19 August 2011

The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) - 1st & 2nd Battalions

This post will look at numbering in the two regular battalions of The Black Watch between 1881 and 1914. Service records for all of the sample numbers and dates below survive in the series WO 363 and WO 364 at the National Archives (and also online at Ancestry.co.uk) and WO 97 (on line courtesy of Find My Past).

In fact, there are over 28,000 Black Watch pension and service records (for this regiment - and its antecedents) in various War Office series held at the National Archives. Clicking on the link will take you to the results on Findmypast but you will need a subscription or Pay-Per-View credits to actually view the records. Some of these records can also be viewed on-line on Ancestry although Findmypast has by far the most comprehensive service record collection.

Use the regimental numbers and dates on which these were issued, below, to determine parameters for when your own Black Watch ancestor would have joined up. Note though that these numbers are only for regular enlistments. Special Reserve and Territorial Force battalions operated completely separate regimental number sequences.

The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) was formed on the 1st July 1881; the 1st Battalion from the 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot (The Black Watch), and the 2nd Battalion from the 73rd (Perthshire) Regiment of Foot. The newly formed regiment was established as the county regiment for Fifeshire, Forfarshire and Perthshire. It started numbering from 1 in July 1881.

22 joined on 14th July 1881
1152 joined on 18th February 1882
2074 joined on 22nd March 1883
2222 joined on 16th January 1884
2566 joined on 8th January 1885
2852 joined on 5th January 1886
3177 joined on 2nd February 1887
3658 joined on 19th January 1888
3882 joined on 16th May 1889
4049 joined on 11th March 1890
4530 joined on 22nd April 1891
4962 joined on 28th March 1892
5290 joined on 4th July 1893
5460 joined on 8th January 1894
5916 joined on 28th January 1895
6359 joined on 25th February 1896
6642 joined on 18th March 1897
6874 joined on 13th January 1898
7226 joined on 14th March 1899
7228 joined on 27th February 1900

During the South African War the Black Watch raised three Volunteer Service Companies. Men joining the 1st VSC in January 1900 were issued numbers in continuance of the series then in use for the regular 1st and 2nd Battalions and not allowing the clear one thousand digit gap that had been stipulated in AO 29 of the 2nd January that year. Numbers in the range 7540 to 7666 were issued to these men and on the 17th February 1900, the 1st VSC comprising three officers: Captain Cook, Lieutenant Hunter and Lieutenant McArthur,and 114 men embarked aboard SS Gascon for South Africa.

Men joining the 2nd VSC were issued numbers from within a wide range of numbers which I had originally noted as within the range 8522 to 9024. More work needed here.

Men joining the 3rd VSC in January 1902 were issued numbers between 9083 and 9176.

Meanwhile, numbering of regular enlistments in the regular battalions continued apace:

8083 joined on 16th January 1901
8525 joined on 2nd January 1902
9424 joined on 13th January 1903
9735 joined on 11th January 1904
9999 enlisted on 29th September 1904

A new number series commences
Queen’s regulations for the Army, 1895 had stated: “The regimental series of numbers will commence with 1. The numbers will be given in sequence, according to the date of application. When the series approaches 9,999, application should be made to the Adjutant-General in sufficient time to obtain authority to commence a new series.” The new King’s Regulations of 1904 which permitted infantry regiments to number up to 19,999 came too late for the Black Watch which reached 9,999 in September 1904 and immediately started a new series from 1.

12 enlisted 2nd October 1904
182 joined on 20th March 1905
495 joined on 18th January 1906
876 joined on 5th April 1907
1243 joined on 30th March 1908
1580 joined on 28th January 1909
1791 joined on 4th February 1910
1955 joined on 6th January 1911
2333 joined on 10th April 1912
2560 joined on 18th August 1913
2652 joined on 20th January 1914

The First World War
When Britain went to war in August 1914, men joining the new service battalions were issued with numbers from the same series that had, up until that point, been the sole preserve of the regiment’s two regular battalions. The only difference between men enlisting for war-time service only and those enlisting as career soldiers, was that the former’s numbers were supposed to be prefixed with the letter S/.

