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Army Service Numbers
The history of the British army service numbers and the P and Q prefix for the QAIMNS and QARANC
British army service numbers, that were in use until fairly recently, were introduced post WWI in August 1920 (Army Order 338). For other ranks this was originally a seven digit number and then increased to eight. Prior to this time army personnel would have a number unique to their Regiment with a prefix. For example the Royal Army Medical Corps had "WE". This former long numbers system was introduced in 1857 for regular and emergency reserve officers.
We think members of the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service had the letter P as a prefix due to their officer status which was granted in 1926, though rank was not introduced to the QAIMNS until 1941. The National Archives have records for these under class reference WO 339 (War Office) April 1922, though sadly some records were destroyed by enemy bombing in World War Two. This new system was known as the Personal or P Number system while other ranks retained ‘service numbers’. There is an example of the P number for nursing sister Lt Rigby from her war diary and picture on D Day Normandy Landings.
With the recent introduction of the Tri-Service ‘Joint Personal Administration’, recruits to any branch of any service, irrespective of rank, received their number in the same format, originally starting with 300XXXXX. The roll out JPA within the Army commenced on 1 April 2007. Service numbers were being drawn from the same source for the first time in its history.
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Modern day non commissioned ranks female members of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps were given the Q number in 1950. Details of the first Private and her serial number can be found on the QARANC junior ranks page.
The Territorial Army nurses were also given the Q prefix number.
When male Other Ranks and Officers rebadged from the RAMC to the QAs in 1992 they retained their army numbers, eight digits for junior ranks and the P numbers for Officers.
We are seeking clarification that the information about the army number system is correct since it is not something we know much about. If you can help with corrections or additions then please contact me.
We sought clarification from Sue Light at Scarlet Finders who specialises in the nurses of the Great War. She kindly replied with:
There were no official service numbers for QAIMNS until after 1940, so they had 'a number' for official purposes, but not a service number as later. From 1902 they were allocated a 'candidate number' which was later used for identification purposes - just a four digit number, e.g. 1234.
During WW1 the system was changed, and each service was given a series number. The regular QAIMNS were given a '2 series' number depending on the first letter of their surname, so:
2/D/xxx for a surname beginning with 'D'
2/A/xxx for a surname beginning with 'A' - just as an example Katharine Allsop was 2/A/100.
The QAIMNS Reserve women had a similar 2 series number, but in the form 2/ResD/xxxx or 2/ResA/xxxx
The TFNS (Territorial Force Nursing Service) had '9 Series' numbers in the form 9/NursesD/xxxx for a nurse with surname beginning with 'D' and so on.
I have hundreds of nurses' files here, and on checking them, these numbers were used for identification and correspondence purposes right up until they died - certainly into the 1960s in many cases. And looking at WO25/3956 which has details of all nurses joining QAIMNS up until 1926, the '2 Series' was still being used.
So if there was ever a 'P Series' it didn't start until after 1926, but even if it did, it was only an identification number for War Office purposes and not a service number. So it was only when relative rank was introduced in 1941 that numbering started, and even then, there was never any prefix number, even in the very early days of numbering. I would suggest it as used to denote members of the permanent service as opposed to inter-war Reserves.
Going into WW2; I don't have any mentions of 'P' numbers, but I do have evidence here that VADs attached to QAIMNS during WW2 were allocated 'W' Series numbers followed by six digits, and QAIMNS NCOs were allocated 'Q' Series numbers followed by seven digits starting at 1000001 from the fifties. However, at the same time, the actual QAIMNS officers had six figure numbers without a prefix (as per London Gazette), so definitely not them. So it must have referred to a group of 'someone' during (or after) WW2, but I can't fit it in with QAIMNS unless the P/ was used unofficially for QAIMNS officers.
I'm not sure I'm right either as it's only by these sort of queries cropping up that it's possible to learn things, but I have got lots of documentation here to back up the pre-1926 numbering, i.e. the 2 Series and the 9 Series.
Forces War Records
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Search Now. A unique feature is their WW1 Soldiers Medical Records section.
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