This article will look at the expansion of the British infantry regiments in 1914 and the effect this had on the numbering series already in use at that time.
Generally, in 1914, a British infantry regiment might consist of two “regular” battalions of career soldiers, a third (special reserve) battalion, and perhaps one or more battalions of territorial forces. Generally speaking, men joining the Special Reserve signed up for a six-year service and immediately underwent six-month training with the obligation to complete additional training for three to four weeks each year thereafter. . Similarly, men who join the Territorial Force, register for up to four years of home or territorial service only.
Usually they met every Saturday night (hence the term “Saturday night soldiers”) and attended a two-week training camp each July or August. Men who joined the Territorial Force were not required to serve abroad, but could volunteer to do so by assuming an Imperial Service obligation.
In July 1914, the Royal Sussex Regiment comprised the following battalions:
1st and 2nd battalions (regular)
3rd Battalion (Special Reserve)
4th, 5th and 6th (Territorial Force Battalions)
The 1st and 2nd Battalions shared a numerical series that had started when the regiment was formed in July 1881 and started from 1. The prefix L / was also generally used for men joining these two regular battalions.
The 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve) had a separate series of numbers that was a continuation of the series of numbers that had been used by its predecessor, the 3rd Battalion (Militia). The Special Reserve and Extra Reserve battalions replaced the militia in 1908 and although some of the newly formed Extra and Special Reserve battalions started counting from 1, many simply carried on with the old militia series. The Royal Sussex 3rd Regiment fell into this category and, furthermore, the old militiamen now enlisting in the 3rd Battalion were allowed to retain their old militia numbers. Thus, for example, 9759 Pte George Walter Mynett, who joined the 3rd Royal Sussex Regt on June 14, 1908, was an old militiaman who had originally joined the 3rd Battalion (Militia), and was He gave it the number 9759, in September 1906.
The 4th, 5th, and 6th battalions (territorial force) each had a separate numerical series beginning at 1. The 4th and 5th battalions were formed in April 1908 and the 6th battalion in 1911.
When Britain went to war with Germany in August 1914, and particularly after Kitchener’s call in late August 1914 for 100,000 volunteers, recruiting offices across the country were flooded. The army authorities not only had to decide where to place the men, they also had to decide how to number them. Let me stick with the Royal Sussex Regiment for the moment because, aside from anything else, whoever was in charge of numbering in the Royal Sussex Regiment seems to have been quite forward-thinking and certainly well organized.
What the Royal Sussex Regiment did, and what other regiments did as well (The Buffs, The Queens and Royal West Kents also followed similar patterns) was to start an entirely new series of numbers for the men who joined for service only in time. of war. At the same time, the old series of numbers was kept for men who wished to join under the usual terms of regular or special reservation.
In August 1914, the normal enlistment terms for a man joining the 1st and 2nd Battalions were seven years with the Colors and five years in the Reserve. Yet now that men were crowding into recruiting stations to sign up for a war that many believed would end at Christmas, it was clear that less stringent terms were needed in wartime. Hubert Henry Allsopp joined Bexhill on August 17 for three years or for the duration of the war (with the understanding, written in fine print, that if the war would last less than three years, “he may be discharged immediately . “)
Hubert received the number G / 147. The G stands for General Service and scrawled on his certification documents, confirming this, is the initials GSSX or General Service Sussex. Later he would be sent to the eighth and then to the seventh battalion, retaining his G / prefix number. The G / series was launched in August 1914 and would run throughout the war.
At the same time that Hubert and thousands like him were joining the newly formed service battalions – that is, wartime service battalions only – other new recruits were joining the 3rd Special Reserve Battalion. A new series was also started for these men that was started by GSSR / or General Service Special Reserve. This series, along with the Special Reserve series, would disappear by the end of the year. The last number in my database for a GSSR prefixed number is 931, which was issued on November 5, 1914.
Another series of numbers was started for the men joining the South Down battalions. These were service battalions like Battalions 7, 8 and 9, but were raised by Colonel Claude Lowther MP, owner of Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex. Recruitment began on September 9, and by the end of the year enough men had volunteered to fill three battalions. Later a fourth reserve battalion would also be formed. All men joining the South Down battalions were assigned a number prefixed with SD / (for South Down). The numbering began from 1 in September 1914.
Finally, add to the mix, those older men who join the supernumerary companies attached to territorial battalions 4 and 5 (at least one more series of numbers per battalion) and you now have ten separate army number series in use, from as follows:
1st series: 1st and 2nd battalions (regular) – prefixed with L /
2nd series: 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve) – prefixed, if any, with 3 / or SR /
3rd series: 4th Battalion (Territorial Force)
4th series: 5th Battalion (Territorial Force)
5th series: 6th Battalion (Territorial Force)
6th series: wartime enlistments only in service battalions – prefixed with G / or GS /
Seventh series: wartime enlistments only in the 3rd Battalion, prefixed by GSSR /
8th series: 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions (South Down) – prefixed SD /
9th series: supernumerary company men assigned to the 4th Battalion (TF)
10th series: supernumerary company men assigned to the 5th Battalion (TF)
A similar expansion would take place in virtually every other regiments in the British Army, and you can read more about these quirks and idiosyncrasies on my Army Service Numbers blog.