Recruitment rates 1881-1911

Between 1st July 1881 and 22nd April 1891, The Black Watch recruited 4,530 men, a very high average of 461 men each year. Of the sixty-nine infantry regiments recruiting at this time, The Black Watch was the most successful Scottish regiment and the third most successful infantry recruiter over all.

The following decade though, was not so kind. Recruiting dipped to a yearly average of 364 men with the Black Watch recruiting nearly a thousand men less than it had done the in the 1880s. Between the 22nd April 1891 and 16th January 1901, the regiment recruited 3,553 men.

Recruitment picked up again in the early years of the twentieth century. The Black Watch added 3871 men to its books between January 1901 and January 1913 and finished the decade as the thirteenth most successful British Army infantry recruiter.

1st Battalion stations 1881-1914

1881 Edinburgh
1882 Egypt
1885 Sudan
1889 Malta
1892 Gibraltar
1893 Egypt
1893 Mauritius (half battalion)
1893 South Africa (half battalion)
1897 Subathu (entire battalion)
1899 Sitapur
1901 South Africa
1902 Edinburgh
1904 Fort George
1906 Curragh
1908 Limerick
1911 Edinburgh
1912 Aldershot
1914 France & Flanders (from August)

2nd Battalion stations 1881-1914
1881 Portsmouth

1884 Aldershot
1889 Belfast
1892 Limerick
1894 Glasgow
1897 York
1899 South Africa
1902 Umballa
1905 Solon
1906 Dalhousie
1908 Barian (northern Punjab)
1911 Calcutta
1914 Bareilly
1914 France & Flanders (from October)

The photo

I've borrowed the image on this post from the Royal Highlanders website and I hope this acknowledgement will be sufficient to permit me to re-publish it here. It shows those men of the 3rd (Dundee Highland) Volunteer Battalion who served with the 1st VSC during the 2nd South African War. The men are named as follows:

Rear (left to right) - Private J. Kelly, Private J. Gray, Private A. Greig, Bugler A. Chalmers, Private J. Duncan, and Private H. Harris.

Middle (left to right) - Lance Corporal D. Florence, Private J. Jack, Private W. Cosgrove, Private J. Cameron, Private H. Low, Lance Corporal A. Malcolm.

Front (left to right) - Corporal J. Burt, Lance Sergeant G. Brander, Sergeant J. Gegan, Lieutenant Harry Kebel Smith (Dundee), Lance Sergeant L. Bisset, Corporal W. Carnegie, Corporal W. Donaldson.

Not Shown - Private E. S. High, Private T. Sprunt, Private J. G. Sweeney, and Private D. T. Thomson.

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


Further Reading

History of the Black Watch in the Great War 1914-1918

The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), entered the Great War with two regular, one Special Reserve battalion (the 3rd) and four Territorial Force (TF) battalions (4th to 7th). By the end of the war the total had grown to twenty-two battalions (Becke), twenty-five according to the History's foreword. Thirty thousand served in the Regiment in France, Belgium, Salonika, Palestine and Mesopotamia and of these 8,390 died. The Regiment was awarded 69 Battle Honours. Three VCs were won and a fourth was awarded to a Black Watch officer in 1917 whilst he was commanding the 1st Lincolnshire Regiment.

