27 May 2010

VSC duplications

This from my forthcoming book on regimental numbers issued to men joining the infantry regiments of the British Army between 1881 and 1914. The work covers all sixty-nine infantry regiments and augments and updates much of the information published on this blog.

Volunteer Service Companies - South African War

Army Order 29

"... in order to avoid the confusion which would result from the assignment of numbers to Volunteers and ordinary recruits indiscriminately, and also to simplify future reference, 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."

Not all regiments heeded the instruction in AO 29, mixing in Volunteers (who enlisted for one year or the duration) with regular soldiers. For those regiments which did conform, we see corresponding gaps in numbering sequences in future years; those gaps taking account of numbers already issued to men joining the VSC companies. Unfortunately the confusion doesn’t end here. There is evidence of duplication of numbers in some regiments, the same number issued to a VSC man being issued again later to a regular enlistment.

For example, Private W Herley, serving with the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, volunteered for South Africa in January 1900 and was given the number 8906 when he joined the 1st Volunteer Service Company, Lancashire Fusiliers. Fast forward to June 1902 and we see the same number issued to George Barton when he joined up for three years with the Colours and nine on the Reserve. Similarly, 8920 Private Lawrence Syrett was given his number when he joined the 1st VSC on the 29th January 1900. The same number was also issued to William Cartwright when he joined up for regular service on the 11th June 1902.

There is also evidence of numbers from within VSC number ranges re-surfacing for regular enlistments some years later. Take, for instance, the 2nd Volunteer Service Company of the Bedfordshire Regiment which, in 1901, issued numbers within the range 7915 to 7955. Twenty-two men were given numbers within this range and numbers 7946, 7948 and 7949 were all issued to volunteers. For some reason number 7947 was not used but neither was it forgotten. It appears much later, in February 1904; issued to Isaac Brown of Wellingborough who signed up with the regiment for three years with the Colours and nine on the reserve. The Bedfordshire Regiment also duplicated numbers. 7962 was issued to Private E Smith when he joined the 3rd Volunteer Service Company in 1901. The same number was issued again on the 23rd February 1904 when George Glasspool Swan signed up as a regular.

The photo shows men of the 3rd VSC, The Black Watch, (courtesy Ian Edwards) and is taken from his tribute website to the 5th (Angus & Dundee Battalion), The Black Watch.

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

19 May 2010

Royal Scots Fusiliers - 3rd (Special Reserve) Bn

This post will look at numbering in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers between its formation in 1908 and the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.
The 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion was the natural heir of the 3rd Militia battalion and like the majority of Special and Extra Reserve battalions, continued with the same number series that had been used by its militia ancestor. A glance at 1908 enlistments for the 3rd (SR) Battalion shows a whole range of numbers dating way back into the 1890s.

Coincidentally, the regiment's two Territorial Force Battalions - the 4th and 5th Battalions - when they were formed in April 1908, also continued with the number series that had been in use by their Volunteer Battalion predecessors.

All of the information below is taken from surviving service records in the WO 363 and WO364 series at the National Archives - and now available on-line via Ancestry.co.uk.

4111 joined on 2nd August 1908 (but he had originally joined the 3rd Militia Battalion in March 1899 and the number dates to then).
5617 joined on 15th May 1909
5937 joined on 2nd April 1910
6162 joined on 13th April 1911
6342 joined on 22nd February 1912
6571 joined on 9th June 1913
6678 joined on 5th January 1914
6831 joined on 8th August 1914

Also see my post on numbering in the regular battalions of the Royal Scots Fusiliers between 1881 and 1914.

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

5 May 2010

Harry Hall - For King & Country

I've been looking at numbers issued to men of the 5th Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, and I thought it would make an interesting and illustrative case study to focus on one of the men I found yesterday.

Harry Hall's badly damaged service record survives in the WO 363 (burnt documents) series. The first page is so badly burned that the number is missing and only the year - 1916 - can be seen. The attestation paper though is the Enrolment Paper, introduced after the Military Service Act was passed in 1916.

