army numbers | Investigating the Lives and Records of World War II Soldiers (2023)

During World War II, every officer in the British Army had a unique personal number and every soldier serving in the ranks had a unique army number. On this page, you'll learn why numbers are so important and how they can help you research people who served in the British Army. The article is divided into the following sections:

  • What was an army number or personal number?
  • Why are army and personnel numbers so important?
  • A table showing how different corps and regiments numbered their soldiers
  • A transcription of Army Order 388 of 1920, which led to the creation of Army Numbers

I wrote a separate article about it.How to find an army numberand offer aWorld War II Soldier Research Service.

Army and personnel numbers were introduced after World War I to simplify army administration. During World War I, British Army officers had no number and other ranks had a regimental number. Although the officers had an extensive number covering their service record and correspondence, this number does not appear in their Order newspaperTickets etc. Regimental numbers were not unique and each corps or regiment numbered its own other ranks. When a soldier was transferred between regiments or corps, he was assigned a new regiment number. Also, there were often several men with the same regiment number in each regiment or corps.

To simplify the system, the British Army after the war gave each officer a personal number and each soldier serving in the ranks a unique army number. Additionally, a soldier would not receive a new number if he transferred to a different regiment or corps, as he now retained the same number throughout his service. Army Order 388 of 1920 resulted in the "Replacement of Army Numbers by Regimental Numbers" and I transcribe the following excerpt. The process took many months to complete and the last example I found of replacing an army number with a regimental number dates from May 1921.

In 1920, soldiers were assigned an army number from the numeric keypad assigned to the corps or regiment in which they served. For example, when serving in the Royal Army Service Corps, they were given a number from 1 to 294,000. These numeric blocks are listed in the table below. All new recruits after the introduction of Army numbers until the formation of the General Service Corps in 1942 received a number from the first corps or regiment they joined after enlistment. An army number therefore lets you know which corps or regiment your soldier first joined. However, many soldiers were transferred between corps or regiments, so you will need aservice reportto explore them. When an officer was withdrawn from the ranks, his army number was replaced by a personal number. If the soldier was drafted as a militiaman before the war, his militia army number was replaced by an army number of the first regiment or corps to which he was later transferred.

Below is a page from Martin Thomas' Army Book 64 soldier's pay and service book, a document that has often survived in families. Thomas's army number was 1542685 from the block allocated to the Royal Artillery and he enlisted in Belfast on 21st October 1939. Although Thomas's army book contains a lot of useful information I would have to request his service record from the Department of Defense to research your military career in depth.

army numbers | Investigating the Lives and Records of World War II Soldiers (1)

Why are army and personnel numbers so important?

Personal and army numbers are important because they allow you to begin your research into an officer's or soldier's service career and request his service records if you are authorized to do so. I wrote a separate article on how to order a service booklet here:A Guide to Applying for a British Army Service Record. Unfortunately, few records are available online and, with the exception of an official one, a search often yields no results. Follow the steps below to start your search:

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  • Find the last name and number in the Military, Armed Forces and Conflicts section of FindmyPast. FindmyPast is a subscription site and has a free trial period. FindmyPast digitized a large number of records useful to the British Army during the war, mainly related tovictims and prisoners of war.
  • Find the last name and number in theNational Archive Catalog.
  • keep looking for the numberthe london newspaperwhich has an unreliable search system. The London Gazette will be most helpful to you when searching for an officer as it contains the promotion dates.
  • You can also search thoseCommonwealth War Graves Commissionsite if you don't know if they survived the war or not.

To research an officer or any other rank that served during the war you really need to get thisservice report. Clicking the banner below will take you to FindmyPast, the only site I recommend for WWII British Army documents.

army numbers | Investigating the Lives and Records of World War II Soldiers (2)

Assignment of army numbers

The table below lists the numerical blocks assigned to each corps or regiment. However, a soldier can transfer very quickly after joining a corps or regiment. I separated the numbers with commas to make them easier to read.