This three-volume history is outstanding. Vol 1 deals with the Regular and the Special Reserve battalions, Vol 2 the TF battalions and Vol 3 the New Army (Service or Kitchener) battalions. Common to all three volumes are the Preface, Foreword (by the Colonel of the Regiment) and the page listing the Regiment's Battle Honours. In each volume the battalions are treated separately and for all the front line battalions, following the narrative describing their war service there are the same six appendices: Record of Officers' Service, Summary of Casualties, Officer casualty list, Other Rank casualty list, Honours and Awards and finally the list of Actions and Operations. In Volume 1 there is a seventh appendix to the 1st and 2nd Battalion narratives - a list of Other Ranks of each battalion who were commissioned during the war. In the case of the TF the second and third line battalions, which did not leave the UK, all are dealt with together. There is a bonus in Volume 2; at the end there is a section on the Royal Highlanders of Canada represented by the 13th, 42nd and 73rd Canadian Infantry Battalions, giving a brief account of their actions with appendices showing for each battalion a summary of killed, list of Honours and Awards and list of Actions and Operations. As regimental histories go, this is as detailed as they come.

Note. Original sets of these books sell for upwards of £200 which makes these modern re-prints something of a bargain.

With a Highland Regiment in Mesopotamia (2nd Battalion)

On the outbreak of  the First World War, the 2nd Battalion, Black Watch was stationed in Bareilly, India, where it had been since the end of the Boer War. On mobilization it formed part of the Bareilly Brigade of the 7th (Meerut) Division and went to France with the Indian Corps, landing in France in October 1914. At the end of 1915 the Indian Corps was withdrawn from France and sent to Mesopotamia where the battalion arrived on the last day of 1915< Before the week was out it was in action at Shaikh Saad (6th-8th Jan 1916) where it had some 60 killed. The Official History speaks of 400 casualties in the battalion.

This account covers about 18 months, to the capture of Samarrah on 24th April 1917 when the winter campaign of 1916-17 came to an end. There are not many battalion histories dealing solely with the war in Mesopotamia (there was only one British division in that theatre, the 13th) and that makes this narrative interesting, not only from the point of view of the numerous actions in which the battalion was involved, but also because of the descriptions of the country, the inhabitants and the conditions in which they fought - the casualty lists shows disease, heat stroke and suffocation among the causes of death.

Two of the chapters consist of articles written by the CO. The full casualty roll of the other ranks is given from 1st Jan 1916 to 15th Jun 1917 with the names arranged in regimental number order, starting with 72 Sgt T.Archer. It shows the date, cause and place of death and place of burial; many of these are shown as on the battlefield with grid reference. There is also a full list of officers who served in the battalion showing in each case dates of movements such as date and place of embarkation and disembarkation, date of any casualty.

The Royal Highland Regiment, The Black Watch, Formerly 42nd and 73rd Foot, medal roll 1801-1911

This is an extremely useful resource for historians, medallists and genealogists. Here are nominal rolls of officers and men of the two regiments present at the various campaigns and battles for which medals were awarded. Prior to 1881 they were two separate regiments and the lists are shown under 42nd and 73rd Foot. In 1881 they became the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Black Watch and are listed accordingly.

This detailed record Covers the Peninsula War and Waterloo and continues with the Kaffir Wars, Crimean War, Indian Mutiny, Gold Coast, Egypt, Suakin, Sudan and on to South Africa (1899-1902). Where there were clasps awarded for battles in a campaign the entitlement to a particular clasp is shown. A remarks/comments column provides additional information on individuals such as deaths, casualties, discharges, desertions, forfeitures. Victoria Cross awards (with citations), and those of the DSO, DCM, MSM and LSGC constitute separate lists as do awards to Volunteers and Territorials. Also included are the affiliated Royal Highlanders of Canada (5th Regiment) and the New South Wales Scottish Rifle Regiment.


Susanne (Sweden) said...

Hello Paul, thank you so much for your wonderful blog.
My G grandfather, James Reid Slater, was killed in France 23 April 1917 serving with the 1/7th Bn., Black Watch.

I am trying to find out as much as I can about his time in the Army and have visited his grave in Fampoux, outside Arras.
I wonder if you could tell me when he enlisted with the 2nd Scottish Horse in Aberdeen and when he was transferred to the Black Watch.
Medal card:
(1) Sco Horse, Pte, reg no 5534
(2) R Highrs, 7153
(3) R Highrs, 7134
(4) R Highrs, Pte, 293169
Theatre of War first served in (2B) Balkans
Date of entry therein 18. 8 15

I'm also puzzled by the abbreviation 2B. On the National Archives page concerning this, it says that up to 31 Dec 1915, 2 meant Balkans and that 2B (Gallipoli) wasn't used until after 1 Jan 1916.

