Monday, August 18, 2008

Army Service Numbers 1881-1918

I've set up another blog on the topic of army service numbers. I've always been surprised that so many people seem, if not ready to dismiss these vital pieces of information, at least a little reticent at times, to dig down a little.

Eighteen months ago I decided to try and build upon the fledgling database of army numbers that I'd started to build when I commenced work on the Chailey site. My one criterion was that the information should come from original sources, and that meant going back to original attestation papers.

What's come out of that is a database of some thirty or forty thousand records I should think (I haven't had the time to count up exactly how many records there are), and a unique reference resource which can help a researcher narrow down a likely joining date for a particular soldier. I use the word "joining" rather than "enlisting" or "enlistment" deliberately. A man could enlist in one regiment and then transfer to another. If he transferred, he would be given a different number and he might also be given a different number if he was posted from one battalion in a regiment, to another in the same regiment.

The Army Service Numbers blog is really the companion to a far bigger work which is The site isn't up and running yet but it will be soon and when it is, visitors will be able to type in their ancestor's number and come up with a likely time-frame for his "joining". The first release will concentrate on infantry regiments between the years 1881 and 1918. Future releases will target other branches of the British Army within the same time frame.

There are exceptions (there are always exceptions in the British Army). At present, the following are beyond the scope of the Army Service Numbers project:
  • The Militia and Volunteers (pre 1908)
  • The Army Service Corps
  • The Labour Corps
  • The re-numbered Territorial Force (ie TF numbering from March 1917 onwards)

Nonetheless, even with these exceptions - and also understanding that in some cases there will be a number of caveats - I still believe that the database will offer the best resource on the web for identifying soldiers' joining dates from their numbers. In the meantime though, the army service numbers blog will provide tasters and pointers and I'll be more than happy to answer questions and queries as time permits.

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