Harry Hall was 27 years and three months old, a farmer by trade and living at the Boat House, St Michael's on Wyre in Lancashire. In answer to the question, "Have you ever served in any branch of His majesty's Forces..." the answer is given, "Yes, 1/5th King's Own Royal Lancs Regt. Served 5 years including 1 yr 245 days embodied service."

Burnt page two of his papers reveals that Harry was at Home between the 11th August 1916 and the 19th March 1917 and then with the BEF in France between the 20th March and the 12th May 1917.

Page three fills in a little more information and we see that Harry was immediately "promoted" lance-corporal (and the word "promoted" rather than "appointed" is used) on the 11th August 1916, the day he joined. He was also awarded a bounty of fifteen pounds, this allowed under Army Order 209 of 1916. The Army Order runs to four pages and was applicable to men who were retained in the Service or recalled to the Colours under the provisions of the Military Service Act, 1916 (Session 2), and also to soldiers who voluntarily undertook to continue to serve, or who re-enlisted or re-engaged.

We also discover on burnt page three that Harry was posted to the 8th KORL on the 9th April 1917 and that just over a month later, on the 12th May, he was killed in action whilst serving with this battalion.

It is only on page four of Harry's service record that we see his number for the first time - 1238 - and the 2/5th King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives his number as 240102 which is the new six digit number issued to Harry when the Territorial Force was re-numbered in 1917.

Harry's medical history sheet, page five of his burnt service record, state that he was enrolled on the 11th August 1916 and that his number was 1238, later 240102. We already have this information from previous pages but of course it doesn't show the whole picture. Harry did join up in August 1916 but the four-digit number is the number he was issued with when he originally joined the 5th Battalion back in 1911.

Pages six to ten of Harry's service record are either blank or repeat previous pages. Page 11 is Harry's discharge "in consequence of the termination of his engagement". This took place on the 5th April 1916. Harry's complexion at the time is described as fresh, his hair dark brown, and his eyes, blue. As to his military character - those parts that can be read - he is described as Very Good and "Total abstainer. Thoroughly reliable. Whilst a soldier performed his duties in an efficient [manner] to the complete satisfaction of [his commanding] officer."

Page 12 of Harry's service record gives some more dates:

Home 5.8.14 to 13.2.15
Ex Force France 14.2.16 [This is incorrect, is should be 14.2.15] to 30.3.16
Home 31.3.16 to 5.4.16

The dates 5th August 1914 to 5th April 1916 are the embodied service - 1 Yr and 245 days - which Harry stated on his 1916 enrollment paper (see third paragraph, above).

It is only on page 13 that we finally see Harry's original enlistment date (although we could have worked this out - in theory - from his date of discharge). The date is given as 6th April 1911.

In Summary then, Harry joined the 5th KORL on the 6th April 1911 and was given the number 1238. He joined up for a period of four years which meant that he was still a serving member of the Territorial Force when Britain went to war on the 4th August 1914. He was embodied the following day and, under section 87 (1) of the Army Act, was also required to serve one extra year. Thus, by 5th April 1916, Harry had served his four plus one years with the 5th KORL and was discharged on the termination of his engagement.

His freedom from Army life was however, short-lived, and just four months later he re-engaged and claimed his cash bounty in so doing. It is interesting that on his 1916 enrollment form, Harry states that his preferred branch of the army was the Royal Garrison Artillery. It's possible, that after a year in France with the PBI, Harry felt that the RGA might offer him better prospects of survival. The military authorities though, were having none of that and he was sent straight back to his old battalion and - this is the point - given back his old number.

Harry's story is of course, not unique. There were thousands of time-expired men who found themselves back in the army as a result of the Military Services Act of 1916; either re-engaging voluntarily, or being conscripted.

To finish Harry's story - and his service record can be accessed via Ancestry's FREE TRIAL - The Commonwealth War Graves Commission states that he was the son of Mr and Mrs T Hall of The Boat House, St. Michael's, Garstang, Preston, and at the time of his death he was 28 years old. Harry Hall has no known grave and is one of nearly 35,000 men commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France. Next Wednesday marks the 93rd anniversary of his death.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

Machine-gunners at Arras courtesy the Imperial War Museum.

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