As detailed on Formationsgeschichte – Rekrutierung (agw14-18.de), the drafting system in the German empire was fairly complex.

According to this site there was a conscription of 2 years for most branches of service, starting at the age of 20. The draftee was part of the reserve for 7 years (2 years conscription + another 5 years), then he became part of the Landwehrpflicht.

I want to narrow down the birth year of someone who was fighting in 1915 in an infantry reserve unit (Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 227) as a Gefreiter (= Lance Corporal).

Can I safely assume that this person completed his conscription before the war broke out in 1914 and was as a part of the reserve at least 22 years old, thus being born 1892 or earlier? Can I draw any assumptions on his age from his rank in 1915?

Thank you for sharing your experience.

2 Answers 2


Memorials to the fallen, such as the one transcribed here name a number of deceased Gefreiter with their dates of birth and death. Some of them were aged 20 and 21 at their deaths; others were as old as 25 or 28. (There are other similar listings for German Memorials to the fallen that show similar distributions of age for Gefreiter).

Further, these two individuals were promoted to Gefreiter at age 18: Richard Heidreich and Anton Reichard Freiherr von Mauchenheim genannt Bechtolsheim. In particular, Richard Heidreich was a volunteer in a Reserve Infantry Regiment at the outbreak of war and was promoted to Gefreiter 4 months later.

So you cannot draw any conclusions about his birthdate from the fact that he was a Gefreiter in 1915, other than that he was of an age be serving in the German wartime army (17-45 according to greatwar.com, which might be useful for non-German speakers who can't read the site you referred to.) So, if he was serving in 1915, he was born sometime between 1870 and 1898.

  • The sample is too small, I am not convinced ;-) Seriouly: I really need some experience with German imperial military recruiting practice in this case because according to the approx. birth year I have to search through the birth registers and want to narrow it down as much as possible. So it is important to pay attention to the drafting practice in reserve units and how this changed over the war years.
    – lejonet
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:37
  • 1
    Regardless of the size of the dataset, you have a definitive answer to your question "Can I safely assume that this person ... was ... at least 22 years old, thus being born 1892 or earlier?" NO, there are instances of men of that rank killed at an earlier age.
    – Fortiter
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 6:19
  • 1
    @lejonet8, I agree with Fortiter. Even a small dataset can demonstrate that you cannot draw any definitive conclusions about birth before 1892. I'll concede it doesn't tell you anything about probabilities.
    – user104
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 7:31
  • Thank you for your comments and your rationales using information from war memorials (I have to admit that this was a really good idea I never thought of). I unexpectedly received some information (requested months ago) concerning the son of this soldier. A form (five pages!) was filled when he became Russian POW in 1945. He had to provide basic information on his parents, including the birth year of his father: 1893. This will help me to access more records concerning the father's birth and his parents.
    – lejonet
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 12:03
  • @lejonet8 I'm pleased you've made progress -- sometimes people overlook the value of sources about a later generation when tracking down an earlier generation. I requested some info about my mother once (her whereabouts in 1939) and unexpectedly learned the birth date of her grandfather that had been eluding me for years.
    – user104
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 12:25

If you know the military unit with which an individual served, then (what we call in Australia) their "War Diaries" are usually a very good starting point for detailed research.

The Hathi Trust catalog contains details of the Geschichte des Reserve-Infanterie-Regiments 227 im Weltkriege, 1914/18, nach amtl. Kriegstagebüchern des Reichsarchivs, sowie Aufzeichnungen und Schilderungen von Mitkämpfern.

WorldCat will indicate where copies of this book can be accessed. (I note that the Australian War Memorial holds a copy, but you may be closer to the NY Public Library or one of the three German repositories.)

Without having read the book, my inclination is to say that I would not be surprised if promotion had been rapid in the 227th. This was the regiment that "disappeared" when the 49th Reserve Division was reorganised from square (4 regiments) to triangular (3) formation. At least in the case of the British forces, a regiment that had suffered significant losses would be the one cannabilised in this way.

  • I've seen statements at forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=50&t=189648#p1706559 (not sourced) so I haven't referred to them) that promotion to Gefreiter (which was an 'acting' rank) could take place after 6 months service including 2 in a field unit; it took longer to get promotion to the next rank because of the necessity to take an exam.
    – user104
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 7:29
  • @Fortiter Thank you for your answer. I studied the book earlier. The 227th Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment was dissolved on September 10, 1918 at noon.
    – lejonet
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 11:50

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