Whilst at high school my medal collecting ability was limited to an allowance and thus there was very little that I could afford. I could, however, afford single South African issue WW2 medals. These medals were identifiable to a specific person because the South African authorities officially named their WW2 medals, unlike the British who issued unnamed medals. But unlike WW1 medals, this was limited to a service number, initial and surname. There was no ability to pick and choose ranks or units because this information was not on the medal. Many of these medals did not come with other awards or decorations so it was impossible to know anything about the man behind the medal. For each medal, I acquired I would wait for school to end, rush off to the SANDF Military Archives in Pretoria and draw his service records. Slowly I began to notice a pattern with the service numbers and developed a theory that these numbers were not random but allocated to specific units.
On one of my visit, I raised my grand “service number theory” with the Serge-Major in charge of records. He laughed and told me to go into a room and bring him an old A4 hardcover book from the bookshelf. Eureka! The book contained lists of numbers linking the unit, regiments allocated to it. It is known as the Block Number Allocations. It was not a theory; it was a fact. The Sergt Major warned me that this was a “confidential” document, and I was not to let “civilians” see it. I am not sure what he thought I was, and I was entrusted with a military secret. I honoured his request for many years, but since 1978 I was in possession of the collectors greatest asset…information.
From that day onwards, equipped with my “secret” document, I began the unending task of trying to acquire one medal, or one group, to each block number allocation. This can be compared to a Boer War Town Guard collector trying to get each Town Guard. A never-ending task with the only advantage was that these medals were not expensive. Today 42 years later, I am still trying to complete my mission. I have used this roll to acquire some gems over the years, and I trust that you will now be equipped to do the same.
The single WW2 Star pictures above now comes to life… 312 991 J L Koekemoer … block number 312 413 – 314 412 is SAAF (South African Airforce). Previously unknown, I now know he was part the airforce on active service and with some more research, I can discover if he a pilot, navigator, aircrew or air mechanic?
The book itself was slight worn and I used an early photocopy machine to copy each page. Many of the numbers did not copy well and I had to write the missing numbers onto the pages myself. I am sure others consulted this book but the pages illustrated below are mine as they contain my terrible handwriting. I have shared this with a few collectors over the years but have always been conscious that the Sgt-Major had entrusted me with a secret.
Sometime in the 1980s the book disappeared, but luckily my copy exists, and today I will share it as is with all collectors and enthusiasts.
I was going to undertake the task of transcribing the numbers but I am on the opinion that a collector still enjoys the excitement of seeing the actual document.
There are a few interesting allocations.
Note 1. The Natal Regiments were numbered first. numbers 1-125 allocated to “A” battery Natal Field Artillery.
Note 2. The first numbers of each block are allocated to officers. eg. 10276-10325 allocated to the PAG (Prince Alfred Guard) no 10276 will be the officer commanding.
Note 3. Suddenly from no 614 189 numbers are suddenly allocated to individuals. The reason for this is unknown.
Note 4. This is the number on first enlistment. Many servicemen changed units, eg. many officers in volunteer infantry units joined the SAAF for pilot training. His service number was not changed.
Note 5. Prefixes are used before these numbers were applicable. (some prefixes do not apply to these block allocations eg SAP who did not attested in the police brigades and this kept their police service numbers.
Note6. These block numbers do not cover the Permanent Forces (P Prefix).
If you wish to have further information, translation of the unit or explanation of the unit please feel free to contact me.
WW2 UDF BLOCK NUMBER ALLOCATIONS (as supplied by the SANDF Records Office)
With profound thanks to the SANDF Documentation Center