I have family members who don't believe he was at Gallipoli or the Balkans at all as we have his 'Soldier's Testament' inscribed with his name, 2nd Scottish Horse and "Oxford Feb 1916. D.C.L.". What can this mean?
How do I go on and find more? For example relevant War Diaries?


Paul Nixon said...

Hello Susanne

I am sorry for the delay in replying to your query. I think you're looking at three distinct battalions / regiments here: 1) Scottish Horse 2) a TF battalion of the Black Watch 3) The 7th Black Watch (numbers 3 and 4 on his Medal Index Card relate to the 7th Black Watch). To have been transferred once and posted once could suggest a wound or two and I would hazard a guess that he was wounded at Gallipoli and that the October 1916 conundrum you have may relate to a convalescent location. four digit TF numbers in the 7000s are beyond the information I currently hold and so I can't tell you when they were issued - but I'd suggest the second half of 1916 or early 1917. Have a look at the medal rolls at the National Archive to see if any further battalion information is given. As for Scottish Horse, I'd have said that mid 1915 looks likely, or certainly between June and September that year.


Anonymous said...

Hi, my grandmothers brother private "Henry Irons" was killed on July 31st, 1917 in the 3rd battle at Ypres. His service number was S/16689 and he was in the Black Watch Royal Highlanders. His name is on Panel 37 at Menin Gate. I would like to know more about him i.e. What battalion was he in? When did he join up? Did he receive any medals or commendations etc. Regards, Tom McIntosh

Paul Nixon said...

Hello Tom

The number dates to between July and August 1916 but I'm afraid the number is not battalion specific. It's a General Service enlistment (so not a TF battalion) and he was entitled to the British War and Victory Medals.


dday said...

hi paul
I'm a keen collector of ww1 medals to the black watch,is there a reference book or website where I can work out enlistment dates from 1914 to 1918?,

Paul Nixon said...

Not as far as I know, David, apart from my own database.

Unknown said...

Hi Paul,

Just wondering if you have heard of or have any information on "James Low" 1st bttn of the Blackwatch (royal highlanders). He was from Lochee in Dundee. His service number is 874. As far as I know he was killed in the battle of Aubers ridge on the 09/05/1915 and was never found. He is remembered on the Le touret memroial in France. I do not have much else information or pictures of him or his battilion. Any further information you may have would be greatly appreciated.

Kind Regards
DeclaN Low

Paul Nixon said...

Please drop me a line to paulcanixon@gmail.com as outlined on the Research tab, Declan.

Unknown said...

I wonder if you can help me. My Grandfather served in 1st Battalion the Black Watch [Royal Highlanders]. His name was 2734 William Merrilees and he was taken Prisoner of War I believe in 1916 during the fighting to take High Wood possibly on 3rd September 1916. I am finding great difficulty in tracking him from time of capture to repatriation on 20th Nov 1918 and in particular where he was held.

Paul Nixon said...

Gordon, have you checked the ICRC site? Here's the link: http://grandeguerre.icrc.org/

Unknown said...

My son has inherited my Great grandfathers medals of which the Military medal references 200509 pta A Mands 4/5 R HDR TF. Can you please point me in the right direction in where I can find out more information. I have an old photograph but outwith that the details are sketchy at best

Paul Nixon said...

Re 200509, Ancestry and Findmypast are the online resources to check but they may still only have outline information for this man in the form of medal card and medal rolls. Drop me a line via the research tab if you would like me to look at this in more detail.


Unknown said...

I am researching a Black Watch man who attested 17 January 1903 and assigned number 9426. Assuming this man stayed with the 1st Batt (presumably) into the Great War would this man have retained 9426 after the new series started in 1904 or would have been renumbered?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts on this point.


