As an Englishman is not compelled to become a soldier, there must be one or other of three motives to entice him into the ranks - patriotism, inclination, or poverty. As to patriotism, it must not be relied on as a steady resource. If England were invaded, there is little doubt that many men would step forward, urged by a generous enthusiasm to defend the country in a time of danger; but in the ordinary state of affairs, the patriotism of few men would be ardent enough to encounter the cold ‘red-tapism’ of the regimental ranks. During the Crimean war, when soldiers were much needed, the ‘counter-jumpers’ of our large towns, the young men employed in selling laces, tapes, silks, and muslins, were reproached for their effeminacy; they were told to leave such small work in the hands of women, and to march to the field with musket and bayonet. The drapers’ assistants had, however, a good answer to give - ‘Patriotism is all very well; but until you can insure to us the prospect of rising to higher grades in the army by good conduct, we have no inducement to seek companionship with the class of men whom we see following the recruiting sergeant through the streets of London.’ Patriotism being too uncertain a resource, the next is inclination. But this, again, is very fitful and unreliable. There are men who have a predilection for a life of adventure - a dislike for settled pursuits and fixed habits - a roving, restless disposition - a taste for the glitter and pomp of war, with its flags and trumpets, its medals and clasps, its glories and renown; and our army always contains some such spirits; but the number is small. There then remains the last and real incentive, poverty. Under the present regulations and organisation of the British army, the ranks would be very insufficiently filled were it not that there are men who are very poor. Their poverty may or may not have been brought about by their own misconduct; but the result is nearly the same so far as regards soldiering. The poor man becomes a recruit, not because a common soldier is well paid, but because he can at least procure food, clothing, and shelter, without much thought, so long as he obeys the orders given to him. Such men, as we know by painful experience, are miserably deficient in education; as a consequence, they would not be fitted for officers duties, even if our system permitted promotion from the ranks; and thus one evil intensifies another.
Poverty, then, is the great storehouse for supplying British recruits; and the war-authorities measure the influence of this poverty in all their calculations. Their problem is: ‘How much can we offer, in order to attract recruits?’ They offer to the poor or the reckless man, in the first place, a sum of money immediately on enlistment, under the name of bounty; they offer, in the second place, besides food, lodging, and clothing, a small daily sum of money, under the name of pay; lastly, they offer a prospective provision, after a fixed period of service, under the name of pension; and according to the willingness or unwillingness of men to come forward, so are these offers of bounty, pay, and pension contracted or expanded in liberality. If the need be pressing, and the recruiting goes on slowly, two other relaxations are made - youths are admitted at an earlier age than before, and men of lower stature than are ordinarily taken: a net with smaller meshes is used to catch younger and smaller fish. During one period of the Peninsular war, when the demand for men was great, the ‘standard’ or minimum for a soldier’s height was reduced so low as five feet three inches for adult men; youths were admitted at sixteen years of age; and the bounty rose to L.24 for one adult who would consent to serve for life. Never since the year 1812 has the system been at such a high pressure as this.
Under the Adjutant-general of the Forces, there are nine recruiting establishments in the United Kingdom; each comprising an inspecting field-officer, an adjutant, a paymaster, a staff-surgeon, and a superintending military officer detached from military service. Besides these establishments at nine large towns, there are about thirty other recruiting head-quarters. The officers send their recruiting-parties to the different towns and villages, making known the terms of enlistment, and inviting recruits to join the army. On arriving at the head-quarters of the district, the recruit undergoes an examination by the staff-surgeon, and, if approved, he is sent before a civil magistrate to be attested. The paymaster next pays him the amount of bounty agreed upon; and the young recruit is despatched to join the regiment to which he is appointed. Until a few years ago, a recruit was often tempted by the bounty, under the impression that it was all receivable in money; and his first experience of military-life was too frequently a sense of disappointment, and a suspicion of having been duped, on finding that the bounty was intended to cover every expense connected with his enlistment up to the time of his being sent to his regiment, and further to defray the cost of his clothing and necessaries - deductions carefully kept out of sight until the engagement was complete and irrevocable. We have at any rate improved in this particular; whatever be the bounty named, the recruit receives it in cash. Nevertheless, all is not quite candid and above-board. The recruiting-sergeant mixes with the peasantry at country fairs, and with labourers and workmen in alehouses and other places; he descants on the glories and honours of war; and paints the soldier’s life in colours far too bright. Many a recruit regrets the step he has taken, ere one week has passed; but the magistrate having attested, and the paymaster having paid the bounty, he is irrevocably a soldier; and will be treated as a deserter if he absconds. Of all the number who offer to enlist, about one-third are rejected for unfitness, in health or other particulars. Of 133 soldiers, considered to present a fair average of the whole British army, it was found that 82 had been husbandmen, labourers, or servants, 41 artisans, and 10 shopmen or clerks. But this ratio is believed to vary, according as distress more heavily attacks the agricultural or the mechanical population at the time of enlistment. Artisans are more intelligent and teachable than country rustics; but they are not as a whole so healthy; and it is found well to have a mixture of both. Ireland supplies more soldiers, in proportion to her population, than England, owing chiefly to the greater amount of poverty; but it is surprising how nearly equal the English, Scotch, and Irish become in soldierly qualities, after being for an equal length of time under efficient commanders.
We shall take an early opportunity of describing the arrangements connected with the food, dress, lodgment, culture, recreation, health, pay, and pension of the common soldier.
- << Prev