Regimental records


By John O |

Hi all, I have the short service records from Find My Past for my elusive Gervase Cliff. It gives his service number as 3230 and then crossed out to 3923. It shows him serving with the 20th Hussars with service in India, Egypt and South Africa. He was at home from Nov 1894 to Feb 1900.

My question is, on his marriage certificate in 1898, he is being shown as being a Private in the 7th Dragoon Guards and based at Cavalry Barracks, St James (presumably Norwich as he married there). Is there any link between the 20th Hussars and 7th Dragoon Brigade, or might he have been seconded to them for some duration that is not recorded? Based on his future records, he could well have lied on their marriage certificate for some reason.

Many thanks, John

Hi John,

The fact that he had two regimental numbers might indicate that he was transferred between the two regiments. Both were heavy light* cavalry units and so the riding/fighting skills would have been transferable, although there was no formal affiliation between the two regiments, as far as I am aware.  Later, in 1922 when it became necessary to reduce the size of the cavalry, the 7th Dragoons merged with the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards,  and 20th Hussars merged with the 14th Hussars.

Over the period 1884 to 1895 the 20th Hussars were based in England with troop sized detachments being sent to serve in Sudan and Egypt, meaning that  individual troopers will have moved back and forth to England for various reasons during that time. In 1895 the whole regiment moved to India and remained there until it was deployed to South Africa in 1901 to fight in the Boer War. The 7th Dragoons also served in Egypt in the later part of the nineteenth century but over the period we are talking about, they were on garrison duties in either England or India, before deploying to South Africe in 1899. On the basis of the dates when he was in the UK (particularly when he married), being attached to the 7th Dragoons makes more sense.

Unfortunately I have no information about who was occupying the St James Barracks in 1892.  There are some records for the 7th Dragoons in the York Army Museum, but as far as I know the former museum of the 14/20 Hussars has now closed and I have no idea where their holdings went.


* text corrected 2 April 2022. At that time (1890s) only the Life Guards, the Royal Horse Guards, the Royal Dragoons and the Scots Greys were referred to as 'heavy' cavalry. In part this referred to the amount of armour worn by the mounted troopers, but more importantly it referred to the size of the horses and the men in each type of regiment. Tactically, heavy cavalry would normally charge straight at the enemy, whereas light cavalry would more usually be used to reconnoitre and skirmish, especially on the enemy's flanks. The latter's horses tended to be lighter and faster and consequently their riders tended to be lighter. For instance see The Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War 40 years before.



Just to add to my last posting, in March 1898 the deployment list [pdf] of the British Army shows the following: 7th Dragoon Guards stationed in Norwich and 20th Hussars stationed at Mhow in Madhya Pradesh, India.  The depot for those cavalry regiments stationed overseas was in Canterbury, so that tends to suggest that your man was not part of the 20th Hussars rear party in the UK if he was getting married in Norwich.

A couple of photographs of the old cavalry barracks, Norwich, if you haven't seen them before:

Stable block

General view

Many thanks to Andy J and Promenade for their posts and links.

Looking at the record on FMP, the Short Service attestation has in brackets "7 years with the Colors and 5 years in the Reserve". This is part of the form and not handwritten, so not sure if this was bespoke for every soldier or a standard document. The form is a bit of a mess with crossings out. He joined at Aldershot on 19th September 1890.

Q16 on the form asks "For what Corps are you willing to be enlisted?" The original answer was 'General Service' which has been crossed out and '20th Hussars' written alongside.

Q17 on the form asks "Did you receive a Notice, and do you understand its meaning, and who gave it to you?" The answer was 'yes', a Sergeant Major Handley looks like the name, and the Corps looks like 3 O B S Stafford Regiment. As Gervase was from this area, maybe he was initially stationed there?

 Service started on 16 9 1890 at home and finished on 20 9 1902. Campaigns only has South African from 1900-1902. He was discharged from Shorncliffe cause of discharge being 'Term of first period of engagement'. 

I can't find any reference on the papers to the 7th Hussars, the only reference being on his marriage certificate.

