28 July 2018

Royal Fusiliers - 18th, 19th, 20th & 21st (Public Schools) Battalions


It doesn't take a lot to sidetrack me. In this case, the distraction came about as a result of the most wonderful collection of photographs from the David Knights-Whittome photographic archive which has been published on flickr. Amongst the many portraits published are several hundred of soldiers who were photographed during the First World War, and of these the vast majority are of men who served with the Public Schools battalions of the Royal Fusiliers.

David Knights-Whittome had studios at Epsom and Sutton, and the 18th Royal Fusiliers, 19th Royal Fusiliers, 20th Royal Fusiliers and 21st Royal Fusiliers were all formed at Epsom on the 11th September 1914 by the Public Schools and University Men's Force. Unlike so many photographic portraits of the First World War, the majority of these images are named, the original glass plates having been stored in envelopes with the customers' names and date of studio visit recorded. For me, it's been a fascinating exercise trying to match up names to the men's medal index cards or service records. I've identified quite a few men already and I've been posting the results on my British Army Ancestors website.

The regimental numbering of these battalions is far from simple and does not reflect when a man joined up. What happened with these men is that having enlisted with the regiment they were then grouped alphabetically and then issued with their regimental numbers, all of these numbers prefixed with the letters PS/ for Public Schools. What follows should be taken as a rough guidance to regimental numbering in the four public schools battalions.

PS/1 to PS/1135
19th (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers; numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/1136 to PS/1183 (and possibly to PS/1188)
19th Battalion, non-alphabetical
PS/1189 to PS/2281
18th (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/2282 to PS/2398
Mostly unknown, some 18th Battalion men
PS/2399 to PS/3419
21st (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/3421 to PS/3615
Mostly alphabetical,and mostly 19th Battalion (albeit note that I only have 19 identified men within this regimental number range)
PS/3617 to PS/3682
19th (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers; numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/3689 to PS/3960
18th (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers; numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/3977 to PS/4298
21st (Public Schools) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, numbered alphabetically A-Z
PS/4301 to PS/4363
Mostly 19th Battalion but with some 21st Battalion as well; non-alphabetical listing
PS/4368 to PS/5824
Mostly 20th Battalion, alphabetical (albeit note that I only have 466 identified men within this large regimental number range)
PS/5827 to PS/5997
Mostly alphabetical but a mix of battalions

From PS/5997 onwards, the alphabetical by surname sequencing disappears and the men join various battalions. 

There are large gaps in my data - which I have largely compiled from medal rolls - and many of these gaps are as a result of men being commissioned. It should be remembered that these men were drawn from universities and public schools and somewhat belatedly it was realised that many of them could more usefully serve His Majesty's Army by becoming officers. Some men were commissioned having already done a stint overseas as other ranks in the Public Schools battalions but other men were pulled out of these battalions before they had ever set foot in France. That's one of the reasons that the Knights-Whittome archive is so fascinating because here, in many cases, are the only photos of soon-to-be officers, proudly posing in their privates' uniform.

There is still much more work for me to do on these Royal Fusiliers battalions, but it's an intriguing distraction from other projects.

The photo on this page is courtesy the David Knights-Whittome photographic archive and shows, left to right, Pte A Lancaster; PS/5756 Pte Thomas Thornber, 20th Battalion; currently unidentified.

I research soldiers!


13 July 2018

1st Battalion Rifle Brigade - Football team 1907-08


In a week when the England football team has fallen at another World Cup hurdle, here's a team photo from another era. As the caption states, these men all belong to the 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade football team, and they won the Irish Army Cup by beating the 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers 3.0 at Dublin in April 1908.

Helpfully, the photo names the players and I have added more details to some of these men, as follows:

Sgt William James Jelley (subsequently commissioned)
5111 Acting Corporal John Mears
3408 Acting Corporal George Vaughan Laidler
7423 Acting Corporal Walter Kempton
Lieutenant Christopher William Cookson
Rifleman A Knott
Acting Corporal T Smith
Sergeant Major Leonard Eastmead
7375 Acting Sergeant Fred Midlane
9578 Bandsman Joseph Gilbert
6180 Rifleman Frank Horrocks
6158 Rifleman Sylvester Carey
6926 Acting Corporal Arthur Patrick
Corporal T Gregory

In each case I searched for the men on my British Army Ancestors website and was able to identify the men from their regimental numbers or surviving records in various series. The longest serving man here was George Laidler who enlisted in 1894. Joseph Gilbert was the most recent recruit, enlisting in January 1903.

Incidentally the "Acting" ranks were, as far as I know, peculiar to the Rifle Brigade at this time. "Acting" in the Rifle Brigade would have been "Lance" in other regiments.


Tragically, Lieutenant Cookson died the year after this photogrpah was taken. His obituary appears in the Rifle Brigade Chronicle for 1909:

Christopher William Cookson joined the Regiment from the Militia, 20 May 1905, and served with the 1st Battalion in Malta and Ireland.

The tragic circumstances of  his deatrh are still fresh in the minds of Riflemen. On 7 April 1909 he went with a brother officer to fish in Maine Water, Randalstown, which had been rented by the battalion from Lord O'Neill. He appears to have fallen into a deep hole and the water in his wading boots rendered swimming impossible, there was also a very swift current running, and his companion was powerless to help him, nearly losing his own life in his efforts to save his friend.


He was only 26 years of age, and was a very popular and promising officer.


6 July 2018

Military Books for sale

I've added another tab to this site so that I can offer military books for sale.

The sudden and untimely death of my next door neighbour at the age of 51 has made me think quite a lot about what would happen to my effects were I to peg-it tomorrow. Would my books be sold on and achieve their true value or would they be taken to the nearest charity shop? Worse still, would they simply be thrown out?


Having had some of my books on shelves for the best part of 40 years, I'd be horrified to think that such a fate should befall them and so I'm going to start weeding them out and passing them on to a new audience.

I will add to the Books for Sale list as I go on. In the meantime, I've started with a great collection of Rifle Brigade Chronicles from 1890 to 1932. All of the 1890s volumes were sold within a few hours but there is still a huge amount of information to be found in those volumes which remain.


Regimental annuals and regimental chronicles provide a massive amount of detail and, if you're very lucky, may even include your other-rank ancestor's name as well. For even if, by chance, a service record does happen to survive for the person you are interested in, it is unlikely to mention that he took part in a tug-of-war match, or was a member of the 1st Battalion football team, or won a shooting medal.


The Rifle Brigade chronicles are full of fascinating information (and the trivia vbeloved of our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors) and most of them are profusely illustrated as well. Each battalion of the regiment submitted annual returns and so here you'll see who the officers were, where the battalion was stationed and what it was doing. Quite simply, they're essential reading but I have two sets, one complete set which stretches from 1890 to 1965 and the other which covers 1890 to 1932 (with a few gaps). They take up a lot of room and so I'm pleased to offer them for sale.

All of the photos on this page are taken from various issues of the Rifle Brigade Chronicle.