7 July 2009

Can I ascertain a man's battalion from his number?

In most cases, the answer is probably no but I've just done a little research on a Royal Fusiliers casualty which - up until a point - does suggest a battalion based on his number and his age.

I've posted that research - and my conclusions - on a separate blog: WW1 Remembrance - George John Albrecht.

Knowing the different army number series used by the regular battalions and the special and extra reserve battalions up until 1914 at least, is generally going to be useful. Take, as an example of this, the four regular battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, the 5th (Special Reserve) Battalion, the 6th (Special Reserve) Battalion and the 7th (Extra Reserve) Battalion.

In 1913 the four regular RF battalions were numbering in the 15000s, the 5th Battalion in the 9000s, the 6th Battalion in the 2000s and the 7th Battalion in the 8000s. This would make it a straightforward task if, for argument's sake, a new RF recruit in 1913 was given the number 2100. He could only have joined the 6th Battalion (and his number may also have been prefixed with SR/ - Special Reserve). Even without knowing the year of joining we'd be able to narrow our hypothetical recruit down to the 6th Battalion and from there, come up with a rough estimate of when he joined, which actually would be January 1913. However, there'd be no way of telling - if the man's number was 15800 - whether he'd joined the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th Battalion because all four battalions shared the same number series. We'd know that he was a regular and that he'd joined in October 1913 but we wouldn't know which battalion.

George Albrecht's number marked him out as either a candidate for the 5th or the 7th Battalion, and a little extra digging to determine his age has ascertained that he would have been too young for the 5th Battalion and therefore must have joined the 7th and transferred shortly after that (but keeping his 7th Battalion number).

And that's where the trail goes cold. George was killed on the Somme whilst serving with the 8th RF but he'd already been to the Balkans, arriving there in September 1915, and to have done so means he must have served with another RF battalion. The medal rolls may reveal exactly which one.

But army service number series (particularly if blocks were set aside for specific battalions) and army service number prefixes, can certainly help in identifying which battalion a man initially joined, even though they may not reveal subsequent postings within the same regiment.

Puzzled image from Marquette University.

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Claire Pigram said...

Thanks so much for this blog. It has provided a little information on my Great-Grandfather and Great-Uncle.

We are in possession of both of their WW1 medals. Dvr A Cumberland was Royal Artillary - number 145908. I have been able to find out information on ancestry about him but not a lot else.

Pte H White was in the Queens Regiment (West Kent) and up until now I couldn't work out why his service number began with a G. Now from what I have read it is because he only enlisted for the war.

Paul Nixon said...

Thanks for commenting, Claire; glad the site has been of use to you.


Unknown said...

Very useful blog article I have a (Harry) Henry Blencowe Private 44785, 49702, GS/112435 South Lancashire Regiment, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Royal Fusiliers
He was from Co Durham (and died there in 1965) but married in Kensington in 1918, do you think from his number he was with the The 22nd (Service) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (Kensington)


Paul Nixon said...

Roger, I think you can rule out the Kensingtons, certainly the original battalion, as they started from 1 and prefixed with a K/. He could have been a general enlistment, probably in 1916, who later transferred to the 22nd Bn.


AHJ said...

Researching a battalion

I found the above article very useful and hope that the following account of some early research I did on the back of it may be of interest.

I was researching 25021 Albert E Pride, of the Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment and Labour Corps and trying to ascertain his possible battalion, the Labour Corps medal roll not having that information.

In default of any better option, I thought that I might try seeing if there was any correlation between service numbers and destinations of Queensmen by a search of the Queen's medal roll (which scores over the Labour Corps roll by giving the battalions served with in the "In sequence units and corps previously served with...." column).

I thought that what I found might be interesting enough to share.

(Nb where numbers are missing from the sequences below they do not appear on the roll, presumably because the man in question has been transferred and appeared on another roll).

The first block I looked at didn't tell me much:
L/10997 went to 10th RWS
G/10997 (that must have been potentially confusing!) went to 11th RWS
L/11000 went to 1st RWS
G/11001 went to 11th RWS

Skipping ahead, I looked at the 15000 series:
G/15000, G/15002, G/15003 and G/15004 all went to 1st RWS

Around the 21100s, G/21095, G/21098 and G/21100 all went to 2nd RWS

G/23200, G/23201, G/23202, G/23210 and G/23212 all went to 8th RWS

I next looked at a block starting G/24840. Here I noticed, as far as origin battalion was concerned, that G/24840 and G/24841 both came from the 12th East Surreys, whilst the next numbers in sequence, G/24843, -45 and G/24852 were from 2nd Royal Fusiliers; however all ended up with 2nd RWS.

Coming to the block I was specifically interested in, I was fortunate to find that G/25020 (one above) and G/25022 (one below) though to G/25025 were all present, only my man (being on the Labour Corps roll) being absent - and all went to the 11th (Lambeth) battalion RWS.

Continuing on, G/30170, G/30172, G/30174 and G/30192 all went to 10th RWS

G/38816 and G/38817 went to 11th RWS as did G/38826 , whilst the intervening G/38820 was destined for the 8th RWS

Skipping rather further ahead, G/61716 and 17 went to 2/4th RWS

G/62859 went to 7th RWS and G/62860 to 11th

Unfortunately I don't have any dates to go with these yet, but I think that they are at least suggestive of the possibility of using a service number to associate a man with his battalion in the Queen's Regiment.

Paul Nixon said...

Anthony, thanks for your helpful comment.

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