Paul Nixon said...

He would have retained the same number, Mike.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this information, Paul.

Unknown said...

I have and they do not seem to listed him in any official camp. He was probably used as forced labour from family oral history. As he was repatriated via Calais pretty quickly rather than Denmark or Netherlands like majority of POWs indications would be a punishment camp near the lines in Belgium

RedLichtie said...

Hi Paul,

Here's a couple of enlistment dates that narrow down the end of the old series and start of the new.

9992 George Hampton enlisted 19/09/1904

12 John Leal enlisted 02/10/1904

Both were 1st Btn BW regulars who recieved the 1914 Star and were later discharged.
Info from SWB roll.


Paul Nixon said...

Derek, thank you for this. Paul

RedLichtie said...

Whadayaknow, 9999 turned up!
Although i don't know how i missed him previously?

9999 James Watters - enlisted 29/09/1904


Paul Nixon said...

Thanks Derek; added above.

KR said...

I'm travelling to India this summer and want to check out the town of Bareilly that my family tell me my great grandfather was barracked with the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch.

Would anyone be able to confirm the Black Watch was in Bareilly?
Also - I've been looking online but can't find any particular point to visit within Bareilly. Maybe the current "Jat Regiment" HQ as that may be on the same site?

Kevin Reid.

Paul Nixon said...

They could have been, it depends what period of time you are looking at. If it's pre 1901, you might want to raise the topic on the Victorian Wars Forum.

Unknown said...

Hello, my uncle Private Richard Canavan 1st Black Watch was killed at Aubers Ridge, May 9th 1915, I would be grateful for any info. His number was 3/1618 do you know what the 3 prefix signifies ? Many Thanks in advance, R. Canavan

Paul Nixon said...

The 3/ prefix denotes 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion. Please see the RESEARCH tab on this blog if you'd like me to researech this man.

Unknown said...

Hi. I am trying to research my great grandfather Thomas Brodie. he was born in 1895 and serviced with the black watch in the Fife battalion. His regimental numbers are 2466, 290606. I have got his medals but can’t find records for his military medal. How would I research this? Thanks

Paul Nixon said...

Re Thomas Brodie, I can probably narrow that MM award date down for you but this would be a research project. Please see the research tab on this blog.

Unknown said...

Hello, found your page online, very interesting. My grandads brother was called Daniel Watson 3/6843, he sadly died 18 March 1916 and his grave is in Cambrim France. Regiment"A" Coy 2nd Battalion. Is there anything you could tell me? Very sad we don't have a pic or much to remember him. I have found his grave online and a few other things. We love to know more about him and his batallion. Thanks

Linda Baxter said...

Hi I'm researching my great uncle who fought in ww1. His name is James Smith service number s/40079 he was with the 1st battalion black watch. He was wounded and brought home but died on 30th September 1918. I was wondering where I could possibly find a photo of him. Any help would be gratefully appreciated.

Jamie said...

Hey Paul

I'm looking for ANY info on my grandfather, Archibald O'Donnell, might be under Archie odonnell, 1/7th or 2/7th, possibly reg. 292251. His grave says 1/7th but the online findings says 2/7th under archie, which wasnt his full name. Nothing comes up when I search his full name so not sure that's him. What I do know for certain is that he was:
Bugler then kicked out
Military police then kicked out
Machine gunner then wounded

Paul Nixon said...

I have to repeat the message which is very clearly stated on the comments' page. Thank you all for visiting this blog. Please note that if your comment concerns research about a particular individual, you should read the RESEARCH tab at the top of the page.

Neil Thaler said...

Awesome info Paul. Thank you.
I've been handed my wife's great Uncles medals (Victory and British War Medal) which contain his number 1546.
M Morrison PTE (later Lance Corporal). From the limited reseach I have been able to find he was on HMMS "ASSAYE" in 1917 with PARA A (?)

Also he may have joined in 1908.

