is 18 by 36 feet and housed a maximum of 19 men. Since space
was so cramped, every measure was taken to maximize it, such as
folding beds. This was where the men slept, ate their meals
and relaxed off duty.
Each man was issued with a bed, a
straw mattress, a blanket and sheets, and a barrack box.
While a soldier's uniform and accouterments would be placed about
his bunk, his personal possessions would have to be placed in the
box. A table and wood benches, wood stove and fuel box
completed the necessary issue. Inspections were made every
Although cleanliness was stressed,
the conditions in the barracks were poor.
Separate privies existed for the
sexes and for officers. The officers and women had toilet
seats. The men did not. Sanitation in the army was a
serious problem. In many barracks, sanitation was a bucket
placed at the back of a room as a toilet. These "urine
tubs" were primarily used at night and during wet weather.
These tubs were responsible for the oppressive smell encountered
when entering the barracks.
The cleaning of the men's privies
was usually done by "fatigue parties" — soldiers
undergoing punishment for crimes they had committed. It
involved washing and scrubbing of the seats and floors every
Cleaning of the women's privies
was not an assigned duty for soldiers' wives. The job was a
paying one and it was contracted out by the regiment. The
wives had the right of first refusal, whereupon a civilian would
Water to flush the privies was
collected from grates on the parade square. The water was
held behind a sluice gate that could be opened to flush the waste
through a two-foot square drainage tunnel into the bay.
As a rule barracks were poorly
lit, heated and ventilated. Fuel for the barrack stove was
in limited supply. In an effort to keep heat in and cold out,
ventilation drafts were blocked, affecting, in turn, the health of
the men. The urine tub added to the foul atmosphere.
These conditions resulted in
tuberculosis, respiratory ailments, fevers and other diseases
which hospitalized 37% of the ranks in 1860. Yet conditions
were better in Canada than overseas: there were 50% fewer died in
Canada than in Britain. The state of health in Canadian
regiments was described as "uncommonly good."
When soldiers became ill, they
could be sent to the hospital under the supervision of the fort's
medical officer. The average time in hospital for a sick
soldier was 17 days.
Although conditions in the
barracks accounted for a large percentage of sickness, the main
culprit for admissions into hospitals was venereal disease,
particularly syphilis and gonorrhea. It was thought to be
immoral of women to attend to patients so afflicted.
Consequently female nurses and regimental wives were not allowed
to work in the regimental hospitals. The medical officer was
given a permanent staff of soldiers and non-commissioned officers
who were exempt from any other duties.
Everything being relative, many
soldiers considered themselves better looked after than if they
had not enlisted.
Apart from recommendations to make
accommodations more comfortable, medical officers identified
marriage as a cause of good health among the regular soldiers.
There appeared to be fewer cases of venereal diseases, and of
other health problems in regiments with a high ratio of married
men. Some doctors expressed hope that the army would do all
in its power to allow and encourage regular soldiers to marry.
These proposals for reform were
suggested not only because of their intrinsic value but also
because the army was facing a new chronic problem: recruiting.
If the lifestyle and health of the soldiers improved, perhaps many
more men would consider joining.
The Grog Issue
Drunkenness was such a problem
that pay was doled out daily to prevent the binges that occurred
when men were paid monthly. Alcohol was issued as a daily
ration because it was considered an absolute necessity, due to its
nutritional value and its importance among the men.
Officers, being by definition gentlemen, were allowed to keep
alcohol in their private quarters.
Common soldiers would have been
punished for keeping alcohol in their
quarters. Initially the "grog" issue was rum or
another strong spirit. Originally troops in North America
received spruce beer (boiled spruce, molasses and yeast) which was
tremendously effective in reducing scurvy. This was replaced by
"NECK OIL" or more commonly "THE PURGE."
Today we refer to it plainly as beer. It was the most common
reason for soldiers' crimes, because alcoholism was so rampant.
Soldiers formed "boozing
schools" where small groups of men clubbed
together for the sole purpose of heavy drinking. These men
their pay to embark on the type of binges that the army hoped to
avoid by implementing its daily pay policy. In essence,
drink was the only escape for men whose life was devoid of variety
or comfort. The harsh North American climate and isolation
of the garrisons compounded the problem. Of those court-martialled
between 1838 and 1840, 33% were found guilty of being drunk on
From time to time individuals
would try to do something about drunkenness. Temperance
clubs, such as "Havelock's Saints" or the Soldiers'
Total Abstinence Association, were formed in response to the
"boozing schools." Members who managed to stay
sober for six months wore a badge, similar to a regimental badge,
which bore the motto: "Watch and be sober." Some
members of "boozing schools" wore this badge proudly
once they had earned it, as it was generally regarded as proof of
near superhuman resolution and endurance.
On the whole, however, the army
continued to issue its troops with alcohol and the temperance
associations failed to create an army of teetotallers.
At British Forts there was little
else for a soldier to do in the evening, other than head into town
and drink. This drinking and poor diet made them more
susceptible to disease.