Prior to the introduction of army numbers in 1921, soldiers serving in the Australian Military Forces (AMF) were assigned regimental numbers. These numbers were allotted at either battalion or corps level and were not unique.
Introduction of army numbers
In 1921 regimental numbers were abolished and replaced with army numbers. Under the new system each soldier was assigned a number from a single series used for the whole of the AMF. Soldiers retained their army numbers for the full term of their service, and those belonging to soldiers who were no longer active were not re-used.
Army numbers issued to members of the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) were prefixed by either two numbers or the letters “VE” followed by an oblique stroke. The two numbers indicated a year of birth (for example, 99/1234), and were issued to soldiers serving under the universal training requirements of the Defence Act 1903. Soldiers who voluntarily enlisted were issued a number prefixed with “VE” (for example, VE/1234).
Soldiers serving with the Permanent Military Forces (PMF) were assigned army numbers without any prefixes.
Army numbers during the Second World War
The Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was raised as a separate army and introduced its own numbering system. Numbers were allocated according to the military district in which the soldier enlisted, commencing from 1. The number was prefixed with an index letter for the district and an “X” to indicate enlistment in the Second AIF (for example VX12843). The district indexes were:
Q – 1st Military District (Queensland)
N – 2nd Military District (New South Wales)
V – 3rd Military District (Victoria)
S – 4th Military District (South Australia)
W – 5th Military District (Western Australia)
T – 6th Military District (Tasmania)
D – 7th Military District (Northern Territory)
Additional prefixes were introduced as the war progressed. These included:
P – Papua
NG – New Guinea
F – Female
The prefix “F” was added to the other prefixes (for example, VFX61330).
Army numbers for CMF and PMF personnel used the same district prefixes. PMF soldiers’ numbers also included a “P” to indicate they were serving with the permanent force (for example VP3596).
Initially, members of the CMF who volunteered for service in the Second AIF had an “M” inserted into their service number (for example, VMX1234). Due to tension between the two forces and confusion over duplication of numbers, the practice was discontinued in 1942. New AIF numbers (without an “M”) were issued to all soldiers who transferred to the AIF.
After the Second World War
Australian troops joined the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) in Japan on 21 February 1946. Members of the Second AIF serving in Japan kept their original service number. New enlistments for BCOF between 1946 and June 1947 were issued with an X500000 number which also included the district prefix (for example, NX506387).
The Second AIF officially ceased to exist on 30 June 1947. All Second AIF personnel still on full-time duty were transferred to the Interim Army on 1 July 1947. From July 1947 until October 1947 new enlistments for the Interim Army were issued numbers from X700000 (for example, QX700220).
With the establishment of the Australian Regular Army (ARA) on 30 September 1947, the responsibility for the issue of army numbers reverted to the military districts. Numbering for each district started at 1 and was prefixed with the district number followed by an oblique stroke (e.g. 3/107). The stroke was removed in 1960.
Men who enlisted to serve with the Australian forces during the Korean War (the Korean Force) were issued numbers starting from 400,000. Those who enlisted for three years’ service in the Regular Army Supplement were allotted numbers from 900,000. Members of the Interim Army who transferred to the Korean Force were assigned numbers from 905,000. Each of these numbers was prefixed with a number indicating the state in which the person enlisted:
1 – Queensland
2 – New South Wales
3 – Victoria
4 – South Australia
5 – Western Australia
6 – Tasmania
7 – Northern Territory
8 – Papua New Guinea
The 900,000 series of numbers continued to be used until the army number system was phased out in 2002. Under the Personnel Management Key Solution (PMKeyS) project, an integrated personnel management system was introduced which replaced all service numbers (including army numbers) with employee identification numbers.
Multiple army numbers
As a result of changes to the procedures for issuing army numbers, servicemen and servicewomen could have been issued with several different numbers. In a period of five years of service it was not uncommon for a soldier who enlisted in New South Wales to have an X500000 number, an NP number and a 2/0000 number. Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Annie Louise Best, founding Director of the Australian Women's Army Corps, was issued with five different numbers throughout her service (V148401, VX102728, NFX12617, VFX700147, and F3/91).
However not all army personnel were issued with new numbers. As a result, different numbering systems were in use concurrently.
National Service Scheme
Men recruited during the Vietnam War under the National Service (NS) Scheme were issued a seven-digit number. The second digit was always the number seven or eight (for example 3793130) to distinguish National Servicemen from members of the CMF who were also allocated seven digit numbers from the same blocks. Australian Regular Army male personnel had five- or six-digit service numbers.
The first digit for all service numbers continued to indicate the state of enlistment, using the same prefixes as during the Korean War.
- N. Anderson, The offending “M” – WW2 army service numbers, Australian Army website
- The Auditor-General, Management of the Personnel Management Key Solution (PMKeyS) Implementation Project, Australian National Audit Office, Canberra, 2005
- G. Wilson, What’s in a number? The personal numbering system of the Australian army, South Australian Mounted Rifles Association website.
- G. Wilson, “World War 2 Australian army numbers”, Sabretache 48, December 2007, pp. 5–15
- Historical research (army) notes
- Military Board, Military Order 524, 19 November 1921
- Military Board Instruction 59, 18 October 1939