I am researching the military history of my grandfather and his brothers in World War 1. My initial clue was a newspaper cutting from 1917 that identified one of the brothers as the recipient of a DCM and named the regiment that two of them were serving in as The Machine Gun Corps; the third was named and mentioned as serving in Egypt.

I have found the DCM citation and medal roll index cards for Frederick Wright, who as born in 1891; his number when he enlisted in the Worcestershire Regt. was 24446. (He later transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and became an Acting Sergeant.) I have not been able to find service or pension records for him.

His younger brother Robert Wright was born in 1896 and I have found a possible medal roll index card; his number when he enlisted in the Worcestershire Regt. was 24447. (He also later transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and became a Lance Corporal.) I have not been able to find service or pension records for him.

It seems to me to be highly significant that the two service numbers (in the same regiment) are consecutive, suggesting that (1) I have the correct medal roll index card for Robert Wright and (2) the two brothers enlisted together.

Are these reasonable assumptions, or am I building too much on a potential coincidence.

[I have located the pension application for the third brother mentioned in the newspaper cutting: John William Wright born 1888 enlisted in June 1916 and actually joined a Training Battalion at the end of 1916. He later transferred to the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and served in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force; his record throws no light on his brothers. The eldest brother in the family Stanley Charles died as a civilian in 1915; and the two youngest Frank born 1898 and James born 1899 were in Canada at the outbreak of war and I haven't yet traced their service if any].

  • Not your current question, but this may be your Frank Wright: bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/first-world-war/… – bgwiehle Oct 18 '16 at 15:47
  • Oh, how I wish I could get Paul Nixon to come answer this question. Have you looked for their unit on his blog: armyservicenumbers.blogspot.com – Jan Murphy Oct 18 '16 at 16:14
  • @JanMurphy Interesting site, but he doesn't seem to go into detail for that unit for the period after 1914. – user104 Oct 18 '16 at 16:33
  • I also know about this site from Twitter: researchingww1.co.uk/british-soldiers-ww1 – Jan Murphy Oct 18 '16 at 17:58
  • The Machine Gun Corps seems to be lacking records. But Fred's medal card notes that he was in the 57th Company of the MGC. The "Vickers Machine Gun" site for the 57th company states that it was formed partly from the machine gun section of the 10th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, so that may have been Fred's battalion. But only briefly, if he joined ~Sep 1915: the MGC 57 Company had been trained in Grantham, then shipped to France, by Feb 1916. So Fred (&Bob?) may have gone straight into the 10th's machine gun section. – AndyW Oct 20 '16 at 12:53

These are reasonable assumptions, but not concrete proof.

I have not looked at the Worcestershire Regiment before but the battalion structure for WW1 is given on The Long Long Trail. There appear to be 4 Regular battalions (1st thru 4th), 2 (original) Territorial Battalions (7th and 8th) and then 2 Reserve Bns (5th & 6th). These were then supplemented by Service Battalions (Kitchener's New Army) (9th upwards).

My hypothesis for how these were numbered is:

  • One series numbered 1 upwards covering all 4 Regular battalions at once (so there is no duplication within the Regulars);
  • One series numbered 1 upwards covering the 7th Territorials (later covering all of 1/7th, 2/7th and 3/7th in a single series);
  • One series numbered 1 upwards covering the 8th Territorials (later covering all of 1/8th, 2/8th and 3/8th in a single series);
  • One series numbered 1 upwards covering both the 5th and 6th Reserves in a single series.

I am seriously uncertain about the Reserves - that's less of a hypothesis and more of a guess.

The result of all that (ignoring the Reserves) is that there could be three soldiers in the Worcs numbered 1234 at the same time. One Regular, one Territorial in the 7th (or 1/7th, etc.) and one Territorial in the 8th (or 1/8th, etc.)

When the Kitchener Service battalions came along, so far as I can see, they were usually numbered in the same series as the Regulars. And in fact, Paul Nixon confirms this happened for the Worcs - "When Britain went to war in August 1914, men joining the new service battalions were issued with numbers from the same series in use by the four regular battalions"

If all my weasel words of "generally" and "usually" hold true, then there could be three 24446 soldiers in the Worcs and three 24447. In which case it is possible that you could be seeing just a coincidence. However, in my limited experience, I have never seen 5 digits numbers that high in Territorial units. If this feeling holds true, (more weasel words) then there would only be one 24446 and one 24447.

In which case, the last bit of hypothesising is - how are those numbers allocated? Well, generally not in the recruiting office but back in the office controlling the unit. My usual explanation is that the numbers are allocated not in the order that the recruiting officer signed them up, but in the order that they land on the admin clerk's desk. So the signed attestation papers for 24446 were immediately next to the signed attestation papers for 24447 on the clerk's desk. While it is perfectly possible that 24446 and 24447 were recruited from opposite ends of the county, knowing as you do that the two brothers both served in the MGC, we are, I suggest, getting into the realms where the most reasonable explanation is that the 2 of them went down to the recruiting office together, signed up together, and their papers went off together in the same stack to be allocated consecutive numbers.

Is there a way to check up on my hypothesis of the numbering? Yes, basically by using Paul Nixon's methods of looking in the surviving service papers of the Worcestershire Regiment. You need to search for soldiers with a regiment Worc* (because the bureaucracy isn't always consistent in it naming) and for soldiers with a regimental number of 244** (say). (At this point you probably discover that Ancestry just doesn't do wild-cards on numbers but FMP does.) So, on FMP, you need to examine regiment Worc*, number 244**, record set "British Army Service Records" and examine what you get to discover what the number and battalion combinations look like. NB - I wrote 244** but it will probably find 2440, 24400, 244000 etc under that "pattern". Look for the closest numbers to your guys and take note of when the close guys joined as with any luck you'll bracket your guys' joining dates.

If close numbers are all over the place, have a look at the battalion ids as this could be evidence that there were Territorials (or Reserves) with numbers that high.

I'm sure I've missed bits out but it's all basically logic.

Just in time... Have a look at this database of all who served in WW1 in the Worcs. I have no idea how it's been compiled but if you search on army number 2444, you see your guys and no duplicates for their numbers.

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    Update: there aren't many soldiers around that number sequence who have surviving records. 24441 attested in September 1915. 24449 in August 1915 (ditto 24451 and 24453). 24431 to 24437 (with gaps) attested in September 1915, except 24434 who was July 15. So I'm going to settle on an attestation date probably between July and September 1915, so they weren't in the initial wave of eager volunteers but signed up in the wake of the National Registration Act but before the Derby Scheme and later conscription. – user104 Oct 19 '16 at 10:40
  • That's a decent hit rate! Curious how '49, '51, '53 attested in August but the earlier '41 didn't attest until September. Maybe the clerk was behind doing the numbering, so the papers got out of sequence. Or maybe the attestation can be one day and the numbers aren't assigned until later. I have an idea I saw that happen once - guy attested one day, went home, gets called up later to be put into uniform and it's only at that point that his number is assigned. Which is another reason why consecutive numbers might not have been next in the queue. But given the coincidence of names here... – AdrianB38 Oct 19 '16 at 16:18

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