Hi John,

I'm not sure I can add much more to what you already know. I assume the attestation form you mention is the Form 265 (should be on the top right of the image).  Regular service was normally for a total of 12 years, although the split between full time (ie active service) and reserve did change at different times. So I would assume that he was on the active service part of his engagement when he married in 1898 and then would have started his reserve service when he would have returned home with his wife, before being called back to the colours for service in South Africa. As you can see from his overall service dates he did serve for exactly 12 years, which should mean he got his pension.  I take it you haven't found any pension records for him.

I really can't say why there is no mention of him serving with 7th Dragoon Guards on his record. I think it is fairly clear that he was in Norwich at the same time that the Dragoon Guards were stationed there so he probably wasn't making it up for the marriage register. Also the 20th Hussars didn't deploy to South Africa until 1901, whereas he was there from 1900 which tends to suggest he was recalled to serve with the Dragoon Guards who went out in 1899.

Going back to the regimental number issue you mentioned in your opening posting, number 3230 was issued in the 20th Hussars sometime before March 1891 - so that fits with his actual enlistment in the previous Autumn. The second number, 3932, was issued in the 7th Dragoon Guards sometime before April 1892 and so if this was his new number when he transferred, this gives you a rough date for when this occurred. Much more information on regimental numbers on this excellent site, and on army forms on its sister site here.

I thought I would just do a quick check for him on FMP. If you look closely at the image of his form 265 it says 7 DG underneath where his original regimental number is shown and above the new number, 3923.  I think this confirms that he did transfer.

However more intriguingly, looking on TNA  there is also a record  in WO100/299  which shows that a Pte G Cliff service number 3923 7 DG served with the staff in South Africa 1900-1902. From the entry it looks like he may have been batman to a Colonel Haig. WO100/299 lists the returns for those who were to be awarded the South Africa Medal. You can either download a pdf copy from TNA or I can email it to you. The FMP transcription says he was serving with the Staffordshire Regiment but this is clearly wrong when looking at the actual document below which comes from TNA.


Andy, many thanks again for the assistance, it is much appreciated. I can now see the 7DG under the regimental number. I assumed, incorrectly that it was the initials of the person correcting the document. 

I downloaded the docs from TNA but thanks for the image, it saves me wading through hundreds of pages. He talked about being in service and fighting in Africa, but that was after he changed his name to Clifford Smith so I was going up a blind alley. Having all of this information is great for me to show his descendants and letting them know a bit more about him, even though all of the family hated him!


I was doing some Ancestry work in my local library this morning so I thought I'd do a quick search for Gervase. Have you seen a Birmingham rate book entry for April 1906 for a Gervase Cliff living at No 1 Court 6, 49 William Street? It shows he was due to pay a rate of £1 5s 6d although this hadn't been paid at the time the entry was made. Could this have been your man before he changed his name?


Hi Andy, yes thanks, I have that Ancestry record but thanks for pointing it out. It is quite hard tracking him down due to being away in service but looking at my records, he had 3 children with his wife from Norwich, one born in 1903 in Sheffield - no idea why he was there. Not sure if it was military related as presume he left service after his stint until Sep 1902. However, he had 2 more children in Birmingham in Sep quarter 1905 and Dec quarter 1906, and Ancestry baptismal records have him at 49 William Street and his occupation was by then a carter. 

However, my wife's grandfather, Clifford Smith (a nod to his surname maybe?) was born in June 1907 in Liverpool. Ironically the mother's name was Alice, again, maybe a nod to his original wife, but as this Alice did a runner from her husband and children and changed her name to abscond with Gervase, goodness knows. Maybe when his original wife Alice Cliff was pregnant with their 3rd child, he did a runner to Liverpool and changed his name. There are no death records for a Gervase Cliff after that date, and nothing for Clifford Smith before that date that tallies, but the family folklore that he was a butcher from Birmingham, had fought in Africa and had changed his name all points to it being the same man.


Ancestry has a record hint from the UK, Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Soldier Service Records, 1760-1920 but it is on Fold3 so I will have to wait until they offer a free weekend!

