The lives of the ‘or­di­nary’ sol­diers

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - FOCUS ON MUSTER ROLLS -

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.

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