Skip to content

Applications of unit serial numbers on kit/baggage/stores of the Canadian Army Overseas, 1943-45

August 18, 2015

by Mark W. Tonner

This brief article is a follow-up to my earlier article “Applications of unit serial numbers on vehicles of the Canadian Army Overseas, 1943-45,” of August 15, 2015.

During the period of the Second World War, as a Canadian unit was called out and placed on active service, it was allocated, a separate ‘Unit Serial Number.’ Each individual unit serial number, to all intents and purposes, became the unit identity code until such time as the unit was disbanded, although in some instances, a new unit serial number was sometimes allocated upon the conversion and redesignation of a unit. The unit serial number normally consisted of one, two, three or four digits. Early in the spring of 1943, with the pending involvement of formations and ancillary troops of the Canadian Army Overseas1, in the forthcoming invasion of the island of Sicily (in early July), Canadian Military Headquarters (located in London, England) in a series of mobilization orders, began the administrative process of preparing and organizing all units of the Canadian Army Overseas for operational duty outside of the United Kingdom. This process, basically ensured that all units were fully up to strength in terms of the number of personnel, types and number of vehicles, and equipment, each individual unit was authorized, as per their War Establishment and Equipment Tables. As units completed this mobilization process, a suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1’ was added to each individual unit’s serial number, by Canadian Military Headquarters. The addition of this suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1’ was twofold. Firstly it readily showed that a unit was ready for operational duty, and secondly, it differentiated between units of the Canadian Army Overseas and those of the British Army. This did not affect units of the Canadian Army (Active) serving within Canada, but upon transfer to the United Kingdom for service with the Canadian Army Overseas, the suffix of a backslash followed by the number ‘1’ was added to their unit serial number. This use of a backslash suffix followed by the number ‘1’ to a unit serial number as a means of identifying units of the Canadian Army Overseas, was purely administrative in nature, and after its inception came to be known as a unit’s ‘Mobilization Serial Number.’

Although an elaborate scheme of Arm of Service, and formation markings was used on vehicles of the Canadian Army Overseas to ensure identification of units and efficient traffic control, starting with the Canadian Army involvement with the allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, the unit mobilization serial number (the unit serial number with the addition of the suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1’), was also used as a form of unit identification on vehicles, for the purpose of loading and shipping, as per the load tables for various types of vessels. In this form, they were sometimes referred to as an ‘Embarkation’ number, and were normally either chalked, stenciled, or painted free hand, in white on the front of a unit’s vehicles and were normally only carried on the vehicle for a brief period before embarkation, on the voyage, and for a brief period after landing. Besides being applied to unit vehicles, on their own, or as part of an embarkation number, unit mobilization serial numbers were also used to identify such things as unit kit bags, unit baggage, and unit stores. They were to be applied in white paint on dark coloured unit kit bags/baggage/stores, and in black paint on light coloured unit kit bags/baggage/stores, by use of a stencil, or free hand. In the case of unit kit bags, and other such baggage, an existing British War Office coloured bar code system was taken into use in the spring of 1943 (which was revised in May 1944), under which the last two digits of the unit serial number were represented by three horizontal coloured bars, which were normally painted on, directly below the application of the unit mobilization serial number, on a kit bag, or other such baggage, in which, the top and bottom bar represented the ‘tens’ digit and the middle bar represented the ‘ones’ digit. Purely as a point of interest, and although not part of the subject matter of this article, I’ve included as Table 1, a breakdown of the British War Office coloured bar code system that was taken into use in the spring of 1943, and of the revised May 1944 coloured bar code system.

The following images are some examples of soldiers’ kit bags, and unit stores, onto which a unit mobilization serial number as been applied, as a form of unit identification. The first image is of a kit bag belonging to a Trooper L.A. Watts, which is marked with the unit mobilization serial number ‘570/1,’ which although rather faded, appears near the top opening of the bag, and identifies the kit bag owner as a member of the 1st Canadian Armoured Car Regiment (Royal Canadian Dragoons), Canadian Armoured Corps, whose unit mobilization serial number was ‘570/1.’ Note the application of the three horizontal bars of the coloured bar code system near the bottom of the bag. The second image is of a kit bag marked with the unit mobilization serial number ‘743/1,’ thus identifying the kit bag owner as a member of Le Regiment de la Chaudiere, whose unit mobilization serial number was ‘743/1.’ Again, the three horizontal bars of the coloured bar code system appear applied directly below the unit mobilization serial number, along with one vertical coloured bar, which was added by the regiment, too perhaps, identify the sub unit of the battalion to which the kit bag owner belonged (for the organization of an infantry battalion, please see the MilArt article “Basic Organization of the Canadian ‘Infantry (Rifle) Battalion’ on Overseas Service during the Second World War,” of 7 March 2014). In the last image, three soldiers of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada are having a meal in the area of Thaon, France, on 6 August 1944. Note the two stacked, dark coloured stowage boxes, to the left-rear of the standing soldier, both of which are marked with the Highland Light Infantry of Canada’s unit mobilization serial number of ‘754/1.’ Also note the application of the three horizontal bars of the coloured bar code system, which are applied directly below the unit mobilization serial number, on both stowage boxes.

