17 February 2010

Seaforth Highlanders numbering 1900-1906

I have previously published sample numbers and joining dates for the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders. I also mentioned that there were some peculiarities, and I'd like to expand upon that now.

Seaforth numbering trundles along quite happily and sequentially until March 1900, by which time the regiment was numbering in the 7300s. By the end of March, however, numbers in the 8200 range start appearing and these continue into 1901 when again, certainly by March 1901, numbers in the 9500 range start surfacing - and keep on going, at least until January 1902. By June 1902 (and probably a good deal earlier) we're back in the 7000s again and numbering continues sequentially from there.

Not for the first time, I am at a loss to explain why there were these big leaps in numbering. There doesn't appear to be any pattern as far as place of enlistment is concerned and neither does there in terms of the enlistment periods for which men were signing up. If anyone can suggest an explanation, or provide me with additional confirmed enlistment dates and corresponding numbers for the period below, please do so.

Here though, for what it's worth, are my rough estimates on Seaforth numbering for the period 1900 to 1906, this information based on the dates and numbers recorded on attestation papers of the time.

28th March 1900
7361 joins
31st March 1900 - 14th Jan 1901
Numbers in the range 8273 to 8515 are issued
25th March 1901 - 20th Jan 1902
Numbers in the range 9561 to 9911 are issued
5th June 1902 - 21st November 1903
Numbers in the range 7604 to 8188 are issued. Numbers 8273 to 8515 have already been issued in 1900 and 1901.
19th January 1904 to October 17th 1906
Numbers in the range 8689 to 9524 are issued. Numbers 9561 to 9911 have already been issued in 1901 and 1902.
20th November 1906
10021 joins

From here on in, numbering returns to a sequential pattern without gaps, albeit the Seaforths, A&S Highlanders and the Gordon Highlanders would abandon their number series in 1908 and commence a new series beginning at 1.

Attestation papers for all these numbers - and many more besides - are accessible on-line as part of a FREE 14 day trial with Ancestry.co.uk.

I've borrowed the photograph on this page from Roger Clarke's family history website. It shows 1822 Corporal Thomas Hunter Dawson Cheeper of the 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. Hunter Cheeper (as he was known) was born on the 8th February 1898 and judging by his number, joined the 4th Seaforths two or three days before Britain went to war in August 1914. He would have been sixteen years old at the time, and was probably no more than 17 or 18 years old when this photo was taken. Nevertheless, he arrived in France on the 7th November 1914 and appears to have served throughout, ending the war as Second Lieutenant, and staying on with the British Army. He would also serve his King and Country during WW2.

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Stuart said...

Quite likely that the jump in numbering will be due to TF soldiers enlisting with Volunteer Service Companies to serve with a regular battalion in the Boer War. The Volunteers were to be re-numbered as regulars but from a separate block. Details are given by David Langley and Graham Stewart in 'Regimental and Army Numbers of the British Line Infantry Soldier from AD.1800 to 2008'.

AO 29 of 1900 and AO 41 of 1901 give: '....the Volunteer numbering should run consecutively, with an interval of a clear thousand between the last number received by an ordinary recruit, at the date on which the Volunteer numbering begins, and the first Volunteer number'.

Paul Nixon said...

Thanks Stuart, that makes sense.

The York & Lancs certainly fell into the category that you mention. I was looking at their records last week and their records are very clearly differentiated between 1900 and 1902. I'll go back and look at the Seaforths and report back.


Unknown said...

Hi Paul,
I tried posting a comment similar to Stuarts pointing out that this odd numbering could indeed be linked to the Volunteer Service Companies, but it didn't send for some reason.

As mentioned by Stuart the first V.S.C.'s had a block specifically allotted to them seperate from their Regular colleagues. However their terms of service were totally different and from the Discharge Certificates I have in my possession it seems they only enlisted for one year.

My thoughts are that not all V.S.C. numbers set aside were used up from any one block and it is known more than one block of numbers were issued to V.S.C's. This was because some regiments raised more than one V.S.C. over the period of the Boer War.

With this in mind I suspect unused V.S.C. numbers were thrown back into the melting pot to be used up be regulars. Once the last V.S.C's. had been disbanded numbering amongst regulars would then settle down.

As it stands it's only a theory, but what makes it difficult to determine is the fact that we're unsure as to what happend to the V.S.C. volunteers themselves.

Many came from the Volunteer Battalions of the parent regiment and it is suspected that they went back to their old V.B's., but because they had to take their Discharge to become regulars, then it's highly likely that on their return to their old V.B's. that they were infact issued with new numbers as required under Volunteer Regulations.

Paul Nixon said...

