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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Making sense of numbers


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I.m pretty new to this, but it's a very absorbing business, can some of you fellows straighten something out in my mind?

How were numbers issued? Did my GF get his number 1752 when he took the Kings shilling? that was in 1915, and it's a really low number, so did it belong to someone else KIA or retired, where numbers re-used in this way? Silly question as there were thousands in the army.......but how did it work?

Do the numbers apply to the whole of the army, or just a regiment? i.e my GF was RAMC, were there lots of other soldier 1752 in other regiments, or just him in the whole of the army?

Reading other posts, I can see six figure numbers indicating a soldier may have been a conscript, is there a pattern to this.

Thanks in advance!

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Hi Mcnab

Well ...

Numbers werent reissued once a soldier wasnt on the roll for any reason. Regiments used the same numbers (with expections), but basically one number could well come up a dozen times if you search (for example) the NA database for that number, but they werent repeated within the Regiment in question ... :blink: (makes sense to me anyway!!)

4 digits were pre Army Regulars or Terriers - also those who eneterd a Terrier Btn in the early stages of the war (but not all of those who did ...)

5 digits were Kitcheners New Army guys (those who signed up from Civvy life)

6 digits were assigned to those who were still serving in a Terrier Btn in March 1917, when the Terrier units were renumbered.

7 digits were, from memory, those who were reassigned to Labour Corps / not fit for front line service.

Clear as mud? :ph34r:

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Lots of 1752s.

It's very complicated, but there were basically three types of numbers "strings".



Special Reserve.

Each Regiment would give out numbers in the various strings.

One for Regular.

One for each Special Reserve battalion.

One for each Territorial Force battalion.

The Regulars (later including the New Army) would have started from 1 pre-war and kept going. Most of these numbers reached 50000+ by the end of the War.

The Special Reserve were rarer. Not all Regiments had them, but same principle.

The Territorial Force started again at 1 and went to 9999, then started again. Therefore all numbers were under 10000.

All this would mean that there could be 3-10 or more men with the same number in each regiment, let alone the army.

The same applied to the Corps units (RAMC, Royal Engineers, etc.) The royal Engineers regular numbering was up into the 300000s by the end of the War.

Your grandfather would probably have been a Territorial RAMC man. Some of these were renumbered later, but it was very complicated in the RAMC.

As the War progressed the TF numbering system especially just wasn't enough so during 1917 (1.3.1917 for Infantry) the TF men were renumbered giving them the 6-digit numbers you mention. These weren't for conscripts as you thought.

There is certainly a pattern to the TF 6-digit numbers but if you left the TF unit for a Regular unit you kept the 6-digit number so the system is certainly not foolproof for tracing men.

The TF renumbering index is here:


If you can understand the criteria for whether a RAMC man got renumbered you a better man than me!

Hope this helps,


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