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Copies of Hart's Annual Army List are available online, and consist of a list of all British army officers employed in a given year.

Some of the listings are self-explanatory (e.g. so-and-so with the 77th regiment), but others simply read "Depot Battalion". See the third entry on this page for an example.

What does it mean to be posted to a Depot Battalion in this context?

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For infantry (cavalry and artillery are organized differently), the recruiting and training organization is the regiment. Regiments field battalions (service battalions) and additionally maintain a cadre of experienced officers (both commissioned and warrant) and NCO's that trains replacements soldiers. This training unit is the depot battalion.

As an example, following the reorganization of French infantry in 1808 the three service battalions of each regiment comprised six companies: four of fusiliers, and one each of grenadiers and chasseurs. The depot battalion consisted just of four fusilier companies. The depot battalion for each regiment remained numbered as the fourth even when some regiments fielded a fourth service battalion, numbered as the fifth battalion.

In the campaigns in Germany from 1806 through 1809, General de Division Oudinot commanded a [Grenadier division][1] comprised of individual companies (one each) stripped from depot battalions of regiments whose service battalions were already assigned to other corps commanders. Although clearly an elite unit through the 1806 campaign, that status is refuted by John Gill in regards the 1809 campaign. The link above outlines the changing history of the unit through the approximately 4 years of its existence.

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    There were also Divisional Depot Battalions during the First World War that served an essentially similar function at divisional, rather than regimental, level. – sempaiscuba Aug 3 '18 at 17:14
  • @sempaiscuba: I'm curious: U.S. Army only, or other belligerents as well? Pershing knew his troops were arriving in France extremely unprepared for combat - so put them all through several months of additional training until the first were deemed ready March 1818. It's bad for morale to switch soldiers between units too frequently. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 3 '18 at 17:24
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    No, I think Divisional Depot Battalions were pretty standard in the British Army during WW1. If I remember correctly, the French Army had them too. I did some research into the operations of the 9th Divisional Depot Battalion on the Western Front for a friend a few years ago. – sempaiscuba Aug 3 '18 at 20:20
  • Super informative answer. Do you reckon there's any way to infer which regiment's depot battalion someone was attached to? The listing in the manual literally just says "depot battalion" in most cases. – John Doucette Aug 4 '18 at 15:21
  • @JohnDoucette: Possibly, from context - but the complete paragraph or more might be needed. Post a new question of an instance you are inquiring about, and perhaps it can be determined. – Pieter Geerkens Aug 4 '18 at 18:10
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To add to the existing answer, In the Victorian era, British soldiers (both officers and other ranks) were recruited into a regiment, and normally stayed with that regiment for their whole career. In the British system, the regiment is the primary organisation that soldiers identify with, and has the trophies and battle honours. This is called the "regimental system" and it's very different from the "continental system" used by the US Army.

In the British system, battalions are deployed for combat as part of a brigade, and brigades are grouped into divisions. But the assignment of battalions to brigades and brigades to divisions is a temporary thing, and always subject to re-organisation. If a regiment has multiple battalions, it's most unusual for them to serve in the same brigade or division.

Leaving a regiment requires actively applying for a transfer, which was quite unusual in the Victorian era, or being promoted to full Colonel, at which point your regimental identity is supposed to be replaced by a branch-of-the-army identity, although senior officers tend to remain fond of their regiment. To make it more confusing, The Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, and similar organisations (corps) are considered to be regiments for this kind of purpose, although they are far larger than normal infantry or cavalry regiments, and may have multiple depots.

So an officer serving with a depot battalion would be serving with the depot of his own regiment. Is Hart's Army List organised by regiment? The twentieth-century Army Lists are organised that way.

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This depot battalion scheme originated in 1834 as a single depot battalion in England serving the East India Company armies (Madras, Bombay, Bengal) at Walmer, in Essex. The British Army formed three further provisional depot battalions in 1854 because of manpower demands driven by the Crimean War and twenty-one more in 1856. The Indian Mutiny saw the EIC battalion broken up to form two more, and these were absorbed into the British Army in 1861 as part of the abolition of the EIC and the absorption of its responsibilities and assets by the British Government. As peacetime led to a decrease in demand Several depot battalions disbanded in the 1860s, all but one of the remainder in 1871, and the last, at Chatham, in Kent (the camp handed over to the Royal Engineers), shortly afterwards. Each depot had serviced a number of infantry regiments, and most were located near ports, or riverheads to facilitate the shipping ('trooping') of drafts of reinforcements to their regiments. This depot system was replaced in 1873 by the Cardwell territorialisation scheme.

You can read some further details here: https://web.archive.org/web/20071128183733/http://www.regiments.org/regiments/uk/depot/1856.htm

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  • (1) Use quotes for quotes! (2) The correction of "The" back to "This"makes a big difference in the semantics of the quote. The year 1834 saw not an "introduction" of the Depot Battalion system, but a reworking whereby the running of them was taken from the regiments and instituted as a service provided generally across all regiments. – Pieter Geerkens Jun 15 at 21:11
  • Not really, I used the word “this” deliberately and in relation to the previous replies that mentioned “depot battalions” from much later periods. The original question was in relation to the entry in Hart’s Army List and none of the previous responses were correct in terms of answering that specific query. I set out to correct that as simply as possible, and have done so whilst at the same time emphasising aspects relating to the East India Company for those readers who might not be familiar with the three Presidency Armies. – Frogsmile Jun 16 at 23:09

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