Nice to hear from you again and thanks for your comment - and for your persistence in re-posting.

There are quite a few York & Lancs records which survive for old VSC men enlisting (all for one year) with the regular battalions. There are two clearly defined blocks starting at 7000 and 8000 but also at least one rogue number and eveidence too of the unused numbers that you mention, then being issued to men who were joining the regiment on regular terms. I'll perhaps post separately on the Y&L as a case study.

Incidentally, roughly how many men formed a VSC? 250?

Paul Nixon said...

I may have answered that last question.

Just searching for Volunteer Service Companies on Google, I came across extracts from, "The Volunteer Service Company (1st South Lancashire Regiment) in South Africa during the Boer War, January, 1900-July, 1901" where it mentions, "The numbers required were one company of 116 to joine each line battlion..."

Les said...

Hi Paul,

I’m starting at the beginning of trying to find as much detail about my Grandfather’s service during WW1.

I have a copy of his MIC card showing Reg. Number S/11087 and the fact that he was awarded the Victory and British medals. The reference is G/104 B10 Page 615. He enlisted with the Seaforth Highlanders. I do not know which battalion he was in? Family stories are that he spent time in India but I cannot trace any exact dates for joining / leaving or if he indeed went to France. Any clues or direction?

Many thanks,


Paul Nixon said...

Les, I've left a response as another post here: http://armyservicenumbers.blogspot.com/2011/09/s11087-seaforth-highlanders.html


Anonymous said...

The oddities are definitely linked to the VSC companies. The hard evidence is in the QSA medal rolls. For example the 3rd VSC Seaforth Highlanders were issued consecutive Army Numbers 7524 to 7548.

During the Second Anglo Boer War (hereafter ABW)British Infantry Regiments carved out blocks of numbers way that would not have been used under normal conditions for a few years. Many regiments had 2 or 3 VSC companies and each had a block of numbers allocated. As has already been mentioned their terms of engagement were for 1 year.

Later, the numbers up to and between these blocks were issued to men enlisting under normal terms of engagement months or years later, but no numbers were re-issued to my knowledge.

There are some interesting techniques one can apply to check this

1. Firstly transcribe a QSA medal roll into a spreadsheet and list them by sequential Army Number. In the adjacent column calculate the difference between sequential numbers and run the formula down, It will spike when there are big jumps in the number sequencing.

2. Do the same with the 1914 Star medal roll.

3. Take the 1914 Star medal roll and the QSA medal roll for a Regiments and use the =VLOOKUP function in excel to search for marching numbers, then set the function to populate the 1914 Star spreadsheet with the surnames of the matching numbers. Then run a =EXACT function in Excel which compares the output with the original surname. Typically one finds a few ABW veterans with the QSA who were also Old Contemptibles, but importantly there is usually no overlap in the numbers. VSC men would have been Discharged Time Expired soon after the ABW. If they had re-enlisted they would have been given a new Army Number. In short, numbers from VSC blocks shouldn't appear in the 1914 Star medal rolls... there are exceptions but (I think) they are errors in the originals. Of the medal rolls I have compared so far the allocation of blocks of numbers to VSCs is consistent.

As you have observed it really disrupts the normal smooth synchronised sequencing of numbers with dates.

It is best to do this exercise with a regiment that has properly prefixed its Special Reservists so they don't get confused. Getting an Army Number AND surname match is fairly binary output. Watch out for variations in surname spellings Clarke v Clark etc.

Anyway, just wanted to highlight that the hard evidence for the VSC Block theory is in the QSA Rolls which are available online.

Regards MG

Paul Nixon said...

Thanks for this Martin.

Yes, I have seen the rolls on WO 100 and have saved copies of many of these, I just haven't got around to transcribing these (and neither will I do so; too many other concurrent projects).

Most of the VSC men were only out in SA for a year and were then discharged. They were plucked from the VF, served in the regular army and were then discarded, so you're right, they shouldn't appear in 1914 rolls but you know how it goes, there is always the odd exception. I keep meaning to buy Boer War medals to a Volunteer (probably just a QSA in practice).

Incidentally, and purely by coincidence, whilst you were no doubt posting this comment, I was reading your posts on the VWF about recruitment and regional distribution. I have transcribed much of the 1911 Census - all overseas and some of Ireland - and looking at the regional make-up was something I was going to do in due course. You've saved me a job. Great work that you've done -you should write a book.

Hope all's well with you.


Anonymous said...

