and Awards, all these are noted in the text and the last ninety pages contain the service records of every officer and man of the battalion where such information can be found, including details of any wounds received.

The Kensington Battalion
This books draws on first hand material (diaries, letters and official documents) as well as interviews from the 1980s.

History of the 22nd (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (Kensington)
A Roll of Honour gives dates of death of the officers, and in the case of other ranks, they are grouped by companies for each year of the war without number, rank or date of death. There is also a list of recipients of honours and awards, which includes mentioned in despatches. Names are grouped alphabetically for each medal, but no number, rank or date of award.

Hard as Nails: The Sportsmen's Battalion of World War One
Michael Foley's history of the 23rd (Service) Battalion.


Anonymous said...

I can add Richard Cadman, allocated to the 1st Sportsman's with number 28. He attested on 14 October 1914 in Oxford - this from his WO364 Pension documents.

Incidentally that's the same day as your ER Bangs, number 15, who attested at 32, St. Paul's Churchyard.

Paul Nixon said...

Thanks brucefuimus, the sequence of numbering is all over the place in October. These men are all October enlistments:

SP/15 - 14th Oct 1914
SP/78 - 8th Oct 1914
SP/273 - 14th Oct 1914
SP/451 - 14th Oct 1914
SP/596 - 14th Oct 1914
SP/639 - 8th Oct 1914
SP/1030 - 29th Oct 1914
SP/1104 - 6th Oct 1914

wmbremner said...

Thanks for this post, very helpful. Do you have any hints or tips for finding soldiers specifically in these battalions via ancestry.com? I am researching the 23rd, 24th, and 30th. Ideally I'd like to search by battalion, for example "find all records associated with 30th (Reserve) Bn, The Royal Fusiliers" and then look up each soldier's enlistment date, location, and regimental number. Much appreciated.

Paul Nixon said...


Would that it were so simple. Having records online is SO much easier than trekking up to Kew and Ancestry are to be congratulated. Their digitisation of WO 363 and WO 364 presents an invaluable resource. However, their indexing leaves a lot to be desired. You're going to have to run many, many searches using wildcards for the number prefixes. So spt*, sp/* etc. I recently did a similar exercise for the Stockbrokers (10th RF). Also check the men for these battalions who appear on SDGW and the Silver War Badge Roll (also poorly indexed). Good luck.

wmbremner said...

It appears that 30th Reserves started recruitment in earnest around 4th Oct 1915, with #4097 the earliest of a sequence of attestations I found in Ancestry. Given that the nominal roll of the 23rd went up to about 4076 (based on Fred Ward's book), this seems mostly consistent.

There were a few that signed up earlier, as you pointed out in the blog. As I was digging I noticed that some transferred to 30RF from 23RF (e.g. #3933 TH Dobran), but these are rarer.

The recruiting seems to have continued until the early 4600's, with #4617 (Joseph Macklow) attesting in Leamington in January 1916. After that there some here and there, for example #4964 C J Marshall attested in April 1916 when 30th RF were based at Leith Fort near Edinburgh.

Paul Nixon said...

Thanks for adding to this topic, William.

Andy Hesketh said...

This may be of little relevance and is just me thinking aloud really, but....

Guy Kenyon Pierson, SPTS/4228, 9th Royal Fusiliers, KIA 7/7/16, Thiepval Memorial.

Given your very helpful blog it would appear that his initial enlistment would most likely have been to the 24th Bn between October and November 1915. This coincides with the time at which the battalion went overseas and his MIC has no date of entry so he obviously did not go with them at that time.

Thus, I am guessing that a reasonable assumption might be that he had effectively 'missed the boat' and, when trained, was shuffled off as a reinforcement for the 9th?

Some cracking stuff on this site by the way. I often make use of it and this gives me a chance to say 'thanks'.

Paul Nixon said...

Hello Andy, nice to hear from you again; hope all's well with you and that you had a good Christmas.

I think your assumption is probably correct and that he was posted to where men were needed most. An anomaly, given his number, but not unique of course.

I'm glad the blog has been useful. It's played second fiddle to other projects over the last year but I guess from the number of comments I receive, that it can be a helpful resource.

All the best for 2014! Don't worry, the WW1 brouhaha will all be over by Christmas.


wmbremner said...


It's also very possible that Pierson enlisted initially with the 30th (Reserve) Battalion and was transferred from there to 9th Royal Fusiliers.

From late August 1915, just after 23rd and 24th were relocated from Notts to Tidworth and the 30th was formed from depot companies of 10th, 23rd, 24th and 26th Bns, the pattern of new SPTS numbers shifts to the 30th.

SPTS/4191 enlisted with 30th RF in Manchester on Oct 17th, and SPTS/4259 enlisted with 30th RF in London on October 29th, therefore a reasonable guess would be that Pierson (SPTS/4228) enlisted in Manchester around October 22nd.

23rd and 24th RF were drafted overseas in mid-November, so to a certain extent Pierson did "miss the boat", however training was typically 4-6 months for 30th RF, which means that Pierson probably went over to France sometime around April 1916.

Although many recruits went logically on from 30th RF to 23rd and 24th RF, there were quite a few anomalies, and at least 7 SPTS between 4228 and 4798 were posted to 9th RF, including Thomas Friston (SPTS/4309) who enlisted with 30th RF in Romford on 3rd Nov 1915.