Numeric keyboardBylaws/CorpsComments
1 bis 294.000Royal Army Service Corps100,694 joined on October 27, 1939
294.001 a 304.000the lifeguards
304.001 a 309.000Royal Cavalries
309.001 a 721.000line cavalry420,524 joined on April 18, 1939
721.001 a 1.842.000royal artillery840809 entered on October 18, 1934 and 1,542,685 on October 21, 1939
1.842.001 a 2.303.000Royal Engineers1,918,116 registered on January 9, 1940, 2,013,314 on May 16, 1940, and 2,148,295 on May 15, 1941
2.303.001 a 2.604.000Royal Signal Corps
2.604.001 a 1.646.000Grenadiergarde
2.646.001 a 2.688.000Coldstream Guards
2.688.001 a 2.714.000Scots Guards2,700,930 joined on March 19, 1942
2.714.001 a 2.730.000irish guards2,722,563 joined on September 12, 1940.
2.730.001 a 2.744.000welsh rangers2,737,083 joined on July 18, 1940
2.744.001 a 2.809.000the black watch
2.809.001 a 2.865.000Morre Seaforth Highlander2,820,762 joined on January 20, 1937
2.865.001 a 2.921.000Gordon Highlander dies
2.921.001 a 2.966.000O Cameron Highlander
2.966.001 a 3.044.000Os Argyll e Sutherland Highlanders
3.044.001 a 3.122.000The Royal Scots
3.122.001 a 3.178.000The Royal Scottish Fusiliers
3.178.001 a 3.233.000King's Scottish Borderers
3.233.001 a 3.299.000the Cameroonians
3.299.001 a 3.377.000The Highland Light Infantry
3.377.001 a 3.433.000Das East Lancashire Regiment
3.433.001 a 3.511.000Lancashire Fusiliers
3.511.001 a 3.589.000The Manchester Regiment3,523,591 joined on April 29, 1929 and 3,528,418 on March 3, 1936
3.589.001 a 3.644.000The Border Regiment
3.644.001 a 3.701.000Prince of Wales Volunteers
3.701.001 a 3.757.000king's own royal regiment
3.757.001 a 3.846.000The King's Regiment
3.846.001 a 3.902.000the loyal regiment
3.902.001 a 3.947.000Die South Wales Borderers
3.947.001 a 4.025.000Welch's regiments
4.025.001 a 4.070.000Shropshire King's Light Infantry
4.070.001 a 4.103.000Das Monmouthshire-Regiment
4.103.001 a 4.114.000The Herefordshire Regiment
4.114.001 a 4.178.000Das Cheshire-Regiment
4.178.001 a 4.256.000Welch Royal Fusiliers
4.256.001 a 4.334.000Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
4.334.001 a 4.379.000The East Yorkshire Regiment
4.379.001 a 4.435.000
Os Howard Verdes
4.435.001 a 4.523.000The Durham Light Infantry
4.523.001 a 4.601.000The West Yorkshire Regiment
4.601.001 a 4.680.000The Duke of Wellington's Regiment4,618,210 joined on December 15, 1939
4.680.001 a 4.736.000King of Yorkshire's Light Infantry
4.736.001 a 4.792.000The York and Lancaster Regiment
4.736.001 a 4.792.000Das Lincolnshire-Regiment
4.848.001 a 4.904.000The Leicestershire Regiment4,860,142 joined on October 16, 1939 and 4,865,511 on October 17, 1940
4.904.001 a 4.960.000Das South Staffordshire Regiment
4.960.001 a 5.038.000Die Sherwood-Förster
5.038.001 a 5.094.000
The North Staffordshire Regiment5,049,368 joined on April 13, 1938
5.094.001 a 5.172.000Das Royal Warwickshire-Regiment
5.172.001 a 5.239.000Das Gloucestershire-Regiment
5.172.001 a 5.239.000Das Worcestershire-Regiment
5.328.001 a 5.373.000The Royal Berkshire Regiment.5,342,646 joined on April 3, 1940
5.373.001 a 5.429.000The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
5.429.001 a 5.485.000Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry
5.485.001 a 5.562.000The Hampshire Regiment
5.562.001 a 5.608.000
The Wiltshire Regiment5,556,871 joined on December 23, 1937
5.608.001 a 5.662.000Devonshire Regiment5,622,992 joined on October 19, 1939
5.662.001 a 5.718.000The Somerset Light Infantry
5.718.001 a 5.763.000Das Dorsetshire-Regiment
5.763.001 a 5.819.000The Royal Norfolk Regiment
5.819.001 a 5.875.000
Das Suffolk-Regiment
5.875.001 a 5.931.000Das Northamptonshire-Regiment5,885,823 joined on January 15, 1940
5.931.001 a 5.942.000Das Cambridgeshire-Regiment
5.942.001 a 5.998.000Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment5,950,654 joined on January 17, 1940.
5.998.001 a 6.076.000The Essex Regiment
6.076.001 a 6.132.000Queen's Royal Regiment
6.132.001 a 6.188.000East Surrey Regiment
6.188.001 a 6.278.000The Middlesex Regiment6,213,936 joined on June 15, 1940.
6.278.001 a 6.334.000
Die Buffs
6.334.001 a 6.390.000Das Royal West Kent Regiment6,348,678 joined on April 18, 1940
6.390.001 a 6.446.000The Royal Sussex Regiment6,398,805 joined on April 3, 1935
6.446.001 a 6.515.000The Royal Marines
6.802.501 a 6.814.000Das Inns of Court Regiment
6.825.001 a 6.837.000Honorable Company of Artillery (Infantry)
6.837.001 a 6.905.000Royal Rifle Corps do Rei
6.905.001 a 6.972.000The Rifle Brigade6,968,297 registered on March 23, 1938
6.972.001 a 7.006.000The Royal Inniskilling Marines
7.006.001 a 7.040.000Rifles Royal Ulster7,019,927 joined on September 11, 1940
7.040.001 a 7.075.000The Royal Irish Fusiliers
7.075.001 a 7.109.000Royal Dublin Fusiliers
7.109.001 a 7.143.000Royal Irish Regiment
7.143.001 a 7.177.000Connaught-Ranger
7.177.001 a 7.211.000Leinster-Regiment
7.211.001 a 7.245.000Royal Munster Fusiliers
7.245.001 a 7.536.000Royal Army Medical Corps7,266,836 joined on September 19, 1930
7.536.001 a 7.539.000Army Dental Corps
7.539.001 a 7.560.000Royal Guernsey Militia e Royal Alderney Artillery Militia
7.560.001 a 7.574.000Royal Jersey Island Militia
7.574.001 a 7.657.000Royal Army Artillery Corps
7.657.001 a 7.681.000Royal Army Pay Corps
7.681.001 a 7.717.000Military Police Corps
7.717.001 a 7.718.800Staff of the Military Provider
7.718.801 a 7.720.400Light Arms School Corps
7.720.401 a 7.732.400Army Training Corps
7.732.401 a 7.733.000
Band des Royal Military College
7.733.001 a 7.757.000Corps of Military Accountants
7.757.001 a 7.807.000Royal Army Veterinary Corps
7.807.001 a 7.868.000machine gun corps
7.868.001 bis 7.891.868Royal Armored Regiment
7.891.869 bis 8.230.000Royal Armored Corps7,917,817 joined on September 5, 1940 and 7,961,160 on May 5, 1942
10.000.001 a 10.350.000militia10,123,572 joined on July 15, 1939
14.000.000 +General Services CorpsBeginning in 1942, recruits began their initial training in the Corps. 14,649,782 joined on July 15, 1943 and 14,797,015 joined on June 29, 1944
P/1 - P/500.000The help area serviceW/25101 joined 6 November 1939