The number ‘570/1’ identifies the kitbag owner as a member of the 1st Canadian Armoured Car Regiment (Royal Canadian Dragoons). Source: Authors’ image file

The number ‘570/1’ identifies the kitbag owner as a member of the 1st Canadian Armoured Car Regiment (Royal Canadian Dragoons). Source: Authors’ image file

The number ‘743/1’ identifies the kitbag owner as a member of Le Regiment de la Chaudiere. Source: Courtesy of Ed Storey

The number ‘743/1’ identifies the kitbag owner as a member of Le Regiment de la Chaudiere. Source: Courtesy of Ed Storey

The number ‘754/1’ identifies the stowage boxes as property of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada. Source: LAC/PA-213681

The number ‘754/1’ identifies the stowage boxes as property of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada. Source: LAC/PA-213681

Unit serial numbers, on their own, were also applied to a soldier’s kit, as a means of identifying the soldier’s parent unit. In the image below, is an officer’s haversack which bears the unit serial number ‘944,’ and the corresponding three horizontal bars of the coloured bar code system. The unit serial number ‘944,’ identifies the owner of this haversack, as belonging to the 25th Canadian Armoured Delivery Regiment (The Elgin Regiment), Canadian Armoured Corps. The unit serial number ‘944,’ was initially allotted to The Elgin Regiment, Canadian Active Service Force, upon their embodiment as an ‘infantry’ battalion, in May 1940, and stayed as the Elgin Regiment’s assigned unit serial number, throughout the various conversions and redesignations, the unit underwent, until disbandment in February 1946. From their embodiment as an ‘infantry’ battalion, in May 1940, The Elgin Regiment was subsequently converted from an ‘infantry’ battalion, to that of an ‘armoured’ regiment, and was redesignated Serial No. 944, the 25th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Elgin Regiment), Canadian Armoured Corps, in January 1942. In September 1943, Serial No. 944, the 25th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Elgin Regiment), was converted from an ‘armoured’ regiment, to that of a ‘tank delivery’ regiment, and was redesignated Serial No. 944, the 25th Canadian Tank Delivery Regiment (The Elgin Regiment), Canadian Armoured Corps. This was followed in March 1944, by the conversion of Serial No. 944, the 25th Canadian Tank Delivery Regiment (The Elgin Regiment), from a ‘tank delivery’ regiment, to that of an ‘armoured delivery’ regiment, and redesignation to that of Serial No. 944, the 25th Canadian Armoured Delivery Regiment (The Elgin Regiment), Canadian Armoured Corps, which designation they kept until disbandment in February 1946.

An officer’s haversack which bears The Elgin Regiment’s unit serial number ‘944.’ Source: Courtesy of Michael Reintjes

An officer’s haversack which bears The Elgin Regiment’s unit serial number ‘944.’ Source: Courtesy of Michael Reintjes

Another example of a unit serial number applied to a soldier’s kit, as a means of identifying his parent unit can be seen in the following image of a kit bag. In this case, the unit serial number ‘743’ of Le Regiment de la Chaudiere as been neatly stenciled onto the bag, with the corresponding three horizontal bars of the coloured bar code system (taken into use in the spring of 1943), applied directly below, thus identifying the kit bag owner as a member of Le Regiment de la Chaudiere. As a point of interest, Private J.C. Cournoyer, whose name and initials appear applied below his regimental number (E9138), near the bottom of the bag, transferred to the Royal 22e Regiment, and while serving in Italy was killed in action in December 1943. Also, the difference in the application of just the unit serial number ‘743,’ on Private Cournoyer’s kitbag, as opposed to the unit mobilization serial number ‘743/1,’ on the kit bag mentioned earlier, is that, Cournoyer’s bears the initial application from the spring of 1943. That of the earlier mentioned kit bag, with the application of the unit mobilization serial number ‘743/1,’ was applied sometime later, perhaps to the kit bag of a new member of the unit, as Le Regiment de la Chaudiere completed their preparations for the allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

The number ‘743’ identifies the kitbag owner as a member of Le Regiment de la Chaudiere. Source: Courtesy of Pascal Auger

The number ‘743’ identifies the kitbag owner as a member of Le Regiment de la Chaudiere. Source: Courtesy of Pascal Auger

In the following image of a kit bag, belonging to a Lieutenant S. Fisher, the unit serial number of the unit he initially belonged to, No. 1 Canadian Artillery Reinforcement Unit, whose unit serial number was ‘292,’ as been crossed out, upon the Lieutenant moving onto a new unit. The new unit he moved to, No. 2 Canadian Artillery Reinforcement Unit, was allocated unit serial number ‘1132,’ which as been applied above the crossed out unit serial number of his former unit. The application of the three coloured bars of the coloured bar code system, corresponds to his new unit’s serial number of ‘1132.’ Also of note, is the absence of the suffix of a backslash and the number ‘1,’ on either unit serial number. Both the Canadian Artillery Reinforcement Units to which Lieutenant S. Fisher belonged, were both static Canadian base units permanently stationed within the United Kingdom and were therefore, not subject to Canadian Military Headquarters’ mobilization process.

