No surviving army records? All is not lost

Posted on: 1, March, 2021
5480 Rifleman J E Deakin, Rifle Brigade
Don’t assume that if there are no surviving army records for your British Army Ancestor, that all is lost. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The man on the left of this photo is 5480 Rifleman J E Deakin, a keen athlete and a successful one at that.  The photograph appeared in the Rifle Brigade Chronicle for 1901, the accompanying text noting that he was the winner of the Championship of Ireland cup for the one mile and four miles races in 1901. He served with A Company of the 4th Battalion, Rifle Brigade and is pictured alongside Corporal B Bradshaw of the same regiment.
There are no surviving army records for Rifleman Deakin; no service record, no medal records. As far as military records are concerned, he never existed. Although of course, he  did exist, as evidenced by the Rifle Brigade Chronicle, another example of why regimental chronicles are so important. I have added his details to the British Army Ancestors website and he has a photo as well; a huge bonus should any of his distant family ever stumble across my website.

The importance of regimental numbers

Despite there being no surviving army records for Rifleman Deakin his regimental number is crucial because  that enables us to pinpoint his date of enlistment – about the 21st January 1898 – and he probably enlisted for seven years with the colours and five years on the reserve. That would mean that, unless he was discharged early, or re-engaged to complete 21 years with the colours, he would have been time-expired by the 20th January 1910.
The Rifle Brigade Chronicle will tell us where the 4th Battalion was in 1898 and if he was overseas, he probably did not return to the UK – for transfer to the army reserve – until 1906. Straight away, there is a huge amount of service that can be inferred about this man simply by understanding a) when regimental numbers would have been issued and b) understanding service in the British Army.

No surviving army records? No problem!

I’ve been researching British Army soldiers for four decades and no surviving army records is no barrier. Contact me if I can be of assistance:

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