Hi Paul

I am close to finishing the Census work. Over 87,000 names done, and 23,000 to go. I am getting about 95% geo-located which will generate around 100,000 plots. It has been a real eye opener. Most regiments had to go far and wide to get recruits. Oddly some of the rural Line Infantry regiments managed to sustain high numbers of local recruits (Norfolks, Suffolks, Dorsets, Wilts, etc.).... which surprised me a lot. The two English regiments that really struggled were the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Border Regt. Both with exceptionally low local recruiting. One wonders why the latter raised two extra battalions. I am beginning to think the 1900 recruiting really distorted the Nothumberland Fus' demographics. It looks as if they recruited nationally and the legacy can still be seen in the 1911 Census data. The Welsh regiments generally struggled locally and the Lowland Scots Regiments often had more English born than Scots born (ditto Scots Guards) which will surprise a few.

I have some blind spots in the Regiments that had battalions in Ireland. The Irish Census for 1911 that I have seen did not enumerate the names, only 'soldier' with place of birth. If you (or anyone else) have seen Irish Census with soldiers' names any pointers would be welcome. I have the Overseas battalions but the paired Home based battalions, if in Ireland, have eluded me (and others on the trail)...

I am writing an article on Irish recruiting for an academic in Ireland. I am using Army Numbers to calculate the numbers recruited. I think perceptions are slightly distorted as we really have to net off the VSC men as they did not transfer into the Army Reserve, so the gross recruiting figures don't reflect a much lower net figure for men who would have transferred to the Army Reserve. From the perspective of building a Reserve the headline recruiting figures are slightly misleading. More than 40% of Connaught Rangers never made it to the Army Reserve for mobilization. VSCs don't go anywhere near to explaining the shortfall. Huge wastage ratios.

Incidentally I have a very slight suspicion that some regiments might not issue the numbers between VSC blocks... as I get massive gaps in the 1914 Star and 1914-15 Star medal rolls (when running VLOOKUP) that are larger than the number of VSC men...if this proves to be right, again the recruiting figures will be overstated. I'll ping you if I find anything conclusive.

My biggest challenge is tracing ABW Veterans who re-enlisted in 1914 and served under new Army Numbers. Scots Guards (near complete) records show as many Boer War Veterans re-enlisted as there were still serving.

Regards MG

Paul Nixon said...

From my own research into recruiting patterns, the Northumberland Fusiliers were poor at recruiting between 1881 and 1891 but showed the greatest recruitment gain of any regiment in the ten years to 1911 and from being the 54th most successful line infantry recruiter in the ten years to 1891, rose to 4th by 1901 and dropped slightly to 6th by 1911. As far as recruitment was concerned generally, despite the theoretical demarkation lines for the line infantry regiments, they seem to jolly well have done as they pleased, and I noted Border regiment recruitment (lots of men joining in east London in the early 1900s) in a post published here some years ago now.

On the 1911 Census, yes you're right regarding the Irish census returns, but some regiments helpfully give regimental numbers which means that it is possible to then run searches on the numbers and initials and come up with answers. I've done so in many instances. You can run that exercise most effectively on my British Army Ancestors website.

How are you doing with he men who were serving in Scotland in 1911? Have you made any headway there?


Anonymous said...


Any suggestions on the best platform to access the Irish Census would be welcome. If some have Army Numbers we can cross reference them to the Great War period medal rolls and surviving service and pension record. Most men serving in 1911 would have been on the hook for service in 1914-18.

Scotland. I have not yet attempted to find the units based in Scotland. Access to the Scottish Census is not as easy, so I have decided to leave it until I have done England, Wales and the Overseas stations. I am travelling at present and on my iPad so can't give the exact figures, but from memory I have all the Foot Guards (although Irish Guards looks very thin in the ground) and of the 148 Line Infantry Battalions I am missing around 20. Three (I think) will be in Scotland, and the remainder in Ireland. For all these missing battalions I have the overseas battalions at roughly 1,000 men each. HMe based battalions were around 650 on average, meaning even in regiments with Battalions based in Ireland I have large samples of around 60% which provide a good idea of the demographics.

It should be complete within a month and I will ping you the links if you are interested.

Separately I am building a gazetteer of barracks/stations occupied by the infantry and cavalry between 1881 and 1914. It shows the data in two ways; one by location, meaning one can see which units served in any particular station, and the other by unit (similar to the samples you sometimes show on your blogs) showing where they served. I have done up to 1890 and it is proving again to be an eye opening exercise. There was huge turnover with units moving almost every year, even within the same country. It also shows when the large military industrial complexes of Tidworth and Aldershot were filled and the stations largely abandoned by the regulars. I aim to plot these on the bubble map as well. If you are interested I can email the spreadsheet when done. It should be finished this weekend.

If you would like to use the bubble maps of the 1911 census feel free to grab them off the VWF or I can email them. I only have the Lancashire and Yorkshire regiments to complete.

Kind regards


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