Granted, this is not conclusive, so I hope to fill out some of the gaps as I research this further.


Anonymous said...

My apologies for not replying sooner.

Paul, my best wishes to you as well for 2014. Keep up the good work.

William - that is an incredibly helpful series of points, and quite a convincing theory based on the limited available evidence. I,m grateful to you for taking the time to propose it.


wmbremner said...

Thanks, Andy. I am in the process of building out a database for 23rd, 24th, and 30th, so I should be able to provide some more pointers on this in the future.

The research is primarily helping me with my blog on Pte. Fergus Mackain, a cousin who enlisted with 30RF (SPTS/4299), fought with 23RF in France, and who created the "Sketches of Tommy's Life" postcards, among other things.

If you are interested, the blog is at:



Paul Nixon said...

Good luck with the blog, William, and thanks for posting here. Let me know if I can be of any assistance.

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul my card has two numbers:
4979 and
Thanks Simon *keep up the good work*

Paul Nixon said...

Thank you Simon

wmbremner said...

Hi Paul,

Based on my research, it appears that there were two application processes and sets of forms for enlisting in the Sportsman's Battalion.

The first was probably an unofficial one created by the Cunliffe-Owens: "The forms of application for acceptance were more searching than most. Not just names, ages, schools and such like but skills with rifle, scatter-gun, climbing irons (oddly enough not fishing rod), horses and even `walking well'." - from "The Fighting Nation", by A J Smithers and L Cooper.

This was the form that applicants had to complete in order to be considered by the Battalion, and enabled soldiers up to the age of 45 to be included. Starting in September 1914, some write-in applicants received and returned the form by mail, others completed them in person at one of the recruiting offices such as the Hotel Cecil. I have never seen one of these forms, and would love to know if any of your readers has a copy. Unsurprisingly - and unfortunately - they do not form part of the soldiers' official army records.

I suspect that the SPTS numbering was based on this first application form, not the subsequent "official" enlistment on form 2065, which is why there is not a cleanly ascending sequence of numbers when tracking the official army enlistment dates. Enlistees who completed the first form did not necessarily go through the official enlistment process in the same order.

With regards the First Sportsman's formation date, this one is a bit harder to pin down. I have one article dated September 12th 1914 which reports that the recruiting process at the Indian Room of the Hotel Cecil was in full swing by then. Another that points to a start date of September 6th. Yet another article from October 1st reports that "medical examinations by the War Office are on 6 and 9 October", which lines up with the official military records on the Battalion. But I don't have anything that indicates September 25th as THE date of formation. Do you by any chance have anything to support this?

My best guess is that the Battalion was formed in early September, no earlier than 6th and no later than 12th, and sanctioned by Lord Kitchener as a result of the telegram he received from Mrs Cunliffe-Owen.

Would be interest to hear your thoughts on this.



Paul Nixon said...

Thank you for this, William. My information about the date of formation is almost certainly a secondary source and I'll need to check this and re-visit if necessary. I appreciate you taking the time, again, to submit so much useful information about this battalion.


wmbremner said...

Hi Paul,

A dedicated website, "The Sportsman's Gazette", records the history of the 23rd, 24th and 30th Royal Fusiliers during the First World War. It includes a database of soldiers who enlisted in - or served with - the Sportsman's Battalions, which were raised by Mrs. Emma Cunliffe-Owen in 1914.


The website is being updated in sync with events that transpired one hundred years ago. While the database is limited initially to those soldiers who were on the 23rd's Nominal Roll, in time it will be expanded to include other soldiers and more information on each.

Hopefully this will serve as a useful resource for researchers interested in these unique WW1 battalions and the soldiers who served in them.



Paul Nixon said...

What a great blog, thanks for drawing this to my attention, William. I'll dedicate a separate post to it on my Army Ancestry blog as well.


Paul Nixon said...

William, as mentioned, I have referenced your blog on a separate post which I have since tweeted (and which has already been re-tweeted): http://armyancestry.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/the-sportsmans-gazette.html?spref=tw


wmbremner said...

Paul, one update on the question of the battalions's raising / forming, is a notice in the Yorkshire Evening Post dated September 8, 1914. It reads:

"The Acting Secretary of the Stock Exchange has received a letter stating that a private battalion is being formed of 1,000 strong, hardy, sporting gentlemen between 40 and 45. This battalion has been accepted by Lord Kitchener. Recruits can either apply by writing and sending their names, addresses, age, height, weight, and medical certificate to the Officer in Command, Recruiting Office, Hotel Cecil, Strand, or by applying in person at the address, between 10 and 6, on or after September 10th."

This predates my earliest "find" by 4 days.

Unknown said...

I'm a bit of a latecomer to this thread but it may be of use to know that my ancestor Rowland Shepherd is listed with Service No SP/4102 Royal Fusiliers 24th Btn (so ny process of elimination it must be the Sportsmen's Battalion) on the information of CWGC provided for this Thiepval memorial. I was puzzled to know how he became part of a unit formed in London being from Barrow in Furness, but can see from earlier comments that he may have enlisted in the North of England. His S/No seems to fit with the one provided here.

Many thanks for this info which has shed new light on my Ancestor who was killed on 31 July 1916 but in what circumstance or what action i'm not clear.

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