Hi John,

The date of Gervase's marriage in 1898 may have a significance which is not immediately obvious. Soldiers of all ranks who wanted to marry were required to get the permission of their commanding officer. It was possible to get married without permission but the existence of the wife and any children would not be acknowledged by the Army. So for instance the soldier who "married without leave" still had to live in the barracks and had to return to the barracks each night by 11pm. Conversely where permissions to marry was granted, an allowance was paid to subsidise the family's accommodation and in most overseas garrisons families were actually quartered within the barracks, as well as being provided with free transportation to and from the overseas station. In addition there was an enhanced ration allowance for married soldiers. Only 3-4% the soldiers below the rank of sergeant were allowed permission to marry - that equates to between 18 and 24 corporals/privates in a cavalry regiment. They had to meet certain criteria: "The commanding officer may not give leave to a corporal or a private to marry unless he has £5 in the savings bank, two good conduct badges, and seven years' service". For this reason, many had to delay getting married until they started the reserve portion of their service.

So either Gervase had to wait until he had completed 7 years service before he could get permission, or alternatively he waited until he was about to begin his reserve commitment, when permission would not have been required.

Thanks again for the post and the comments Andy.

Gervase married in June 1898. According to the military history sheet he was home for 5 years and 88 days from Nov 1894 to July 1900, so presume he would be in barracks then? As mentioned previously, his rank at the time of his marriage was Private. Looking at the previous service, by the time he was at home in Nov 1894, he had served a combined 2 years and 326 days in India and Egypt.

All single soldiers were required to live in the barracks. I'm not sure how rigidly this was enforced. Soldiers were allowed out in the evenings after their daily routine had ended with a dismissal parade. He would certainly have been in trouble if he was late on parade the following morning after staying out all night. It's not entirely clear from his records when he transferred to the reserve. As he was on an engagement of 7 years regular service and 5 years on the reserve, I would have expected him to have started his reserve service around the end of September 1897 given his date of enlistment. However if his marriage register entry shows his address as the cavalry barracks, that suggests he was not in the reserve at that point. I assume that he was called back from the reserve in 1900 to go out to South Africa.

Thanks again Andy. One further question if I may. It was said by an elderly relative that he was dishonourably discharged from the army for beating his wife. Maybe she left him before him eloping with a married woman, not sure on that. 

There is nothing on the Form 265 service record on FMP. Would this normally be entered on the document or would there be a separate court marshal record?

Sorry for all the questions!

I would expect something like that to be recorded on the last page of his Form B 265, under item 15 "Character on being discharged". The fact that it isn't, and the next heading "Place of Discharge" has been filled in suggests that the dishonourable discharge story may well not be true. I think it's likely that he would have been discharged almost immediately once he returned from the Boer War as he had completed his service, and since he wouldn't have had much opportunity to beat his wife in the mean time, I would have thought it unlikely the Army would have cared much about anything which might have occurred while he was not embodied in the regular army.

And to answer your last question, there might have been a record of any court martial (note spelling) had one taken place, but it would depend on what level of CM it was as to where the record might be held. There were 3 levels of court martial: regimental ie conducted by his commanding officer. I don't think any records from a regimental court martial will have survived. They were very routine, low level affairs and I suspect the only record of the fact that they occurred would be in the records of the soldier concerned (see below). The next level is the District Court Martial (DCM) convened by the General Officer commanding his district (in this case the North East District). Records for DCMs are likely to be found in the National Archives in series WO 86. The highest level is the General Court Martial (or its special case 'brother' the Field General Court Martial - only used in wartime). A GCM would only have been convened for the most serious types of offence committed by soldiers,  or offences involving offiicers, so I think we can discount the GCM.  Each soldier had 2 types of conduct sheet: the Army Form 120 his Regimental conduct sheet (example here) and his Army Form B 121 the Company/Squadron conduct sheet (example here). As their names suggest they are used for recording disciplinary action by the soldier's Commanding Officer and his squadron commander. The latter only has fairly limited punishment powers. The 121's didn't leave the soldier's unit and were routinely destroyed after a period of time, so few of them have survived. The 120 was copied to the depot of the regiment but again only a small percentage of pre-WW1 records survive. The best place to look for them is the Royal Hospital Chelsea records, but as I think all of those records which survive have already been digitised, I doubt if you will find anything for Gervase if it's not on Ancestry or FMP.

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