Replacement of regiment numbers with army numbers. 1. With reference to Section 1899 of the King's Regulations, as amended by Army Order 453 of 1914, it was decided that regimental numbers should be replaced by an Army number system.

2. As of the date of this army decree, army numbers are assigned in a continuous series as follows:

(a) To all Soldiers serving in the Army and Territorial Forces on that day, excluding the Workers Corps.

(b) To all Army Reserve Soldiers.

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(c) To all recruits who may be accepted into the Regular Army, Militia, Special Reserve and Territorial Forces in the future.

(d) To all eligible men who have not previously received an Army number.

(e) To all soldiers who can be transferred from the Royal Marines.

(f) To all deserters who can rejoin and who have not yet received an army number.

3. Army numbers are assigned from officers' I/C records.

4. A soldier retains the Army number originally assigned to him throughout his term of service, regardless of whether he is subsequently deployed to a corps or transferred to another corps. A former soldier who can re-enlist is assigned the army number he previously carried.

5. The London Regiment is considered an army corps for the purposes of this Army Order.

6. Appendix I of this Army Order contains information on the army number blocks assigned to the corps.

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7. As the Royal Army Service Corps is divided into four main branches, the following army number prefixes are used to denote the branches in which soldiers of that corps may serve:

S= Deliveries

T = Transportation

M = mechanical transport

R= remonta

8. To carry out the numbering of personnel in regular army service, the following procedure is used:

(a) With the exception of the corps enumerated in (b), the i/c officer registries shall draw up nominal lists (in the form prescribed in Appendix II of this Army Order) of all soldiers serving in corps affiliated with their ranks and wish that you have army numbers. Copies of the lists are forwarded by them to the commanding officers of regular units and regimental treasurers.

(b) In the case of corps officers mentioned below commanding regular units, upon receipt of this Army Order, the officers shall receive 1/c records containing nominal lists of all soldiers in the form prescribed in Appendix III of this Army Order and the strength of your units (including detached men):

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Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery. Artillery of the Royal Garrison. Royal Engineers. Real Signal Corps. Royal Army Service Corps. Royal Army Medical Corps. Royal Army Artillery Corps. Royal Army Veterinary Corps.

Upon receipt of these lists, the officers' I/C records assign a number to the men on the lists and forward the completed copies to the commanding officers of the regular units and regimental treasurers.

(c) Officers commanding regular units will publish details of the army numbers designated in Part II of the Orders. Such orders show regimental and army numbers. They also enter army numbers on duplicate certificates and all other documents belonging to soldiers.

(d) Both the old regiment numbers and the new army numbers shall be entered in pay and missal books and acquittal lists issued after the assignment of army numbers, as follows:

(i) In the case of the body referred to in paragraph (b) above, for a period of two months.

(ii) For all other bodies for a period of one month.

9. Officers' I/C records will assign army numbers to all soldiers who have already joined the new Territorial Force and whose certificates they hold. They will send nominal lists showing the allocation of army numbers to officers commanding units and regimental treasurers. The first publishes the army numbers assigned in Part II of the Orders.

10. Army Reserve renumbering is as follows:

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(a) Officers' I/C records forward nominal lists (with former regimental numbers and assigned Army numbers) of all men serving in the Army Reserve to regimental treasurers.

(b) Officers' i/c records retrieve the identity cards of the men mentioned in (a), delete the words "Regtl. Number" and the number already entered, and insert the words "Army Number" instead and the newly assigned number. Along with the return of the amended certificate to the reservists, a note is accompanied, which sends them to the new army number assigned to them.

11. The necessary amendments to the regulation will be published in due course. In all army regulations, books and forms, the term "army number" should be replaced by "regiment number".


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