Other than that I have nothing on him.
Tried FindMyPast and Ancestry but not a lot (Even on Scotlands People I cannot find him) born in 1891 (the only 1891 his a father John mother Sarah which is wrong it should be Archibald nad Margaret).

Where can I go next to find out about M Morrison?

Thanks in Advance.
Neil Thaler.

Paul Nixon said...

Assaye was a hospital ship so he probably returned to the UK as a sick or wounded soldier in 1917. He might appear in a casualty list and you could then determine the likely date that he became a casualty. Ancestry will have his MIC and medal roll/s.

Louise Rorer Rosett said...

I am trying to track down my great grandfather, Jim MCgookin who died while serving with the British Army in India circa 1882. He was in a "special unit" that had a plume in their helmet/hat. I find a Jim McGuckien, who was serving as a private in the 73rd Regiment at the Military Hospital in Portsea in the 1881 census. Did this group serve in india circa 1881-1883? Did the hat/helmet have a plume? Thank you for any information that can provide a lead to my great grandpop.

Paul Nixon said...

Louise, first try and find a death record to confirm the unit he served with and where the death was registered. I did look at India records but could not find a man of that name for that year.

John McLean said...

Very interesting site. I've been following over a family member who was killed in action on 28 January 1916 with 8 Black Watch. He was the son of my great great aunt.

The CWGC site shows his number as 6. I always thought that was an error but on looking at his medal card today, this confirms that he his number was indeed 6. He is shown as crossing to France on 13 August 1914 (and thus being entitled to the 1914 Star). I assume this was with 1 Black Watch.

He was born on 11 March 1886. Would I be right to assume that he joined the Black Watch in October 1904, because of that number?

I always thought he was a coal miner (like the rest of the family) but perhaps he was a regular soldier. Might he have been a reservist, called back to the regiment in 1914 and yet retain his regimental number?How could I check this?

John McLean said...

Sorry-- should have added that Alexander Hunter was born on 11 March 1886, and was thus 29 when killed in action. I have his birth certificate.. I am drawing this error to the attention of CWGC.

If he joined Black Watch around 1 October 1904, with regimental number 6, then he would 18 and 6 months when enlisted.

Paul Nixon said...

Hello John, I'd say your theory is spot on. By 1904 the typical enlistment terms for line infantry was three years with the colours and 9 years on the reserve and so he would almost certainly have been a reservist by 1914 unless he had extended his colour service to complete 8 or 12 years. You could prove or disprove this by finding him on the 1911 census.

Donald Syme said...

Hi Paul, I have been investigating my Great Grandfather James Syme 3156 who enlisted in the Black Watch in January 1887 in Glasgow. He moved to Perth and later served in South Africa. I have two questions you may be able to help with.
Firstly, James was adopted and his date of birth is unclear. On his enlistment papers he said he was 18 years and 1 month. My records show he was probably born in 1872, so the dates do not tally. Was there a minimum age to enlist at this time? Did he lie in saying he was 18 in order to enlist, or are my other dates wrong and this age correct.
Second question relates to his medals from South Africa. One is engraved 3156 and the other 3157. Presume this was a clerical error. Was the common?

Many thanks

Donald Syme

Paul Nixon said...

I'm guessing he might have upped his age in order to enlist as a man rather than as a boy.Proof of age was not required at attestation. Not at all uncommon either for medals to be impressed with incorrect details; there are thousands of examples of this. Official corrections could be made, but some men were content to live with the errors.

Fiona said...

Hello Paul,
I was wondering if you have any records of women enlisted in the Black Watch around the time of the First or Second World War more likely First. We have been told through our family we had a women serve in/ as a part of the Black Watch and are trying to hunt her down. We think her surname was either a Blair or Maccarthy. I have been doing some digging but can't find any records of Women enlisted. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Kind Regards

Paul Nixon said...

I regret not, Fiona. I have never come across any women aenlisting in this regiment during or immediately after the First World War.

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