The lives of the ‘ordinary’ soldiers
It’s possible to deduce a lot about the lives of ‘ordinary’ soldiers from the muster records. Men originally enlisted for 25 years with regiments, frequently spending 10 or more years in India or on garrison duty in the Empire – a man entering the army clearly gave up his previous life. By the 1880s, short service enlistment and faster transport reduced periods abroad to five or six years. Though there were numerous wars in the 19th century, many troops seem to have passed their service on peaceful garrison duty at home or abroad.
Drunkenness was clearly a major problem. Pages of the musters are dedicated to men fined for the offence and the same names occur again and again. In the vast majority of cases, the soldier had his pay docked by his commanding officer and it’s rare it reached Court Martial. It’s always worth checking these pages as even the best men succumbed to drink on occasion.
Attempts were made to educate both the ordinary soldier and his family. Though they don’t appear in the earlier musters, by the 1850s we begin to see regiments employing both male and female teachers. By the 1870s, when general education was introduced, regimental teachers appear regularly, often aided by soldier assistants.
Service in India, where pay went much further and where a soldier might have a native wife, was clearly popular. Whole swathes of men can be seen transferring to other units when their regiment went home, in order to remain there.