An officer’s kitbag, on which his old (‘292’) and new (‘1132’) unit serial numbers are applied. Source: Authors’ image file

An officer’s kitbag, on which his old (‘292’) and new (‘1132’) unit serial numbers are applied. Source: Authors’ image file

In the image below of a kit bag, marked as belonging to a Captain R.A. MacDougall, the unit serial number ‘107,’ in white, to the right of the three horizontal coloured bars of the coloured bar code system, identifies Captain MacDougall as a member of The Perth Regiment. Captain MacDougall was later promoted to the rank of Major, and was killed in action on 17 January 1944, while leading an attack in Italy. Major MacDougall was the highest ranking officer of The Perth Regiment killed in action during the Second World War.

The number ‘107,’ in white, identifies the kit bag owner as a member of The Perth Regiment. Source: Courtesy of Bill Donaldson

The number ‘107,’ in white, identifies the kit bag owner as a member of The Perth Regiment. Source: Courtesy of Bill Donaldson

The large pack in the following image, belonging to a Private L.H. Bedard, is marked with the unit mobilization serial number of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Support Group (The Saskatoon Light Infantry), which was ‘39B/1.’ The 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Support Group (The Saskatoon Light Infantry) was a component part of Serial No. 39, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division Support Battalion (The Saskatoon Light Infantry)2, whose corresponding coloured bar code can also be seen applied to the large pack, vertically, as opposed too horizontally, above the soldier’s name, initials, and regimental number. Although Serial No. 39B, the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Support Group (The Saskatoon Light Infantry) was absorbed into the conversion and redesignation of Serial No. 39, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division Support Battalion (The Saskatoon Light Infantry) to that of Serial No. 39, The Saskatoon Light Infantry (Machine Gun) effective 1 July 1944, it would appear that the original unit mobilization serial number of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Support Group (The Saskatoon Light Infantry), of ‘39B/1,’ was retained on this particular large pack.

The number ‘39B/1’ identifies the large pack owner as a member of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Support Group (The Saskatoon Light Infantry). Source: Authors’ image file

The number ‘39B/1’ identifies the large pack owner as a member of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Support Group (The Saskatoon Light Infantry). Source: Authors’ image file

Table 1

a.) The British War Office coloured bar code system that was taken into use in the spring of 1943, under which numerals were represented by the following coloured bar:

  1. Red
  2. Blue
  3. Yellow
  4. Light Green
  5. Grey
  6. Buff
  7. Red Oxide
  8. Service colour (a deep bronze green)
  9. White
  10. Brown

b.) The revised British War Office coloured bar code system of May 1944, as promulgated in British War Office Publication 5697, entitled ‘Distinguishing Coloured Marks to be used on Stores Consigned in Bulk to Overseas theatres (British and US Forces),’ of 10 May 1944, under which numerals were represented by the following coloured bar:

  1. Red, bright, QD (Quick Drying)
  2. Blue, QD
  3. Yellow (Ammunition) (a bright yellow as used for ammunition markings)
  4. Green, light
  5. Grey (Ammunition) (a light grey as used for ammunition markings)
  6. Buff, QD
  7. Red, Oxide of Iron (a dark red similar to maroon)
  8. Deep Bronze Green
  9. White Lead, QD
  10. Brown, dark, QD

Acknowledgements:

The author wishes to thank Clive M. Law, Ed Storey, and Michael Dorosh, for reading over my initial draft copy of this article, and their constructive criticism, and comments on it, and also, Miss Courtney Carrier, for proofreading, and corrections to my draft of this article, and also, Bill Donaldson, Ed Storey, Michael Reintjes, and Pascal Auger, for providing photos, and Clive M. Law, for publishing this article.

Any errors or omissions, is entirely the fault of the author.

Bibliography:

Law, CM, Unit Serials of the Canadian Army, Service Publications, Ottawa, Ontario.

Library and Archives Canada, archived photographs database, and digitized images, and various other Files/Volumes, Records Group 24, National Defence.

Tonner, MW, On Active Service, A summary listing of all units of the Canadian Army called out and placed on active service, Service Publications, Ottawa, Ontario, 2008.

Notes:

  1. The Canadian Army Overseas, was the designation given, with effect from 30 December 1941, to that portion of the Canadian Army (Active), who were serving in the United Kingdom and would eventually serve in the Mediterranean (Sicily/Italy), and in the European theatres of operations.
  1. From the conversion and redesignation of Serial No. 39, The Saskatoon Light Infantry (Machine Gun) to that of Serial No. 39, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division Support Battalion (The Saskatoon Light Infantry), consisting of Serial No. 39A, Headquarters, 1st Canadian Infantry Division Support Battalion (The Saskatoon Light Infantry), Serial No. 39B, the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade Support Group (The Saskatoon Light Infantry), Serial No. 39C, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade Support Group (The Saskatoon Light Infantry), and Serial No. 39D, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade Support Group (The Saskatoon Light Infantry), effective 1 May 1943.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: