Researching FWW through personal objects: dog tags

This blog is not a history of the ‘dog tag’, it is more of a guide with a little history on the subject and a little about how to use the information impressed on the tag.

The two tags illustrated show the following: number (151507), initials (W R), surname (Ward) regiment (RGA - Royal Garrison Artillery) and religion (Baptist). Image courtesy of William Spencer.

The two tags show the following: number (151507), initials (W R), surname (Ward) regiment (RGA – Royal Garrison Artillery) and religion (Baptist). Image courtesy of William Spencer.

If you watch the ‘Christmas truce’ football match advert by a certain supermarket, watch carefully as you may see a British soldier with a single disc suspended from his neck. To the First World War research community, and to military researchers in general, the disc identity (as it was first called by the British Army), otherwise known as the ID disc or dog tag, is a very useful signpost when looking into the career of an individual.

Tags to identify individual soldiers were first used during the American Civil War in 1865. The British Army only started using aluminium discs in 1907. Army Order (AO) 9 of 1907 (WO 123/49), laid down that all soldiers should wear a single metal tag, with the name, rank, number, regiment and religion stamped into the tag. On 21 August 1914 it was decided to move away from a metal tag, to a single compressed vulcanised rubber red coloured one.

But such was the destructive power of weapons in the First World War that the army had allowed a flaw to remain in its guidance relating to the administration of casualties. The Field Regulations Part II, 1909, Chapter XVI paragraph 133, with amendments of October 1914, stated that ‘Anyone concerned with burying a soldier, or finding a body after an action, will remove the identity disc and pay book’. By removing the two key forms of identification from a body, the possibility of misidentification of the dead became more likely.

On 24 September 1916 a second disc was introduced by General Routine Order (GRO) 1922 (WO 123/200) so a soldier now had to wear two compressed discs; one red and one green. Both discs contained the same information but the green octagonal discs should remain with the body.

By having a small disc with name, number and regiment stamped on it, means that you can use that information to look for a medal index card or a service record. In the case of the photograph of the artillery corporal from my previous blogpost in this series, you can now add the name, number and regiment and start looking for more information.

The two tags illustrated show the following: number (151507), initials (W R), surname (Ward) regiment (RGA – Royal Garrison Artillery) and religion (Baptist). Setting religion and initials aside, you could now search for a medal index card using the number and surname or number and regiment.

Religion is sometimes, but not always, recorded. A list of religion abbreviations found on the tags is given below:

BAP – Baptist. CE – Church of England. CI – Church of Ireland. JEW – Jewish. METH – Methodist. P – Presbyterian. PM – Primitive Methodist. RC – Roman Catholic. SPIRI – Spiritualist. WES – Wesleyan.

6 comments

  1. Adrian Bruce says:

    Interesting topic.

    As an aside – why is TNA referring to FWW rather than what I thought was the time honoured acronym of WW1? I admit there is a degree of logic but when did that enter into things? (grin)

  2. Derek Wyllie says:

    Hi
    l’m looking for my fathers home guard detachment records.
    He first served in Radlet and then in Hatfield airfield home guard
    Any chance that you would know anything about were his records may be please
    thanks

  3. Susan Wells says:

    My Dad, an atheist, was a Surgeon Lieutenant in the RNVR in WW2. His tag has N.C. in the centre. He always told us it meant Not Catholic. Does it mean Non Conformist or Non Combatant? Or what?

  4. Cymro says:

    Just to add to your list of abbreviations: Have just aquired a set of tags of a Welsh WW1 soldier – shows religion as C.M. on the the octagonal/grey-green tag and CAL.METH. on the circular/red tag indicating Calvinistic Methodist (now known as the Presbyterian Church of Wales)

  5. Colin walsh says:

    Hi can anyone tell me when the army changed from oblong type dog tags to disc type please

    1. Liz Bryant (Admin) says:

      Hi Colin,

      You may find this page useful on the Imperial War Museum website: https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/first-world-war-identity-tags

      Best regards,

      Liz.

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